How to avoid going into suicidal complications – Part 1


Some months ago we had a question on the blog (quoted below in italics) and I wanted to come back to it for a while, I was just really stressed out and on auto-pilot (yes this is also why I have not completed Endgame Play; I did not want it to be a bad book). But having gone through a five-day juice detox, I feel human again.

I will answer this question in two columns, as there are two games to relate to. The other one will come next Monday.

Interesting column and game! What struck me especially is your comment that you chose a move which you knew was bad, because you bended with respect to another variation. I would like to share a similar experience I had in two of my own national league games, only it went the other way around, i.e., I chose for unclear/dubious complications against my (lack of) intuition. In the most recent one (played some weeks ago) I was White against a 2300 opponent:

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e4 Nc6 4.Nf3 Bg4 5.d5 Ne5 6.Bf4 Ng6 7.Be3 Nf6 8.Bxc4 a6 (I had prepared the pawn sacrifice 8…Nxe4 at home. It is very dangerous for black, so he played after some thought a move which I hadn’t looked at at home) 8…a6 9.Nbd2 Ne5 (this came as a surprise to me. I had mostly looked at 9…e5 which would have transposed to known territory). 10.Be2 Nxf3+ 11.Nxf3 e6 12.h3 Bxf3 13.Bxf3 exd5 14.e5 Ne4 15.Bxe4 (the computer prefers 15.0-0 +/=) 15…dxe4 16.Qb3?! (I had seen black’s reply, but I hadn’t calculated deeply enough to see that this is very dangerous for white. The originally planned 16.Qa4 and 17.Qxe4 gives white a risk-free edge, since I have a kingside pawn majority supported by centralised heavy pieces, which should give me good attacking chances. Still I chose for the more risky route. I should have remembered Nunn’s advice ‘don’t analyse unnecessary tactics’ – I’m still wondering why I didn’t just play the safe move.). 16…Qd3! 17.Qxb7 Rd8 18.Bg5? (a horrible move played without much deep thought, giving away all the dark squares around my king to my opponent. I could still have bailed out with 18.Qc6+ with a draw. The computer suggests 18.a3 with a slight plus for white. This is a clear case of bending to me; I stopped calculating after black’s 21st move, but in reality that position is already more or less lost for white. Black’s king is much safer than white’s). 18…Be7! 19.Bxe7 Kxe7 20.Qxc7+ Rd7 21.Qc5+ Ke6 22.Qe3? (22.h4 is relatively best). 22…Rc8 23.Qxd3 exd3 (with a won position for black. He finishes it off in an instructive manner) 24.f4 Rc2 25.0-0 Rxb2 26.a4 d2 27.Rad1 Rd4 28.a5 Kf5 29.Rf2 Ke4 30.Rf3 Rd3 31.Rf2 Kd4 32.Kf1 Kc3 33.Ke2 Rb4 34.Rf3 Re4+ 35.Kf2 Kc2 36.Rxd3 Kxd3 37.Ra1 Rxf4+ 38.Kg3 Rc4 0-1.


While it seems clear which mistakes I made in these particular games, I have the following question Jacob: what is in your opinion the best way to train to change this habit of choosing for complications even though you have the feeling it’s kind of suicidal? Which of your books is/are best suited to work on this?


Sorry for this long post, but you kind of invited the readers to no be shy :-). Besides, it is on topic for a change :-).

My Comments:

As everyone who reads this blog regularly will know, I am a big believer in keeping things simple – and that the simplest way of understanding positional chess is through the three questions. I have given a thorough explanation of those in Grandmaster Preparation – Positional Play, but I shall quickly run through them here as well.

1. Where are the weaknesses?

A clear understanding of the points of attack in both yours and your opponent’s position will help a great deal to focus your thinking. All games are decided on weaknesses, as a strong point does not fall. To fall it has to be weaker than the defence of it. In Absurdistan you could imagine one player dominating up to 60-61 squares of the board and the other player winning, because he dominates the most important ones.

2. What is your opponent’s idea?

Also known as prophylaxis. The opponent moves every second time; to understand what he is up to and adjust our plans accordingly is obviously important, though not something everyone does!

3. Which is the worst-placed piece?

There are a number of ways to ask this question. It could be: where do your pieces belong? Which is the best square for your worst-placed piece? Do all your pieces have a function? Are any pieces in the way?

Theory in place – what about the practical issues?

When I look at this game I see a struggle about development. Because Black played 8…a6? he quickly found it difficult to get his pieces out. But White did not exploit this in any sensible way. Instead he moved the queen around and never finished his development. All the way till the horrendous 24.f4?? he could have played better, if he just managed to get some play out of all of his pieces.

If we look at it like this, I think we have a much better answer than Ray was anticipating. It is not about “suicidal tendencies”, but about not adhering to the basics. If you do not have a plan for all of your pieces; you might as well let the opponent take the ones you do not need!

I have not written “here White should think about completing his development” everywhere; just take it as permanently implied!

Ray – N.N.


1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e4 Nc6 4.Nf3 Bg4 5.d5 Ne5 6.Bf4

I think the gambit 6.Qd4 Nxf3+ 7.gxf3 Bxf3 8.Rg1 is far more interesting than the computer says, though as White has an advantage already, it does not make sense to seek such risks.

6…Ng6 7.Be3

7.Bg3 feels more natural to me, but I am sure this is a flaw in my thinking. The bishop would get boxed in here to some degree.

7…Nf6 8.Bxc4!?

8.Nc3 with a slight edge is standard theory, but this gambit is very interesting.

8.Nbd2 e6! and Black is fine.


Black had to take up the challenge. A recent game went 8…Nxe4 9.h3 Bd7 10.0–0 Nd6 11.Bb3 and White had adequate compensation in Tomashevsky – Delchev, Struga 2013.


The reason this is strong is that Black cannot complete his development. 9.Nc3 e5 10.Be2 (10.dxe6 Qxd1+! is the major difference.) 10…Bd6 11.Nd2 would lead us to theoretical lines. I think White is a bit better in these structures.


Not a pleasant move to play, but there are serious problems for Black.

9…e5? 10.dxe6 fxe6 11.Qb3 and White wins material.

10.Be2 Nxf3+


This is a horrible move in my book.

After 11.Bxf3! Bxf3 12.Qxf3 the knight can go to c4 or b3-c5, while Black has to weaken his position in order to finish his development.

11…e6 12.h3 Bxf3 13.Bxf3 exd5 14.e5! Ne4 15.Bxe4!?

15.0–0 would indeed give White a risk-free advantage, as Ray indicates.

15…dxe4 16.Qb3!

But I have to say I quite like the spirit of this decision.

After 16.Qa4+ Qd7 17.Qxe4 0–0–0 18.0–0 Qd5 Black has strong play against e5 and control over the d-file. Proving an advantage for White will prove not so easy.

16…Qd3 17.Qxb7 Rd8


Horrible play. This does nothing to bring out the rooks.

With a feeling of losing control, probably it is a good idea to go for 18.Qc6+ Rd7 19.Qa8+ Rd8 20.Qc6+ with a draw.

But objectively best was 18.a3!, cutting out checks on b4. 18…Be7 19.Qxc7 Rd7 20.Qc8+ Rd8 21.Qc3 and White is still fighting for an advantage.

18…Be7 19.Bxe7 Kxe7!

19…Qd2+? would just allow the white king to run.

20.Qxc7+ Rd7 21.Qc5+ Ke6 22.Qe3?!

22.h4! Rb8 23.b3 Rdd8 24.Rh3 Qd2+ 25.Kf1 Rbc8 26.Qe3 Rc2 27.Re1 and White is hanging in there.

22…Rc8! 23.Qxd3 exd3


What is the purpose of this? The e-pawn is already lost. It is time to get the rooks into play!

24.Rd1 Kxe5 25.h4! and White is still fighting for a draw, which might still be there objectively!


The second rank is brutally weakened and White is forced to put his king out of play. The game is over.

25.0–0 Rxb2 26.a4 d2 27.Rad1 Rd4 28.a5 Kf5 29.Rf2 Ke4 30.Rf3 Rd3 31.Rf2 Kd4 32.Kf1 Kc3 33.Ke2 Rb4 34.Rf3 Re4+ 35.Kf2 Kc2 36.Rxd3 Kxd3 37.Ra1 Rxf4+ 38.Kg3 Rc4



11 thoughts on “How to avoid going into suicidal complications – Part 1”

  1. Hi Jacob

    I wanted to ask you if you knew of any good tactical books that explain tactical motifs, as in Axels Pump up your rating he suggests you work on the tactical motifs , so I was wondering if you knew any good tactical motif books.


  2. Hi Jacob, many thanks for putting your valuable time in answering my questions! Indeed rephrasing it like this it seems quite clear to me now. In fact, neglecting my development is an old weakness of mine, which I have to add as a top priority to my mistakes list (I’ve just been reading this chapter in Pump up your Rating :-)). I guess then the best advice is to study your book on Positional Play thoroughly and consiously asking the three questions in my games, until my subconscious has adapted!

  3. Roberto :
    Hi Jacob
    I wanted to ask you if you knew of any good tactical books that explain tactical motifs, as in Axels Pump up your rating he suggests you work on the tactical motifs , so I was wondering if you knew any good tactical motif books.

    Chess Tactics from Scratch, also published by Quality Chess.

  4. Hi!

    Just a quick question, I was wondering whether there’s a book or plans to write a future book on how to play quiet/dull positions, close to symmetrical positions, for a win. I think it would be incredibly useful to learn how to play positions where most people would just take a draw, but it’s not as easy as it seems. Like Exchange Slav, Exchange French, etc. Playing endgames like Andersson and Carlsen etc.
    Saw a 2550 GM play a 2300 FM in a completely equal rook endgame a few weeks ago, and he totally crushed him.

  5. @Roberto
    For whatever it is worth I wanted to share an idea I came up with for people with not so much study time. I call it the “Iterative Woodpecker Method”. Basically instead of working through a 1000 puzzles and then start repeating I work through some puzzles for 1 week – as many as I manage to handle. Then in the next week I repeat these puzzles and add additional ones. So week by week I repeat the ones I tackled so far and add new ones. The obvious drawback is that the first puzzles are repeated more often than the later ones but if the puzzle book doesn’t sort the examples by motif it shouldn’t matter too much.

  6. @Marvel
    Grandmaster Preparation: Positional Play. Obviously symmetric positions can be investigated specifically; but that book is about category 2 decisions (very little calculation).

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