Thursday, December 21, 2006

Piece mobility

Why do I think positional chess boils down to piece mobility and pawn structure?
(I just found out that space is actually another element of piece mobility. It is denying your opponents pieces mobility.)

Have a look of the list of Silmans imbalancies:
  • Superior minor piece
  • Material
  • Space
  • Pawn structure
  • Control of lines/key squares
  • Lead in development
  • Initiative

Superior minor piece.
What else is this then piece mobility?

If I'm ahead in material, I already know what to do.
No need to record it in a list.

Denying your opponents pieces space is to limit their mobility.

Pawn structure.
Number two on my list. As far as you don't use pawns for enhancing the mobility of your own pieces or to limit the mobility of the enemy pieces, you want to promote them after all pieces are traded.

Control of lines/key squares.
You want control over a square to make it a secure home for your piece.
Controlling a file or diagonal means securing the mobility of a piece.

Lead in development.
Means your pieces have a good home and greater mobility.

Not so unknown to chess players that it needs to be on a list to be remembered.

If I ommit what is already wellknown and what speaks for itself, only piece mobility and pawn structure remain. For the moment I forget about pawn structure.
I used to look at piece mobility as undimming a knight which happens to stand at the rim. But now I look at it in it's broadest sense.
Why do I think this to be so important?
If you look at the list of Silman, it lacks cohesion.
I tend to look at it as items that have nothing to do with each other. But in reality they are close related in a structure. To understand this structure is all important.
When this is understood well, I can break it down into the detailed comprising elements again.
But now with an underlying understanding!
I want to make things simple before diving into the complexity again.

Piece mobility (from now on used in it's broadest sense) falls apart into the following details.
A piece must have a good home from which it can operate. Such home is often called a key square.
The home must be secure. This means that enemy pawns can't chase away your piece, the piece can't be traded there without a good replacement etc..
The home must be positioned so that the enemy camp can be reached from there by the piece you intend to place there. For a knight (outpost) this is different in comparison to a rook.
When the piece is placed at the home, it's pathways to the enemy camp have to be clear. For a bishop that means opening the diagonal, or soften it up first. A clear pathway is neutral, so both sides can potentially make use of it. Once the pathway is clear, the enemy can dispute it. By doubling your efforts (your rooks for instance) you can keep in charge.

The bulk of positional play and strategical planning is concentrated around this metaphor of a piece residing at a secure home with open pathways to the enemy and enemy pieces disputing it. I had a look at 3 strategical units of PCT. I found 95% of the problems to be based on piece mobility in the sense I use it.

Another interesting point is that MDLM found that tactical exercises alone were not enough to make tactics happen on the board. He invented a third step for that, comprising 7 or 8 points.
If you leave out the things that you do already and the things that look useless or at least not essential, only improving your piece mobility remains.


  1. Oh boy, you are a Silmanite now? You must have really gone off the deep end.

    Maza to Silman is like converting from Islam to Judaism.

    I don't know what to believe anymore.

  2. Tempo,

    Great post. I couldn't agree more with everything you said. Piece mobility is almost everything in chess.

  3. Tempo: Heisman's book Elements of positional evaluation has a fantastic discussion of piece mobility. He argues there that most evaluation criteria are special cases of mobility. It is a thought-provoking and useful discussion. I think he is working on a new edition. We discussed this some here.

  4. If Heisman says the same as me he must be right:)

  5. Well, I'm hardly a fan of Silman - in fact I think he does more damage than good in the chess world. Few folks I know feel they got better by reading his books. If it works for you, then all the better.

    Anyway, mobility is really only any good if there are some targets for the mobile pieces or they have lines of penetration to develop some targets.

    So, once again it all goes back to the real factor of space: Where the pawn breaks are, the pawn islands, isolani or pawn couplets are and how well your pieces are positioned to exploit them.

    Seems like we are always left looking at the pawns - "the soul of chess."

    I think I'm beginning to get a glimpse of what Philidor meant. [grin]

  6. I like how Heisman puts it. There are only 2 main principles in chess
    Safety and Activity. Safety is more important than Activity and Activity is much more important than anything else except for safety. All other rules derive from these principles

    Evans sees it as force, time, space, material and pawn structure.
    With one trading in temporary advantages as time for more permanent ones:space /materials