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.


  1. In practice, how hard would it be, in practice, for black to find the correct continuations? That's how I often decide when it comes down to moves that are within 0.3 of each other by the computer's evaluation. For instance, if the best move response by black is a 30-move tightrope walk, but gives -0.5, versus a move by white that gives him lots of options but with an evaluation of -0.1, I'd play the first move.

  2. Yeah, but here it's me who has to think 30 moves "what would Nimzowitsch play here", since this way of thinking is rather alien to me. I wished he had mutiplied his comments 10x.

  3. White has more space. Black seems to be constricted.

    I defer to Nimzo.

    Black has a rook on the only open file. There are no knights so the value of certain static pawn weaknesses is diminished. The white pawn at d5 could become a weakness.

    I defer to Rybka.

    White seems to have more options. I would prefer to be white here ...

  4. I think this is no typical example of positional considerations. There is one simple strategy: Each side launches a pawn assault on the King, and the faster wins the game. I never would bother with centralization conceps in such a position.

  5. Christian,
    I would have adopted the same idea as you when I encountered this in practice. I like white's position somewhat more for attaking purposes. But Nimzowitsch uses this position to proof that amateurs always want something to do, while a good positional move isn't especially attacking nor defending, but it vitalizes your position by loading it with energy while taking away possibilities for your opponent. From that point of view it is remarkable how fast blacks attack bleeds to death, while black can't trade away the space advantage in the centre.

    But to conduct this into a winning endgame without going astray somewhere along the way is beyond my capabilities for now.

  6. Sorry to go off topic a bit here. I find your investigations of the game very interesting but I can't help feeling that if you really want to take advantage of all the work you put down you need to play more games.

    How many long games to you play per year? How many tournaments?Surely if you're not able to play over the board tournaments playing via the web is a good option. Just a thought.


  7. Anon,
    thx for your concern.
    last year I have played 76 long OTB games in 8 tournaments and 162 cc-games at a pace of 3 days per move. Do you think I should play more?

    I work according the method of exclusion. The past 4 years I'm just processing all good advice I have ever had in order to exclude what doesn't work. That way I will come closer to what WILL work. And indeed, I feel that I come closer to the right method of study. But don't you think it is too early to expect results from a study that hasn't started yet? That would be a miracle!

  8. My positional judgement is often suspect, but ... the center is the key to this position for Black.

    Black pushing the q-side pawns in this position just weakens them further. White has room to maneuver his pieces for attack and defense; Black does not. If it comes down to opposite wing attacks White should win.

    A possible idea for Black here is to trade the dark-square bishops and double or triple on the e-file. This will lead to (or threaten) an invasion on the dark squares (e3, e1) and possible exchanges of some major pieces. All majors coming off would be the ideal (or some and keeping control of the e-file).

    I think Black is fine in the ending with just light-square bishops.

  9. That's quite a decent number of games. I got the impression that you only played a couple of tourneys a year (15-20 games), my mistake then.

    "How to develop positional feeling?" Play lots of games and against strong opponents. I'm of the belief that you absorb the most when you play competative games. That's when you're REALLY focused, your adrenalin helps you stay sharp and the awareness of the game is at an maximum. During study ones mind work differently I feel, at least that's my theory and how it seems to work for me.

    Of course one need to study as well but I don't think serious progress can be made without testing out ones study ideas in a fierce battle. But you seem to be on top of that.

    Question. How deep do you analyse your own games and how important (for you) are the results of that analysis when chosing a future study plan?

  10. Anon,
    I analyse my own games for one sole reason only, to adjust my study plans.

  11. Rusty though I am at this sort of thing I'll hazard a guess: I think your overanalyzing Nimzovich.

    I'll bet that Rybka is correct about its evaluation but Nimzovich is largely correct in his OTB assessment. Taking some license here =), Nimzovich could be paraphrased as saying something like "... this type of position is better for White, even with even material. Based on my prior experience exploiting positional advantages, I expect Black to have problems maintaining his position, especially in the endgame."

    Wasn't this kind of opinion new to chess back then? I thought Nimzovich developed his system during a time where tactical dominance was considered the best way to win, right? It seems close the time when sacrificial pieces were expected to be taken, not based on position but rather one's honor.

    In contrast to the thinking of his time, Nimzovich seems to be promoting winning through positional plusses, plusses like owning more of the center.

  12. Cheers Tempo! I'm following a similar path as you (I'm currently reading Dvoretsky as well and have already finished "My system").

    Good luck with your chess game.

  13. King,
    it sounds plausible what you say. I was thinking in the same direction.