Category Archives: Articles

Dynamics: The Cusp of The Matter

Of all the chess books that I have decided to spend money on, (and there have been many over the years), those of the late Alexander Kotov (1913-1981) are among my most prized. His books, ‘Think Like a Grandmaster’, and ‘Play Like a Grandmaster’, although being rather ambitiously titled, give a great insight into the mind of the advanced chess player.

One of the topics that has most stuck with me, is his coverage of thought processes and how they change in the course of a game. In positions where there is little contact between the opposing forces, one focuses upon strategic considerations, he said, the placement of pieces, pawn structure, rather than the analysis of variations. When there is much contact, much tension, the possibility of exchanges, the thought process changes to the detailed analysis of variations, as deep and as concrete as possible. One can not argue with this logic, but all the same it can not be taken as absolutely black and white. For example, one can not afford to ignore the cusp!

Cusp: ” … a point which marks the beginning of a change.”

In other words, one must make the change in thought process not merely at the moment the dynamics in the game change, but before. We must be ever vigilant so that we can anticipate and be ready for any change that may occur. If we are surprised in a game, by an unforeseen lunge, or an out of the blue sacrifice, or a few timely and awkward knight hops, we have more than likely failed in this.

The following game is between Danish Grandmaster Carsten Hoi (although an International Master at the time), and Russian-American Grandmaster Boris Gulko. The game begins relatively calmly, and so Kotov’s advice of general strategic considerations would appear to be in place. After all, why waste time going through complicated variations when it is not needed, right? Indeed so — but Gulko, playing Black, decides to make an exchange of pieces with his 19…Bxf3. It is likely that he expected liquidation via 20.Qxf3 Qxf3 21.gxf3, when his position would be slightly inferior, but nothing major.

However, our opponent does not have to comply with our wishes, infact they rarely do. Accordingly, Carsten Hoi saw things differently than Gulko, and instead maintained pieces and opted to activate the g-file and launch an attack upon the Black king. This, it seems was a hugely viable decision, and the conclusion that I draw is that Boris Gulko either failed to explore the cusp of the change in dynamics in the position (before playing 19…Bxf3) or under-estimated his opponent’s potential. Make your own mind up, but whichever it is, it was to be a painful outcome for him.

John Lee Shaw

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Abraham’s Choice

Last Tuesday (9 September 2014) my old friend Abraham Neviazsky died suddenly at the age of 80. I’d known Abraham more or less since joining Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club in 1966.

Abraham was a remarkable character who had learnt chess as a boy in Lithuania, having been taught by the likes of Mikenas. His family had suffered hardship during the Second World War, and eventually found their way, via Poland, to Israel. Abraham later married an English girl and moved to England.

Abraham was noted for his devotion to Fulham football club, and also for his devotion to moving his b-pawn two squares at the start of the game. I played in the same team as him on many occasions and rarely if ever saw him play any first move other than b4. He didn’t play it in a particularly scary way, but was confident and experienced in the slightly unusual middle game positions he reached. In recent years he had also taken to starting his games with Black with a6 followed by b5.

The subject of opening choice has been a topic of debate recently on Nigel’s Facebook page. How should we choose our own openings and what advice should we give to our students, whether adults or children?

Should we encourage them, like Abraham, to stick to the same opening at all times or to vary their openings? And should we encourage them to choose main line openings or, again like Abraham, unusual openings?

I was an active tournament player in the mid 1970s, when the English Chess Explosion, along with the explosion in opening books, was getting underway. What I did was, in retrospect, exactly the wrong thing to do, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. Whenever a new Batsford opening book came out I’d rush to Foyle’s to buy it on publication day, skim through the pages excitedly and play it at the next opportunity. I’d get a bad position because I didn’t really understand the opening, decide it wasn’t for me, await the publication of the next opening book and repeat the whole cycle all over again. When I eventually realised that I was no longer interested in studying chess seriously I was left with the opening repertoire I had when the music stopped. I haven’t been happy with what I play, especially with White, but don’t feel confident playing anything else. I know a little bit about most openings but not enough about anything to play it against a strong opponent. I’m envious of my friends who’ve been playing the same non-critical openings for the past 40 years and know exactly what they’re doing at the start of the game.

But there are two reasons why I don’t really regret taking that approach. As a chess teacher it’s important that I know a bit about all openings so that I can find out how much my students know about them, so that I can avoid falling into the trap of only teaching the openings I play myself, and so that I can avoid giving them bad advice. A few months ago I watched two colleagues demonstrating a game to a class of eager students. The game started 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. d4 exd4 5. 0-0 Nxe4, which they castigated for being too greedy and moving a piece twice in the opening. In fact it’s main line theory and perfectly good for Black, but as neither of my colleagues played this line with either colour they were unaware of this.

There’s another thing as well. It seems to me that only playing e4 and never d4 is like only listening to Bach and never to Mozart, or only reading Dickens and never Jane Austen. Always playing b4 on your first move, then, must be like only listening to, I don’t know, Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf. From my perspective it would seem that, from his choice of opening, Abraham only experienced a small part of the world of chess. But I’ve known few people who played chess with so much enjoyment and enthusiasm as Abraham. He’d have liked a few more years, but suffering a heart attack while playing chess against an old friend is probably the way he’d have wanted to go.

Richard James

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Dwelling on Lost Games

“Don’t dwell on the game you lost last week. Focus on the game you’re playing now!” Those were my words to one of my students before he started playing a game against an opponent he lost to the previous week. While we improve by learning from our losses, we can do more harm than good (to our game) if we dwell upon loss in the wrong way. Embrace a lost game as a chance to learn from your mistakes but remember not to overstay your welcome by simply dwelling on the loss. Otherwise, you may become slowly paralyzed by fear.

One of the hurdles that beginners face, both young and old, is surviving long enough to win a few games as a novice player. The human ego is fragile, especially in the young. Humans, again both young and old, have a habit of letting their egos do the talking when they excel at something. In junior chess you’ll often see a bit of bragging and gloating from the winner and a potential outpouring of tears from the loser (tears being proportional to the level of gloating and bragging). Simply put, kids don’t like to lose but often don’t understand the concept of having to put work into their game to avoid losing. One form of “work” that can have the greatest results is game analysis.

I teach students to use their losses as an opportunity to learn! When you lose a game its because something went wrong. Finding out where you went wrong can go a long way towards improving your game. For beginners, a single weak move can lead to disaster. The reason for this is because bad moves have a cumulative effect. Its the domino effect. If you make a bad move that weakens your position and your opponent makes a good move that strengthens their position, things will get worse before they get better (for you). Like history, if you fail to learn from your mistakes, you’re doomed to repeat them. With that said, how does the beginner determine where they went wrong?

Game analysis is something players of all skill levels can do. Obviously, a highly rated player will be able to do some serious in-depth analysis that is beyond the technical scope of the beginner. However, the novice player can do some basic analysis that will help them determine where they went wrong. All they have to do is to ask a simple question after examining each move. That questions is “does this move adhere to sound game principles?”

Beginners have a terrible time with opening play. Therefore, when going through your opening moves, you should examine each move and see whether or not it adheres to the opening principles. Beginners should keep their checklist simple. The opening principles that should be applied are central pawn development, minor piece development to active squares and King safety. If the beginner is playing the white (or black) pieces and, on move one develops a flank pawn, such as those found on the “a” or “h” files, they’re not addressing control of the center and that’s where the problem starts. If minor pieces are being developed away from the board’s center, the problem is there, etc.

For the middle game, beginners should be looking at piece activity. Are your pieces on their most active squares? Hanging pieces are another problem beginners have. If you hang a piece, go back and play through the moves made prior to the loss of that piece. By going back a few moves you’ll often see that you got distracted doing something else, such as launching a premature attack or not looking at the entire board. If an exchange has left you down material, go back three moves and play it through. You’ll see things more clearly. The point is simple: Studying your games, using basic game principles as a guide, will lead to improvement!

Endgame questions should revolve around pawn structure and King activity. Can you get a pawn to its promotion square? Can your King stop the promotion of an opposition pawn. Keep the questions you ask yourself simple. As a beginner, you’re not going to be able to analyze games like Karpov so don’t even try.

Even using game analysis and the idea of learning from your losses, some players will still become paralyzed by loss. Sometimes we face losing streaks that leave us stuck in “fear mode.” The fear of losing overwhelms us, spreading the seeds of doubt within our minds. Here’s my advice:

If you’ve gone back, played through your lost games, discovered where you went wrong and worked at correcting the problem, you’re half way to playing winning chess. You’ve found the problem and addressed it. Does that mean you’ll win your next game? In a word, no. However, it does mean that you’ll play better chess. For example, let’s say that you’ve analyzed your last lost game and sit down to play another. You know where you went wrong in that previous game and should be able to avoid that initial problem this time around. Let’s say you lose this current game. While it may be a loss, you’ve made progress because of your previous game analysis. When you analyze this current game, you’ll notice that you did better this time around, not getting into the same trouble you got into before. This is progress in small steps. Small steps leads to solid improvement.

Eventually, you’ll start winning more games than you lose. However, you have to exercise patience. Chess requires work. If you put work into your game you’ll get better. Just remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Take your time and celebrate the small improvements in your game. The overall war is won only by winning a series of smaller battles. Here’s game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

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Don’t Be In A Hurry To Regain Sacrificed Material

I have been discussing gambits with a student of mine, to explore the concept of positional sacrifice, a sacrifice of material with long-term positional objectives rather than with a clear immediate tactical winning shot. A position came up that illustrates a dilemma that often comes up when playing a positional sacrifice: when do you “cash in” your advantage? Very often, the logical result of a positional sacrifice is boxing in your opponent in such a way that tactics become possible, such as regaining your lost material. It is very tempting, after having played a Pawn down for much of the game, to see a way to finally win the Pawn back and do so, and in fact, in many situations it is entirely appropriate to win back your sacrificed Pawn “with interest”, retaining a positional advantage. But often it is actually counterproductive to “cash in” too early, if that results in giving up much of the non-material advantage you have so carefully accumulated.

Here’s an example, in which White is down an h-Pawn but finally has a chance to win Black’s h-Pawn in return. Unfortunately, doing so is terrible and results in a dead equal position in which White has nothing to look forward to and even has to be careful. Instead, White can ignore the fact of being a Pawn down and continue to build up with deadly pressure. Let’s look at why.

Assessing the position

First, let’s look at the position with White to move.

White has more space, with a Pawn on e5, a powerful dark-squared Bishop on f6 restricting Black’s activity, a grip on c5, active Rooks doubled on the h-file, and a Queen attacking Black’s Rook on h7.

Black has a pitiful Rook on h7 that is completely immobile and under attack, a Queen on g8 that is tied to defending that Rook, a light-squared Bishop that has no possible moves, a Rook on d8 that can barely move, and a dark-square Bishop on c7 that is currently attacking nothing (there is no hope of getting at White’s e5 Pawn).

So for a mere Pawn, White has a tremendous-looking position. The question is, how to cash in eventually?

What taking back the h-Pawn accomplishes

Taking the Black Pawn on h6 throws away all of White’s advantage:

  • Black gets to trade off his worst piece on the board, the trapped Rook on h7.
  • Black gets to swoop down and activate the Queen by checking on White’s unprotected back rank.
  • Tactically, the threat to win White’s f2 Pawn forces White to retreat horribly with Nd1, self-pinning the Knight (which wants to go to e4) and making it do nothing other than defend the f2 Pawn.
  • Black can start putting pressure on White’s d4 Pawn, and think about swinging the Rook to the open g-file and coming down.
  • White no longer has any threats. The Bishop on f6 was once a powerful piece keeping Black’s Rook on h7 trapped against its own h-Pawn, but both of those are now gone. White’s Queen is now just guarding the d4 Pawn.

I’ve given a sample bad continuation by White to illustrate how quickly Black can actually end up winning, if White tries to continue an “attack”.

Continuing the pressure instead

The alternative to winning the Pawn back is to observe that Black has serious problems with the Rook trapped on h7. White can try to win the Rook eventually, by driving Black’s defensive Queen away from protecting it. Rh3 and Ne4 and Rg3 not only improve White’s pieces in general but also serve to restrict Black’s activity and aim to win Black’s Rook.

A defensive counter-sacrifice!

It turns out that the only real try for counterplay by Black to avoid losing the Rook is to open up the position and try to activate the light-squared Bishop. Sacrificing the c-Pawn with …c5 is the best chance for Black, to get the Bishop to …c6, where it exerts power over the light-squared diagonal to h1, and also can at least, if needed, trade itself for White’s powerful Knight on e4.

So it is ironic that White’s best plan is to ignore the Pawn on h6 and instead force Black to give up the c-Pawn instead as a defensive sacrifice. After White gains the c-Pawn, of course, White has a huge advantage still, but at least Black is still surviving and has some practical chances.

Franklin Chen

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Chess Preparation for the Busy Person

Before writing, I checked for other peoples’ views on how a busy person should prepare? But most of the time they suggest opening repertories which save time. Instead of this I have a different idea that does not involve the effort involved in changing openings, instead putting the focus on managing your existing repertoire more efficiently.

1. Create your own database: You put in tournament games, online games with a decent time control and correspondence games.

2. Select critical positions: Whatever opening systems you play, you can find some middle game positions that occur in your games the most and put them into different categories. For example winning positions, losing ones and those which are difficult to handle or uncertain.

3. Use the computer as playing partner: I am not big fan of using a computer for chess preparation but here you can use computers in more sensible way. First of you can select levels which you want to play against then play your selected positions as black and white in order to grasp the ideas and spot out tactical possibilities.

4. Using the database: Once you have plenty of experience in playing the selected positions, now it’s time to see how the experts play them. You simply search positions using any chess database and can go through the games.

The whole process is nothing but a way working on the selected patterns in more organised way.

Ashvin Chauhan

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Calculation Leads To Creation . . .

One of the most important qualities that a chess player can possess, is the ability to calculate deep and accurately in a position. It is, no doubt, one of the things that separates an average player from a strong one, and a strong one from an elite one. And, according to its importance, calculation in chess is not something that can not be learned from a book or obtained from software, it can not be emulated or bluffed and is difficult to teach.

It is something which we chess players must develop.

This is obviously done by analysing many positions, first and foremost by playing lots of games. For the player who is serious in wanting to improve their calculation ability, though, hard work must be done away from over-the-board battle. This consists of the analysis of complex positions, against the clock. Some of the old masters used to write down candidate moves on a notepad, and then deeper variations to each. I would advise that players do this now also, only using chess software to check the analysis over afterwards — it will be of greater reward.

It is very interesting when first starting this method of training. When setting the clock to, say, 15-minutes, it will be amazing just how little ground gets covered before the flag drops – and how many mistakes are included. But gradually, the more one carries this out, the quicker the analysis goes, the more organised it becomes, and ultimately the more accurate.

Take a look at the game below, played by the great Mikhail Tal versus Johann Hjartarson. I can imagine that Hjartarson, playing black, was not too alarmed at his obviously inferior position upon Tal’s 33.Nc6, which is where we pick the game up. However, things were about to change very quickly. The reason for this is firstly a failing in Black’s sense of danger and positional technique. However, it is Mikhail Tal’s power of calculation which produces 36…Rc5!! and ultimately decides the day. It is true that Tal’s opponent walked somewhat clumsily in to the trap, but nothing should detract from the fact that Tal saw it’s decisiveness.

It might be of vaule to the reader to take a few moments in order to look at the position at 33.Nc6 before proceeding.

John Lee Shaw

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Blindfold Chess: Good or Bad?

Last Saturday I played a couple of blindfold games at the Bradford Chess Festival. This isn’t as hard as it sounds for experienced and strong players, most players over 2200 should manage at least one. But is it good or bad for your chess?

Opinion is divided. In the former Soviet Union blindfold exhibitions were banned due to health concerns, other players swear by it as an improvement method. Those who have watched Knights of the South Bronx may recall that Mr. Mason insisted that all training was done blindfold when his team qualified for the nationals.

I tend to side with Mr. Mason’s view and used to use blindfold training exercises extensively as a teenager. But I’m not sure that it’s such a great idea to play lots of boards at the same time, this seems like showing off more than anything. So for this reason the Bradford organisers kindly let me off with just one game at a time, and it didn’t go too badly.

Here’s the second game in which I played an ‘Allies’ team of a couple of local players:

Nigel Davies

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Chess for Heroes Continued

Let’s assume that, whether you’re a parent or a teacher, you want your children to learn chess because you’d like to give them the opportunity, should they have the talent and the interest, to become good players.

Of course this isn’t a safe assumption. These days, at least in my part of the world, most parents and teachers want their children to learn chess either to ‘make kids smarter’ or as a low-level ‘fun’ after-school activity.

Anyway, if you want to give your children the chance to be good players (by which I don’t necessarily mean grandmasters: average club players or even weak club players as opposed to social players would be fine) they need to do three things. They need to learn chess skills, solve lots of puzzles and play lots of games in fairly serious conditions. If you’re only playing chess once a week in school you’re not going to be able to do this.

Children who come from a chess playing family will be doing these things automatically, but those whose parents are not chess players will not be able to help their children in this way. Children of primary school age from a non-chess background need external help along with parental support.

The main reason I decided to set up Chess for Heroes the way I did was the release of a new and much stronger version of Douglas Bagnall’s Javascript chess program p4wn. The original version, with some debugging from Chris Lear and hacked about a bit by me, was named Fishy Bobber on chessKIDS academy. It was fairly weak, but stronger than the other Javascript program on there, so good for training for beginners but not so good as a teaching tool. The new program is a lot stronger, as Douglas has incorporated the bug fixes made by Chris and others. It’s not fault free as yet: one issue seems to be is that it has a habit of allowing pawns to capture knights early in the game, and because there’s no opening library it can’t be used for opening training at higher levels.

There are also two very useful features. Firstly, the computer can easily be set up to play any starting position. At present I have various positions set up where the computer gives odds. This is very useful in encouraging young beginners who gain confidence from winning games. The other useful feature is that it records the game while it’s being played, so that it’s easy for the parent to cut and paste the moves and email them to their chess tutor. You can also set the program to play itself, or to act as a referee in a game between two humans. If two children are learning together, or if a parent is learning with a child, they can play on the website and the parent can submit that game to the chess tutor. You can play it on my website here.

It looks as if I’ll also be able to use this engine for endgame skills training in the next stage of Chess for Heroes. If I put it on the highest level and take out three lines of code which say “keep the king at the back for the first few moves” it seems to play endings reasonably well.

In chess, as in everything else, there’s a big difference between theory and practice. You can be very good at solving puzzles and demonstrating your chess skills but you may not be able to put this into practice in your games. So being able to provide simple constructive feedback for young children and their parents is very important. This won’t be heavy opening theory or deep analysis – just telling your pupils they need to develop their pieces more quickly, not bring their queen out too soon or try to avoid leaving pieces en prise. Advice of this nature should be invaluable to parents wanting to help their children learn chess.

So the idea of Chess for Heroes is that children should spend time at home playing games and receiving feedback on the games, learning skills and solving puzzles. We aim to provide resources for children to do all these.

Finally for now, the tagline of Chess for Heroes is ‘serious about chess’. We see chess as a serious game for older children and adults, not a fun game for young children. “I don’t want my children to do homework”, parents say to me, “because then chess wouldn’t be fun”. What’s more fun, though, winning or losing? If you take it seriously you’ll win most of your games and have fun. If you don’t take it seriously you’ll lose most of your games, find chess isn’t fun, get frustrated and give up.

Should you visit the Leipzig Gewandhaus for a symphony concert you’ll find the words RES SEVERA VERUM GAUDIUM painted on the walls. These words from Seneca translate as “True pleasure is a serious business”

My esteemed fellow Chess Improver contributor Hugh Patterson explained in a recent post that all the students in his chess clubs have to do homework. Quite right too. In my view, but this is not the view of most of those involved in primary school chess in this country, if you don’t want to improve you don’t need a teacher, and without homework you won’t improve.

Richard James

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Strategic Thinking

There are two concepts that all chess players must understand from the start; strategy and tactics. Beginners often confuse the two. Simply put, when we employ a strategy in chess, we are examining a game position in general terms and working out a plan to deal with the overall problem at hand (From a strategic problem comes a tactical solution). A tactic is the actual method we employ to bring our plan into fruition. So a strategy can be though of as our plan of action while a tactic is the actual plan in action. Strategic thinking looks at the “big picture.” Once you see the “big picture,” its time to roll up your sleeves and get down to business, resolving the strategic problem with a fist full of tactics. Einstein was a strategic thinker, calculating the variables of a problem, while Clint Eastwood portraying Dirty Harry would be a tactician, blasting away at the problem!

Tactics, such as forks, pins and skewers, are easier to learn because because they employ pattern recognition. Tactics are visual in nature. The chess student uses pattern recognition and is taught to look for specific piece/board patterns such as an opponent placing his or her Queen in front of their King on an open rank, file or diagonal. The opposition’s Queen can then become pinned to her King should our budding tactician notice this great tactical opportunity. You can think of the difference between tactics and strategy as the difference between linear and non linear mathematics. In linear mathematics, one plus one will always equal two. In non linear mathematics, one plus the one doesn’t always equal two. Strategy requires a more abstract, big picture view of the situation at hand, in this case a chess game!

To help students differentiate between tactics and strategy, we’ll consider tactical thinking first: If you’re looking at your own pawns and pieces, determining which are protected and which are not, you’re thinking tactically. Tactical thinking tends to require immediate action, such as having to protect an unprotected pawn or piece. If you’re looking for checks ,mates, forks, pins or skewers, you’re thinking tactically. Again, if you see a great tactical play, you’re going to take action immediately. If you’re trying to calculate the end result of an exchange, you’re thinking tactically. Tactical thinking means taking action (not simply thinking about it). On the other side of the coin, if you’re counting material to determine who has an advantage, you’re thinking strategically. If you’re examining a position to see whose material is more actively placed, you’re thinking strategically. If you’re contemplating attacking versus defending, you guessed it, you’re thinking strategically. Action will not be immediate as is the case with tactical thinking.

There are three simple concepts that will help you understand strategic thinking or strategy, and those are material, safety and freedom. It should be noted that these three concepts or ideas are part of the “bigger picture” or positional overview. Think of the difference between strategic and tactical thinking as viewing a painting in a museum. With strategic thinking, you’re taking in the entire painting, examining it as a whole (seeing everything at once), whereas with tactical thinking, you’re examining the painting on a more detailed level, such as brush strokes or color relationships. Tactical thinking requires that you hone in on a specific issue and resolve it through an action. Strategic thinking requires that you identify the overall problems before any action is taken. We’ll start our look at strategic thinking with an examination of material.

When we talk about material, we talking about both player’s pawns and pieces. If we want to know which player has more material, we simply count each side’s captured pawns and pieces. Of course, the pawns and pieces have been assigned a relative numeric value based of the pawn or piece’s power. The pawn, who is limited in power, is on the bottom rung of the value ladder and is worth one point. The Queen, the strongest piece in either side’s army is on the top rung of our ladder and is worth nine points (Knights and Bishops are worth approximately three points, while Rooks are worth five points).

Being able to compare the relative strength of both side’s pawns and pieces allows a player to assess a position from a strategic viewpoint. If you know you’re down a substantial amount of material, you’ll plan accordingly, avoiding the execution of any attacks that might cost you what little material you have left. If you’re ahead in material, you might be apt to launch a more aggressive attack.

Safety is another important consideration. When I say safety, I’m speaking of your King’s safety. Castling is a critical factor in any game. Most beginners who don’t castle their king to safety end up losing their games. So how does castling your King to safety and the concept of strategy fit together? Here’s how:

To castle your King, you have to move two minor pieces on the King-side or two minor pieces and your Queen on the Queen-side. You also cannot have moved your King or the Rook (on the side you intend to castle on) prior to castling. You can’t move into or through check with your King when castling. In short, you have to meet specific conditions in order to castle. Your opponent knows this and will do his or her best to thwart your chance to castle. This means you have to be on the lookout for possible attacks, checks, etc. Therefore, if you plan on castling, you have to exercise strategic thinking from the start! Following the opening principles, we know that we place a pawn in the center of the board (1.e4…e5). Moving the e pawn to e4 allows White to bring the King-side Bishop into the game. White might follow up with 2.Nf3 then 3.Bc4. These two moves put White’s King-side minor pieces on active squares and allows White to castle on move four. This is big picture thinking: White knows he or she needs to castle so a strategy is put into place to castle. Your plan to castle is strategic in nature.

The concept of Freedom is really the concept of piece activity. Beginners often have a hard time with developing their pawns and pieces to active squares. When I teach my students to develop their pawns and pieces, they often think that a pawn or piece is finished in its development after a single move. However, pieces can be further developed to more active squares. An actively developed piece finds itself on a square that controls a large number of other squares on the board, especially squares on the opponent’s side of the board. Therefore, you should always look to see if you can further develop a piece to an even more active square. Piece activity is strategic in nature rather than tactical because you’re looking at the piece in question and comparing it to the other pieces on the board. You’re looking at the big picture.

The intention of this article is to get you, the reader, to see the difference between strategies and tactics in its most basic form. I think of strategy as the job of army generals who sit behind their desks and look at the big picture while the grunts or soldiers have to put those plans into action, using tactics or simply put physical fighting. Speaking of fights, here’s game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

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The Difference Between a Knight Developed at c3 and at d2

There is a well-known trap in the Bogo-Indian Defense that raises an interesting question whenever I show it to someone. The trap is as follows and involves a question of how White should recapture after a trade of Bishops by Black:

The question after this trap is always, “Well, why would White ever want to play Qxd2 anyway, exposing the Queen to an attack by …Ne4? Isn’t it obviously better to recapture with Nbxd2, simultaneously developing the Queen Knight?” This is an excellent question. It is best answered by examining some long-term issues in the middlegame arising from this opening.

Comparing Knight developed at c3 and Knight at d2

Knight at c3

First, we look at what can happen if Black mistakenly allows White to recapture the Bishop with Qxd2 instead of Nbxd2, by not taking White’s Bishop early enough for the “trap”.

Black’s plan in this variation of the Bogo-Indian is to play …d6 and …e5, attacking White’s Pawn on d4 and encouraging White to close the center with d5. After the center is closed, all attention must be directed toward Pawn breaks by either side.

White is acknowledged by theory to have some advantage in this opening, having more space and a lead in development, and can think about attacking either on the Queen side (with plans such as a3, b4, c5) or on the King side (with plans such as e4, Ne1, Nd3, f4). But Black has a solid position, and can aim for counterplay with …a5 with …Na6 or …Nbd7 aiming for …Nc5, and/or …c6, to prevent White from gaining too much ground on the Queen side, and perhaps preparing slowly for …f5 to further attack White’s e4 Pawn chain base.

Knight at d2

By contrast, let’s see what happens when Black correctly forces White to recapture the Bishop with Nbxd2.

below is a sample continuation, in which at move 13, probably White’s best move is the paradoxical undeveloping move Nb1! The Knight at d2 is not doing much, being blocked by White’s own c4 and e4 Pawns. More important, it is not controlling the important a4 square (that Black can possibly aim to occupy with …a4), and it is not controlling the b5 square that could also be important (in a later attack against Black’s c7 and d6).

But this retreat wastes two moves (the original Nbxd2 and the Nb1) before getting to c3. However, in the Qxd2 situation, White wasted a move with the Queen, which is not so well-placed on d2: White’s Queen is actually better placed on d1, where it controls a4, than on d2. But White’s Rooks are not connected, so White will eventually want to develop the Queen anyway, perhaps to c2. So overall, White has lost one move, net, and, and this does make some difference in White advantage, even in a closed position, because the extra White move in the Nc3 variation makes it that much harder for Black to catch up in development and begin counterplay.

Summary

The summary of the situation is that paradoxically, since White wants the Knight on c3 anyway eventually, “saving” time by recapturing with development by playing Nbxd2 actually ends up wasting a move because the Knight will have to spend two more moves to get back to c3. Knights are funny pieces because any time a Knight has a choice to go to one of two different squares, if it chooses to go to one of them, it will always require two more moves to get to the alternate square. This is something to think about when planning Knight maneuvers: it is efficient, when possible, to plan to get to a desired square with the smallest number of moves possible (given the tactical constraints).

The other point to remember is that “wasting” moves to get a Knight to a good square may be justified. “Backwards” Knight moves are very important in chess, because a Knight on a good square can be so powerful that it is worth spending the time to get the Knight there. Look at how White thematically “undevelops” the Knight on f3, where it is doing nothing, to e1 and then to d3, to control the c5 square and b4 square (in case of a Pawn advance to b4 in the future) and also regain pressure on Black’s e5 Pawn and help support an f4 advance.

Study of typical middlegame positions in the Bogo-Indian can pay off with better understanding of the roles of both of White’s Knights and both of Black’s Knights (Black’s King Knight was not discussed here, but it has plans too).

Franklin Chen

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