Monday, December 17, 2007

Battle of the pawns

The "artist" is obviously no chessplayer:)

To come any further I feel always very gratefull for usefull comments. Thanks guys! On my previous post drunknknite suggested to study the difference between 1.e4 and 1.d4
In terms of piece activity it is evident that 1.e4 is the move that improves whites piece activity the most. It open diagonals for the Queen and the bishop, giving indirect access to f7, the weakest spot in blacks camp at the moment. With 1. ... e5 blacks improvement in piece activity is no less though.

With 1.d4 white abstains from the move that improves his piece activity the most. At the same time he prevents that black plays the optimal move 1. ... e5 (again in the sense of piece activity)
So it is not about improving your piece activity the most but about improving your piece activity relative to the opponent. If 1.d4 d5 then white has more chance to play e4 later on than black to play e5. So 1.d4 is a tricky attempt to get an advantage later on.

I think it is good to make a distinction between pawnmoves which directly aim at more piece activity and pawnmoves that participate in what I like to call the battle of pawns. Bottomline for both pawnmoves is the relative improvement in piece activity, but the methods differ. One method is direct, the other is indirect, working on the enemy pawns. I think that understanding the battle of pawns is essential for getting better in chess.

Glenn had a few ramblings which I like to adress here:

There are direct tactical considerations, pawn forks and the like. But I suppose that if you interpret "piece activity" broadly enough then winning a piece falls into "piece activity." As does checkmate by moving a pawn.

Chopping off a piece has a direct consequence and an indirect consequence. If the piece was active, you can measure an immediate drop in activity of your opponents pieces. If the piece wasn't active, a potential for future activity dissappears from the board. I can accept a pawnmove based on pure tactical considerations as a separate kind of pawnmove. What I'm after are the pawnmoves that are purely based on positional considerations. Changing the balance in piece activity. So far I distinguish 4 kind of pawnmoves:
  • increasing relative piece activity
  • battle of the pawns
  • road to promotion
  • executing a tactical combination

Conversely King safety is a reason to move a pawn, or not. Again, with a broad enough definition "piece activity" is covered by that.


But I would prefer to say that piece activity is an important consideration.

Also, if piece activity is the reason to gambit a pawn then material is the reason to accept the pawn and *less activity* and those all likely involve pawn moves.

True. Gambiting a pawn has as goal to improve the relative piece activity. Accepting the pawn is done with the endgame in mind, which I excluded in my post.

The battle of the pawns must be investigated. This has nothing to do with preserving your own pawnstructure for the endgame while mutilating your enemies pawn structure. There is very little known about this battle of the pawns, to my knowledge.


  1. I have a couple new suggestions.

    First, now do this for Black's responses to 1.e4. What are the differences between e5, c5, d5, e6, c6, d6, g6, and the non-pawn move Nf6 (b6 and Nc6 also if you want)? Hint: Do not only consider the first move, but the resulting middlegame positions.

    Second, in your opening repertoire look for awkward looking pawn moves and find the reasoning behind them. A big eye-opener for me was in the Ruy Lopez after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.c3 d6 9.h3!? At first it looks as though the purpose of this move is simply to prevent Bg4, however this move is more subtle than that as it allows the N on f3 to use h2 to get out of the way of the f pawn and initiate kingside action. This will help you learn about your openings and pawn moves at the same time.

    Good work and good luck.

  2. Or, in drunknknite's line, what is the purpose of 3. ...a6?

    This modest and unassuming pawn move is a deep and profound move which took centuries to appreciate.

    Accepting the pawn is done with the endgame in mind
    It amazes me how differently we think about and communicate about chess. If I have an extra pawn in the opening it affects my play now, in the opening....

  3. Glen,
    It amazes me how differently we think about and communicate about chess

    Maybe that's why you have a higher rating:) If we differ all that much in thinking I'm not so sure. But we certainly differ in the way we communicate. Personally I would never accept a gambit with the endgame in mind. But since people do accept my gambits, I can think of no other reason than that THEY have the endgame in mind. Why would they otherwise help me to improve my relative piece activity?

  4. well, when I accept a gambit, I think the material is worth more than the 'improvement in relative piece activity', OR, that I can catch up before endgame.

    reading your last two posts, I've also realized how differently we think about chess. you seem to always seek general rules or rule system, where as I almost invariably disregard generalisations. I need to see a concrete variation, or I feel like I'm just randomly shuffling pieces around, even if their 'relative activity' increased. for me, generalisations are a tool I use for communicating ideas, but never the basis I use to choose my moves with.

    I don't think either way is better or worse, they're just different. but because of the difference, I always have a thing against general statements like the one about pawn moves & piece activity, which is just an alien way of thinking for me. I can easily think of pawn storms where pieces are irrelevant, or you can even throw away pieces because the pawns are unstoppable.

    in a way, to me, a general statement is always incorrect, unless you can justify it in the position at hand. :)

  5. If we differ all that much in thinking I'm not so sure. But we certainly differ in the way we communicate.

    I think we would tend to make the same moves in most situations and for many of the same reasons. But we would communicate our thoughts about the moves differently. For starters, you would use more words than me ... :-)

    In the counting problems you did recently, as a feature of the position changed you would insist that "it is still the same" and I would insist "it was all different." I think I know what you meant (the principle) and I think you know what I meant (the specifics) but we approached it from different directions.

    Or, like my insistence that all moves are tactical versus your talk of positional moves.

    What does it all mean? I have no idea, therefore, I suspect that you have a theory. :)

  6. WW,
    What happens in the studyroom is of course quite different to what happens behind the board. Here I formulate my uncrystallized thoughts in an attempt to find a new angle of attack to approach the game. If these thoughts will have any use remains to be seen. I have to start somewhere.

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