Some players think of attacking chess as something risky or random. On the contrary, attacking is an opportunity. As Judit says in the introduction to Master your Chess with Judit Polgar part 2:
Attacking is a lot of fun! It’s easier than defending, and it puts pressure on our opponents. Opponents under pressure tend to make blunders, so we should seize the opportunity to attack whenever possible!
Mistakes are unavoidable in chess, so it’s practical to invite your opponent to go wrong. True, it could be you who makes the last mistake and loses. But there’s no escaping that chance anyway. Steering the game your way should give you the upper hand both practically and psychologically.
‘I am a positional player’ some may say, ‘I build small advantages from the opening and slowly squeeze them into a winning endgame’. Great! But unless you’re Magnus Carlsen, you might use an adjustment. You don’t have to play like Tal, but you need to be capable of converting won games when they require breaking a sweat. After all, there’s no winning at chess without an attack.
Are you 4 Queens up? You still need to create an attack against the King. Your opponent walked into a mate in 1? Well, that last check was an attack on the King. Those are extreme examples but the idea is that attacking chess is not a style; it’s a necessity.
Attacking doesn’t mean going Bxf7+ in every game. A part of it is spotting the right moment. But how to proceed when such opportunities appear?
The following games are selected from Master your Chess with Judit Polgar part 2. Italics are from the authors.
In Rogers-Milos, Manila Olympiad 1992, Black just played 21…Rdf8 intending to get counterplay with a break on the f file. It had been a slow maneuvering game but the queenside is now quite unattended.
That’s usually a good reason to attack, but does it mean it’s the right moment?
The Black King’s pawn shelter is weakened and the queenside could be opened after the exchange on c6. A Knight jump -ideally to d5- would allow the Rook lift to b3 or c3, followed by the Queen transfer to the Queenside. The bishop from h3 covers c8, denying a fleeing square for Black’s King and natural support to c6.
It looks promising on paper, but as always you need to calculate variations.
For example, now the idea from the game doesn’t work: 22.dxc6 bxc6 23.Bd7 Rb8! followed by 24…Rhd8 and d6-d5, and Black is fine. In the case of 22.Rgd1 f6 White may be better but Black is at least playing.
It wasn’t the right moment so Rogers continued with a helpful move. If he gets a chance to strike in the future, he won’t be distracted with counterplay on the f file.
This is a textbook move to model patience and killing the counterplay of the opponent before we carry out our own intentions. The bishop trade would lead to a tragically hopeless good knight bad bishop scenario, which I extensively covered in the first course. In lieu of the trade, Black only has bad and passive alternatives.
An ugly move but it threatens g7-g6 and f7-f6 when the pawns on f2 and h4 may feel uncomfortable. Is this the right moment?
This is the moment when a good tactician would shift gears and go ‘OK, this has to be punished’. The black army is crudely separated from the queenside, so it would almost be unjust if we did not have some kind of punishment here. White has multiple promising choices but Roger’s is clearly the best!
Vacating d5 for the Knight and thus clearing the 3rd rank for the Rooks. Now the direct attack works because Black is practically a piece down. 24…gxf5 25.Nd5 Qd8 26.cxb7+ Kxb7 27.Rb3+ wins in a similar fashion to the game.
Insisting on eliminating the guardian of d5. 25…Rb8 as in the first note was the last hope but now White calmly plays 26.b3 Rhd8 27.Bh3 with a strategically winning position as the h7-Bishop is buried alive.
25…Qc7 26.Bxc6+!! Qxc6 27.Nd5
This is decisive as the heavy pieces join with tempo. c7 must be guarded forever so Black’s Rooks can’t join the defense.
27…Bd8 28.Rc3! Qb7 29.Rb3!
Although the queen is a crucially important piece in the defense, it is also a very clumsy defender in this situation as it can’t find safe haven from the invading white pieces. Keep attacking!
In the case of 29…Bb6, wins 30.Nxb6+ axb6 31.Rxd6 Rb8 32.Rb4! b5
Are you following the variation blindfold? Calculation is an important complement for attacking play so you should train it whenever possible. White to move and win! Underline the space below to see how the line ends.
33.Rxb5! Qxb5 34.Ra6+! Qxa6 35.Qa6# or 34…Kb7 35.Qxb5 with mate to follow soon.
29…Qc6 30.Rdd3 Ba5
Time to shine, channel your inner Tal/Shirov/Kasparov/Judit Polgar!
As before, underline the space below to reveal the answer.
31.Rdc3! Bxc3 32.Qa6!! Black resigned as the only way to avoid mate on c7 is 32…Rc8 33.Nb6+ Kb8 34.Nxc8 Kc7 35.Qxa7+ losing anyway.
You can check the whole game here.
Sometimes a position can equally go two different ways. Which one, will have a lot to do with the player’s preference but good players usually make decisions based on their position or tournament situation.
This is Ruban-Polgar, Groningen 1993. Not your typical King’s Indian with fixed center and attack on the flanks. See here for a comparison.
White just played Nf3-d2 and Qe7 seems natural, unraveling black’s pieces somehow and keeping an eye on White’s Queenside expansion. Exchanges are likely to occur on the d-file, and Black would probably be the side milking the endgame due to her bishop pair, but nothing too special. It’s a sensible development of the game but Judit comments:
Ruban is aware of my kingside attacking intentions, so he withdraws his knight from the pending g5–g4 push. Also, he was hoping to hold the h6–h5 aggression. He’s in for an unpleasant surprise, however! What would you play here with Black?
“When your opponent plays a move to stop your threat, it’s good to check if it does stop it.”
The pawn is untouchable due to 16…g4 trapping the bishop, but also the text stops g3-g4, seizing control of e4 forever.
This is very telling. A triumphal narrative is that Judit is a brave attacking player who goes for the neck without hesitation. And she is! But the truth is deeper. The best attackers are always conscious of their opponent’s chances (as in the example above). It’s not a one-way road.
A soft move would let the pawn mass -a dynamic asset- turn into a weakness. So Judit had to be consequent with her advantage. She had no assurance of success, but she was meeting the demands of the position and things tend to work out well when you do so.
16.e4 f4 17.gxf4 gxf4 18.Bxh5
And so Judit is rewarded. She got two open files aiming at the White King and the attack snowballs as Black’s pieces quickly reach the kingside. But how else would you have stopped h4-h3?
18…Qh4 19.Bf3 Nf6 20.Qb3 Kh8 21.Rfe1 Ng4!
“The knight can’t be tolerated here, so an important defender will be traded off!“
22.Bxg4 Bxg4 23.f3
A key point. The weakening of the diagonal will hurt White sooner or later, but f4-f3 by Black had to be stopped. 23…Be6 is the natural reply, but “perhaps we should consider other alternatives too!?“
A flashy finish
When you see them played out, these moves seem utterly trivial but finding them as part of a calculated line is an altogether different matter. Rxd2 is a lethal threat; hence the g4-bishop is untouchable!
Why did Judit consider other alternatives? After 23…Be6 Black slows down which should be suspicious when you have the initiative. Also, in the last 5 moves, she mobilized her whole army towards the kingside and only the a8 rook was left behind.
The moral is never to play an attack on auto-pilot. There are always hidden resources for both sides.
Just at a glance, Black’s attack -the real attack!- looks very promising. After the g-file opens, White’s King has no safe haven. However, general considerations are second to concrete variations. The green light for this sacrifice is that it works. White is getting mated.
25.gxf3 Rg8! 26.Nh2 Bf8+! 27.Kh1 Bc5
Creating the ever-present threat of mate on g1. It requires nerve to see this in advance and understand that it works. Being material down doesn’t stress Judit. All her pieces play, and that weighs more.
Another beautiful move, silently pinpointing the weakness of the 1st rank and taking the last piece into the attack.
One of those brilliant moves that make it seem too simple. White resigned. Can you see why White is defenseless? Underline the space below to reveal the answer.
30.Qc2 Qxh2+ 31.Kxh2 Rh7 mate or 30.Rxh2 Qxf2 with mate on g2.
You can check the whole game here.
Do you want to learn more?
Take a look into Master your Chess with Judit Polgar part 2. The course is mostly on attacking chess as Judit and IM Andras Toth examine all the scenarios for a direct attack against the King and common tactical situations that will sharpen your attacking game.