Monday, January 29, 2007

Looking into the future

My list of questions for analyzing a position consists of only one topic:
What is the future of this piece?

My experiences in the Corus tournament show that this question works. Even in the battlezone it helps you to get answers. The background of this question is piece activity. How can I get my pieces more active and my opponents less? The upcoming posts will probably focus on this question. I will be thinking out loud, so I ask you beforehand to bear with me.

What is the difference between piece mobility and piece activity?

Piece mobility
can be calculated by counting the squares where a piece can go (quantity). It is a static feature of a position and you look only one ply deep with it.

Piece activity
takes the quality of the squares into account.
What is the value of the area of activity? For instance covering the squares around the opposite king or covering the center has more value than to cover your own territory. There are other elements like flexibility and coordination (the piece harmony of Fierabras?)
It is a dynamic feature of a position and you have to look into the future to value it.

Into the future.
Let's try if we can find more things about piece activity.

Take a look at diagram 1.

If I look at the bishop at f1 and I ask myself "at what diagonal lies the best future of bishop?" a few things come to mind.
Bb5 is a rather feeble home for the bishop. So it probably will to have to move again.
Bc4 is at a diagonal on which it is probably difficult to be active because of moves like d5, e6 and Nf6.
Bd3 looks like a natural home for the bishop. Only g6 will block it.
Be2 is good but rather passive, since the covered territory hasn't much value. A removal to a better place in the future is likely to be necessary.
Bg2 looks good.
Bh3 might weaken the kingside too much, especially after the bishop is traded off.

The move 1.d4 decides a lot about the future of the bishop. I never realized that before.

Take a look at diagram 2.

What is the best future of the bishop on f1?
Bb5 the bishop can't be for long at that diagonal.
Bc4 is a good natural place for the bishop since e4 protects against d5. e6 is a possibility for black to diminish the activity of the white bishopat c4, but at the same time it blocks the black bishop at c8.

Bd3 looks at the own pawn at e4 and blocks d2. Only if a black pawn at e5 can be lured away (by d4 or f4), there can be a future for the bishop at d3. Once the blocking pawn at e4 moves out of the way.
Be2 is passive but flexible.
Bg2 is blocked by the pawn at e4, so the freeing move d4 or f4 is necessary to give the bishop at g2 activity.
Bh3, same as the previous diagram.

There seem to be 3 restrictive elements for piece activity:
  • Own pawns
  • Enemy pawns
  • When the piece is bound to defend a weakness.


  1. I like this line of thought, but you should be careful. To dismiss a move like Bb5 in a king's pawn opening seems premature. My idea of piece harmony (or coordination) is based on the idea that pieces help each other to improve their individual activity. If you look at the Ruy Lopez: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 the bishop provides service to the knight on f3 which gets an increased pressure on e5.

  2. Fier,
    I don't dismiss the move Bb5, but the future of the bishop doesn't lie there. Either the bishop is chased away to b3 or it is exchanged with the knight at c6.

  3. but the bishop is excellent at b3, the driving it away (with non-developing moves) from b5 improves it almost for free.

  4. "Either the bishop is chased away to b3 or it is exchanged with the knight at c6."

    I guess you have to decide for yourself if this is good or bad. I don't think the future of a piece is decided in one move. It took me a while to understand a move like 6. Be2 (for instance in the Sicilian Scheveningen), but then I started to respect the flexibility of such a move.