Bring your own bottle and fork

Piece by piece

[Note that Jon Speelman also looks at the content of the article in video format, here embedded at the end of the article.]

Years ago, the great Mikhail Tal succinctly laid out a critical aspect of all attacking chess: “They can only take one piece at a time” (I don’t have the exact quote, but know the gist).

In full battle cry, Tal’s instinct was not to withdraw attacked pieces, especially small ones: but to add more fuel to the fire by placing further units approaching. Not only was this often the right tactical decision, but it could also have a powerful psychological effect, although the example we start with is definitely a good one.

Black played here 18 … h6?, presumably planning to play some after 19 Bxh6 Ng4, but 19 Bxe6! was utterly devastating and Tal won a few moves later.

Mikhail Tal in Hoogeveen, 1976 | Photo: Rob Meremiet / Anefo

Tal’s quote came to mind from a match played in Yerevan earlier this week that I saw online as the days passed until the start of Wijk aan Zee.

Black had just played 17…Bh4-d8, convinced that he could keep his position intact. But the beautiful 18 Nf5! crushed his hopes, and in fact gave up just three moves later, facing mate-in-one!

18…0-0 [18…g6 19.Nd6+ Kf8 20.Qf3 Rh7 (20…f5 21.exf6 Nxb3 (21…exd5 22.Rhe1 Be6 23.Qxd5!) 22.Nf4) ]

19.Nf6+ gxf6?!

[Or 19…Bxf6 20.exf6 Nxb3 (20…Nd7 21.Ne7+ Kh7 22.Qxa5) 21.Nxh6+ gxh6 22.Qxh6]

20.Qg4+ 1-0

The beautiful self-fork got me thinking, and I started by finding a short video by Simon Williams about forks, featuring a famous game where Bobby Fischer himself made a fork against Tal and got the advantage, but later lost.

13.Bd5! Ra7 followed.

To fork your own pieces you need a bottle, and I’ve mentioned the column with this in mind as I take a little sideways wave to our “Great Leader” as those familiar with British politics will note.

I started to wonder how (un)usual self forking is and searched a database of just over 3 million games, first for those who reached position with Nd5, Nf5 vs. d6, e6, f7, then Bd5, Nf5 vs. the same pawns. There were about a hundred of the former and fifty of the latter, including a known theoretical position in the Sicilian Velimirovic attack.

And while a lot of these saw the e-pawn advance to split the pieces, there were also many in which the pieces themselves were forked. There must also have been occasional instances of self-forks with other pieces on other squares or played by black, but I suspect they are rarer.

In any case, if you know of any of these, please mention them in the comments here or email me directly and I’ll post them in due course.

At the moment a few more examples of the 2-horse self-fork and the bishop-and-knight.

Select an item from the list to switch between games



Master Class Vol.2: Mihail Tal

On this DVD, Dorian Rogozenco, Mihail Marin, Oliver Reeh and Karsten Müller present the 8. World Chess Champion in video lessons: his openings, his understanding of chess strategy, his artful endgame and finally his immortal combinations.


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