Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The grand scheme

There are four types of centers which are more or less stable.
Two of them comprise the two extremes:
  • The closed center, where two pawn chains are standing opposite to each other
  • The open center, where there are no pawns on the center files
And two centers that are somewhere in between:
  • The half open center
  • The pawn center, where one side has two center pawns against no pawns on the other side
Each center has its own standard positional plans.

But before you reach one of the more or less stable centers, there is a dynamic struggle going on, from which it is impossible to say beforehand which type of center is going to emerge. Yet even in this not yet crystallized situation there is a plan: conquer the center and try to get a favorable version of one of the four center types.

I have subscribed for a nine round tournament in July. So the work is cut out for me. I intend to focus the first two month on positional play. The following two months I will focus on endgames. Since with my positional approach I already start to get endgames on the board. Only in June I will have a few sessions to strengthen my new openings of choice.

And what about tactics?
I have trained during quite a few months every now and then in accordance with my newly developed training system. Due to the illness of Margriet and my mother passing away lately, the training has been very infrequent. I have tried all sorts of methods for trying to reach tactical prowess the past twenty years. For the first time I think I'm still on to something after more than half a year of training.
So until the tournament I intend to flick in half an hour tactical training per day, every day.

Language is rich. Which means that a single term can have a lot of different meanings, dependent on the context. Take for instant the term "attack". We use the same word for attacking a piece which is well defended and a piece that is B.A.D. (Barely Adequate Defended). The effect is not the same though. I hope I can express myself well enough to avoid the invention of new oddball terminology. If not, please bear with me.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Activity by the center

Writing about piece activity has clarified a whole lot of things. Of course that leads to definitions that aren't everybody's cup of tea. But I belief that I can work with this simplification of matters. The punishment of oversimplification is that I have to think again. So no worries.

Activity = attack. The pressure of PoPLoAFun so to speak. Where PoP=point of pressure.
Weakness = target
Target = weak pawn, B.A.D. (Barely Adequate Defended) piece or defender
Defender = function (Fun)
Outpost = attacking square = the other end of the line of attack (LoA)

Sofar it is all nice and simple and coherent. I think it might even be workable.

What remains obscure though, is the relationship between piece activity and the center. I read rules, but the why behind the rules isn't clear to me. And as we know, following rules that you don't understand leads to disaster.

Monday, January 20, 2020


I absorb a lot of information lately from all kinds of sources. Most sources use different definitions. Without an exact definition, matters remain obscured. It must be as concrete as possible.
  • What is piece activity and how is it measured?
  • What is exactly a weakness?
  • When can we consider a piece as being developed?
Once I played a knight to a beautiful outpost on c6. I thought it would be a super monster octopus there. But it accomplished nothing. The pawns it could attack were long gone, and the king was on the other flank where my knight could not reach it. So all the effort to get my knight there, was in fact wasted. That leads to the following rule:

Activity of a piece should be measured by what it accomplishes. A piece must do something concrete. Now what are the concrete things a piece can do?
  • It can attack a backward pawn
  • It can attack a piece
  • It can attack a defender
  • It can invite  an enemy pawn to forsake its duty by occupying an outpost
If none of these tasks is accomplished, the piece is inactive.
Although other grandmasters seems to look differently at this point, both Nimzowitsch and Bangiev seem to consider the pawns on the 7th rank to be backwards. Bangievs invites us to look at the least defended weak pawn.

Putting a piece on f5 can invite your opponent to play g6. Thus weakening f6 and h6 in its wake. This is a different way of looking at matters.

Somehow, the idea of the center must be integrated into this. A weak pawn or outpost in the center prevails over one on the flank.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

In the beginning there was function

Aox provided me with a playlist about square strategy theory. Which handles about the method of Bangiev. The videos describe the how of this method. I try to re-engineer the why.

The PoPLoAFun system tells us:
  • duplo attacks appear at random
  • traps appear at random

There are three bases for a tactic:
  • lack of space
  • lack of time
  • lack of freedom due to function
Only the latter can be used as a guide from move one.

Pawns are the natural targets for positional play due to their limited mobility. All pawns on the 7th rank can only be defended by pieces or by pushing them forward. The f7 and c7 are weakest in the start position because the king and the queen are bad defenders.

In the opening phase, the position is very fluid. This means that the least defended pawn can change rapidly. Until there comes some fixation of the position, positional targets can change from move to move. When the enemy pawns become less mobile, it becomes time to pick your target. Bangiev helps you to focus on the weakest base pawns.

Diagram 1
  • You look at the base pawns. That are the pawns that cannot be defended by other pawns on the square which they occupy.
  • Then you look at the base pawn that can drum up the least amount of defenders.
  • Then you look at your own pieces. Which one can attack the pawn of choice?
So it is a matter of balance between potential attackers and potential defenders. Which base pawn is B.A.D. (Barely Adequate Defended)?
In the position above, that might well be the b7 pawn. Because the light squared bishop is outside the pawn chain, it cannot assist in the defense of the b pawn.

Putting pressure on the b-pawn ties the defenders to it. Tactics might arise spontaneously from this very fact. But the b-pawn itself has also two functions: defending a6 end c6. When you put so much pressure on the b-pawn that it no longer can be defended on its base square, it might feel compelled to move forward. Thus forsaking its duty to defend a6 and c6. After b6 or bxa6, we all of a sudden notice to have a weak color complex. A weak color complex is a  way to infiltrate into enemy territory. Think of it as a matrix of lines of attack.

Monday, January 06, 2020


The more I think about it, the more I start to see how all-important the pawns are. It was told me long ago, but the comprehensive nonsense that dominates the realm of good willing chess advice had made me deaf for this specific issue. Until now.

Let's begin at the end. The end is: tie your enemies' pieces to the defense of a pawn.
From the end to the beginning:
  • tie your enemies' pieces to the defense of a pawn (point of pressure)+function
  • make a pawn backward
  • challenge the adjacent pawn to come forward
  • open a file in front of the backward pawn
  • trade the right pawn, or the right piece defended by a pawn
  • fixate the backward pawn
  • push the right pawns for trade or fixation
This is all a bit vague, of course. So I tried to remember what Bangiev said about color complexes in his method. Alas, somehow the book has disappeared, and it seems out of print. He said something like:

A base pawn is a backward pawn. In the opening position, that are all pawns on the 7th rank. Find out which base pawns are the weakest. In the opening position, that are f7 and c7, since those are only defended by one piece, and the king and the queen are bad defenders. By asking the right questions, you get an idea of what to attack and how to attack it. Here is some simple explanation so you can get an idea what I'm talking about. It's a pity I don't have the book anymore, since it seems to lay a relation between occupying the center and which base pawn to attack from there while making use of color complexes.

Are there any good books about color complexes?

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Sitting duck redux

The positional battle for the center is already reshaping my chess thinking. I play much faster for instance. Since when you have no clue what to think about, you can't get a signal that you are ready with thinking. I play more quiet now. When you maintain a solid center, your king won't be murdered in bed by surprise. Hence there is no need anymore to throw the kitchen sink at your opponent under all circumstances because of the fear of being caught off guard yourself at any moment.

It is no sinecure to transform the 45 blue prints which constitute positional pawn play into a workable thought process. I used to think that that would be impossible, but at least I  have an entrance point for my thinking now. And that is great! I only have to follow the trail like a bloodhound.

I think it is a good idea to split the realm of positional pawn play into two. What is the usual purpose for a pawn move, and what for a piece move? Which leads to an additional question, what decides whether you should move a pawn or a piece?

When there are no weaknesses, you should try to induce them. A weakness is a target. No weakness, no target. There can of course be accidental tactical targets. But when your opponents become stronger, the chance of tactical accidents manifesting themselves out of the blue, will turn out to diminish.

I let GM Stockfish play against himself from a position with no pawns:

White to move
After 14 moves the following position was reached:

White to move

 Most people would probably agree that this position will end in a draw.

I draw the following conclusion: when there are no pawns on the board, you cannot make any progress. The pieces are simply too volatile. Any attack can be answered. An eye for an eye. A move for a move.

In order to make any progress, we need to slow the pieces down. We have two tools in the box for that:
  • limit mobility of the hostile pieces by restraint
  • limit mobility of the hostile pieces by function
We need a sitting duck.
The pawns and the king are both slow moving pieces. This makes them the natural targets of the chessboard. But in order to convert a slow moving piece into a target, we must immobilize it all together. The pawns have the least mobility of all pieces. We can convert them into a sitting duck by restraining or blockading them.
Only when a pawn cannot be protected by another pawn, there is any chance to actually win it. But maybe winning the pawn is not necessarily how it works. By attacking a pawn that cannot move and cannot be protected by another pawn (point of pressure), we force the other enemy pieces to protect the weak pawn (function). We tie the pieces to the pawn. Thus limiting their mobility.
The pieces which are limited due to their function become targets themselves.

The attacking pieces are mobile by their nature. They can direct their attention in another direction at any moment. While the defending pieces cannot.
Positional play is the art of converting pawns into targets.


Thursday, December 26, 2019

Focus on pawn structure

I think we have done a beautiful job to simplify tactics. We discovered the three ways of gaining wood:
  • time (duplo attack)
  • space (trap, mate)
  • function (defense)
Time underpins all three methods above:
  • Time to free yourself  from two threats at the same time
  • Time to free yourself from a trap by clearing an escape square
  • Time to free a piece from its duty
We discovered the three triggers which help us to make the invisible visible:
  • PoP point of pressure
  • LoA line of attack
  • Fun function
Now we can try to do the same with positional play.
After studying some works of Smirnov, Nimzowitsch and Dorfman, I propose the following simplification: we should focus on pawn structure.

Pawn structure is the source of:
  • king safety
  • power of the pieces
  • evaluation of the ensuing endgame
 Usually I read 10 books or so at the same time. Now I limit myself to
  • My System, Nimzowitsch
  • Chess Praxis, Nimzowitsch
  • Chess Blueprints, planning in the middle game, IM Nikolay Yakovlev
Chess Blueprints, planning in the middle game of IM Nikolay Yakovlev contains 188 typical blue prints applicable to positional play. Of course, it is impossible to check for 188 ideas in every position, so we are in dire need of some radical simplification.

Yakovlev bundles the blue prints in the following chapters:
  • strongpoints and weaknesses
  • play in and for the center
  • position play
  • attack
  • defense
  • endgame 
The first two chapters revolve mainly around pawns (comprising 45 blue prints), so that will be where I will start my investigation.