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Piece Under Attack? Look for a Counterattack!
by Jeff Caveney

level: Intermediate

Chess players all learn the instinct to move a piece away when it is under attack. This is natural, and it's also an important basic chess skill. If you didn't see attacks, or if you ignored them, you would lose all your pieces every game.

Once you've learned this basic instinct, it's time to take the next step forward. The next skill you should learn to improve your game is to look for other options when your piece is under attack. Instead of automatically moving your own attacked piece away, look for counterattacks on your opponent's pieces! You won't always find a good counterattack, but you should always look.

The following game shows you how to respond to attacks on your pieces with counterattacks on your opponent's pieces:

1.e4 e6
2.d4 d5
3.Nd2 c5
4.exd5 Qxd5
5.Ngf3 cxd4
6.Bc4 Qd6
7.O-O Nf6
8.Nb3 Nc6
9.Nbxd4 Nxd4
10.Qxd4 Qxd4
11.Nxd4 Bd7
12.Bf4


White threatens to play Nb5, then Nc7+ or Nd6+. These look like dangerous threats, and many chess players' first instinct here will be to play 12...a6 to stop Nb5. But Black is already a little bit behind in developing his pieces, so it's not good to spend time on a little pawn move like 12...a6 if it's not necessary. Instead, you should look for a way to develop a piece and counterattack:

12...Rc8!

Counterattack on the unprotected bishop on c4!

13.Bd3 Bc5

Black develops another piece, attack the knight on d4, and is not afraid of Nb5 anymore.

14.Nb5 O-O
15.Nd6


Another key moment. At first this looks annoying. Do you have to move your attacked rook? Or trade your active bishop for the annoying knight? Now is the time to look for a counterattack!

15...Nh5!

Counterattack on the unprotected bishop on f4, which has to stay on the g3-d6 diagonal to protect the knight on d6. Now if White takes the rook with 16.Nxc8 Nxf4, the knight on c8 is trapped and Black will win a bishop and a knight in return for the rook, a good trade.

16.Be5 f6

Black keeps on counterattacking the white bishop.

17.Nxc8 fxe5
18.b4


White tries to counterattack too!

18...Bd4

But Black moves his bishop and attacks the white rook on a1 in return.

19.Nd6 Bxa1
20.Rxa1


Now material is equal again, but Black has doubled e-pawns and the b7 pawn is under attack. You need to activate your pieces quickly!

20...Bc6

It looks like this bishop will not be able to stay on the long diagonal after White's pawns attack it. But Black has prepared a counterattack!

21.b5 Bd5
22.c4


This move attacks the Black bishop, but it leaves the white bishop on d3 unprotected. Time to counterattack:

22...Bxg2!!
23.Kxg2 Nf4+


Forking the white king and unprotected bishop on d3.

24.Kg3 Nxd3
25.Nxb7


The position is still critical for Black, since White plans to push his passed c-pawn and promote it. Here you need a good knowledge of checkmating patterns, so that you can see how to carry out the attack on the white king with just your rook, knight, and a pawn. This is one of the basic checkmating patterns I teach all my students:

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White King g1
Black Rook e2, Black Knight h4, Black Pawn e3


Black has a checkmate in two moves with 1...Nf3+! If White plays 2.Kh1, 2...Rh2 is checkmate in the corner with rook and knight, an important pattern to know that happens very often. If White plays 2.Kf1, 2...Rf2 is also checkmate, with the black pawn protecting the rook.

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If you know this, it will help you figure out what to do next in the position we have in this game:

25...e4!

First, bring your pawn into the action to help your rook and knight.

26.c5 Rf3+
27.Kg2 Rxf2+
28.Kg1 e3!


Now the pawn protects the rook, freeing the knight to hop around and set up the checkmate pattern.

29.c6 Ne5!

If you know the checkmate pattern, you know the knight has to get to the square f3, and you just have to find the fastest route to get there. In this position, that route is through e5.

30.c7

White's pawn is one move too slow!

30...Nf3+
31.Kh1 Rxh2 checkmate.


By the way, even if White's c-pawn was faster, Black could have played ...Rc2 to stop it, then continued the attack with rook, knight, and the passed black e-pawn. But it's much nicer to play the rook and knight checkmate pattern right away if you have the chance!

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