Development: Doing It and Disrupting It are Sides of the Same Coin

I’ve written quite a few posts on The Chess Improver that revolve around the importance of piece development in chess. Some of them have focused on developing one’s own pieces, while some have focused on disrupting the opponent’s development. In this post, I present a game in which both were pursued simultaneously and consistently, with good effect.

After move 4 of a slow Slav Defense, both White and Black had 2 minor pieces developed, with a fairly balanced position. Then as White, I decided to move an already developed Knight to try to gain the Bishop pair. Black allowed me to not only gain it but also to get a better Pawn structure.

On move 7, to my surprise, Black moved an already developed Knight, without any particular threat, rather than continue own development. Now I had a choice to make: either continue developing normally, or take advantage of the temporary situation to try to disrupt Black’s continuing development. It turned out that the Knight move undefended Black’s d5 Pawn and also did nothing to protect the b7 Pawn. After some calculation, I felt it justified to develop my Queen to b3, striking at both the b7 and d5 Pawn. This is a thematic idea in many Slav Defense lines where Black’s movement of the light-squared Bishop from c8 presents tactical opportunities for White. (Note that I count the Queen move as “development” here, because the Queen plays a great role on b3 and also is not in danger of being chased away.)

Is Black positionally lost at move 8?

At this point, on move 8, Black should have likewise developed the Queen, as a defensive move, but instead made a weakening Pawn move, b6, that I think already results in a positionally lost game! Look at the tactically forced position after White’s move 12.

Number of already developed pieces

  • White has effectively 3 developed pieces: Queen, light-squared Bishop (both attacking f7), and castled Rook on f1. I count the Rook as developed because after White plays f3, opening the f-file on the next move, it will already be attacking f7.
  • Black has only the Queen developed, and still cannot castle. That’s effectively two pieces behind in development.

Future development possibilities

  • Although White’s dark-squared Bishop is still not developed, and is somewhat blocked in by the Pawn on e3, actually Bd2 is already possible, after which White’s remaining Rook can be developed.
  • Black will not be developing the Queen Knight anytime soon. It cannot even move to any square right now except to a6, but that just drops the piece to White’s Bishop attacking the square. We see why b6 was such a terrible move, weakening the light squares in the absence of Black’s light-squared Bishop. Also, Black will have to take probably four moves just to maneuver something in order to be able to develop the Knight on c6 or d7 without immediately losing material. For example, playing c5 would result in immediate loss on the light squares of Black’s Queen, Rook, and/or Knight because of Bb5, and where can the Queen go in order to allow Nd7 without blocking Black’s own undeveloped Bishop or dropping the f7 Pawn?

So if you do the arithmetic, you can see that in effect, Black is something like six moves behind in development. Intuitively, in an open position (as will be the case once White plays f3), it would take a miracle for Black to survive, being so far behind: one way or another, it should be possible for White to aim pieces and Pawns at Black’s position to tactically force some kind of decisive win of material during an attack.

The rest of the game

After move 18, let’s take stock of the situation. Black has managed to develop a Bishop and castle in the last six moves. White has the half-open f-file for the Rook, and acquired a central Pawn mass and has opened up the way for the dark-squared Bishop to come out at will. Black’s Knight is still not developed, but now hopes to get to a6 or d7, which are free, but the Queen side Pawns have been weakened even further with b5 (which was however practically necessary in order to get White’s Bishop off the f7 target).

It turns out that there was already a forced win here for White, without needing to develop the Queen Rook or Bishop. e6 would have won already, by winning the f7 Pawn for free. However, probably because i was in a state of mind of “winning by developing”, I chose not to immediately grab material, knowing that Black was lost already and I could take my time. So I just developed my dark-squared Bishop to f4, restricting Black from developing the Knight. After the Queen moved, I again just developed, bringing my remaining undeveloped piece, the Queen Rook, to d1, defending my d4 Pawn and “preparing” d5 (which was already a winning move even without the preparation).

On move 21, let’s do the arithmetic again: White has the Queen, two Rooks, and two Bishops developed (5 pieces), as well as the Pawn front of d4 and e6 ready to go, and Black has only the Queen developed; in fact, the Bishop that retreated to d8 cannot really be called “developed”, although there looks like some kind of swindling attempt to get to b6 to bother White’s King.

There was no longer any reason to delay, so I played d5 and e6. Black lashed out for activity (note that with the White Pawn about to come to e6, Black could only try to develop the Knight to a6 if at all, but then at the cost of losing vast amounts of material thanks to the threats on f7 and c6 and b5). I chose a simple solution based on Black’s weaknesses on the dark squares, threatening simultaneously to win either a piece or the exchange, and then with a continuing raging attack while at it, and Black shortly resigned.

I thought this admittedly lopsided game was a good example of a successful thought process based on evaluating both how quickly one can develop one’s pieces and how restricting an opponent’s development translates effectively to having more time for one’s own development.

The annotated game

Franklin Chen

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About Franklin Chen

Franklin Chen is a United States Chess Federation National Master. Outside his work as a software developer, he also teaches chess and is a member of the Pittsburgh Chess Club in Pennsylvania, USA. He began playing in chess tournaments at age 10 when his father started playing in them himself but retired after five years, taking two decades off until returning to chess as an adult at age 35 in order to continue improving where he left off. He won his first adult chess tournaments including the 2006 PA State Game/29 and Action Chess Championships, and finally achieved the US National Master title at age 45. He is dedicated to the process of continual improvement, and is fascinated by the practical psychology and philosophy of human competition and personal self-mastery. Franklin has a blog about software development, The Conscientious Programmer and a personal blog where he writes about everything else, including his recent journey as an adult improver in playing music.