Notes on Bishops and Knights

March 20, 2010

I’ve played two serious games: a draw against a 1850 player and a win against a 1750 player. Both games were in the Ruy Lopez. Two mental notes: First, the theory move after e4 e5 Nf3 Nc6 Bb5 a6 Ba4 Nf6 d4 is exd4. Second, don’t worry too much about unpinning your knight in the Bg5 Nf6 Qd8 setup; just shuffle other stuff around and wait for White to prove that the pin matters.

The other day I picked up Silman’s The Amateur’s Mind from a second hand bookstore. What a treat! After the first chapter on knight and bishop imbalance, I’m already in love. Having amateurs articulate their thoughts and contrasting them with the thoughts of a master is, I believe, an excellent way of approaching and teaching ideas in chess. The way players articulate their ideas tells you a lot about a player’s strength, and deconstructing the narratives of amateurs, as Silman does, is an ingenious method to open up your mind to new ideas and to encourage you to toss out old ones. Of course, introducing new narratives is no easy feat, and there was at least one point in the book so far where I thought: “Jeremy, please don’t just throw in a one-move variation and label it as ‘unpleasant” and expect the amateur to figure out why the line is unpleasant…” but other than that Silman does a good job at fleshing out his own ideas vis-a-vis the amateurs’. One overall lesson so far: do not try to justify move decisions based on narratives that sound nice but have no basis in the reality of the board. Or: don’t play hope chess sugared with idea-speak. Also: ask yourself whether you’re pursuing a plan of your own or whether you’re just responding to your opponent’s moves. Ideally, you ought to be doing both.

Here are a couple of chunks I thought worth illustrating from the first chapter: The first concerns the idea that when you have two bishops, your subsequent plan in a closed position is to open the centre to make space for your bishops. The other two are typical tactical ideas in certain bishop vs. knight setups; in this case Bg5 vs Nf6 and Nc6 vs Bb5. Here goes:

Chunk the first: With a bishop pair, play to open the centre:

Chunk the second: If the knight on f6 is pinned, consider a knight “sacrifice” against h6-g5:

Chunk the third: Black wins a pawn because he attacks White’s bishop while defending his own bishop: