Geometric nightmares

by Jonathan Speelman
8/6/2023 – IM Brandon Clarke found a remarkable winning blow in one of his games from the Major Open in Leicester. The blow was a cross pin, a geometric nightmare for the victim — and surely a worthy topic for a Sunday column! | Photo: John Upham

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Cross pins

[Note that Jon Speelman also looks at the content of the article in video format, here embedded at the end of the article.]

This week’s column comes courtesy of a game in the Major Open (the open tournament for players not in the championship itself) at this year’s British Championships in Leicester. The top seed, IM Brandon Clarke, took half-point byes in his first two games but nevertheless ended up in a four-way tie for first. On the way, he played a game in which he lost his queen for just two pieces in the opening but kept on fighting and eventually reached this diagram.

45.Qe4 would still be fine here, but White played 45.h4??. Can you see the pretty tactical blow that then won for Black?

Clarke’s winning blow was a cross pin, a geometric nightmare for the victim, and I started looking for more examples. There were some articles on the net but I chose to search for myself, though in contrast to an exact pattern I wasn’t quite sure how to do so.

I ended up by choosing a few of the more common exact configurations, such as White Bc4-Qe4; Black Bd5-Kg8 (I also tried Bb3 instead), and putting these into the position finder in the search mask. This produced many false positives (with the pieces on those squares but no pin(s)), but there were a significant number of hits too, some of them in genuinely interesting games, and I’ve put a number in the database.

Cross pins often occur in studies, and I had a go myself at creating one. I liked the aesthetics of the white queen's peregrinations, but the initial position wasn’t up to much, Then after sleeping on it, I found an intro which I think definitely improves it, though I did have to add an extra rook and pawn.

If anybody can do better, then please do contact me, either via the ChessBase editors or direct to I'll be back for my 200th(!) column in a fortnight.

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Jonathan Speelman, born in 1956, studied mathematics but became a professional chess player in 1977. He was a member of the English Olympic team from 1980–2006 and three times British Champion. He played twice in Candidates Tournaments, reaching the semi-final in 1989. He twice seconded a World Championship challenger: Nigel Short and then Viswanathan Anand against Garry Kasparov in London 1993 and New York 1995.