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Improve Your Middle Game (Part 2 - Combinations)
Whether you call it a combination, a sacrifice, a maneuver, or a forced variation, it's an essential part of the game.

Ask a few chessplayers why they play, and you're bound to get a variety of answers. One says 'for the competition'; another says, 'to keep my thinking processes in shape'; and yet another says, 'for the beauty'. That last answer may raise some eyebrows. What could possibly be beautiful about moving little wooden pieces on a checkered board?

Chess, in fact, has very little to do with little wooden pieces. It is more the manipulation of complex geometric patterns to achieve a definite goal. These patterns take many forms and vary according to the ingenuity and skill of the players.

One of the most fertile areas for beautiful patterns is the combination. Combinations are one of those things that are easy to spot, but hard to define. Emanuel Lasker defined them as a net of variations.

In the rare instances that the player can detect a variation or net of them which leads to a desirable issue by force, the totality of these variations and their logical connections, their structure, are named a 'combination.' And he who follows in his play such a chain of moves is said to 'make a combination.' (Lasker's Manual of Chess)

His first two examples were the following positions.

1.f6 g6 2.Qh6 mates

1.Ne7+ wins the Queen or mates after 1...Kh8 2.Qxh7+ Kxh7 3.Rh3

Lasker's second example differs from the first in that it involves a sacrifice with 2.Qxh7+. Some authors go as far as saying that a sacrifice is indispensable to a combination. Here's another definition of a combination, given by the leading authorities David Hooper and Kenneth Whyld.

combination, a sequence of forcing moves with a specific goal, and grounded in tactics. A sacrifice is likely to be present and Botvinnik, among others, says is always present. The purpose may be anything from a defensive resource to a mating attack, from a small positional advantage to a gain of material. Essential to most combinations, and a reason for their popularity, is surprise: the series of moves differs in form from the kind of continuation normally to be expected. (The Oxford Companion to Chess)

The mention of Mikhail Botvinnik refers to an essay titled 'What is a "combination"?', an appendix to his One Hundred Selected Games. Botvinnik gave two endgame examples.

1.b6 axb6 (1...cxb6 2.a6 is a mirror variation) 2.c6 and a Pawn promotes

1.Kd7 Kc5 2.Ke6 Kd4 3.Kf5 Kc3 4.Ke4 Kb2 5.Kd3 Kxa2 6.Kc2 and draws

Botvinnik agreed that the first example is a combination because it involves a sacrifice of two Pawns, but called the second a maneuver because no sacrifice is involved.

A combination is a forced variation with sacrifice. It seems to me that this is both an exact and a simple definition. A combination must not be confused with a forced maneuver. There are two kinds of maneuvers: positional, when the opponent's moves are not forced, and forced. Then what is the difference between a combination and a maneuver? A forced maneuver is a forced variation without sacrifice.

Whether you consider a certain variation to be a combination, a maneuver, or something else, familiarity with recurring tactical themes will improve your game. The great instructor Siegbert Tarrasch was even more forceful.

In a well-planned game [combinations] appear quite automatically; it is often possible to reduce them to certain simple types and therefore you can train your imagination, you can learn to combine by making these constantly recurring maneuvers the object of your study. The essential for the student is to play over and study again and again what he has learned until it becomes part of his very self. (The Game of Chess)

Tarrasch attempted to categorize combinations into themes like 'Pinning', 'Double Attacks', and 'Unguarded Men'. I've used a simpler structure for the puzzles that I'll be placing under Middle Games. These are categorized as combinations for checkmate, combinations for material gain, and combinations for achieving a draw. I've classified them further by level of difficulty.

 Related Resources
• Part 1 - Patterns
• Part 2 - Combinations
• Part 3 - Plans
• Part 4 - Double Attacks
• Part 5 - Open Lines
• Part 6 - King Safety
• Part 7 - Pawn Structure
• Part 8 - Piece Placement and Chess Strategy
• Part 9 - Kasparov - X3D Fritz, New York, 2003