Vanishing what!

There are thousand and thousands of books on opening, endgame and tactics in chess. These three aspects of the game can be learned like the basics of any science, one might say. On the other hand, the middle game, the most intricate and creative part (remember from last blog, that’s mostly about the subconscious “primitive” brain) is not covered as much as it deserves. It is Tarrasch, Nimzovich, Reti, Euwe, Romanovsky, Bronstein, Dvoretsky, Kasparov, and that’s pretty much it!

Now I would like to introduce you to a delightful book on chess strategy, generally not known to the public: Strategic Methods in Chess. This is a fine book written by FM Anatoly Terekhin, a renowned chess coach from Russia, published in 2005 (seems there is also a version published in Germany in 2007).

The book is the first of a series to bring a comprehensive list of strategic methods used in chess. Terekhin has come up with 122 of these strategies over 40 years. The first volume presents nine, “vanishing move” being one of them.

Piece stability

As we know, from the beginning they teach us how to find a safe square for our pieces. That’s an important feature. If a piece has no stability on the square where it is posted, and the opponent can easily attack, trade or drive it back, its qualitative value is reduced. On the contrary, when a piece is well placed and has stability, its value increases (other piece value factors, of course, being: piece activity, or striking force, mobility, its role and harmony with other pieces, proximity to the theater of action, etc.).

Nature is forever arriving and forever departing, forever approaching, forever vanishing…

An exception may be a special strategic method Anatoly Terekhin named vanishing move (“исчезающий ход” in Russian). Here’s how Terekhin introduces this strategic approach in his excellent book:

A piece (usually Bishop, or less often Rook) temporarily occupies a square, thereby putting the opponent at some disadvantage. So they attack the piece and only then the piece goes to a safe square. In that way, the move “vanishes”, but here’s the point, the negative consequences remain.

Rubinstein – Schlechter, San Sebastian, 1912

This is the position after Black’s 12th move in the game Akiba Rubinstein and Karl Schlechter played in San Sebastian (“a monument of magnificent precision”, Capablanca), back in 1912 (hey, besides the vanishing move first observed in chess, what else happened in 1912? see below).

The best and safe square for the Bishop appears to be d3. But then Black may trade Bishops and be able to keep the position: 13. Bd3 b6! 14. Rhc1 Ba6 15. Ke3 Bxd3 16. Kxd3 f6 17. Ke3 Na6 18. Rc6 Rfe8 19. Rbc1 Rad8 where White’s advantage is not decisive yet.

At this point Akiba Rubinstein makes a “vanishing move, perhaps for the first time in the history of chess.


Now on 13…b6 follows 14.Rhc1 Ba6 15.a4! Bb5 16.ab Nd7 17.Ra1! Nf6 18.Kd3 Rfd8 19.Rc7 winning a pawn.

(“An exceptionally deep move! Now Black can develop none of his minor pieces without disadvantage. If he chases the Bishop, he weakens the Queen’s wing”, Hans Kmoch, Rubinstein’s Chess Masterpieces)

Black preferred:

13. …a6 14. Bd3

The move Bb5 “vanished” but consequences have stayed:

– White avoided the Bishop trade,
– b-file is weakened,
– b6-square in particular.

Not that bad for a little strategic method!

14. …Rd8 15. Rhc1

Now on 15…Nc6 White plays 16.Ke3 and Black has no an adequate move.
If 15…Nd7 follows 16.Rc7 and Black has to play 16…b5 anyway.

15. …b5 16. Rc7 Nd7 17. Ke3

Now on 17…Nb6 White gets a huge advantage after 18.Rbc1 Bd7 19.Ne5 Be8 20.Rb7 Rac8 21.Rcc7

17. …Nf6 18. Ne5 Bd7 19. g4!

A stroke of a great master! Good also was 19.Rbc1 Be8 20.Rb7 benefiting  from the open c-file without delay.

But great masters never miss opportunity to strengthen their position even more when the other side is lacking counter-attack.

White won on move 39.

Hope you enjoyed this little trick of strategy GM Rubinstein (by help of FM Terekhin) has taught us today!

Dr.Lasker, Rubinstein, Schlechter, and Dr.Tarrasch in Berlin, 1918

Some Historical Events for Year 1912

  • Akiba Kiwelowicz Rubinstein played a vanishing move in his game against Karl Schlechter, in San Sebastian, Spain
  • He scored five first prizes in international competition that year (San Sebastian, Pistyan, Breslau, Warsaw, Vilna), a record never been duplicated, either before or after
  • the year of Titanic
  • Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.9 premiered in Vienna
  • first Balkan war (only the first?, are you kidding me!)
  • first bombing with an airplane in history (Bulgarian pilots Radul Minkov and Prodan Toprakchiev in that same war)
  • Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice
  • Boston Red Sox, assisted by a famous error, defeat the NY Giants in extra innings to win the 1912 World Series, in what is considered one of the greatest games of baseball ever played
  • Polish biochemist Kazimierz Funk formulated the concept of vitamins (which he called vital amines)
  • first gangster film, The Musketeers of Pig Alley (directed by D.W. Griffith)
  • Karl Jung publishes Psychology of the unconscious (hey, that’s again about that primitive brain?)
  • Marcel Duchamp’s Nude descending a staircase No.2 (the French artist was a chess master too, so we had to include him to the list:)

Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase No.2 (Philadelphia Museum of Art)

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!