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How Quiet Moves can Turn Around a Game

Super GM Pavel Eljanov reveals why quiet moves are tough to spot, especially with 2 specific pieces. He also shares how they can dramatically change the result of the game with examples!

Strategy | 5 min read
How Quiet Moves can Turn Around a Game

In general, chess is a more tactical game. 

Clean and short calculation of moves is the most important skill from my point of view. 

But often, there are situations when a straight-line play doesn't lead to a goal. Usual patterns don’t work.

Here it becomes more important to look for quiet or subtle moves.

From my experience, I’ve noticed that quiet moves with the Knight and King often fall out of sight!

Because we instinctively use other pieces in the middlegame, we often don’t consider moves with the King before the endgame. 

And for the Knight, its unique L-shaped movement makes it difficult to notice quiet moves, especially if it involves going backward. 

Now, of course, the quiet moves of other pieces could be powerful and unexpected as well. But this article is devoted to the quiet moves with the Knight and the King!

Quiet Moves with the King

Let me start by sharing a position that became very famous and shook the chess world! 

Game 1: Khismatulin - Eljanov

If you don’t know the game and love a tough challenge, go ahead and solve the next position. It’s White to play.

Khismatulin - Eljanov position
Khismatulin - Eljanov

This position became famous! I'm not sad at all that I'm just co-author of such a masterpiece. I consider myself a worthy co-author as it was the penultimate round of the European Championship and we both tried hard to win this game to preserve our chances of fighting for the podium. 

I could force a draw a lot of times before but all in all, there is nothing to regret.

44.Kg1!!

Position after 44.Kg1!!

Objectively, this move leads to just a slightly better endgame for White in case of best play. But who cares as it's practically impossible for Black to find the precise moves.

44...Qxd1+?

Black should have rejected the gift. 44...Rd5!! absolutely inhuman move. It turns out that one tempo and possibility to keep an eye on "c" passer is much more important than the rook! 45.Kh2! Kf6!! Another king retreat and clearly the only path to save the game. (45...Qxd1 46.c7+-; 45...Qxc6? 46.Qg7!!).

45.Kh2

Despite being up a rook, there's no rescue for Black now. 

45...Rxc6 46.Qe7+ Kh6 47.Qf8+ Kg5 48.Qxf7!

Position after 48.Qxf7!

After the game, Denis told me that only here he realized that it was winning for White. In the beginning, he saw only perpetual. It does not detract his achievement of course as we are not engines and from a practical point of view his decision was brilliant in any case.

48...Rf6 49.f4+ Kh6 50.Qxf6 Qe2 51.Qf8+ Kh5 52.Qg7 h6 53.Qe5+ Kh4 54.Qf6+ Kh5 55.f5 gxf5 56.Qxf5+ Kh4 57.Qg6 

1-0 

Quiet moves can seem very counter-intuitive at first. But if you’re familiar with ideas from the classics, you’ll understand why it makes sense to play such a move. This is where the knowledge of common ideas helps a lot.

Have a look at this game:

Game 2: Maze - Rambaldi

You can check out the classic between Winter - Capablanca, 1919 to understand why g7-g5 was such an important idea.

Position from Maze - Rambaldi
Maze - Rambaldi

It's Black to play.

I was witnessing this game as I played for the Nice Alekhine chess club as well as my teammate Francesco Rambaldi. Very important moment because the evaluation of this position depends on the possibility of executing the g7-g5-advance. In the game, Black played 16...Qd7, missing the strong quiet move...

16...Kh8!!

Position after 16...Kh8!!

A great move and the only possibility to prepare g5. As we know from the classical game Winter-Capablanca, 1919 this kind of structure with a trapped bishop on g3 is strategically very dangerous.

In this particular case, there is no exception. White is doomed to joyless defense.

16....g5!? Francesco ruled out this continuation as he felt that it could be dangerous. He was partially right. White has compensation but it's only sufficient for a draw after 17.Bxg5 hxg5 18.Qxg5.

17.Rg1 Rg8! 18.c3 g5 19.Bg3 Nh5 and Black has an advantage.

Game 3: Harikrishna - Eljanov

In some cases, quiet moves can help defend against an attack, even if it looks like you’re jumping into a frying pan.

Position from Harikrishna - Eljanov
Harikrishna - Eljanov

22...Kh8! 

The only but sufficient defense.

 

Position after 22...Kh8!

23.Bc1! Ng8 24.Qg6 dxe5 25.Rxf6 Qb1 26.Rf1 Nd6!

This was the best move. Unfortunately, I made a decisive mistake with 26...exd4 and lost the game later.

Position after 26...Nd6!
Position after 26...Nd6!

27.Rxh6+! Nxh6 28.Qxh6+ Kg8 =

Quiet moves with the Knight

These moves can be tough moves to notice.

Game 4: Eljanov - Shirov

If you've watched Daily Lesson #55: Designing the Knight’s Fate, you might be familiar with the position from this game.

Eljanov - Shirov
Eljanov - Shirov

Black's position looks OK at first sight. He is even leading in development with good control of the central squares.

13.Nb1!

but it turns out that after such a modest knight retreat it's not easy for Black at all to hold the center.

13...Bb4

This looks artificial but I was unable to find a decent way how to neutralize White's play without many concessions. Probably the lesser evil was 13...Nc5 14.Nc3 d4 15.Nb5 Re8 16.c3 with initiative for White. Black is under pressure anyway.

14.c3 Bd6 15.Na3 Bxa3 16.Rxa3 Rc8 17.Rb3 b6 18.Rb5 Nc5 19.d4 and White has an advantage.

I won the game eventually without many troubles.

Game 5: George Meier - Eljanov

In this game, the a6-pawn stands weak. This explains Black’s next few moves.

George Meier - Eljanov position
George Meier - Eljanov

17...Rb6!? 18.Bf1

18.Qxd8 was the most precise way 18...Rxd8 19.Rc7 Nc6 but Black's position is still to be preferred.

18...Bxf1 19.Kxf1 Nb8! 

This move was totally unexpected for my opponent.

Position after 19...Nb8

There is no way to save the a6-pawn, and my knights are building up strong teamwork.

20.Qxd8 Rxd8 21.Rc7 Nbc6 22.b3 Kf8 23.Rb7 Rxb7 24.axb7 Rb8

Position after 24...Rb8

25.Ne1 Rxb7 26.Ke2 Ke8 27.Nc2 a5 -+

Gradually, my position become technically winning, but I was unable to convert it in time trouble (time control was 15+10 sec).

Conclusion

It's a special skill (and even a gift) to see all the hidden possibilities of pieces maneuvers. But knowledge of common ideas helps a lot here. 

Because better knowledge of standard plans gives you a better chance to intuitively find those positions when it is necessary to look for exceptions to the rules.

I also believe that solving chess studies also helps a lot in this and many other cases. It develops an ability to find non-standard solutions and imagination overall. 

Editor’s Note: We thank our partner Modern Chess for contributing this article to our blog. Do check out their website, where you'll find instructive articles written by strong Grandmasters! 

P.S. Share your thoughts in the forum.

Originally published Aug 30, 2022

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