Zwischenzug – the intermediate move

by Efstratios Grivas
1/15/2024 – The term was first used by Fred Reinfeld and Irving Chernev, in 1933. It is a chess tactic in which a player, instead of playing the expected move (commonly a recapture), first interposes another move posing an immediate threat that the opponent must answer, and only then plays the expected move. Leading chess trainer and analyst, GM Efstratios Grivas, tells us how this tactical manoeuvre works.

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Concept

An intermediate move, also known as a "Zwischenzug" (the term is German) or an "intermediate move." It is also known as an intermezzo or in-between move. It is a tactical manoeuvre used to disrupt an opponent's expected sequence of moves. 

So, a zwischenzug is a chess tactic in which a player, instead of playing the expected move (commonly a recapture), first interposes another move posing an immediate threat that the opponent must answer, and only then plays the expected move. It involves making an unexpected move that creates a new threat or complicates the position before responding to the opponent's previous move.

The zwischenzug has a high degree of 'initiative' and can change the situation to the player's advantage, such as by gaining material or avoiding what would otherwise be a strong continuation for the opponent.

Example

Black has a winning position, but goes for 1...Rxh4? An extremely bad move, expecting White to play 2.Qxh4, when Black retains a material advantage. However, White has a zwischenzug: 2.Qd8+ Kh7 3.Qxh4+ Kg8 4.Qxg3 and White has won a rook, leaving him with the somewhat better position.

As with any fairly common chess tactic, it is impossible to pinpoint when the first zwischenzug was played. Here are some rather old examples of zwischenzug:

The earliest known use of the term zwischenzug did not occur until after all of these games. According to chess historian Edward Winter, the first known use was in 1933. Fred Reinfeld and Irving Chernev, annotating the next game, called Black's 27th move 'an important zwischenzug'.

Instead of simply taking the bishop Black played 27...Nge3!, winning a piece: 28.Rf3 Kxd8 29.h3 Rg3 30.Rxg3 Nxg3+ 0-1.

Here are some more examples of zwischenzug:

The zwischenzug can be quite useful in 'simple' endgames as well:

White played 44.Kd3! bxc4 45.Kc2! A great zwischenzug! 45...Rg1 46.bxc4 White stays with huge three-pawn advantage.

Conclusion

The zwischenzug can be one of the most powerful tools in the chess tactical arsenal! Calculating better than your opponent is always a great resource and one that will most likely get you closer to a win.

Use the power of the zwischenzug!

Eftratios Grivas

Eftratios Grivas is a Greek grandmaster, senior trainer, FIDE arbiter and organiser. His full CV was provided in part one of this series.


Efstratios (30.03.1966) is a highly experienced chess trainer and chess author. He has been awarded by the International Chess Federation (FIDE) the titles of International Chess Grandmaster, FIDE Senior Trainer, International Chess Arbiter and International Chess Organiser.
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