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February 13, 2014

Sometimes it’s better to decline a capture

In this week’s position white’s knight is threatened by black’s pawn on a6. It is black’s move. To take the knight or not is the question. What is the answer?

As a general rule, a knight is worth more than a pawn. But pawns may be promoted to queens or knights. And that is the problem with winning the exchange. Taking the knight creates an unstoppable pawn mass that rolls onto the 8th rank. In this way, taking the knight loses the exchange.

After the black pawn on a6 takes the knight, white’s c4 pawn recaptures black’s pawn on b5. White’s b5 pawn attacks black’s queen.

Black’s best move is to retreat its queen to e8. White’s a5 pawn then advances to a6.

Black thrusts its c5 pawn to c4. If white’s queen mistakenly takes this pawn, black’s queen slides to d8. From there, the black queen may check white’s king and possibly draw by repetition. White’s queen thus declines the pawn and moves to e4. This allows black’s queen to snatch white’s b5 pawn. But white’s a6 advances further onto a7.

White’s queen prepares the a7 pawn’s promotion on a8. Black’s queen checks white from b2. White’s king moves to f1. Black’s queen checks from c1, and white blocks the check by moving its queen to e1, which ends the immediate checks. Black retreats its queen to a3, to stop white’s a7 pawn from immediately promoting. White’s queen now captures black’s bishop.

This allows a few more checks before all is lost for black. Black’s queen takes white’s f3 pawn, checking white, and forcing the king to g1. The black queen checks from d1, and white’s king moves to f2. Black’s queen gets its last check from d2, which is then blocked by white’s queen interceding on e2.

Black’s queen tries to hold the white pawns in place by moving to a5. White’s queen guards the b6 pawn by moving to e3. Because the white queen would also protect its a7 pawn if the white b6 pawn moves to b7, black cannot stop one of the pawns from soon being promoted.

Returning to the original question of whether it is wiser to take black’s knight, the answer is no. Black’s best move is to protect its bishop by moving its f7 pawn to f6. Black is still losing but not lost. The lesson here is that sometimes less is more.

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