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Chess Corner - The Queen in the Opening

 

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The queen is the most powerful piece on the board. Usually, the capture of your opponent’s queen means that you will win, for obvious reasons. Trading your queen for your opponent’s usually signifies the beginning of the endgame. However, it is easy to get carried away with your queen’s power. Sometimes, it is best to leave your queen be, or even sacrifice her, rather than bring her out prematurely. However, this is not always the easiest option. In this column I'll show why this is a mistake, and in the next column, I will show some famous queen sacrifices.

One popular opening line is the move 1. e4 d5 (this move has a name – the Center Counter Defense). 1. e4 d5 is often followed by 2. exd5 Qxd5 (see diagram 1). This may look great for Black – he has his queen into the center early and he controls many squares, but is this a good thing? White can play 3. Nc3 and Black is forced to move his queen. If his queen wasn’t there, he could play a developing move, but instead Black must keep the queen safe. The most common move is 3… Qa5, where Black has his queen out and White has a knight out, and chances are roughly even. However, White has a clearer path to victory. Black should have played 2… Nf6, regaining the pawn without making his queen vulnerable.

I will now show another example of bringing the queen out too early, only White commits the error instead of Black. Another opening line - called the Center Game - is played 1. e4 e5 2. d4. It is often followed by 2... exd4 3. Qxd4 (see diagram 2). White is in a similar position as Black was in the previous example; his queen is out and will be chased away by 3… Nc6 Qa4. But what is different about this position than diagram 1? In diagram 1, it is White’s move. No surprise, White starts out with a time advantage. But in diagram 2, it is Black’s move. White has lost his time advantage in the second diagram because he has moved his queen out too early.

Arguably, moving your queen out into the center is good because you control a lot of squares and have a centralized position. And if it weren’t for the knight on b8 in diagram 2 (or b1 in diagram 1), this would be true.

Let’s take a look at another example – the Scotch Game. The Scotch Game is played with 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 (attacking the pawn) Nc6 (defending the pawn) 3. d4 exd4 4. Nxd4. See diagram 3. If Black takes White’s knight: 4. Nxd4 Qxd4, as in the fourth diagram, we have arrived at the same position as in diagram 2. Or have we? (See if you can spot the difference in the diagrams before reading on.) In diagram 2, Black attacks White’s queen with his knight on b8. In diagram 4 – it isn’t there! It has been traded with White’s knight on g1. Now, White’s queen is not a disadvantage, but an advantage. It has no fear of the captured b8-knight.

A queen in the center of the board is great – until it’s attacked. If the queen cannot be attacked easily, however, it holds a strong position.

This week’s puzzle: White has a knight and a queen against two rooks. With this, he can mate in two moves. How?

Answer to the last puzzle: Black’s rook on f8 is his weakness, blocking the escape square for his king. White mates with 1. Rg7+ Kh8 2. Rxh7+ Kg8 3. Rcg7#.