Recovering From A Pawn Fork…

In this game, played out between myself (White, 1672) and Dr. M (Black, unranked) on Wednesday evening, I achieved a quick and perhaps undeserved victory after a lazy series of fast-paced opening moves that culminated in an egregious blunder in which I plonked my Bishop on d3, bringing on an obvious pawn fork on e4.

Although White’s set-up is far from satisfactory, Black also has developmental problems of his own, which White, in spite of losing his Bishop, was able to exploit.

White commits an elementary blunder with B-d3?
White commits an elementary blunder with B-d3?, inviting … e4! Doh!

How did White get into such a pickle, and how did he escape?

The game began with the Queen’s Gambit Declined, and headed into the Slav Defence (shown below), in which Black protects his Queen’s Pawn with his Queen’s Bishop’s Pawn and keeps his options open for his Queen’s Bishop.

So far, so Semi-Slav...
So far, so Slav…

Although our move-order did not follow the book, we almost arrived at a classic Semi-Slav set-up, but Dr M moved his King’s Bishop to b4 to pin instead of developing his King’s Knight.


White responded in similar fashion with 5. Bg5 and Black defended with his Knight. With the black-square Bishop now outside the pawn-chain, White moved his King’s Pawn to e3. Black castled and White then extended his pawn-chain with 7. c5. Black responded with a bold Queen move: 7. … Qa5, escaping from the pin by White’s Bishop on g5, and putting pressure on White’s Knight on c3.


Although White’s position is well enough defended to see off such a threat, provided that Black’s Knight on f6 is taken, it is hardly ideal for White. Black could win a pawn from the exchanges:


To get to that position, Black delays retaking on f6 until AFTER the exchanges on c3 have taken place. You will find, however, that many players tend to be reactive and take back immediately, which is often to their disadvantage.

That was the case in our game on Wednesday evening. When I took his Knight on f6, Dr. M immediately retook on f6, allowing me to throw my Queen into the defence of c3 and preventing Black from gaining a Pawn to offset the disruption of the pawns in front of Black’s King.

Black responded by advancing his King’s Pawn to e5.


White’s Bishop-Blunder

I had been banging out the moves at a fast pace. We play with 30 minutes each on the chess clock. Twenty-seven minutes, thirty-four seconds remained on my clock when I carelessly dropped my Bishop onto d3, the position shown in the photograph at the top of this article.

In the Queen’s Gambit, moving the King’s Bishop off his home square so that the King can castle on the King’s side is often a challenge. One reason why I had advanced the Queen’s Bishop’s Pawn to c5 was to prevent d5 x c4 immediately after moving my Bishop, more or less forcing it to move again to retake the Pawn, thereby losing tempo.

I had my eye on Black’s h7 Pawn, which the Bishop on d3 is pointing at… BUT as soon as I let go of the Bishop I noticed the OBVIOUS Pawn-fork that I had just invited! Doh! Sure enough, Dr M advanced his King’s-Pawn again to fork my Bishop and Knight…

I used to say that I only really began to play a game of chess after I had made a blunder. I had hoped that I had moved beyond that stage by now, but clearly, I have not. What followed was a series of moves that led me out of disaster into one of my quickest victories against Dr M for a very long time. I only really begin to play a game of chess after I have made a blunder, but it helps when my opponent also blunders. 🙂

NOTE: Some players on resign as soon as they go a piece down, which seems far too defeatist to me. There is no guarantee that your opponent will not blunder later on! Also, playing at a material disadvantage is a very good exercise. You might lose the game after a long struggle, but treat the struggle as “practice” and it will help you to improve your game and build up your mental toughness.

Here is how things looked on Move 12, with Black’s e-Pawn forking White’s Bishop and Knight…


What would you do as White in this position?

I decided to keep my Knight by moving it to h4, then retake Black’s Pawn with my Queen and castle on the King’s side…


Meanwhile, Black has done nothing to exploit his material advantage by developing his Bishop and Knight, and instead blundered with 14 … h5?, a wasted move that further weakens the King’s defences. I guess Black wanted give his King the freedom to move to f8, as that is what he did a few moves later, leading to disaster…

Assessing The Position With Silman’s “Imbalances”

In the 4th edition of Reassess Your Chess , International Master Jeremy Silman offers a useful list of “imbalances” which you can use to assess your current position and play to your advantages. He explains that,

An imbalance is any significant difference in the two respective positions.

Using some of his imbalances, let’s see how things stand (as far as I can see) after White’s 15th move in our game:

  • Minor pieces (Bishops v Knights): advantage BLACK!
  • Pawn structure: advantage WHITE!
  • Space: no clear advantage.
  • Material: advantage BLACK!
  • Control of a key file: advantage BLACK!
  • Control of a hole (weak square): advantage WHITE!
  • Lead in development: advantage WHITE!
  • Initiative (pushing your own agenda): no clear advantage.
  • King safety: advantage WHITE!

The rest of the game shows how White at least attempted to put his favourable imbalances to work while Black failed to do so.

First, Black moved his Queen onto c7, eyeing the Pawn on h2, but the threat was easily blocked by advancing White’s King’s Bishop’s Pawn to f4, which also helped to bring the Rook on f1 into play.

Black then moved his King to f8, opening up space for White to invade on the h file… Black’s Queenside remains undeveloped, negating his material advantage.


White was planning to break into the h file with Rf3, Rg3 and Qh7.

However, when Black moved his King to e7, White offered up his Pawn to see if Black would take it and open up the e file for Qe4+… This is a case of “playing the man” rather than “playing the board,” the kind of move that International Masters such as Jeremy Silman almost certainly would NOT recommend. My only defence is that in the rough and tumble of amateur chess, that sort of thing can often be effective. If you have an opponent who will “take anything that is offered,” see what happens if you offer him something that will remove the guard from a square you want to occupy.

My opponent, Dr M, is no longer so easily tricked. He ignored my offer and moved his Rook to g8, aiming at my King, and the scene was set for the conclusion of the game…


The key squares are now f5 and h7. The white Knight can land on f5 (or g6) and give check. That is a handy asset to have in the bank.

Meanwhile, Black’s Rook on g8 is unprotected… so White moved Qh7. Black protected his Rook with Qd8 (which helped to restrict the King’s mobility) and White scooped up a the unprotected Pawn with Qxh5. (Rg3 may have been a better move, threatening Ng6+ …)

Black saw an opportunity for a dramatic second fork of the game with Bg4…


White responded with Nf5+ and here Black made his fatal double error, first by retreating his King to e8, permitting Nd6+!, and then by moving his King onto e7 and into checkmate, instead of d7 and a continuation of the game.


A Better Option For Black?

On the 21st move, Black could have responded to Nf5+ with … Bxf5. Then, 22. Qxf5, d5 x c4.

Remember, when you have a material advantage, it is further to your advantage to swap off pieces. The fewer pieces on the board, the more significant your material advantage is likely to become. So it makes sense to exchange Black’s Bishop for White’s dangerous Knight. In doing so, Black can then take the loose white Pawn on c4. If White retakes with the Queen and gives check, Black can retreat his King to f8.

Even if White’s Queen returns to the h7 square Black has stabilized his position and can now DEVELOP his Knight (his material advantage), by moving it to d2. In this situation, the balance of the game seems to have swung back to Black. At least, I like Black’s options much more than White’s.


As you can see, at this level of chess, there is no reason to resign just because you go a piece down. Hang in there and wait and see if your opponent makes blunders of his own! 🙂