“Everything in life goes back to the basics”
Material balance article was posted HERE
Kings’ position article was posted HERE
Observing how all pieces are positioned is the third step anyone needs to do during their games. It is a challenging one for beginners and intermediate players in the opening and middle game just because of the sheer number of pieces to look at on both sides. My students fall in this category and need to be reminded of it time and time again. Do you do it in your games? We can start with obvious examples and continue from there:
- Have you developed all your pieces?
- How are the knights doing in closed positions?
- How are the bishops doing in open or semi-open positions?
- Are the rooks where they should be, especially if there are open or semi-open files available?
- Where is the queen and what other pieces could work together with it?
Pieces’ positioning is a critical aspect in anyone’s game. It takes time to get better at it; some are better than others simply because they have the inner ability to sense where their pieces should go. That cannot be taught. I remember back in the 80s and early 90s I would know and admire strong players with an incredible intuition and vision in this regard. They were the most feared in tournaments because they could create things out of the blue. I would look at the same position as they did (including while playing them) and as I could not see more than the obvious (pieces developed, king castled), I was mesmerized to see them come up with plans I never saw coming. It took me a long time to work on this aspect of my game and I still have trouble with it more often than I would like. We are humans so the main flaw of those players was relying all the way on their intuition to the point where other aspects of their play (such as learning openings) would be completely ignored. That was the reason why they reached their plateau and could not advance anymore their entire life. I am sure many will agree and could name a few players in this category, players they envy and have trouble playing against in regular competitions.
Let’s see a few challenges one could face when playing and not doing very well at this aspect of the game:
What do you think about this position? Black’s last move was “Rf8-e8” and probably he was feeling good about pieces’ positioning; afterall his only “undeveloped” piece is Ra8, while white is a couple of steps behind. Well, how about a closer look?
- The worst developed Black piece is Nc6; in a 1.d4 d5 opening setup, playing it in front of the c7-pawn eliminates any useful queen side play Black can think of. In the same time the c7-pawn is an unnecessary target Qd7 must take care of
- Nf6 has the e4-square to go to (good prospects), but it could be chased away with ease (f2-f3 for example)
- Bg7 has a very good defensive position; however its prospects of being involved in an attack are slim to none
- The last move Rf8-e8 developed Rf8; however from this point on Black never tried to open up the e-file by moving e6-e5. In the case of deciding to keep the e6-pawn there, the move Rfe8 does nothing and concluding it was a waste of time is easy to make
Overall Black’s setup is very defensive, so why would anyone want to reach such a middle game position with no prospects?
Conclusion: White has a considerable upper edge in pieces’ positioning and that should have led to a winning game
The comments in the game are by White. Please replay the moves starting with 10.Bg5 … until you reach the diagram and think about pieces’ positioning during that part of it. Who do you think played better and obtained more out of it? Here are a few pointers to help with your decision; hopefully you have identified them as well:
- The poor dark squares White bishop was well traveled during this sequence and by move 23 he was stuck behind his own d4-pawn, blocked by Nd5
- White’s indecision where to place Bc1 allowed Black to castle and improve the position of Nb8 all the way to d5 from where it dominates the position at move 23
- 17… Re8 is as pointless in this position as it has been in the previous one above
- White’s idea to push c2-c4 is excellent as long as it is combined with the purpose of chasing away the excellent placed Nd5
- 19… Qc8 is another move without an obvious reason
- 22.c5 … is a strategic blunder since it allows Nb6 to go back to its dominant d5-square (outpost); it proves the c2-c4 idea was not combined with the purpose of chasing away Nd5 and possibly was not combined with anything at all
From move 23 on black improved his position by taking control of the b-file with white being forced to defend the badly misplaced Bb2. It did not continue with improving the position of Be7 (possible Be7-f6) and when white launched a dubious 2 pieces attack in the center (!), it resigned seeing an illusory imminent checkmate.
Conclusion: White wandered around and should have had a tough time saving a draw in a game where it should have had good chances to play for a win.
There are several sources of inspiration to learn, practice and effectively get better and pieces’ positioning such as books, online articles and apps (our app levels 3, 4 and 5 has several lessons focusing on many variations of this subject). I guess any and all could be useful and the important point to make is to be aware of it, do your best to find the source good for you and start going at it relentlessly. Mastering it could be a long journey with one certain result: you will get better as a player and the results will follow. The higher levels you will reach will be sure things, so you won’t just bounce back down to lower levels once you passed them. Hope these thoughts convinced you to pay a more serious attention to pieces’ positioning!
Valer Eugen Demian