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The Dread of Discovered Checks

by Ken Jones

One of the most powerful and most feared weapons in chess is the discovered check.  I suspect the fear comes from the helplessness one feels as the rampaging piece does its business to destroy your position.  A extreme example of this is the “windmill” series of discovered checks from this famous game:

C. Torres Repetto-Em. Lasker, Moscow 1925

White had just played 1. Bg5-f6! uncovering an attack on the Queen, which gave Black no choice:

1…Qxh5 2. Rxg7+ Kh8 3. Rxf7+ Kg8 4. Rg7+ Kh8 5. Rxb7+ Kg8 6. Rg7+ Kh8 7. Rg5+ Kh7 8. Rxh5

 and White soon converted his material advantage.  One would not have to endure very many of these situations to develop a natural aversion to the discovered check!  But, as Reti noted, in chess we value the exception rather than the rule.  In the following examples, by reacting instinctively (fearfully) to the threat of discovered check, the opportunity to show an exception was missed.

M. Adams (2751)-S. Sethuraman (2637), Gibraltar 2017

White had just captured a N on d7, expecting (due to the threat of discovered check) to pick up the now loose Be5 (and this is in fact what happened in the game.)  Later Black pointed out what both Grandmasters had missed:

1…Bxf4!!

The exquisite point being that while White can win the Queen, he will lose the game:

2. Rc7+ Bd7! 3. Rxc8+ Rxc8

 

and White cannot save his Queen and meet the threat of 4…Rc1+.

N. Vardan (2079)-M. Gomes (2302), London 2016

Black has been trying to find a way to promote the b2-pawn for over 60 moves but the lack of protection around her King has made it problematic.  She just played 1…Be5, setting up the discovered check.  White stepped out of it with the obvious 2. Kh1 and soon had to resign.  The missed opportunity was:

 

2. Qxe5! b1=Q 3. Qh5+!

 

when Black will have to acquiesce to either perpetual check or stalemate.

 

The final example is from one of my own games:

K. Jones (2213)-R. Haring Orton (1954), US Open 2016

After the correct 1. bxc4! Re2+ 2. Kg3?? I was unable to win the game.  Given the theme of this article, can you see what I missed?

 

I should’ve walked into the discovered check with 2. Kf1!!

Position after 2. Kf1!!

Black’s Bishop is doubly attacked, so that after a discovered check I can capture it with one Rook while protecting the other.  Meanwhile, the Bishop cannot move away from guarding his own Rook, so it is lost anyway.

 

I hope this article will encourage you to look beyond the obvious in your own games!