What is a Combination

When we attempt to unravel the skeins of meaning concealed in the common chess term "combination" dictionary definitions are well-nigh useless. In our sense a combination patently is not a "motor-cycle with sidecar", nor is it a group of "persons united for a purpose". To be told, in addition, that it means the "art of combining" or a "union of identical things" is not outstandingly helpful. Possibly a dictionary devoted specifically to chess terminology would be of more value, but I imagine that a great measure of confusion would still prevail, for in my experience "combination" means different things to different people. Of course, a combination is a working together of the pieces for a certain goal, but which goals are legitimate? Must the combination involve a sacrifice—does it have to be sound or have clear consequences—can the quality of "soundness" actually be ascertained—does "combination" pertain only to operations conceived in play over the board (or in correspondence play)...? These are the problems which arise when we seek to nail down this elusive term. In this first chapter I have adopted a tridentate approach to the question, each stage corresponding approximately to the artistic, scientific or sporting element of chess, in that order.

My own view, which I hope will emerge from the argument which follows, is that the combination is a concept which can only be grasped on an intuitive level, for any rigorous definition would exclude feats of the imagination hardly to be subsumed under any other heading.

Botvinnik once remarked that chess was the art which complemented the science of logic, just as music was the art which complemented the science of acoustics and painting was the art which complemented the science of optics. And in the realm of art miracles can still occur, with no necessity felt to explain thtm away on a rational basis. In this section I have assembled nine combinative masterpieces, starting with Paul Morphy and ending with Robert Fischer and Boris Spassky, which verge on the miraculous; games where the moves are (to say the least) unexpected, at times, apparently, inexplicable, and where conventional material values (Q=9 R=5 B/N=3 P=l, etc.) are completely overturned. For these nine examples the notes are kept to a minimum to preserve the miraculous impact of

2 The Chess Combination from Philidor to Karpov these remarkable games, but in subsequent chapters we will attempt to analyse the combinations more deeply and elucidate some basic rules and principles for their successful operation.

A GALLERY OF MIRACLES (i) Morphy-Duke of Brunswick and Count Isouard de Vauvenargue in consultation. Paris, 1858. Philidor's Defence.

1 P-K4 P-K4 2 N-KB3 P-Q3 3 P-Q4 B-N5 4 PXP BXN? Black's best chance is to make a gambit of necessity with 4 ... N-Q2! 5 QXB PXP 6 B-QB4 N-KB3 7 Q-QN3 Q-K2 8 N-B3. If 8 QXP Black can escape into a (lost) ending with 8 . .. Q-N5+. 8... P-B3 9 B-KN5 P-N410 NXP! PXN. The noble amateurs chivalrously accept everything, but if 10 ... Q-N5+ 11 QXQ BXQ+ 12 P-B3! is quickly decisive. 11 BXNP+ QN-Q2 12 0-0-0 R-Ql 13 RXN RXR 14 R-Ql Q-K3 15 BXR+ NXB 16 Q-N8+! NXQ 17 R-Q8 mate.

The final position must represent a kind of archetypal wish fulfilment for chess players. Who has not dreamed of giving mate with just two pieces against the virtually full muster of the opponent's forces?

(ii) Steinitz-Von Bardeleben, Hastings, 1895. Giuoco Piano.

1 P-K4 P-K4 2 N-KB3 N-QB3 3 B-B4 B-B4 4 P-B3 N-B3 5 P-Q4 PXP 6

PXP B-N5+ 7 N-B3 P-Q4?i Avoiding the complexities of 7 ... NXKP! 8 0-0 BXN 9 P-Q5 which was terra incognita in 1895. 8 PXP KNXP 9 0-0 B-K3 10 B-KN5 B-K2 11 BXN. An unexpected exchange, the point of which is to delay Black's castling. 11... QBXB 12 NXB QXN 13 BXB NXB 14 R-Kl P-KB3 15 Q-K2 Q-Q2 16 QR-B1 P-B3? Imperative was 16 ... K-B2! to break the pin. After the text Steinitz launches a combination which impoverishes adjectival description. 17 P-Q5! PXP 18 N-Q4 K-B2 19 N-K6 KR-QB1 20 Q-N4 P-KN3 21 N-N5+ K-Kl 22 RXN+! K-Bl. The rook is immune, e.g. 22 ... KXR 23 R-K1 + K-Q3 24 Q-N4+ K-B2 25 N-K6+ K-Nl 26 Q-B4+. But how is White to win with every piece en prise and Black threatening mate? 23 R-B7+! K-Nl 24 R-N7+!

Black Resigned. Mate is forced: 24 ... K-Rl 25 RxP+ K-Nl 26 R-N7+ K-Rl (or 26 ... K-Bl 27 N-R7+) 27 Q R4+ KXR 28 Q-R7+ K-Bl 29 Q-R8+K-K2 30 Q-N7+ K-Kl 31 Q-N8+ K-K2 32 Q-B7+ K-Ql 33 Q-B8+ Q-Kl 34 N-B7+ K-Q2 35 Q-Q6 mate. "Never relaxing his grip, Steinitz wound up this game with one of the most beautiful and aesthetically satisfying combinations ever devised on the chessboard."

(iii) Pillsbury-Lasker, St. Petersburg, 1896. Queen's Gambit.

1 P-Q4 P-Q4 2 P-QB4 P-K3 3 N-QB3 N-KB3 4 N-B3 P-B4 5 B-N5 PXQP 6 QXP N-B3 7 Q-R4?! Stronger is 7 BXN! as Pillsbury later discovered. 1... B-K2 8 0-0-0 Q-R4 9 P-K3 B-Q2 10 K-Nl P-KR3 11 PXP PXP 12 N-Q4 0-0 13 BXN BXB 14 Q-R5 NXN 15 PXN B-K3 16

4 The Chess Combination from Philidor to Karpov P-B4 QR-B1 17 P-B5 RXN! 18 PXB. By continuing with his counterattack Pillsbury forces Lasker to reveal the full depth of his combination, for the game could have come to an abrupt and unspectacular conclusion after 18 PXR QXBP 19 PXB R-B1-+. What is often overlooked is that the loser of a brilliant game can deserve credit for offering resistance that demands the highest quality of attack. 18 ... R-QR6!! A move that comes into the miraculous class. Since the QRP is indefensible Pillsbury is forced to accept. 19 PXP+ RXP 20 PXR Q-N3+ 21B-N5. If 21 K-B2 R-B2+ 22 K-Q2 QXP+ 23 K-KI Q-B6+ and wins. 21... QxB+ 22 K-Rl R-B2 23 R-Q2 R-B5 24 KR-Q1 R-B6. Treading the same path as its former colleague. 25 Q-B5 Q-B5 26 K-N2 RXP!!

What is a Combination? 5

27 Q-K6+ K-R2 28 KXR Q-B6+ 29 K-R4 P-QN4+ 30 KXP Q-B5+ 31 K-R5 B-Q1+ White Resigns.

(iv) Rotlevi-Rubinstein, Lodz, 1907. Queen's Gambit.

1 p_Q4 P-Q4 2 N-KB3 P-K3 3 P-K3 P-QB4 4 P-B4 N-QB3 5 N-B3 N-B3 6 PXBP?! BXP 7 P-QR3 P-QR3 8 P-QN4 B-Q3 9 B-N2 0-0 10 Q-Q2?! Q-K2 11 B-Q3 PXP 12 BXP P-QN413 B-Q3 R-Ql 14Q-K2B-N215 0-0 N-K4 16 NXN BXN 17 P-B4. Given his deficient state of development White's position cannot stand the weakening involved in this general advance in the centre. 17 ... B-B2 18 P-K4 QR-B1 19 P-K5 B-N3+ 20 K-Rl N-N5! The first sacrifice; over this and the next five moves Rubinstein succeeds in offering his N, Q, both Rooks and his QB! 21B-K4 Q-R5 22 P-N3 RXN! 23 PXQ. Or 23 BXR BXB+ and if 23 BXB RXP 24

R-B3 RXR 25 BXR N-B7+, etc. 23 ... R-Q7!! 24 QXR. Everything slots perfectly into the grand structure; if 24 QXN BXB+ or 24 BXB RXQ 25 B-N2 R-R6! Finally 24 BXR RXQ with too many threats. 24 ... BXB+ 25

Q-N2 R-R6. White Resigns____RXP (h2) mate, can be postponed, but not prevented. The architectonic crescendo almost defies belief, yet its logic is somehow crystal clear. Truly a sacrificial victory in the classical style.

(v) Samisch-Nimzowitsch, Copenhagen, 1923. Queen's Indian Defence. "The Immortal Zugzwang Game."

1 P-Q4 N-KB3 2 P-QB4 P-K3 3 N-KB3 P-QN3 4 P-KN3 B-N2 5 B-N2 B-K2 6 N-B3 0-0 7 0-0 P-Q4 8 N-K5 P-B3 9 PXP. Much more vigorous is 9 P-K4! 9... BPXP 10 B-B4 P-QR3 11 R-Bl P-QN412 Q-N3 N-B313 NXN BXN 14 P-KR3 Q-Q2 15 K-R2 N-R416 B-Q2 P-B417 Q-Ql P-N5 18 N-Nl B-QN4 19 R-Nl B-Q3! Nimzowitsch is not afraid of White's coming attempt to free himself. 20 P-K4 BPXP! 21QXN RXP. This looks like a positional sacrifice at first sight, but Black's conception gradually assumes more formidable overtones. 22 Q-N5 QR-KB1 23 K-Rl R/1-B4 24 Q-K3 B-Q6 25 QR-K1 P-R3! White Resigns, he has no decent moves left at all.

The final position is one of the most celebrated and remarkable in the history of chess. White made no obvious blunders in this game and it is almost incredible that Nimzowitsch could have reduced his opponent to such a state of paralysis (on a crowded board!) simply as a result of some stereotyped play on his part. Compared with Rubinstein's game this one looks like witchcraft.

(vi) Reti-Alekhine, Baden-Baden, 1925. Pseudo-Reti opening.

I P-KN3 P-K4 2 N-KB3 P-K5 3 N-Q4 P-Q4 4 P-Q3 PXP 5 QXP N-KB3 6 B-N2 B-N5+ 7 B-Q2 BXB+ 8 NXB 0-0 9 P-QB4 N-R3. Alekhine has obtained nothing special at all from the opening, which makes his subsequent creation of a brilliant attack even more impressive. 10 PXP N-QN5

II Q-B4 QNXQP 12 N/2-N3 P-B3 13 0-0 R-Kl 14 KR-Q1 B-N5 15 R-Q2 Q-Bl 16N-QB5B-R6 17B-B3 B-N518B-N2 B-R619B-B3 B-N5

20 B-Rl (20 B-N2=) 20 ... P-KR4. With this thrust did Alekhine already foresee his coup on move 26? 21 P-N4 P-R3 22 R-QB1 P-R5 23 P-R4 PXP 24 RPXP Q-B2 25 P-N5 RPXP 26 PXP R-K61!

Threatening... RXP+ and 27 PXR QXP+ followed by...NXP is obviously out of the question, but this is only the start of the combination which wends its intricate way for a further fourteen moves. 27 N-B3?! (27 BrB3! was recommended by Alekhine, who dismissed 27 K-R2 with 21... QR-R6! 28 PXR NXP followed by N-B8+.) 27 ... PXP 28 QXP N-B6 29 QXP QXQ 30 NXQ NXP+ 31 K-R2 N-K5! With reduced material Alekhine continues to find brilliant tactical solutions aimed at the capture of White's stray N on b7. 32 R-B4 NX BP 33B-N2B-K3 34R/B4-B2 N-N5+ 35 K-R3 N-K4dis+ 36 K-R2 RXN 37 RXN N-N5+ 38 K-R3 N-K6+ 39 K-R2 NXR 40 BXR N-Q5 White Resigns. (41 R-K3 NXB+42 RXN B-Q4!-+.) A sublime masterpiece.

(vii) Gusev-Auerbakh, Moscow, 1951. Sicilian Defence, Dragon Variation.

1 P-K4 P-QB4 2 N-KB3 P-Q3 3 P-Q4 PXP 4 NXP N-KB3 5 N-QB3 P-KN3 6 B-K2 B-N2 7 N-N3 N-QB3 8 0-0 B-K3 9 P-B4 R-Bl? A slip, after which Black is forced to undevelop his pieces; 9... Q-Bl! is best. 10 P-B5 B-Q2 11 P-KN4 N-K4 12 P-N5 N-Nl 13 N-Q5 P-B3 14 B-K3 P-N3 15 N-Q4 K-B2 16 P-B3 Q-Kl 17 N-K6! A prosaic win was doubtless possible with 17 P-QR4-R5, etc , but Gusev prefers to seek combinational beauty. 17 ... BXN 18 PXB+ K-Bl 19 NXBP! NXN 20 PXN BXP 21 B-R6+ K-Nl 22 RXB! PXR 23 QXP R-B3 24 QXNÜ A brilliant exploitation of the boxed-in position of the Black K. Black will have Q and R for two bishops, but in this case normal material evaluations must be suspended. 24 ... PXQ 25 R-KB1 R-Bl 26 B-Ql R-B5 27 B-N3 P-QN4 28 BXR PXB 29 P-N3. White will win quite simply by creating a

Q-side passed pawn. 29 ... P-QR4 30 PXP P-R5 31K-N2 P-R6 32 R-B2 Q-K2 33 R-Bl P-N4 34 R-B5 P-N5 35 P-B5 Q-Ql 36 P-B6 Q-K2 37 P-B7 Black Resigns.

(viii) R. Byrne-Fischer, U.S. Championship 1964. Neo-Griinfeld Defence.

The miraculous nature of this game is demonstrated quite clearly by the fact that many people simply refused to believe in it! When White resigned a number of spectating Grandmasters could not understand why (!!) while a controversy raged for over a year afterwards as to the soundness of Fischer's combination, which was, in fact, ultimately vindicated. 1 P-Q4 N-KB3 2 P-QB4 P-KN3 3 P-KN3 P-B3 4 B-N2 P-Q4 5 PXP PXP 6 N-QB3 B-N2 7 P-K3?! 0-0 8 KN-K2 N-B3 9 0-0 P-N3 10 P-N3 B-QR3 11 B-QR3 R-Kl 12 Q-Q2 P-K4! Whether "sound" or not this move is justified on the grounds that it sets White a multitude of problems. As it is, the move is sound. 13 PXP NXP 14 KR-Q1 (14QR-Q1! Q-Bl!— Fischer) 14... N-Q6 15 Q-B2. It was later claimed that 15 N-B4 would have refuted Fischer's play but Fischer refuted the "refutation" with 15 . . . N K5! 15... NXP!! 16 KXN N-N5+ 17 K-Nl NXKP 18 Q-Q2 NXB 19 KXN P-Q5! 20 NXP B-N2+ 21 K-Bl Q-Q2! White Resigned.

Byrne clearly saw what the spectators had missed: 22 Q KB2 Q-R64- 23 K-Nl R-K8+!! 24 RXR BXN-+ or 22 N/4-N5 Q-R6+ 23 KM B-KR3-+

(ix) Larsen-Spassky, World vs. USSR Team Match, Belgrade, 1970. Nimzowitsch/Larsen Attack.

1 P-QN3 P-K4 2 B-N2 N-QB3 3 P-QB4 N-B3 4 N-KB3. Very risky; 4 P-K3 is safer. 4... P-K5 S N-Q4 B-B4 6 NXN QPXN. Sacrificing his pawn-structure for the sake of speedy development, somewhat in the style of Morphy. 7 P-K3 B-B4 8 Q-B2 Q-K2 9 B-K2 0-0-0 10 P-B4?! A weakening of White's K-side, but it takes the play of a genius to expose this fault. 10 ... N-N5 11 P-N3 P-KR4 12 P-KR3 P-R5! 13 PXN PXP 14 R-N1. Can White's defences be penetrated? 14... R-R8!!

The point of this fantastic sacrifice is to seize the square h4 for Black's Q, with tempo. 15 RXR P-N7 16 R-Bl or 16 R-Nl Q-R5+ 17 K-Ql Q-R8! and wins. 16 .. .Q-R5+ 17K-Q1 PXR=Q+. White Resigns in view of 18 BXQ BXP+ and mates.


The classic definition of the "combination" was put forward by Botvin-nik in 1939 in the periodical Chess in the USSR. In 1949 the English translation appeared as an appendix to his One Hundred Selected Games. Botvinnik intended to improve on Romanovsky's definition from his book The Middlegame, which he found defective, and which ran: "A combination is a variation (or group of variations) in the course of which both sides make forced moves and which ends with an objective advantage for the active side."

Botvinnik disapproved of this, writing that it suited "manoeuvre" rather than "combination", since it ignored the element of sacrifice, which he regarded as a sine qua non for a combination. Botvinnik's final, improved formulation incorporates Romanovsky's principles, but adds an important new dimension: "A combination is a forced variation (etc.) with sacrifice— sound sacrifice of course." By sound sacrifice an advantageous transaction is naturally implied, i.e., a combination transforms an "inferior" position into one with equal or better chances, and one with equal or superior chances into a clearly superior or winning one. Botvinnik's definition appears simple and watertight, but it is possible to take issue even with this, and over a number of areas. Later in this volume I record Bronstein's principle opposition to Botvinnik's thesis, but at this point I wish to raise a doubt connected with the historical relativity of judgement.

In "Fields of Force" (New Yorker, 1972) Dr George Steiner wrote: "Such key concepts as 'advantage' and 'sound sacrifice' are far too indeterminate, far too subjective and historically fluid to be rigorously defined and formalised." If this assertion is correct (which I believe it is) then even Botvinnik's lucid and compact definition becomes suspect. What might have been considered a sound sacrifice in the nineteenth century would possibly (given the rise in defensive techniques) be considered unsound in the twentieth. What might be regarded as a significant positional advantage now might have been considered of no importance 100 years ago. And so on for the future, one imagines! Let us take a straightforward example to demonstrate just how complex this whole matter is: for this purpose we assume that a great master has won a brilliant game involving a sacrificial combination; that he has published the game with notes justifying the soundness of his imaginative performance and that this has been accepted for 20 years (or 10 years—or 5 years) as one of his best games. Then an amateur, studying the games of the master, quite accidentally discovers a hidden refutation of the combination, enabling the opponent to draw dr even win. Such things have happened and will continue to happen to greater or lesser degrees. Does the "combination" then cease to exist because of this? Is it any less a combination as a result of the new discovery, although it may have been regarded as one for two decades?

(i) Alekhine-Book, Margate, 1938. Queen's Gambit Accepted.

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