[Title "indrekaavik-Swifty15, chess.com, 5/3/2021"]
[FEN ""]
[startply "29"]

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. Nf3 e6 5. h3 c5 6. c4 Nc6 7. cxd5 exd5 8. Bb5 Qa5+ 9. Nc3 cxd4 10. Nxd4 Bd7 11. O-O Nxd4 12. Qxd4 Bxb5 13. Qxd5 a6 14. Rd1 Rd8 Qf3 Ne7 16. Bd2 Ng6 17. Qxb7 Nxe5 18. Nxb5 Rxd2 19. Qb8+ Qd8 20. Qxe5+ Be7 Rxd2 Qxd2 22. Nc7+ Kf8 23. Nd5 Qg5 24. Qb8+ Bd8 25. Rd1 g6 26. g3 Kg7 27. h4 Qh5 28. Nf4 Qxd1+ 29. Kh2 Bxh4 30. Qe5+ Bf6 31. Qe4 Qf1 32. Nh3 h5 33. Qb7 h4 Qb3 hxg3+ 35. Qxg3 Qe1 36. Kg2 Qe4+ 37. Kf1 Bxb2 38. Nf4 Qb1+ 39. Ke2 Rh1 Nd3 Qd1+ 41. Ke3 Re1+ 42. Nxe1 Qxe1+ 43. Kf4 Qb4+ 44. Kf3 Qc3+ 45. Kg2 Qxg3+ Kxg3 Bd4 47. Kf3 f5 48. a3 g5 49. a4 g4+ 50. Kf4 Be5+ 51. Kxf5 g3 52. fxg3 

I'd like to improve my thought process when considering a move, but I don't understand what rules/principles to apply to a particular situation where I got it wrong. This happened in the above game I played as black on chess.com. I am aware that I made plenty of mistakes before and after the move, but those I understand. I am rated 1200.

I discounted the rook exchange 15... Rxd1. After the game, the engine told me I would have had a +3.2 advantage if I had made the exchange. I can't work out why it creates that advantage.

I considered the exchange, but I thought I would stay disciplined and principled. I remembered GM Smirnov's rule "to take is a mistake. I have been reading in IM Silman's '"The Amateur Mind." It teaches that a simple one-move capture, attack, or check is pointless if it can be easily parried.

My thinking was that exchanging rooks MIGHT be useful if I gained a tempo by sending my opponent's knight to the back rank. But I saw when that they could just recapture with their queen and take control of the d file. It didn't seem that I had anything to gain. As such, I just continued to develop my pieces.

Can anyone explain why this was such a critical move, and the thought processes I could have used to identify it?

  • 1
    I'd say it's too braod of a question. "+3.2 positions" come in very different forms. It's not a very useful way to categorize positions for human understanding. If you're down in material, there will be a specific tactical combination that will justify that evaluation.
    – David
    Commented May 4, 2021 at 10:25

3 Answers 3


Let us list white's trumps in this position:

  • White is ahead in development
  • White's king is safer than black's

If we list black's trumps, we find the following:


If we simply count the number of trumps for each side, we see that white has seemingly more trumps than black. But here black's trump carries more weight due to the concrete nature of the position. The material advantage is so great that black will have a winning advantage as long as they manage to consolidate their position and prevent white from launching a successful attack against their king, and this is something that black can do (which is why the engine gives you a 3.2 evaluation).

In particular, we make the following observation: if black trades away white's pieces, then white will have fewer pieces left to attack with. This suggests that 15...Rxd1+ is a very interesting move for black to make. Another very natural move that I immediately considered in the position was 15...Bc6, since white's queen attacks the pawn on b7. One very reliable way for black to lose this kind of position is to give away their material advantage for free, so it's good to avoid this while at the same time attacking white's queen. But I strongly prefer 15...Rxd1+, since it is such a straightforward way of snuffing out white's attacking chances.

I decided to answer this question because I noted that both you and your opponent are still at the stage of your chess development where you struggle to avoid hanging pieces. While there is nothing particularly wrong with the advice you've read from GM Smirnov and IM Silman, that advice is a bit beyond your current chess level.

GM Smirnov's advice is based on an observation that many amateur players tend to trade down by habit, often squandering advantages and making their games way more difficult because they just make the trade without considering the consequences of it beforehand. But his statement is made on general grounds, and if the trade actually helps you, you should just go ahead with it.

With regards to Silman's advice, it's simply not applicable at your level yet. I assume he's describing the tendency of many amateur players to sometimes play a lazy trap that they already see how their opponent can avoid with ease. What tends to happen in these cases is that the amateur will play a lazy trap that they know is not very good if their opponent avoids the trap. In general, you have to assume that your opponent will play the absolute best move, so if you play a move that you already know that your opponent can refute then what's the point?

Right now, if I were you I would focus on improving my tactical vision in order to see hanging pieces more consistently. A good way to do this is to scan the board in the following order at every move:

  1. First, look for ALL possible checks.
  2. Next, look for ALL possible captures.
  3. After this, consider other moves if necessary.

If there is one piece of general advice that I would follow, then it's this one from GM Bent Larsen: a bad plan is better than no plan at all! Planning is an important skill to develop, and even crude plans can be very effective. For instance, while your move 27...Qh4 came with a rather crude threat, it certainly had a great payoff! When you start playing more advanced chess you will notice that these crude threats can often be used in combination with one another to create more subtle and elaborate threats, and while individual crude threats may be weak in isolation they tend to become deadly when used together.

  • 1
    I'd like to emphasize a point that the (very good) answer left out: If the Bc1 would be on e3 (say), I wouldn't waste a second on Rxd1. Factually, you would have traded Rd8 against the somewhat useless Ra1. I probably would have played Bc6 then, or try to castle for my life (say, Be7). As soon as your king is safe, game over for White. Old master adage: It's not relevant what leaves the board, it's relevant what stays! Commented May 4, 2021 at 7:28

This position is more complicated than it first looks! You need to see more than one move deep to understand the difference between 15...Rxd1 and other moves.

As Scounged has pointed out, you already have an advantage of about +3 because you're a piece up. The problem is that white is attacking your pawn on b7. So some time soon, you want to play a move like ...Bc6 to defend that pawn. In fact, if you play ...Bc6 right away, it's almost as good as ...Rxd1. But the computer thinks it's even better to play 15...Rxd1+ 16. Qxd1 Bc6.

With your chosen move, white missed an opportunity.

Option 1: 15...Ne7 16. Qxb7 doesn't work for white, because of 16...Rxd1+ 17. Nxd1 Qe1+ winning the knight.

Option 2: 15...Ne7 16. Rxd8+ Qxd8 17. Qxb7, and now white has two pawns in exchange for the bishop, and the game is almost on equal terms (black is still ahead, but it's not as good as if you'd played 15...Rxd1).

Suggestion: if you don't already know the word "zwischenzug", look it up and think about how it relates to this position. Sometimes the engine isn't really telling you about the next move, but pointing out something further along the sequence.


I think there's also an important misunderstanding of engines. When they're ahead, they like anything that maintains the lead. It is one methodical way to win. But Rxd1 is NOT a critical move. It is simply a fair trade that magnifies the material imbalance without creating any new threats for either side. It is not lazy if you check carefully that your weaker back rank is not a sudden problem!

Bolstering my non-master opinion with the best-in-class Stockfish 13 engine, ...Bc6! is actually superior and more instructive. Since you are up a full light-square bishop, you use it to dominate the light squares. Further, pawns matter. That's how you should be thinking. For the sake of learning, that is, how to consolidate a big lead with active threats and full-board vision, try this approach.

If both of you leave the Rooks on the board for a while, it matters little! The real problem is you didn't think in terms of "I have this light squared monster and he doesn't."

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.