Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Counting as narrative

When there is a sequence of trades and there is no queen involved that is standing in front her rooks or her bishop, then there is no need for going through the actual sequence. You can predict the outcome by just counting the values of the pieces according to the following method.

The usual way of counting, i.e. comparing only the #attackers with the #defenders is insufficient since it doesn't take the value of the pieces into account. That gives wrong answers when one side has two rooks while the other has one or none.

The maximum gain you can get is determined by the value of the victim. You can get never more since the defender simply stops trading.

There are 2 situations.

The value of the victim exceeds the value of the first attacker.
In that case you always win wood.

The value of the victim exceeds NOT the value of the first attacker.
In that case it depends on the values and # of attackers and defenders if you will get the value of the victim or not.

The method:
  • Take as many attackers as there are defenders. Take the sum total of the value of the attackers (A).
  • Take as many defenders as there are attackers. Include the victim. Take the sum total of the value of the defenders (B).
  • If B exceeds A, you will gain wood, otherwise you will lose wood or stay equal.

Not only for simple trades.
At first sight there is no reason to presume that this method is limited to a trade sequence that takes place on one single square. I'm going to check if it works on multiple squares too. Besides that I'm going to look especially after the role of threats.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A system for counting

One of my cheerleaders.

After 5 days stumbling in the dark finally the lightswitch turned on. I worked out all possible captures with different attackers, defenders and victims. What put me on the wrong foot is that the position of the previous post is an exception. Only when there is a queen involved, the order of access can play a role. Since a queen can stand in front of her rooks or her bishop. The other pieces cannot stand in each others way and at the same time play a role in capturing. In the following treatment I leave the situation out of a queen standing in front of her rooks or her bishop. Then a fairly simple system remains.

The most logical way of capture and recapture is to use the light pieces first before the heavier ones. To know if a sequence of capturing will give you wood:

n = #attackers
m = #defenders
A= Sum value of m attackers (take the lowest)
B= Sum value of n enemy pieces that are involved in the trade (take the lowest)
Gmax= maximum gain = value of the victim
Gtheor=theoretical gain if all pieces are traded= B - A
Geff= effective actual gain= MINIMUM (Gmax, Gtheor)

A few examples.

In all examples white is the attacker and to move.
Example 1

n = 4
m = 4
A= 14
B= 10
Gmax= 1
Gtheor= -4
Geff= -4 thus no wood

Example 2

n = 4
m = 4
A= 14
B= 12
Gmax= 1
Gtheor= -2
Geff= -2 thus no wood

Example 3

n = 4
m = 2
A= 6
B= 11
Gmax= 1
Gtheor= 5
Geff= 1 thus you win the victim

Tomorrow I will try to formulate a narrative to say it in clear language. Time for a little celebration: there is no need to go through the actual sequence!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Mother of all Tactics: counting trades

After studying for 5 days the position below, it has become obvious how universal that position is. The position itself is not too difficult, you can imagine the sequence of trades well within a reasonable time. It is in fact a counting problem. It is obvious how to generalize this position. It's a matter of changing the amounts and the values of the attackers, the defenders and the victim (the piece on d4). Counting problems are extremely common.

Because counting problems are so common, I want to find a shortcut. A method which makes it obsolete to work out the actual sequence everytime. In the same way as the rule of the square in the endgame makes it unnecessary to imagine every pawn and king move in the run to promotion.

The point is that imaging a sequence of alternating moves is taxing for the short term memory. Not impossible, but taxing. Especially if you at the same time must do the bookkeeping of how much wood both black and white have gathered sofar. The fact is, that the position of the diagram below is part of a more complex position. Beginning with an added white bishop on b5 and a black bishop on g6.

I found that the addition of a bishop on b5 immediately lead to a memory overload error. Due to the fact that the load of the underlying counting-problem already has taxed the short term memory to a certain degree. Causing you to check every possible candidate move while often repeating yourself. The all too common paralysis by analyzis.

If you can solve the counting problem in the position without taxing the short term memory, you will find that adding a bishop wouldn't give you problems. Since there is enough room in the short term memory to handle that.

A counting method that handles this position after it is generalized - by changing the amounts and values of defenders, attackers and victim - will have an even broader application. In this position all alternating trades of black and white take place on the same square. In the scenario of a counterattack the alternating trades of black and white take place on different sides of the board. I'm convinced that a counting method will be applicable under that circumstances too. And if that is the case, and I'm convinced it will be, then a lot of complex middlegame positions that caused me trouble and that I have showed you in the past will be solved in a whiff (ahem). Take for instance this example of counterattacking.

See here the MOAT (Mother Of All Tactics):

White to move.

The value of the victim and the first attacker.
In this position the victim is pawn d4 and the first attacker is Ne2.
Let's generalize. There are 3 critical situations:
  • The attacker has a lower value than the victim. In that case, the defender will lose wood, no matter what.
  • The attacker has an equal value as the victim. All risk lies by the defender. All the defender can hope for is to keep the material balance.
  • The attacker has a higher value than the victim. This means that the attacker has to invest. All risk lies with the attacker
After the first trade, the attacker and the defender change position. The result of the first trade is the starting point for the second trade.

There are 3 subjects: the victim under attack and the # attackers vs # defenders. This is the easiest way of looking at the position. The victim d4 is attacked 4 times and defended 4 times. So it should be defended enough. There are many cases that this way of shortcutting will do. The situation when there are an equal amount of attackers and defenders is critical. If you can solve this well, it will be no problem when there is an extra attacker or an extra defender. But there are disturbances of such utter simplicity:

The value of the pieces and the access to the square of trade. It is easy to see in the diagram above that rook d8 has no direct acces to d4 while a defender with a much higher value (Qd6) has. That changes the evaluation of the position.

Right now I'm working out the different values and the difference in access to the square of trades. It's going very slow. But I still have high hopes.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Digging a little deeper

Let me try to dig a little deeper in the findings of my previous post.

To know what to ignore.
I will start at the position where I start to see all kinds of phantoms (diagrams below). According to my thesis a grandmaster sees such position as simple. He just knows that when you add a bishop at b5 the only effect will be that the knight is pinned and that you can safely take the pawn on d4. It is very tempting to say that a grandmaster sees such position much quicker than we do. But that puts us easily on the wrong foot. It is better to say that he perceives the position differently. Simpler. He knows what to ignore. Speed is the result of this way of perceiving, not the cause. If we would see the position in the same way, we would make our moves at the same speed. The cause of the speed is the fact that there is no time needed for what is ignored. And on the other hand, if the grandmaster would haunt the same phantoms as we do, it would take him just as much time as us.
Of course it doesn't matter if the position is tactical or positional in nature.

I guess the same principle applies for all kinds of expertise. Margriet sees a piece of music as a central theme with ornaments, while I'm jui jitsu-ing with every note. As result she learns 4 voices within one hour, while I need 3 weeks for one voice.

How to simplify.
This is terra incognita. Doing the circles with tactical problems is a method to simplify OTB positions but it can hardly be called an efficient method. It's a method. A method that has simplification as an accidental side-effect. It's my bet that if you know what you are doing, know where you are after, a much more efficient method will be found.

This is my first attempt in that direction. To that end I take the following position and I will try to formulate a narrative and to proof its validity in such way that even my mind stops looking for phantom moves. The holy grail is to find narratives that both generalize and simplify. I will start where my mind isn't boggled too much yet:

White to move.

Later on, there will be a white bishop added at b5 and a black bishop on g6. But first I must be sure that every confusion in this position is removed. Let's inventory what elements play a role in the position above.

Since I have rewritten the text that should follow here already 3 times, I deciced to work it out in a seperate post. It proofs that matters are not so simple. However it is possible to work out the diagram position above over the board, it became obvious that such approach is already pretty taxing for the short term memory. So I will look at this position first in depth, before I will add the two bishops to the position. Any non-simplicity in this position will transit to the more difficult position with the pinning bishop. So I must wipe out every possible confusion of this position first.

Improvising from move one

Yesterday I played against our clubchampion (rated 2142). He always plays 1.f4. Usually I answer with the Fromm gambit (1. .. e5) but yesterday I decided to follow Nimzowitsch and to play just sound logical moves. So I started with 1. ... d5. With the downside that I had to think from move one, which costed time of course. He played a premature g4, which I, again according to Nimzowitsch, immediately punished with a counterattack in the center. But the opening and the middlegame and my new approach had costed me too much time, so in the end he could proof that he was the better blitz player. Yet I was very satisfied since I actually outplayed him and had him into trouble. You can find the game here.

Friday, October 26, 2007

How a grandmaster sees tactics

In my previous post I claimed that a grandmaster would recognize the right move in the following diagram à tempo.

Of course I can't backup this claim. But that doesn't mean I can't speculate about it and formulate a hypothesis. The claim is based on the positions that GM Danielsen played correct à tempo in his blitz games. This concrete position stems from PCT though.
It took me 6 hours with the aid of Rybka to form an opinion about this position. There are many tiny little details that play a role, and there are some red herrings as Loomis called it. This brings me to the first part of my hypothesis:

There is so much going on in this position, that even a grandmaster will need much time to see all the relevant details.

If this part of the thesis is true AND my claim is true THEN

A grandmaster must have found a way to simplify this position in his mind in a way that doesn't change the outcome.

And that is the second part of my hypothesis. If you look at the comments at my previous post, you will find several indications of methods how to simplify the position. The one of Christian is very strong for instance. On the other hand, different commentators found different things difficult. A few hadn't seen that the bishop is hanging.
The fact that I brought up the position was because I found it difficult as a whole. How on earth can you be sure so fast that you can leave your bishop hanging without losing a piece at the end of the combination?

For your convenience, this was the position:

White to move.

The question I try to answer in this post is if it is possible to simplify the position in the diagram in such way that you can be sure what the outcome will be the same? I mean, if my hypothesis is true, then I have to learn to simplify positions logically.

I try to break down the position in it's constituent elements. Let me first think a few pieces away:

White to move.

The pawn at d4 is attacked 4 times and defended 4 times. Usually that should be enough. And it would be, if it wasn't for the black queen that is badly placed. If the queen was on d8 and that rook on d6, there was no problem. But since the queen stands in front of the rooks, white can take the pawn on d4 without problems. That leads to an equal position where two rook are traded for a queen and a pawn. The position above shouldn't cause you too much trouble. Now let's add a bishop on both sides:

White to move.

The white bishop adds a pin to the equation. This means that effectively there is one defender of d4 less. This only means that the pawn on d4 is lost. I think we have a critical situation here where the difference between a grandmaster and me shows. Because here it is that I see all kind of phantom threats and ditto moves. I have to check every candidate move here before I dare to say that d4 is lost. But a GM simply says, based on his experience, "due to the pin the pawn on d4 is lost". If I'm able to formulate a narrative why such simplification doesn't change the outcome, no matter how much candidate moves are investigated, I would be able to see the simplicity of the position myself. But I can't. Yet.

Since the black knight is pinned, Nxd4 means the build up of a discovered attack. So black MUST either move his queen out of the way or he must counterattack a white piece (with a6), otherwise he loses a piece.

The black bishop adds an attack against c2.

If we add another white bishop and a black knight, we get the original position:

White to move.

White can play Nxd4 safely right away, because the battery guarantees that white gets his piece back if black takes on g5. If black doesn't take on g5, the situation is as above, black must save his queen or play a6.
So it is my take that the grandmaster makes another simplification here, which goes as follows "I can take safely on d4 without losing a piece. The only risk is that black can win a pawn back in the end." Since it is blitz, he leaves it to the opponent to find out if he can get his pawn back.

This must be how it works. Learn to simplify!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Counting again

In one of the problems in unit 10 module 3 of PCT I encountered this position:

White plays 1. Nxd4 and wins a pawn. That baffled me. I would have sworn that Nxd4 would lose a piece. Counting is obviously a weak spot of mine. Hence I intend to take some time off to formulate a narrative for this position. These are the kind of positions that GM Henrik Danielsen solves à tempo in blitz games.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

In theory are theory and practice the same. . .

But in practice they are not.

Be concrete.

Blue Devil showed in a nice game 3 times what the greatest problem is with positional play (sorry Blue). He created an outpost that he could not maintain, he preserved the bishoppair in a position where it is worthless and he created a passer he could not maintain.

While I'm doing the third strategical module of PCT, I realized that I must choose between different theoretical advantageous positions all the time. Making the same mistakes as Blue. Time and again the little yet concrete advantage supersedes the vague theoretical advantage that maybe in the future sometimes will yield fruit.
The choice between the beautiful outpost for the knight on f5 in the neighbourhood of the enemy king but without the help of other pieces and the much less beautifull outpost on c4 where the knight does something less spectacular e.g. fixating a weak pawn at a6.

Or on another note, I must create an ugly backward pawn while preventing an enemy bishop to beam as a laser in my position right now. While I'm writing this, I realize it is the choice between what is now and what is maybe in the future. The little advantage now supersedes the big advantage in the future, since the future tends to be very uncertain in chess. The ugly backward pawn can maybe in the future cause an unfavourable endgame, but that beaming bishop is now threatening my position.

I have to get used to this way of looking at things. Pragmatism rules!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Test for DK

DK asked me how to embed a pgn-viewer on his blog. I'm experimenting a little for him.

Press reload game in the comment section.

Next module

Just finished the second strategy module of PCT out of three. The new method works very fine.When I encounter a problem for the first time, I take my time to investigate the solution. Sometimes using Rybka. Then I formulate a narrative, which lays the connection to the middlegame framework I have formulated earlier.

The framework makes it much easier to remember the essence of the solution. The fact that every solution has already a narrative formulated by Tchekov Mattenovitch is very helpful too. When the problems are repeated there is much less necessity to invent the wheel time and again since I remember the essence of the problem well. After a few repetitions this starts to feel like intuition.

The next module is quite new to me, and I intend to formulate an algorithm that should put me on the right track soon when analysing a new position.

I fired up 8 new CC-games to get some practice with my new idea's.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Mutual pawnstorm

Today I played the first game of the regional competition. A very sharp game which gave me little chance to ponder on strategy. Just mutual sink-throwing. You can find the game here.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Rule independence II

Samuraipawn asked the following question:

I don't know if you've mentioned this before, but I often find that two positional ideas clash in the same position and you're then left to make a choice. Let me give you an example: According to Silman you're supposed to play on the side of the board where you have the most space. Let's say it's the kingside. The problem arises when you realise that it's the opponents queenside that is weak. So where do you choose to play?

That is a very good question. Since there is no concrete position given, the answer will be somewhat abstract. What I tried to formulate in my previous post is the cohesion of moves. My goal is to become rule independent.

When two rules collide, you have to think for yourself. In the example above it is of course madness to attack where your opponent is strong (rule 1), albeit your space advantage. On the other hand, it is madness to attack on the queenside where you haven't enough space (rule 2). So logically you shouldn't attack. But in fact this tells you what you must do. If you can do a feigned attack on the queenside, without committing yourself, you might be able to deflect some pieces from the kingside to the queenside, after which you might be able to attack the kingside.
(Rule 3, principle of attacking 2 weaknesses. Rule 4, According Nimzowitsch the amateur must learn to do nothing. That is to say, to do just moves that aren't attacking nor defensive, but that make your position more viable. Oh no! Not more rules!!)

So the answer is, use your common sense. You can only supersede rules by common sense if you comprehend the idea behind the rule. What the rule intends to accomplish and why. How the rules are intertwined.

I find the analogy with warfare usually very clarifying, with mobilisation, frontlines, bridge heads, supply lines, feigned attacks, defenders, Alekhines guns etc..

That's why I try to paint the big picture. (Too lazy to learn the rules:)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

From concrete to abstract and back.

Since I'm not an Idiot Savant (the Savant part is missing) I can only remember concrete topics when I have build an abstract framework to retrieve them from memory. By bringing all topics in the middlegame under the very same denominator piece activity, I have reached a pretty high level of abstraction. In order to make it practical, I must define a structure which is somewhat more concrete. A thoughtprocess for positional chess so to speak.

If you must decide to a move in the middlegame and there are no concrete tactics around, I use the following structure of events. I work backwards, from the target to the initial position.

The targets.
There are 3 possible targets after which you can go in the middlegame.

The king.
These are the preconditions for a king attack:
  • The center must be secure. It may not collapse in a counterattack. Realize that when you sac a piece to open the kingside, your opponent is free to sac a piece back in the center to start a counter attack. If your center can not withstand this, a kingside attack will fail. That is why you often have to overprotect the center.
  • Your opponent must not have serious counterplay at the queenside.
  • You have to outnumber your opponent at the kingside. For instance because his pieces are deflected to the queenside. You need at average 3 extra pieces. 1 extra piece is needed to be sacced in order to open the kings position. 2 extra pieces are needed to mate the king. So you must be sure that when your attack peters out, you can manoeuvre easily pieces from the queenside to the kingside. Usually the queen is needed to deliver the actual mate.
  • The enemy king must have no escaperoute to the queenside. That's why an attack on focal point g7 is stronger than an attack on focal point h7.
  • In case of a pawnstorm there must be a "hook" in the form of an advanced pawn. Otherwise you can't open a file. It saves you a piece to sac.
  • A wedge in the form of a pawn on e5 is welcome.

A weak pawn.
A pawn is weak when it can't be defended by another pawn without nasty consequences. It must be possible to attack the pawn.
  • Induce a weakness.
  • Fixate the weakness.
  • Attack 2 weaknesses alternating.
  • Attack where your opponent is weak, meaning where he has the least defending pieces.
  • Solve your own weaknesses.
A passer.
  • Genesis of a passer. There where you have a majority of pawns you can create a passer.
  • Free the road to promotion from blockaders.
  • If you can choose where to promote, choose the square with a color that is out of reach of an enemy bishop.
  • Block enemy passers
The road to the targets.
This is where piece activity comes in.
  • Mobilization or developement is the transportation of a piece from its initial square to its place at the frontline.
  • Pawnplay is needed to open up lines into the enemy camp. If you move a pawn, you must have piece activity in mind. Special attention is needed for freeing moves. Besides for the opening of lines pawns can be used to gain space.
  • Strongpoints or focal points or invasion squares all share the same idea: it is in the enemy camp, you can place a piece on it that can't be chased away by enemy pawns and you outnumber the defenders of that square.
  • Attackers and defenders of a strongpoint often have to battle.
  • Regrouping. When there appear weaknesses or when new lines become open, you often have to regroup your pieces as a consequence.
  • When your opponent has an active piece, trade it off.
These are the positional ingredients I have found sofar. There are two ommisions I'm aware of:
  • Exchanges. I haven't investigated this yet, but it is a very powerfull weapon.
  • Leftovers of the middlegame, favourable for the endgame. This must be treated as a byproduct of moves that are aiming at something in the middlegame. Playing moves solely targeting the endgame is no good. Since I'm a novice to positional play, this is not the moment to treat them.
The coming time I will put this list to the test and refine it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

How strategical is that?

Black to move and save the knight.
Black has just played 1. ... h4 and white answered 2. O-O-O

This is a problem of the strategical module of PCT. They just asked for the move 1. ... h4. When you have found that move, Tchekov Mattenovitsch comments "In order to help saving the h1-knight" and goes on with the next problem. The repetitive system helps you to memorize the answer and that's it.

But now I have restarted with the strategic module of PCT, I want to do it in the new way we have discovered the past months, using narratives, generalisations, focussing on the solution in stead of the problem and visualisation of the solution. White has two main ways to pick up the knight at h1: with g3 and Bg2 or with O-O-O and removing Bf1. I am here investigating the latter situation.
What is especially interesting in this position is the chain of protectors:
  • Knight f3 is pinned against rook d1 and is thus fixated.
  • g2 protects the knight on f3 and is thus fixated.
  • Bf1 protects the pawn on g2 and is thus fixated.
It is extremely important to develop an eye for such chains because you will find them time and again. Be it for the protection of a piece or a weak square. With 2. ... h3 you attack the chain. In itself that is not enough. But 2. ... h3 takes the black pawn one move closer to promotion too. Only blocked by the white pawn on h2. This introduces the semi-sacrifice 3. ... Ng3! 4. hxg3 h2

But how strategical is this? I can't blame Glenn Wilson if he would say "this is pure tactical". But no matter how you call it, learning to see such chains is very important.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The neglected area.

On you will find how a grandmaster thinks during 100+ blitzgames of 3 minutes (hattip to Wormwood). I have watched over 50 video's now.

In opposition to what you might expect maybe, most games are not decided by tactics, nor do tactics play a very big role during the game. It is indeed true that if there are tactics around, the grandmaster spots them often very fast. But usually not so fast that it differs all that much from how fast I see them.

The real power of a grandmaster lies in how fast he spots a favourable positional move. I already suspected that, that's why I wanted to have a closer look at grandmaster blitz games in the first place. As said, there is a considerable difference in tactical speed too, but that seems not to be an unbridgeable gap.

Positional play is a largely neglected area under chess improvement bloggers. That is not so strange, since most bloggers have a rating below 1700, where tactics play the biggest role by far indeed. It is the easiest way to get results. But above 1700, when the dropping of pieces has almost come to a standstill, tactics play a role more in the background. In an unmanifest way. The course of the game is decided by positional moves. You have to learn positional moves just like tactics. First you have to learn the basics, then you have to learn to do them à tempo.

The problem with positional moves is that you have to learn to value them. With tactics that is fairly easy, just count the wood. But most positional advantages will be rated below 0.3 pawn-point. It takes time to get a feeling for that.

It is true that all positional moves gear towards two middlegame goals: piece activity and invasion. Yet most people know only the endgame related stuff, like # pawn islands, double pawns, bad bishop etc.. Endgame stuff is easier to comprehend, since it is more static. Most of the time the middlegame dynamics are much more important though.

Dvoretsky recognizes 3 area's of improvement for positional play:
  • Regrouping your pieces. For instance: improve your worst piece. But also: change from weakness that you attack. Attack where your opponent is not strong. Manoeuvring related to piece activity and invasion.
  • Pawnplay. Pawnstructure. In spite of what you may think, this has nothing to do with the endgame! It has to do with which lines are going to be open. Freeing pawnmoves, pawnsacrifices etc. all related to piece activity and opening lines.
  • Exchanges. Knowing what kinds of trades are favourable in the given position and what should be avoided. Highly based on positional valuation.
So I will think about the circles in relation to positional play. Right now I'm still in the phase of learning, but the area isn't that broad at all. Just as tactics, to learn to do it à tempo is what makes it into a skill. And what is the most work.

Some time ago I casted doubts on the usefullness of openingstudy. Now I see what openingstudy is all about: it is positional play right from move one. In the video's above the GM plays the Leningrad Dutch, the Leningrad Dutch reversed and the Scandinavian. It are allmost always the same freeing moves that are played, the same lines that come open and the same squares that are under combat in the same opening. It is not about memorizing the variations, but knowing for which assets to struggle and how.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Nuclear powered Tunnelvision

blog action day

Sciurus drew my attention to BAD, blog action day, so I decided to write about the environment.

History seems to show that the level of carbon dioxide follows the temperature of the athmosphere with an average delay of 750 years. This means that the current rise of carbon dioxide originates in the global rise of temperature of 1250 AD. Because when the sea heats up, it releases more carbon dioxide.

According to some papers 95% of the greenhouses gases consist of water vapor. That raises the question "how important can human influence be, relatively?".

However it may be unlikely that the current warming is caused by humans, I don't like the idea of releasing smoke in any form in the athmosphere anyway. From that point of view, I'm happy with the current hype.

Whether it is caused by humans or not, I have two problems with the current hype of global warming:

I don't trust nuclear power plants.
If you calculate the need for power and you compare that with the "green" power we can generate, you will see an enormous shortage. So if you set your goals of carbon dioxide reduction high, nuclear power is inevitable. Being pro CO2 reduction will become being pro nuclear power. Mark my words.
I have been in a nuclear power plant lately, and I was shocked to notice that the safety measures are quite insufficient. The human role in the safety is way too big and the stuff is much too complicated for the human brain, so it is very easy to draw the wrong conclusions when something goes wrong, thus administering the wrong remedy. What use is it to delay the burning of electrical insulation with half an hour when it will burn anyway, causing unexpected circuitry? What use is a protection against a downfalling plane from 1965 when the planes are 3 times as big, nowadays? So it is just a matter of statistics when a major accident will hebben.

I don't like tunnelvision among scientists.
I remember very well the hype of acid rain in the eighties. A few scientists came out of their lab, counted a few needles from a pine tree, plotted 3 points in a graph, drew a straight line through it and predicted that there would be no pine trees in 2015. Only much later they discovered it was only autumn. . .
The problem with scientific research is that someone has to pay for it. This makes that the resulting scientific report is often colored by what the principal wants to hear. Those who base their work on such reports in good faith often take over the color unnoticed. After many years this results in tunnelvision. Where everybody seems to agree with everybody. Right now I simply can't get rid of the feeling that tunnelvision has replaced an open mind.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The middle skill

I have selected all the blitz games of Karpov from my database and I'm busy to analyze them. In a blitz game there is no time to think much. Yet the grandmaster outplays the amateur in blitz games. Since there is no time to think, that must be done by skill. I'm trying to find out what skills we are talking about. The restriction of blitz games rules out other qualities of the grandmaster that might influence the game.

My first impression is that there are 3 types of skill needed:
  • The first 10-15 moves are usually right from the book.
  • Simple positional moves follow.
  • Then tactical skirmishes are fought out
The moves in the end often contain blunders, like mutual not seeing a mate in one for 10 moves.

The middle skill, seeing simple positional moves à tempo has drawn little attention. Yet such moves form the meat of blitz games. Everyone who has ever played in a simul probably agrees, you are outplayed by simple logical moves, not by genial strategical concepts or tactical brilliancies. Just by sound moves and LPDO.

Our 2100 rated clubchampion and I don't differ all that much in tactical ability. But his ability in the complex middlegame to steer away from complications to a favourable endgame is unsurpassed.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Level of Strategical play

From different sides I was asked about the level of Strategical Play from Dvoretsky. Right now I have played only through 3 games. It is perfectly suited for my level and above (1750). I'm sure it will make me much stronger. I understand allmost everything. There is an abundance of explanation between the moves with great clarity.

If you are 1500 rated, you probably will understand the book too, but I doubt seriously if you can incorporate it in your games. Simply because positional moves have more subtlety, and it is of no use as long as tactics throw you easely off balance.

A russian proverb says "the advantage of the bishoppair is that you can trade it off". That shows something about the subtlety of positional play. The bishoppair is an asset, but not one you have to maintain at al costs. The greatest challenge is to learn when to exchange advantages. What the values of the distinctive positional assets are. In tactics you can simply count wood, that is here not possible. Only experience can be of help.

Off topic:
Margriet conducts a choir wherein I sing as bass. You can hear us here (2.6 Mb)

Transportation of shocks

Thanks to Nimzowitsch, my eyes are opened for new structures in the game. Take for instance the following position.

Black to move.

There are two focal points in the position: White occupies the square d5, while blacks pieces converge at h3. Notice how the white squared bishops are in contact with both focal points. Focal points are the result of openingsplay. It is often not so easy to change focal points fast during the game. White for instance is working for a new focal point at b7, but that will take quite some time and it is the question if it is going to manifest at all. In order to know what is going on in a position a look at the focal points and the pieces that are in contact with them tells a lot. Black would like to play Bh3 in order to trade an important attacker and defender. But he can't since the threat is 1. ... Bh3 2.Bxh3 Qxh3 3.Nxc7. Right now he can't play Nxd5 to prepare for the manoeuvre because Nc6 is in contact with the focal point too. 1.. ...Nxd5 2.cxd5 forking the knight and bishop. You see how an overprotected strongpoint tend to transit the threats when traded. In the game black played 1. ...Nd8. Now the knight on d5 can be traded. You see that Rf1 is in contact with h3 too. So if white wants to prevent the trade of bisshops, he has to break this contact by Re1. If then 1. ...Bh3 2. Bh1 will save the bishop.

A close study of how all action is related to only a very few points should prevent a lot of promising looking but in fact useless moves to enter the candidate list. Further it helps you to see how a move as Nd8 is related to Bg2 in a simple manner.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Encircling My System

I decided to torment myself no longer with the teeth breaking attack of My System. The games contain too little comments for me, so the essence remains a mystery. In stead I decided to start with part 3 of School for chess excelence of Dvoretsky (Strategical Play). Dvoretsky is very enthousiast about My System and the knowledge of Nimzowitsch is incorporated in his book almost without notice. "Strategical play" is much more accessible than My System, which has considerable pedagogical flaws. In doing so I hope to encircle My System and attack it from behind.

After studying the first game I'm very enthousiast over Dvoretsky's book!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

How to develop positional feeling

I'm having a hard time trying to get more grip on the idea's of Nimzowitsch about centralization. His explanations are not very abundant and the games he uses as example don't trigger much recognition in me. Which I like to interpret to be a good sign because if it is difficult for me, it will be difficult for my future opponents too. Take for instance this position:

White to move.

Black just started an attack with a6 b5. He reackons that white is going to play g4 and that the course of the game is going to be a mutual pawnstorm and that he who works fast will have the most chances. But Nimzowitsch is thinking along other lines. His comments are rather meagre, yet this is a very importantant position for understanding positional play. Why isn't the plan of black working? Let me see what I can find.

At first sight the position looks pretty equal. And possibly it is. Rybka agrees with that assesment. What isn't equal is the aggressive plan of black. That plan isn't justified by the position. White is better represented in the center. That gives trouble to the supply lines to blacks front. Yet it is amazing how fast the attack bleeds to death after 1.Nd5.
That is an invasion in the sense that it is not easy to drive the overprotected knight away. From d5 it disturbs the communicationlines to the front. The fact that the knight is overprotected makes that black can't trade the problem away. Let's see how that works here. The game continued as follows:
1.Nd5 Nxd5 2.exd5 Nxd4 3.Bxd4

Of this position Nimzowitsch says:

White has the better of it. He has a centralized position which cannot possibly taken away from him by, for example 3. ... Bf6 14.f4 Re8 15. Bf3 Black has a disorganized queenside which exposes weaknesses for the endgame. See diagram below.

Black to move.

What to make of that? If there weren't computers, I had believed him on his word. But Rybka scores the positition even. Which of the following scenario's is true:
  • Rybka is wrong. It looked 22 ply ahead, but the advantage lies beyond its horizon. The c-pawn cannot move without making d6 weak. That's not revealed by the evaluationprogram of Rybka.
  • Nimzowitsch is wrong. Only the fact that his opponent is an attacking player who knows little about the endgame will make that he wins this position anytime.
I have not the positional- and endgame skills to speak out a verdict over this position. Must I steer in the same direction as Nimzowitsch? Mind you, he doesn't say that it's a win, but that white has the better of it. This are the kind of problems I encounter when studying My System more deeply.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Rule independence

In reply to a comment of Blue Devil.

Rules are generalisations by their very nature. This means that concrete analysis of a position will always precede over rules.

In the first 3 of the 5 stages from novice to expert the student is rule dependent. (1. novice, 2. advanced beginner, 3.competent player, 4. proficient player, 5. expert) Then you arrive at the most difficult transition, from 3-4. Gradually you have to replace your dogma's by concrete experience, which is far more detailed and subtle than a rule can ever be.

I think that is impossible to skip the use of general rules and to head for concrete skill by experience right away. My problem with Watsons book is that it might give you the impression that such approach is possible. The second problem I have with it is that it gives the impression that the rules of Nimzowitsch are no longer valid.

His proofs often goes along the following line:

"So you say that all Americans are patriots? I will invite all non-patriot Americans for dinner and send you the bill!". As said earlier, of course any general rule has exceptions aplenty. That by itself doesn't make the rule invalid.

Dvoretsky says in his book of chess excellence part 3 though:
"Until today the idea's of Nimzowitsch have stand the test of time."

(me saying "1", rest of the world saying "2", boo-yelling crowd, exercising crowd-independence)

Monday, October 08, 2007

Plan alpha

Study this weekend was very fruitfull. Almost all seperate different positional knowledge pieces have fallen together to one whole. The letters formed a word for the the first time. In short:

If you manage to establish an overprotected outpost you have an important strategical asset. It proofs that the enemy can only get rid of it by compromising his position. By hunting down the new weaknesses the opponent creates in doing so, he will be in big trouble. When he is rid of the outpost, the overprotecting pieces come to live automatically.

I have studied a few related mastergames where the words were used to build a sentence. That sounds pretty vague, I know, I know, but to me it isn't vague at all anymore.
I studied these games because I want an answer to the question "how can I establish an overprotected outpost?" Since Nimzowitch related outposts to open files, I decided to play through the associated games. Learning much, but not getting an answer. So the answer isn't in My System.

It should have been though, I guess. There must be somewhere a connection between "centralization" and an overprotected outpost on an open file. So I have decided to play through the games in "Chess Praxis of My System". Especially through the games that are in the chapter of centralization. You get so much more out of a game if you look for something!

The nice thing is that it is impossible to guess what I will going to find. Naive approaches will be flushed down the drain by the dozen. I'm so curious!

Bent Larsen pointed out that Max Euwe didn't understand much of Nimzowitsch idea's. Indeed I found almost nothing of his idea's in Euwe's works. That can give me an edge against Dutch people since they are grown up with the books of Euwe!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Who is crawling out my wall?

Boris The Spider (The Who)

Look, who's crawling out my wall
Black hands has he, very tall
Now he's up above my head
Hanging by a little thread

Boris the spider
Boris the spider

Now he's dropped on to the floor
Heading for the bedroom door
Maybe he's as scared as me
Where's he gone now, I can't see

Boris the spider
Boris the spider

Creepy, crawly
Creepy, crawly
Creepy, creepy, crawly, crawly
Creepy, creepy, crawly, crawly
Creepy, creepy, crawly, crawly
Creepy, creepy, crawly, crawly

There he is wrapped in a ball
Doesn't seem to move at all
Perhaps he's dead, I'll just make sure
Pick this book up off the floor

Boris the spider
Boris the spider

Creepy, crawly
Creepy, crawly
Creepy, creepy, crawly, crawly
Creepy, creepy, crawly, crawly
Creepy, creepy, crawly, crawly
Creepy, creepy, crawly, crawly

He's come to a sticky end
Don't think he will ever mend
Never more will he crawl 'round
He's embedded in the ground

Boris the spider
Boris the spider

Nimzowitsch introduced the term pivotal point. When you overprotect an invasionsquare you get a pivotal point. Take for instance the following diagram.

Black to move and win.

Black possesses the pivotal point f4. The knight at f4 is overprotected. You can lookt at f4 as a crack in the wall where your pieces can sneak thru into enemy territory. There are 2 weaknesses in whites camp: h3 and c3. Black hopes that a feigned attack at c3 will invoke f3, causing another weak pawn and freeing the invasion square g3 for blacks bishop, after which the white position will collapse. White on the other hand tries to trade pieces at f4 in order to render it useless.

You can play through the game fragment here.

It is a pretty complicated example, but there can be drawn quite a few clear conclusions from it. Let me give it a try.

You can place your pieces in 3 different zones on the board:
  • A. Behind your own pawnshield. Your pieces are protected from attack by enemy pawns.
  • B. Between your pawnshield and the enemy pawnshield. Your pieces can be easily harrassed by enemy pawns.
  • C. Behind your enemy pawnshield. Where you can't be harrassed by enemy pawns since you passed them. I want to add to this area the squares in between the pawns where your pieces can be chased away by enemy pawns strictly spoken but: not anytime soon or not without considerable compromising the enemy position.
We are talking about zone C.
I used to call the squares in zone C invasion squares but that was during my investigation period. The common term seems to be strongpoints or strong squares. So I will adopt that, together with the term pivotal point. Since an outpost is usually used in relation to a knight only, I will not use that term.

I had a rather limited view regarding plan gamma. For me it was: mate the king or gain the wood that has to prevent it. That was rather logical since that happened in 100% of the cases that I studied. But in reality the scope is much wider:
  • Mate the king
  • Gain wood
  • Attack weak pawns
  • Induce weaknesses
  • Invoke a combination
  • Bind the enemy pieces to defense
  • Be annoying
  • etc.
I had a rather naïve view of plan bhèta too. Just place a piece on the strongpoint and the enemy position collapses. In reality a lot of manoeuvring is usually needed. But nevertheless, it is the way to go.

In order to maintain a bridge head deep into enemy territory, you will have to overprotect it. The invading pieces cannot be driven away by pawns, only by pieces. Hence the need to overprotect it. And you have to keep the enemy defenders busy elsewhere, just like in the example. During the manoeuvring it is quite likely that your defenders of the pivotal point creep thru the crack in the wall too in order to pose new threats. That's a positive side effect of overprotection. This is the technique to cause trouble and to induce new weaknesses. The enemy has to change his defense with very little room. It is up to you to change the angle of attack by manoeuvring back and forth in order to discover where the defender can no longer follow you due to lack of space.

Allthough all this tells nothing about plan alpha, how to establish a pivotal point, it places matters in a much broader perspective. Without no doubt, this is the main strategy for the middlegame. To me, all the different issues of positional play, like create an outpost, color complexes, open up a file etc., were quite separate idea's which had nothing to do with each other. Now everything combines to one main strategy. Nicely woven together like a spiderweb. Who is crawling out my opponents wall?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Following the trail

In one of the comments I said, paraphrased:

tactics = accidents+mistakes.

IF chess=draw AND tactics=(gain of wood OR mate) THEN it must be true.

In the past months I have studied 90 winning complex middlegame positions from various sources and in 100% of the cases it proved that one or more invasionsquares played a crucial role. When you think about that from a distance, that is very logical of course. How often will you be able to mate the king from a distance, from your own territory? Even with the fools mate you invade blacks half with 2. Qh5#
So you have to leave your own pawnshield to invade hostile territory. The very invasion I called plan bhèta, the finishing off plan gamma and the preparation before the invasion is plan alpha.

I can't imagine that only playing for the "leftovers" in de middlegame is going to work. It doesn't suffice if your only goal in the middlegame is to reach a good endgame. In my opinion, you must actively tease your opponent and try to induce weaknessess by means of feigned attacks.
Accidents, getting a piece by a tactical trick, are rare even among 1500+ spelers. Playing for it is a typical example of hope chess.
Mistakes in complex positions are very common though. And since there is always an invasion square involved in such mistakes, it looks like a viable strategy during the middlegame to work on plan alpha all the time. What else can there be to do? It is perfectly in line with "increase your piece activity". It is close related to "creating threats" and "inducing weaknesses".

I have the feeling that there are 3 chapters in My System that relate to plan alpha.

Chapter 2. Open files.
Nimzowitsch says that outposts must be established at an open file, while the final goal of a rook on an open file must be the invasion of the 7th or 8th rank. There is no difference between an outpost and an invasion.

Chapter 14. Overprotection.
It was actually Blue Devil who put me on this trail. It was his coach, if I remember well, who said "when a piece or pawn is protected in multiple ways, it probably stands in the way". Which means that if you remove it, all of a sudden the pieces behind it come into play.
If you overprotect a pawn, it is like pressing a spring behind a lock. When it unlocks, all the energy is released.

In this position from a game of Kasparov a got this idea for the first time.

This is how Nimzowitsch formulated it:
"The point of overprotecting serves the overprotector as a source of energy, from which he may continually draw fresh strength." Without further explanation. Why did he not tell us always to be sure to have a method to unlock the lock at hand? Some of his idea's were maybe still in their infancy.

Via this technique all of a sudden new roads to the enemy are unlocked. It must be possible to integrate such techniques in plan alpha.

Chapter 15. Manoeuvring against weaknesses.
This tells how to manoeuvre with multiple pieces through one pivotal point. It's my take that this pivotal point and an invasion square are one and the same.

This all looks very promising and it might take a few months to work out. We will see where it leads us.

And after that?
The problem I encountered by thinking about the centre and the opening, is that it is tempting to develop a static position. That can't be good. Maybe if I can get a clear picture of the structural elements in plan alpha, I can approach the problem from the other side, thinking backwards (what comes previous to alpha?). Thus integrating the dynamics into the idea's over the opening and the center. If for instance the open files play a crucial role, then it must be possible to have a closer look at how open files come about. And what makes them favourable and what not.

Friday, October 05, 2007

A closer look at the center

DK asked me:

Are you sure you really read Nimzo?

I can imagine the doubt. The point is, there is a time to inventory (?) and there is a time to digest. When I'm inventorying it is important to keep the pace up. First to prevent that the work becomes a burden and secondly to keep sight of the context. If you dive too deep too early then it's easy to get sucked into the marsh of variations like a hippopotamus.

Another reason why I work fast and write so much is that it clears my head. I seal off a process with a conclusion of which I know it wil not make it to eternity. From then on I work with this conclusion, forgetting how I arrived at it. This makes room for new thoughts in my head. And based on this conclusion I work on. Usually within one or to years arriving back at that conclusion and asking myself, is it actually true? I just go where logic reasoning leads me having no preference where that might be. Logic is destructive by nature. You can only proof that something is NOT true. For a notion what is true you need intuition. So I follow the road of exclusion. Boy, did I exclude something the past years! If I did that at a slow pace, it will take me decades.

So yes, I have read all the text in the book and I can even proof that, and no I haven't digest it or played intensively through the games.

I have read enough though that my intuition is triggered which tells me that I might need one or two years to deepen this stuff out and I was just pondering about my approach:

Today I have taken a closer look at the center as described in My System. As you can expect, my systembuildersyndrome was triggered and before I knew it I was building the ultimate opening. And that is exactly the biggest problem with My System. It invites to take things absolute and to introduce dogma. If you beforehand belief that chess is a draw, you are inclined to make mediocre moves. In the middle of the balance. With mediocre moves the highest result that you can expect is a draw. While a loss isn't excluded. But it is of greatest importance to make unbalanced moves. Approaching the edge as much as possible. To be ready when your opponent has that accident or makes that mistake. Even my megalomany isn't that big that I belief that I can build the final opening.
Yet, that is:)

So I have decided to go further where I was lingering, at plan bhèta, the invasion square.
My intuition says:) that chapter 2 open files, chapter 14 overprotection and chapter 15 manoeuvering against weaknesses can be brought into relation with my idea's about the invasion square. That is what I intend to study.

Good question

As usual Blue Devil asked me a very good question which isn't so simple to answer.

If it is about accidents and endgame, where does strategy come in? Is middlegame and endgame strategy different? I know activity is the God of strategy. Is this different in the middle or endgame?

You have:
  • Accidents
  • King attack
  • Second weakness
  • Strongpoints
  • Leftovers
  • Endgame
  • Fighting methods
You cant' force accidents. Trying to play for accidents is hope chess. Accidents concern pieces. Pieces are too volatile to haunt. You only can shoot a sitting duck.

King attack.
The king is a target that is always good. It is a sort weakness. A king moves slow. A king is a potential sitting duck. According to Nimzowitch you can only have a succesfull king attack when your opponent makes serious mistakes.

Second weakness.
A pawn moves slow. Fixate it. A fixed pawn is a sitting duck. A pawn that can't be protected by another pawn and that can be attacked is a weakness. A second weakness is always a pawn. You can only pick up a pawn in the middlegame when your opponent makes a serious mistake.

Only recently I discovered strongpoints. I read about it in chapter 15 of My System. A strongpoint is a pivotal point where your attackers converge. For instance the famous invasion square. We will talk about it later.

When the pieces are traded off the leftovers of the middlegame in the form of accumulated advantages remain. Always play with your doggybag in mind.

The final goal in the middlegame is: create leftovers. Does your opponent make mistakes along the way? All the better, you don't need an endgame. But if he does not, the content of your doggybag is all you got.
The endgame has a definite different goal: queen a pawn. The king is no longer a weakness, that's why you see him babooning around. There is your pawn, the promotion square and the impediments along the road.

Fighting methods.
Since every move in chess is answered by a countermove there are only two ways to force an advantage.
By means of space. The more space the attacker has and the less space the defender has the greater the chance that the defender cannot keep up with the attacker.
By means of time. When you threaten 2 targets with one move there isn't always one move that parries both threats of the same time. The principle of two weaknesses is based on this.
So basically you conduct feigned attacks inducing weaknessess or mistakes.
Piece activity is paramount in both the middlegame and the endgame.

Strategy is the decision making that steers your course through this mental maze, based on the analysis of the positions.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Tempo a la Nimzo

Mark Dvoretsky says in his book Strategic Play that studying My System brought him from a first category player to master in just over a year. I almost finished reading the book for the first time and I can imagine why. At the same time I realize that a lot of work has to be done to internalize the matter. One of the problems is that the writings are not very accessible. I mean, what to make of this:

"The point of overprotecting serves the overprotector as a source of energy, from which he may continually draw fresh strength." Without further explanation.

It's obvious that such artistique formulation needs some processing before it will be helpful OTB. I decided to simply start with this reworking. To make matters easy I'm not going to pay tribute for every little piece of information that I steal from Nimzowitsch to integrate it in fabulations of my own. I do it now once and for all:

** Nimzowitsch, you are a genius!! **

Further I apologize beforehand but will not feel quilty about the fact that I am going to commit the heresy to breakdown, rework, interpret his stuff beyond recognition "a la Tempo". Otherwise it's not workable.

It can happen that I will often use the word "ideal". Usually that indicates some unrealistic precondition like "when the opponent is coöperating" or so. It fulfills the same function as if you want to calculate the orbit of a projectile and say "ignore the wind speed". That is to simplify matters.

Let's make a start.
First I will gather some ingredients.
In the opening you want to mobilize your troups as fast as possible. In an ideal world, you just put the pieces where you want them. Alas, in reality they can be driven away by enemy pawns. And so you have to build a casemate first from your own pawns. When you build a shelter with pawns, you open at the same time the mobilisationroutes for your pieces.

The pawnshelter.
Now let's have a look at the ideal casemate.

Blue area = 100% protection against enemy pawns.
Green area = 50% protection.

An impressive area! It indicates the most logical position whereto to develop your pieces.

Pawns as a shelter have a downside. You can't walk through your own pawns. So they limit the activity of your pieces considerably.

The power of two pawns standing abreast is that the pawns can't be blocked. And thus the pawns are mobile. And mobility of a pawnmass is extremely powerfull. The further the pawnshield moves ahead, the more secured space for manoeuvring your pieces have. At the same time you deny your opponent space.

When you decide to make use of the mobility of your pawns and move one pawn forward, the pawns become restrainable.
There are 3 methods of restraint:
  • By pawns
  • By pieces
  • By surveillance
Or a mix can be used.

When you move one pawn forward, you create a hole. This hole is important. When you want to take the ideal pawnposition again, you move your d-pawn into the hole. Before you can do that, you have to have absolute control over the hole. In many cases it is called a freeing move, when you manage to move your pawn into the hole, getting a mobile pawnposition again.

Blockade by pawns.
Due to the low value of pawns, this is the most secure way.

In such position there are always two theaters of attack. The main theater is the castled king, when he castles kingside. The second theater is the base of the pawnchain (blue). It is remarkable the f7 is not the base of the chain. When you want to shoot a duck, it is easier when it sits still. The pawn at e6 is sitting very still. You can force it into a weakness by f4-f5. Creating an open f-file at the same time, where a rook can work to attack the weakness. Although it is usually not before the endgame that you get chances to pick the weakness up.

When to attack in the main theater (the kingside)? I add a bit of Vukovic in the story. There are a few preconditions. First precondition: the center is fixed. That's good, since black has to strike back in the center. So the main chances for black lie in an attack on the base of the white pawn chain, i.c. d4 with the moves c5-cxd4, thus undermining the center. So the second precondition for a kingside attack is that the center doesn't collapse when the base is attacked. A means to this is overprotection of the center, more of this later. A third precondition is that black has no real play at the queenside. This third precondition can be overruled when white is ahead in development. If those preconditions are not fulfilled, it is not save to start a kingside attack.

Blockade by pieces.

The downside of blocking with pawns, is that the pawns are standing in your way and limit your piece activity. Besides that, its not up to you when to move the pawns. So that's an argument to blockade with pieces.
Since the pieces are vulnerable for pawns, you have to be more alert though that all preconditions are met.

The black knight can be chased away by c4. In itself that isn't bad necessarily, because that makes d4 weak and d4 lies on an open file thus can be attacked. The only thing is that d5 must be prevented. That is possible by c6. But that's the next paragraph actually. Another method is to prevent c4 before you put the knight on d5 with the prelimany moves a6-b5. The most simple case is that c2 is absent. Again you see how important it is to have an absolute control over the hole. Since the pieces are on open files, black has always enough support available for his blocking pieces theoretically because he can add the rooks to the equation while white cannot.

Blockade by surveillance.
It was a discovery of the hypermoderns that you could keep the center under control from a distance without physically blocking it.

Quite a few openings based on this principle were invented then. The position in the diagram not being among them:) It makes your pieces as black even more active than when blocking the center with pieces. The downside it that white gets extra possibilities too: the pawnsacrifice.

The mix.
In practice it's often a mix of methods how to blockade. And transitions are in the order of the day. But it's good to know where to look for.

Besides the blockade the liquidation of the center partly or in whole is another method. I will speak about that some other time.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The real meat

DK and Tempo seal the deal when Tempo promised to abandon his quest for the final insult with the historical words "I can't beat Shakespeare anyway".

I wrestled myself through the mud of the first two chapters of part II of My System. Part II contains the real meat. It is pretty incomprehendsible, so it might going to be a long journey. The work carries all flaws from a genius who has just discovered great idea's, but struggles with the pedagogic aspects of his writings. Since the book was first published in 1925, I'm inclined to think that somebody has rewritten his stuff in a way suitable for us mere mortals. Does anybody know that?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Nimzo a la Tempo part I

I just finished the first 9 chapters of My System. In order to make it easier to me to remember I intend to make a summary "a la Tempo". That is how I understand it. After all, I'm the one who has to work with it.
GM Donner didn't recognize a "system" in the book. For him the matter wasn't very interrelated. In fact I have heard this critizism more.
Nimzowitsch uses sometimes a stylefigure that I'm all too familiar with and which I call "nagging about trivialities". When I use that myself it is because I want to impose "proper thinking" on my readers. Proper a la Tempo. The fact that he uses this stylefigure I interpret as that he saw his System as a complete system how to conduct a chessgame and not as some lose ends. I try to make that visible by interpreting what he has not told. Of course I can be quite wrong. But if it is logical anyway, that's good enough for me. For readers convience I have marked the text blue when it is 100% based on my own interpretations. So if you want to get an idea from what's in the book without me standing in the way, just read the black text.

Chapter 1. Center and developement.

Development is the mobilisation of the troops to the frontline. In the beginposition the frontier is the dividing line between the two halves of the board.
The ideal way to develope would be to leave the pawns at rest and to develope the pieces only. That way the greatest piece activity in the shortest time would be reached. In practice there are two problems that make a pawnless developement impossible and undesirable. First the mobilization routes must be opened. Second the pieces must find within one move their best places at the front, without being chased away by enemy pawns. By occuping the center with pawns, the squares c3, d3, e3 and f3 become safe places where a piece can reside without being haunted by enemy pawns. The pawn moves themselves are not developing moves but securing moves. The drawback of a pawnmove in the opening is that they tend to stand in the way of your own pieces. During the opening only pawnmoves are allowed that occupy the center, defend the center or attack the enemy center. Moving of flank pawns is a loss of time. Developing a piece to a square where it can be driven away by a pawn is a loss of time. Only in closed games, where the pace of development is slower, such loss of time can be permitted.
Moving the same piece twice is only allowed if the enemy does the same.

Exchanging a piece wherein a lot of tempo's are invested is a loss of time, since you can show nothing for these tempo's when the piece leaves the board. If you threathen to lose a tempo because a piece is threatened by a pawn, exchange the piece if you can to prevent loss of tempo.

After the development is completed you are free to waste tempo's.

An enemy mobile pawn must be executed (preferred) or put under restraint. Pawnhunting at non-centerpawns is forbidden.

A pawnroller is made of centerpawns without restraint.

Chapter 2 Open files.

Big picture.
This chapter seems to come out of the blue. But I think that for Nimzowitch it was self-evident that this was the route to follow after the opening. I mean, what can you do when you are developed well? Pieces are too volatile to chase, so pawns are the natural targets since they behave more like sitting ducks. But you need weak pawns to get a chance to pick them up. Without an open line there can't be no weak pawn since a pawn can only be weak when it can come under attack. Without an open line you can't create weaknesses in the enemy camp.

The goals.

Since a diagonal can be closed by a normal pawnmove it is less likely to stay open for a long period of time. A file can be closed only by a capture, so the attacker has more options to keep it open. Hence the chance to invade along an open file is much greater than along a diagonal. During the middlegame you have to strive for an invasion with a minor piece somewhere along the open file. When the endgame nears, the rook is the indicated invader. Especially at the 7th or 8th rank. From there it can start an enveloping attack, in order to strike at the enemy pawns from behind. In stead of such slow evolving enveloping attack against pawns a revolutionary marauding attack is quite usual too when you penetrate at the 7th or 8th. The fact that the king is usually on the backrank opens tactical opportunities.

How to open a file.
If you put your pieces centrally, your enemy is provoked to trade them off, giving you an open file. In fact this is the very reason why you should post your pieces centrally. If you put a piece on a flank it is less likely you can force your opponent to open your file. If your opponent plays a pawnmove in front of his king, for instance h6, he gives you an opportunity to open the g-file (by g4-g5). That's why not moving the pawns in front of your king is safer.

Battle replaced from the invasion square to the defenders.
Once a file is opened, you start a battle against the defenders of the open file. Remember that the ultimate goal is to enter the 7th or 8th.
The first stage is often that a pawn is pushed on the open file, so it becomes protected by an adjacent pawn. Use your own pawns as crowbars against the enemy pawns that defend the open file. Once you manage to trade off the pawn on the open file, it will become weak because it has no pawns protecting it anymore.
In the second stage you pile up against the weak pawn.
Piling up at the file binds your opponents pieces to the defense, making them immobile. This immobility you must seek to exploit. When you can induce a second weakness you can shift back and forth from weakness to weakness in the hope that the immobile enemy pieces can't keep up.
Your attention stays with the defenders. The battle is aimed at outnumbering them.
This is the third stage.

Giving up a file for another.
When the defense at an open file proofs to be of granite, you can use the file as a rooklift to get your rook in front of your own pawns, where you can occupy a new file, giving up the old one.

With what piece to invade?
The piece with the highest value exerts the most pressure from an invasion square. The downside is that the higher the value the more vulnerable. So in the middlegame it is usually a minor piece.

White to move.

The final invasionsquare is d7. But for the time being d5 is useful as an outpost. The strong point of the knight as outpost is that it exerts pressure on the defending pawn (c7) of the defender (d6) of the invasionsquare (d7). If 1.Nd5 c6, the d-pawns becomes weak.

An outpost derives its strenght from its hinterland. The rook takes over the attack when c6 is played and the pawn e4 immobilizes d6, so black can't follow up c6 with d5.

Under normal circumstances the attacker will always have the upperhand at an outpost, because he has rooks available to assist while the opponent has not.

Exchanges of the outpost.
Take the following skeleton structure derived from a certain variation in the Giuoco. Imagine x pieces extra on both sides.

White to move.

f7 is the invasionsquare. f5 is the outpostsquare.
The manoeuvre is Ne2-g3-f5.
From there g7 is under attack. Inviting g6, but this weakens f6 which is exactly your strategic goal. Piece trades are very common on an outpostsquare. And so it can happen that you run out of minor pieces ready to take back on f5, while it is too early to put a rook on f5 since there is still a minor enemy piece around. In that case you take back with the pawn e4xf5. This simply shifts the open file to the left. Now e4 becomes your outpost while the e-file is your open file. The new f5 pawn does exactly what it must, keeping the pawns away from the outpost e4. With exchanges the conversion of advantages is in the order of the day.

On the centerfiles c, d, e and f the outpost should be a minor piece while on the flank files a, b, g and h a rook is better.

Chapter 3. Occupation of the 7th or 8th rank.

The battle for open files is the logical thing to do after the opening. When the opponent defends well, you will not win by accident and you will not win by assaulting his king. If that is the case, there is only one possibility left, the favourable endgame. The logical consequence of playing consequently for an open file is the occupation of the 7th or 8th by a rook. So this should be your final goal of such play.
The occupation of the 7th or 8th is an endgame weapon in the first place despite the enemy structure might collaps often already in the middlegame.

Once you have reached the 7th, you should strive for absolute control. Hence you must clear the 7th from enemy pawns by assaulting them. If a pawn flees from the 7th, it should be attacked from behind. There is an ascending scale of attack: front, flank, from behind. An attack from behind can only be defended by cramping measures usually.

There are 5 cases of the 7th:
  • 7th rank absolute with passed pawn. The king is prisoned at the 8th.
  • doubled rooks giving perpetual check.
  • eternal check mechanism with knight and rook.
  • marauding raid along the 7th.
  • combining via the the 7th and 8th, enveloping manoeuver in the corner of the board.
Chapter 4. Passed pawn.

The birth.
Since we are already in the endgame, the role of the passed pawn must be treated.

A passed pawn saps away the strenght of enemy pieces because they must keep the pawn under control. Every healthy uncompromised pawn majority must be able to yield a passed pawn.

And so you see that there is a relationship between the final past pawns and the open files. White can make a passer at the kingside while black can make one on the queenside. The pawn with no enemy pawn in front is the candidate and must go first. The other pawns must be regarded as mere helpers.

The blockade.
The question is, must a passed pawn necessarily be blocked by putting a piece right in front of the pawn? The answer is a threefold yes:

The passed pawn is a criminal who should be kept under lock and key. Mild measures, like police surveillance, is not sufficient. It is the pawn's lust to expand.

When the pawn moves forward, the space behind the pawn expands while the space in front of the pawn diminshes. Thus giving room for the defenders behind the pawn and denying attackers room in front of the pawn. The power from the passer is derived from the rook behind it. If the pawn isn't blockaded, it can even sacrifice itself for no other reason than to uncoil the spring behind it.

Be optimistic. In front of a passer is a weak square that your piece can use. The pawn is a bulwark which prevents frontal attacks against your piece.

The crippling effect induced by the blockade is transplanted to the hinterland of the pawn. For instance a bad bishop remains in the prison formed by its own pawns.

Functions of the blockader.
The primary function is of course to stop the pawn from advancing.
Secondary are the threats it exerts. There is often some elasticity because the piece can leave his blockading square, do some task somewhere and be back in time to pick up the blockade again one or two squares further.

A blockader who is insufficiently protected cannot hold its own when under attack. So that has to be prevented. There is a saying "when a piece or pawn is very well protected, it probably stands in the way". The difference between the blockader and the blockaded is that the blockader can choose the most auspicious moment when to uncoil the spring behind him in the form of pieces that are defending him. It is sufficient to overprotect a strategical point like the blockading square, threats and elasticity will come all by themselves.

Value of the blockader.
The King and Queen are much too sensitive to be good blockaders. While a minor piece has only to call up aid when under attack, the K and Q must flee.

Uprooting of the blockader.
In the endgame we tend to drive away the defenders of the blockader, while in the middlegame we tend to keep them busy elsewhere.

Three privileged versions of the passed pawn.
  • Two connected passed pawns. The position standing abreast at the same rank is the strongest, since they can't be blockaded. They must advance together only when a strong blockade is impossible.
  • The protected passer. A protected passer is immune for the enemy king while the monarch is obliged to keep an eye on it.
  • Outside passer. The obligation to prevent the outside passer from advancing makes that the defending monarch must leave his duties elsewhere, thus giving the opponent the chance to break in.

Chapter 5. On exchanging.

Indicators when to exchange.
  • Some combinations have a tempo element in them. Like a discovered attack. When the piece upfront is traded, the second threat from the piece behind is unveiled.
  • Destroying a defender. The defended becomes undefended while winning a tempo.
  • Prevent tempoloss by retreating.
  • When ahead in material.
  • When two parties desire the same thing there is a tendency to exchange.

Chapter 6. The elements of endgame strategy.

In the endgame the little advantages that are created in the middlegame should be realized. Besides the passer the following elements remain to be considered.

The king should be centralized in order to interfere easy where needed. The same can be usefull for other pieces. Building a shelter for the king. Building a bridge.

Aggressive rook or active officer in general.
Force your enemy defenders to be bound to defense by being as asctive as possible.

The rallying of isolated detachments and the general advance.
The advancing pawn must stay in close contact with its helpers. 80% of the endgame technique is based on combined play.

Materialization of the abstract conception of file or rank.
In the middlegame the exploitation of an open file involves a great expenditure of energy. In the endgame it flows with much less energy.

Chapter 7. The pin.

Nimzowitch treats the pin that can be maintained for a longer time, thus influencing the course of the game. That makes it a strategical issue.

Chapter 8. The discovered check.
He describes the power of the discovered check.

Chapter 9. The pawn chain.

The treatise of chapters 7 and 8 seems to bear little relationship with the previous chapters. So I will keep them in mind waiting for the light to dawn. Maybe part II will shed some light on it.

Chapter 9 is obviously very important, though! It complements the findings of the previous chapters. When there are a black and a white pawn chain standing against each other, we will call that, for convenience reasons, a pawn chain too.

c3 is the base of the white pawn chain. As is e6 for black.

VERY IMPORTANT if there would be a white pawn at b2 that would NOT be the base of the white pawn chain. That would be still c3!

The great idea of Nimzowitch here is that he saw the resemblance between a blockaded pawn and a blockaded pawn chain. The essence of the pawn chain is that the black pawns are cramped. And that this cramp spreads out over the hinterland. Just like when a single pawn is blocked, but heavier. Of course the fact that white uses pawns to inflict the cramp has a cramping effect on the own hinterland too. If black would have a pawn on f7, and he would play f6, the result would be that some white blockading pawns were replaced by white pieces. That would relief whites cramp, but not blacks!

The moment that white played e5 in the above diagram, he created two theaters of war. First of all the black king can be bombarded with Bc2 Bc1 Nf3 Qg4. At the same time e5 robs f6 of the black knight. If black plays f5, the e-file is opened for white by exf6ep and the standard open line approach will work. Secondly, just as in the case of a single blockading pawn, an enveloping attack against the black base pawn can be started. This works as follows:

By playing f4-f5 you attack the base pawn of black (e6). After exchange white gets an open f-line. Allowing an enveloping attack against e6 in the endgame by Rf1-f7-e7-e6 or a middlegame attack by the white pieces.

If black at the same time plays c5-cxd4 at the same time, white should consider to take back with a piece (assuming there is still a pawn on b2, it's just a skeleton position). The darksquared bishop for instance would greatly improve when placed on the outpost d4.

The pawn is the strongest blockader there is. When you trade such pawn and a piece must take its place, the blockader is weaker. When your opponent is forced to take back with the queen, you inflict him with the weakest bloackader of all.

When you press on the base of a pawn chain and you manage to induce a new weakness, it is abslolutely indicated to make this new weakness subject of attack. The further the two weaknesses are apart, the better!

Since an assault on the base usually materializes only in the endgame, it are the side effects that are sought for in the middlegame. Like a cramped position, the inability to keep up with attackers who change front etc..

Transferring the attack.
If in the diagram above the pawn e6 proves to be too strong, it is possible to transfer the attack to f7 by playing f6. Thus changing the base of blacks chain.


I hope I have provided you a vehicle that will make your journey through part II easier.