How to Move Your A-Pawn

May 6, 2012

I picked up what I consider a rather valuable chunk from two master club players concerning the movement of your a-pawn: If you’ve got the initiative as White on the kingside and you have to respond to Black trying to muster counterplay on the queenside, you respond to his queenside expansion by playing a4! Whereas if you are Black waiting to create some counterplay against White while defending against his initiative on the queenside, you respond to a queenside expansion with the calm a6. Long story short: If you’re on the attacking side (having the initiative), move your pawns aggressively to claim more space; if you’re defending (not having the initiative), move your pawns defensively to protect the space in your terrain.

Entrech, Attack, Undermine

March 31, 2012

After a rather intense working streak, chess has slowly made its way back into my life in the last weeks. I’ve managed to regain my initial peak rating of ~1750 and I believe I’ve consolidated the 1700-mark. The chess bug’s bitten me again and there are some upcoming tourney which I hope will inspire me to work towards 1800. Baby steps!

Still working, of course, so no promises of chunky gifs galore, but I’ve just borrowed a book from the library that, at least at first glance, provides quite a few classic chunks worth remembering. To wit: Pawn chains. The attacker wants to create pawn chains to entrech a pawn in the enemy territory and use it as a spearhead for his attack. The opponent wants to undermine the pawn chain to split up his enemy’s pawns into as many pawn islands as possible and counterattack. Entrech & attack versus undermine & counterattack. Here goes.

Erm. Is it just me or has the quality of WordPress’s userinterface dropped significantly? The gif doesn’t display probably, access to post editing takes a lot more clicks … what the hell, WordPress? *clickediclackediclick* Okay, seems to be working now after re-inserting the image and adjusting the settings.

Attacking the Castled King: Open File versus Pawn Lever

October 7, 2010

If you’re attacking the king in the position below, what’s the better asset: an open g-file or the g-pawn lever? According to Vukovic’s The Art of Attack, the g-pawn lever is more powerful than the open file, perhaps because White no longer has a dark-square bishop to attack h6. Hence Vukovic advises the second move order: 1. h3 …, preparing 2. g4.

Intrusion on the 7th Rank

October 4, 2010

A common continuation once you have taken control of a file is to invade on the 7th or 2nd rank, respectively. Vukovic’s The Art of Attack uses that very same strategy to launch an assault against the castled king. The procedure is as follows: dominate the file > weaken the pawns in front of the king with pawn levers or by exploiting backrank weaknesses > occupy the 7th rank for mate. As an example, he cites the game Rubinstein – Maroczy, Goteborg 1920.

Notice the interplay between your piece control and your opponent’s pawn structure. The more I play chess, the more my thought process and my assessment of a position revolves around these two factors; the potential of my pieces on the one hand and the potential pawn weakness of my opponent on the other.

Notes on Bishops and Knights: Drive Away the Piece or Open the Centre?

April 9, 2010

From a similar position in Silman’s Amateur’s Mind. Pawn moves are irreversible, and it’s important to weigh their short-term against their long-term effect. In the position below, Black has two bishops and White has a knight and a bishop. Black can drive the pesky knight away with the pawn move 1. … f5. However, he has to think whether the short-term result compensates for the negative long-term effect, because once he plays f5, opening the centre won’t be easy and the e5-square becomes weak. Since the bishops prefer an open centre and the knight outpost at e4 does not pose an immediate threat, the long-term implications of f5 speak against it. Instead, Black should play f6, preparing a pawn lever against the centre to secure the long-term advantage of his two bishops against bishop and knight.

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:

Pin Snatch and Black Bishop Pin

February 16, 2010

Lost against a 1850 and a 1750 in the exact same silly fashion by overlooking a pin followed by a double attack on the pinned piece. I was playing White, the pawn next to my king had been moved, opening the diagonal for Black’s black-square bishop, and each time I stepped right into a classic pin winning the exchange. But because I’m an idiot, I ignored the threat, trying to counter-attack, and on the next move lost the whole rook because I allowed my opponent to attack the pinned piece again. Basic tactics stuff. Blunders come in packs, I suppose. The basic chunk (Qe3? … c3??):

And for good measure, the most common chunks for bishop and castled king:

ACIS of Caissa Improvement Post #4

December 22, 2009

The Holiday season offers meagre opportunity for games, so I had to make do with replaying another master game. I happened upon the game Botvinnik – Capablanca, Amsterdam 1938, one of the best chess games ever played as it turns out. In his in-depth annotation, A. J. Goldsby comments that:

The fact that Botvinnik may not have been able to fully calculate this line from beginning to end, does not detract from this game at all. To me it actually adds luster to the game. Botvinnik had to rely on his great genius and instincts, and have faith in his abilities to play this great and wonderful game of chess. Perhaps one of the “All-Time Ten Best” games of chess ever played.

On the point of calculation, it bears noting that while playing through the game, I felt very much like a cheat. At various points, I was hardly able to conjure up a plan for White, let alone calculate lines. I was also deliberately lazy — or, to use a euphemism, “pragmatic” — in my calculations: unless I could spot an immediate straight-forward response by Black, I didn’t bother losing myself in the variation jungle. I am aware that such an approach fosters a bad habit, but on the other hand I’ve got a lurking suspicion that this is how high-calibre calculation works, too: better players simply need less brute-force calculation because they spot candidate moves more easily. Why should I bother with assessing potential positions if I don’t have the toolbox to assess such positions even if they were right in front of me? Or maybe I’m just looking for a patzer-cop out ;)

As for “lessons” from the game: there’s really only one that stuck out to me, and perhaps it’s too abstract to be useful, but here goes, anyway. I’m going to call it “Centre Pawn Against the King”. We know that pawns can be used as rams to open up a position. Yet we should also ask ourselves: which part of the board do we want to open up? Centre pawns most often break up the centre, but this needn’t be so. Rather than opening up the centre, we can push the centre pawn to open up the enemy kingside; the push may have the further benefit of locking up the centre, making it more difficult for enemy pieces to run to the king’s defence (according to the old adage, “If you’re attacked on the flank, strike back in the centre”, or, from the point of view of the attacker, “lock down the centre before you launch your flank attack”). Botvinnik employed this idea in his kingside attack against Capablanca once he had lured the Black pieces to the other side of the board with a pawn bait:

As I said, the idea may be too abstract, but I’m rather clueless about plans involving pawns, I even struggle with basic pawn storms or “preemptive” pawn moves against pawn storms. I would hope that chunks such as this might be valuable additions to my pawn-move toolkit.

If nothing else, the game beautifully demonstrates how to gauge attacking potential by simply looking at how much territory you have for your attack, how (in)accessible that territory is for the defender, or by simply counting the attacking and the defending pieces and observing the accord between the attackers versus the disharmony among the defenders. A magnificent work of chess art!

Addendum: recommended reading (on the topic of calculation and thought process) by The Prodigal Pawn, Getting Better in Chess and LinuxGuy_on_Fics #1 and #2.

Move Decisions Based On Square Colour

December 14, 2009

Was it Blue Devil Knight who told the tale of a man who became so obsessed with the notion of “square colour”  and “colour dominance” that he forgot to protect his hanging pieces? Such cautionary tales of over-worrying about nebulous ideas notwithstanding, I believe thinking along the lines of “square colour” and “colour dominance” is an important step in improving one’s game once a decent tactical aptitude has been acquired.

ACIS of Caissa member Harvey has an insightful post on the subject. The basic idea emerging from his analysis is that you use your strong squares not just as outposts but as hubs or gateways (or “conveyor belts” in Harvey’s words) to access other sections of the board with your pieces. The idea is certainly gif-worthy, but not easy to illustrate.

Today I’ve also encountered another thinking process using colour considerations. In his latest installment of answering viewer questions, FM Dennis Monokroussos talks about how he selects candidate moves and then goes on to articulate his thought process for the position below. About 25 minutes into the video, he says:

Why wouldn’t I put the queen on c6? Well, the answer to that is two-fold. So first of all, at least at first glance, with all these pawns on light squares, I mean I’m thinking that I want to have my queen on a dark square because otherwise I’ve got nothing at all that can fight for dark squares, right? My light-square bishop can’t, and I don’t have any knights, and, you know, the rooks will eventually get there but they’re still going to fight for the dark squares behind the pawns rather than possibly in front of them, so queen c7 or queen e7 come to mind.

This thinking about pieces in terms of “what square colour can they fight for”  struck me as a very helpful and indeed practical. Chess is very much a struggle for territory when the pawns are still on the board, and square-colour certainly ranks among the most important factors in territorial struggles. Here’s the corresponding gif with the position Dennis was looking at:

Of course, you still have to find a move and you always have to take the specifics of the position into account, but unless you make your decisions solely based on colour, I’m confident that considering the aspect of colour does more good than harm. If nothing else, it gives you new ideas, and that’s almost always a good thing.

ACIS of Caissa Improvement Post #3

December 6, 2009

Going through a rather stressful patch with little to no chess. This weekend, however, I managed to play through a master game. I neglected calculation and simply tried to anticipate move candidates. The game was Euwe – Keres 1948. Here are some chunks from the game.

Bishop sacrifice followed by queen intrusion and rook lift:

Let’s not forget that pawn forks exist in the middlegame and for rooks, too:

My favourite chunk of the game: the “poisoned rook”:

In other news, I’ve added the Chunk! training section where all gifs are posted in their raw form for quick perusal.