Patience when attacking a d4 opening system

Its well known that your average club player has little time to study chess.  What time is available is often recommended to be spent on tactics training or endgames, especially for those players below 2000 ELO. As a result, amateur chess is often littered with “system-like” openings or rare sidelines from more mainstream cannon fodder. I faced one such system style opening this week in Division 1 of the Bristol & District Chess League.  The game was fun in terms of its various phases but also instructional in-terms of how players evaluate their positions.

Neither me or my opponent are certain of the exact name of the opening but it revolved around a d4, e3, c3, Bd3, Nf3 structure with white’s black squared bishop remaining inside the pawn chain.  It might be a Zukertort but we are uncertain. Answers on a postcard!

As with most system style openings, my black repertoire was quickly sidelined (da-dum tsshh – here all week!) and I found myself playing a series of non committal developing moves that resulted in my opponent starting to build pressure against my castled king position.

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Whilst I knew that it takes time for the sting in most d4 systems to come to fruition, I couldn’t help but sit facing my opponent and feel that they had had the better play in the opening 10 moves or so. My position felt like it was only two weak moves away from collapse with a pawn storm coming and plenty of risk for a shattered queen side.

Whilst I was telling myself horror stories at the board, it turns out that post game analysis shows black is better with an evaluation of -0.63. If you had asked me at the time, I would have predicted +1.50 to white such was the nature of my next few shuffling moves to untie myself.

The game continued.

Believing myself to be close to trouble I adopted a strategy of unpinning my queen and breaking in the centre.  The strategy worked and my opponent abandoned their queenside attack plans and chose (in my opinion) a weaker defensive plan that allowed me to expand and launch some threats of my own on the kingside.

In a complete reversal of my perception from several moves earlier, I felt like I was winning big here.

Feeling good I had launched g5?! My opponent had been forced backwards and their kingside was looking loose.  I felt like my plan of a kingside attack was obvious and clearly winning.  Again, if a commentry team had interrupted the game and asked my opinion I would have comfortably stated -2.50 to black. The reality of the post-game analysis is only a small advantage to black of -0.23 (a whole factor of 10 out in my evaluation!).

Whilst it looks impressive this position is one of the reasons why I decided to write about this game.  Throughout the game both mine and my opponents evaluations are sharply at odds with the computer analysis.  Both me and my opponent felt that black is comfortably winning here but the reality of this situation is that white is absolutely fine to win the pawn on offer after 19. fxg5 hxg5 20. Nxg5 Rg8 21. f4 Bh6 22. h4 they stand at a comfortable +0.62 edge.

If white had accepted the pawn then it was holdable despite all the kingside pawns being advanced, how does black continue the attack?

The game continued to the next phase which is best summed up by the slow realisation that my attack is not as good as I thought and that white has found a way to simplify and exchange down the position. Black has emerged a pawn up but white threatens a nasty build up of pressure on c7.

I turned down a draw offer, mostly due to the match situation at the time which necessitated a win by me. At this point if you had asked me my opinion of the position I would have been a mixture of nerves and dejection that somehow I had let a promising attack (that was never really there in the first place!) slip.

But if at first you don’t succeed then try try try again.  Sure my attack had gone but I had sealed a small material advantage as well as an extra 10 minutes on the clock. It was then that I realised I had some tempo to my favour by moving the queen to b6, thus creating a threat on the d4 rook and the h2 – b8 diagonal was looking juicy.  With a plan in place, the game continued.

Fast forward and the planned strike on the h2 square has been a success, tearing apart the kingside at the expense of all my centre pawns.

The position below is the stuff attacking dreams are made of.  The kind of position that makes you sit there and think “there has to be a win here, I just need to find it“. In the end, the culmination of my plan involved a very pretty tactical series that resulted in the win.

33…Rxd2 34.Rxd2 Qxe3+ 35.Kg2 Qxd2+ 36.Qxd2 Rh2+ 0 – 1


A nice way to finish an enjoyable game that seemed to have several key stages. What I find most telling is the stories that amateur chess players often tell themselves in positions (its one of the reasons I enjoy watching Grandmasters online talk through their games).

A key lesson for me was my personal evaluations of the game swung from “losing big time” to “winning big time” to “probably drawn you fool“.  The reality is that the game was actually much much closer all the way through until the culmination of my second plan to attack the h2 square sealed the win.

The game also contained a second valuable lesson in terms of learning to accept that an opportunity may have gone but you can still regroup and go again.  I had been convinced victory was not far away when I played 18. g5 and yet ultimately my opponent defended and I was forced to rethink and rebuild an entirely new attack.

In the amateur chess world we all like to imagine ourselves as the “Bristolian Tal” (ok just me then…) and when these fantasies are dashed against the rocks of our opponents position it can be easy to become dispirited into a draw or even a loss.  The ability to pause and say “no, it has not all been for nought, there is still a way forward” was a key step in helping seal this important win for the team.

A valuable lesson indeed.


Jon Fisher

Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.



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