GM Sam Shankland: Restricting Counterplay in a Superior Position Part 2

For my second article, I would like to continue along with the theme of restricting counterplay in a superior position. As I pointed out previously, this is a relatively simple concept to grasp, but it can be quite challenging over the board.
One of my best games ever was against Ilya Nyzhnyk in Biel 2011, and it followed this principle very clearly. The King’s Indian is the most common opening that produces this kind of situation- black is strategically busted on the queenside and has basically no chance to hold there in the long term, but his kingside counterplay can quickly get out of control if the position is mishandled. Take for example the following position (after going through the exercises scroll to the bottom to play through the game):

Diagram 1: After 20…h5

By any classical chess evaluation, black must be doing terribly. White has opened the c-file, gained a gorgeous outpost on c6 for his rook, is heavily pressuring the d6 pawn, and seems ready to invade with his pieces further. But in reality, things are not nearly this simple. At a moment’s notice black can flick in a6 to expel the b5 knight and relieve some pressure on d6, and he has very serious counterplay in mind with the g5-g4 advance. This can be prepared by moves like Rg7 as well. So, what should white do? I’d advise the reader to try to find a move on their own before looking down.

21. Nf2!

This move is very strong. White overprotects the g4 square to free his queen to come to somewhere like b3, and he is ready for h3 as well. Following

21. … Nh4

22. h3!


Diagram 2: After 22. h3!

White has put as much force behind preventing g4 as humanly possible. Furthermore, the knight on f2 is quite useful since it defends h3, dispelling any sacrificial idea before it can even be considered. At this point I was feeling very confident with my position, thinking I had the kingside firmly under control and could begin queenside operations in short order. The game continued

22. … Qf6

23. Qb3 Bd7

and here I made a thematic move:


Diagram 3: After 23… Bd7

24. Rfc1!

White happily parts with an exchange to keep his queenside initiative going. There is not much to calculate- after 24. … Bxc6? 25. dxc6, Black is basically lost. HIs light squares are a total disaster, the cpawn is a monster, g4 will never happen, and it’s very clear to the naked eye that white’s light squared bishop is better than either of black’s rooks. I could delve deeper into this topic, but strategic exchange sacrifices are outside the scope of this article. Still, while the rook really cannot be taken at the moment, it being hanging on c6 is a theme that will be relevant in the rest of the game.

Sensing queenside despair, black made an active and correct lunge at counterplay with

24. … g4! and now I had to find a few very precise moves.


Diagram 4: After 24…g4!

White obviously most take on g4 here, but how he chooses to do so will greatly affect the course of the game. I’d recommend to all my readers to stop the article here and really try to test yourself to find white’s best move before moving on to the next paragraph.

25. hxg4!

Is the correct move. The point of 24. … g4 is to lure the f3 pawn away so that black can crash through with f4-f3. But, it should be noted that the f3 square is reasonably well controlled, and black would have to trade queens to take the pawn back. But here we see the difference. Following 25. fxg4? f3! 26. gxf3, the situation has changed: 26. … Bxc6! 27. dxc6 Nxf3+ 28. Bxf3 Qxf3. Compared to the previous line where black took on c6, this one is a totally different story. White has exchanged off his all-important light squared bishop and more importantly, black’s rooks now have open lines with which to operate- this tilts the scales in his favor.


25. hxg4! hxg4

26. Nxg4!

black has to exchange the light squared bishop to achieve f3. Indeed, after 26. … Bxg4 27. fxg4 f3, white can capture the pawn without fearing the exchanges- he will simply have an excellent ending.

Instead, black chose

26. … Qg5

and there followed

27. Nc7 Bxg4

28. fxg4 f3


Diagram 5: After 28…f3

Black is going for broke here, and white has to be precise to contain the counterplay. I’d once again suggest pausing here and trying to solve this position as a puzzle before reading on.

Obviously f3 must be taken, but it also has to be taken correctly. 30. Bxf3? Might look tempting, but it allows black a huge amount of counterplay after the strong response 30. … Rxf3! 31. gxf3 Qf4, when white cannot prevent both Nxf3+ and Qg3+. Following something like 32. Kf2 Qh2+ and Bh6 to come next, black has very obvious counterplay that white would prefer to avoid.

29. gxf3!

Is a huge improvement. The point is now after

29. … Qh4

30. Be1!


Diagram 6: After 30. Be1!

The presence of the e2 bishop and f7 rook render any Nxf3 ideas sterile because they would involve a queen exchange. Black is more or less out of luck here, and was never able to get much counterplay in the rest of the game. While at this point the result is all but decided, for completeness’ sake, this is how it concluded:

30. … Nxc7

31. Rxc7 Rh7

32. R1c2

All the key squares are covered, and white is left

with a big positional advantage and 2 extra pawns Be7

33. Rxe7 Rxe7  34. Bxh4 Rh7 35. Bf2 Rf8 36. Qe3 Qh2+ 37. Kf1 Qh1+ 38. Bg1 Rh2 39. Ke1! Rg2 40. Kd2 Qxg1 41. Qg5+ Kh8 42. Rc7

Diagram 7: After 42. Rc7

And white’s king is safe for the moment, while black is mated. He had to give up a rook to get some checks but never came close to mating, or a perpetual 

42…Qd4+ 43. Kc1 Rg1+ 44. Kc2 Qxa4+ 45. Kc3 Qd4+ 46. Kb3 Rxf3+

A sad necessity


Diagram 8: After 46…Rxf3+

47. Bxf3 Qd3+ 48. Rc3 Qb5+ 49. Kc2 Qa4+ 50. b3 Qa2+ 51. Kd3 Qb1+ 52. Rc2 Qxb3+ 53. Kd2 Qb4+ 54. Ke2 Qe1+ 55. Kd3


Diagram 9: After 55. Kd3

Finally black is out of checks! 55…Qb1 (55… Qf1+ 56. Be2 Rg3+ 57. Kd2)

56. Qh6+ Kg8 57. Qg6+ Kh8 58. Qxd6 Qf1+ 59.Be2 Rg3+ 60. Kc4 Qa1 61. Kb5 Qb1+ 62. Ka6 Qxc2 63. Qxe5+ Kg8 64. Qxg3 Qxe2+ 65. Kxa7 Qxe4 66. Qb8+ Kf7 67. Qc7+ Kg6 68. d6 Qa4+ 69. Kb7


Diagram 10: After 69. Kb7

Using the b6 pawn as a shield for the king, black is powerless to stop the d pawn 1-0


Samuel L. Shankland (born October 1, 1991) is an American chess grandmaster (2011). He was California State champion in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012, Champion of State Champions in 2009, World U18 championship bronze medallist in 2008, and US Junior Champion in 2010. As a member of the United States team, Shankland won the gold medal for the best individual result at the reserve board at the 41st Chess Olympiad in 2014. He also was member of the US team at the 42nd Chess Olympiad in 2016 where the United States won gold for the first time in forty years.  In September 2016, he was ranked 57th in the world.


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  1. great article sam! as a king’s indian player i really enjoyed it. i think there may be a few notation errors but i was easily able to follow along with the game anyway.

    keep up the great work

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