Improve your Chess via Active Learning

ACTIVE LEARNING is any strategy that involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing (*)


You could study the following material either by skipping the test and going directly to the lecture. Or start by attempting to figure out on your own what is going on in each of the positions I will be talking about and then proceed to the lecture. If you chose the latter, spend 5-15 minutes on each diagram and record your evaluation and move / plan for the side whose turn it is and sample variations. Then compare your ideas with mine. Let me know how you like the test and the lecture


Test yourself:

All Positions:

1. Check whose move it is.

2. Evaluate position (i.e. White is Better, or Black is Winning, or Equal...) 

3. Find the Best move and, if necessary, support it with variations.

4. Answer the question (if there is a specific one)


1. White to Move 2. White to Move 3. White to Move
4. White to Move 5. White to Move 6. White to Move
7. White to Move 8. Black to Move 9. White to Move



STOP - Lecture begins below.







A Sacrificial Lamb


Chess books and software tools dedicated to the subject of Tactics always have a section devoted to the advanced passed pawns. In my Chess Exam Tactics, one of the 6 Motives I am rating the readers on is “Advanced Pass Pawn”.

However, majority of the examples are usually on the themes (or methods) that are aimed at getting the passed pawn through.  

Eliminating and deflecting the defender(s) are the most popular ideas. For example, in the diagram on the right, 1.Rxb6 (defense elimination) and 1.Rxh5 (deflection of the defender).

Rarely, you will see examples where the coveted passed pawn is actually given up for some material or even positional gains. 1.Pc8Q Nxc8 2.Rxh5

A recent encounter at the very top level triggered my decision to discuss the situation where the "golden pawn or pawns" that reached the 7th (2nd) rank are sacrificed. The examples you will see in this article are from my lessons. 

First, let’s take a look at the game that prompted this article:

#1 Kramnik,V - Leko,P, Tal Memorial, Moscow, 2007

Black was hoping to give up his two pieces for the dangerous white pawns and one of the White pieces, then trying his chances on the K-side. For example, 1.Rb8? Nxa7 2.Bxa7 Rxc7+ Black is better. Rather then trying to get the pawns through, Kramnik gave them away, but won the N and trapped the Black K in the mating net. 1.Pa8Q Rxa8 2.Pc8Q+ Kxc8 3.Kxc6 1:0 (2 points)

Theme - Deflection.


After 1...Pf7-f5


#2 Trolldalen,M - Bernstein,D EU-ch U20, Groningen, 1976

If not for the Pe7, White would have a checkmate in 1 move, hence the pawn is sacrificed. Also, White must use under-promotion, as direct 1.Pe8Q? is not sufficient 1…Nd5+.

Instead, White won after 1.Pe8N+ Rxe8 (1…Kd5 2.Rd7+ Ke4 3.Nd6+ and 4.Nxc8) 2.Rd7# (2 points)

Theme – Clearance, Under-promotion.


After 1...Kd5-d6


#3 Ragozin,V - Boleslavsky,I, URS-ch14 Moscow, 1945

Black’s last move 1…Kg8-f7 was a major error. White punished him with 2.Pe8Q+ 1:0 (2...Kxe8 3.Ba4). Instead, Black should have played 1…Rb5-b8, eventually winning the Pe7 as White can’t play 2.Ba4 due to Back rank checkmate after 2...Rb1+. (1 point)

Theme – Decoy into a Pin.


After 1...Kg8-f7


#4 Dahm,J - Essing,A Germany, 2005

The Queen is usually the worst blocker as it is vulnerable to attack by any piece. In this example, White played 1.Pd8Q+ Qxd8 2.Pe7+ winning. (1 point)

Theme – Deflection, Decoy, Discovered attack.


White to Move


#5 Hebden,M - Eslon,J Oviedo rapid, 1993

Black is trying to hold-on by building some sort of a fortress, thanks to the Bishops of opposite color. But White finds the way to break through with his R – 1.PeQ+ Bxe8 2.Re7+ Kf8 3.Pd7 Bxd7 (3…Kxe7 4.Pd8Q+) 4.Rxd7 winning. (2 points)

Theme – Clearance.

After 1...Ra8-a6


#6  Doroshkievich,V - Balitinov, USSR,1980

The Black K is trying to help in stopping the dangerous passed P, so White shifts his attention from promoting the P to attacking the K. 1.Pe8Q+ Ne8 2.Nf5. Black resigned as he can’t stop or prepare defense against 3.Qe7+. (2 points)

Theme – Clearance

After 1...Ra8-a6


#7  Training Position

This is one of the basic endgames that must be memorized. Black uses h8 as a hiding squared since White K can’t come closer due to a stalemate. 1.Ke6 Kh8 etc…. Instead, White gives up the Ph7 eliminating the stalemate and transposing into the won K+P vs. K endgame. 1.Ph8Q+ Kxh8 2.Kf6 Kg8 3.Pg7 Kh7 3.Kf7 etc… (2 points)

Theme – Avoiding Stalemate

And, since we have discussed avoiding a Draw, the next position is an example where the passed pawn is sacrificed to force a draw!

White to Move


#8  Hamming,A - Wacker,M, Amsterdam, 1940

Facing some serious threats, Black found a neat escape thanks to a stalemate. He actually has two distinct ways – 1…Ra3 2.Rxa3 Pa1Q+ 3.Rxa1= or 1…Pa1Q+ 2.Rxa1 Ra3 3.Rg1 Rg3 etc… (2 points)

Theme – Stalemate via a Self-Elimination.


After 1.Kg6-f6


#9  Lanzani,M - Sulava,N, Montecatini Terme op, 1994

The Knight is one of the worst pieces to be near the passed pawn, specifically due to the situation that have arisen in this game after 1.Pf8Q Nxf8 2.Pe7 (only something like Ra8 or Kf7 can stop the pawn as both e8 and f8 need to be covered)

However, you only get partial credit (2 points) if you stopped here. Black has a strong counter play thanks to the advanced c-P and ability of the N to cover his K from the checks. After 2…Ne6 3.Pe8Q Nc5+ 4.Ke3 Pc2 5.Qb5+ Nb3, Draw was agreed in view of 6.Qe2 Kb1 7.Qd3 Kb2, etc. (4 points)

Theme – Decoy and Deflection.

After 1.Kg6-f6

Summary: whenever you see the far advanced pawn, remember that in addition to an objective of getting the pawn promoted, you could use it a sacrificial lamb to accomplish something critical.





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(*Bonwell, C., & Eison, J. (1991). Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom (ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1). Washington, DC: George Washington University, p. 2)