Sunday, January 11, 2009

The 3 battles

Due to positonal study my chess thinking is evolving.
At the moment I have identified three battles in chess.

The battle of the pieces.
The main ingredient is piece activity about which I have written a lot in the past. Piece activity consists of 4 elements:
  • A safe home or outpost, where the pieces can stand without getting harassed by pawns. (sub-battle for a good outpost)
  • A pathway or open line, leading into hostile territory. Pieces try to dominate the open line. (sub-battle for the open lines).
  • Bridge head or invasion square or focal point, where pieces try to infiltrate into enemy territory. (sub-battle for invasion squares)
  • Targets. A piece needs targets to attack. Usually a weak pawn or the enemy king. (sub-battle for inducing weaknesses.)
The battle of the pawns.
If you look closely to the 4 elements of piece activity, then you see that it are pawns that play the decisive role in the 4 sub-battles of piece activity:
  • It are pawns that tell you which square is suited for an outpost.
  • It are pawns that determine which lines and which diagonals are open and which are closed.
  • An invasion square lies behind the influence of hostile pawns.
  • It are the pawns that decide on which pawns are weak.
If you have to decide which pieces are good and which are bad, you will find that you base your verdict on the pawnstructure. The pawns dictate which bishop is good, which is bad and which is active (like in the church, a bad bishop can be very active).

There is little known about the battle of the pawns. Thusfar I have identified the following area's of interest:
  • Volatility. As long as the pawns aren't blockaded or restricted, the pawnstructure is volatile. In this case it is impossible to formulate final verdicts on which piece is better, since it can change with every pawnmove.
  • Pawnbreaks. A lot of openings have thematic pawnbreaks. These pawnbreaks tend to change the assessment of the piece activity dramatically.
  • All pawnmoves influence the piece activity.
  • The exercise what do you want for Christmas is based on the pawnstructure. Since the best places for the pieces are based on it.
  • Pawns can become targets in their own right when left alone by their brothers.
  • The idea to improve your worst piece is based on the position of the pawns, since the pawns both make that piece bad and dictate which square is best. Hence which pieces should be traded off is indicated by the pawns.
  • Endgame residu. What are the leftovers from the middlegame? From time to time you have to ask yourself: if I think away all pieces, is the resulting pawnendgame won? This tells you when it is time to trade off pieces in order to reach a beneficial endgame. This is a common idea. Most people tend to inflict you routinely with double pawns, backward pawns, isolated pawns and pawn islands. I think this endgame residu tends to be overrated. Since your decisions in the middlegame should be based on middlegame considerations. Only when there is no conflict with the middlegame considerations you can make moves that solely leaves a beneficial endgame residu.
The battle of time.
Thusfar I found 2 area's of interest: tempo's and the initiative.

Unit of measurement.
Time in chess is measured in tempo's. What you actually measure is the distance from the initial position of a piece to the position where the piece exerts the most activity. Hence it is a measure for development. Counting tempo's can be usefull in the opening. Once all pieces are deployed, there is no longer a necessity to count tempo's. Nimzowitch talked in this context about the difference between falling asleep during your work or after your work.
But often even in the middlegame tempo's can start to play a role again. Due to pawnmoves, there is a continuous change in the assessment of the piece activity. So from time to time you have to ask yourself which is your worst piece. And count the amount of tempo's you need to put it on a more active square.

During the development phase you can play the trick that you trade an undeveloped piece for a fully developed one, which will give you an edge in the race for tempo's.

The Initiative.
The initiative is based on the forcing character of a move. Forcing moves are of course checks, captures and threats. I assume all forcing moves fall in one of those three categories. Threats can have a wide range from very gross to very subtle.

The chance that you can get the initiative is influenced by the activity of the pieces, the availability of targets, the availability of outposts etc.. Hence by the pawnstructure! Besides that, it is important who is to move.

When the game starts, white has the premove. If he developes in the most efficient way, black will not be able to fully equalize. Hence white will reach the middlegame as first. And the first forcing moves will be of whites hand. The fact that there is a slight difference in scorings percentage between white and black is the statistical outing of this phenomenon.

The core of the matter lies in the amount of tasks that you complete. Most moves serve a single purpose, hence perform a single step towards the completion of a task. The art in the battle for the initiative is to find multipurpose moves, which perform two steps of two tasks at the same time with only one move. A multipurpose move can serve two attacking tasks, or an attacking task and a defending task, or two defending tasks at the same time.

A forcing move requires a reaction. Usually such reaction is possible. Only if there is a lack of space, the reaction can become problematic.

If the forcing move is a multipurpose move, there can be a problem to meet both threats at the same time with only one move.

Non-chess battles.
Besides the 3 chess related battles there are other battles to be fought. For instance the whining about blunders, which is a battle against yourself. Blundering is mainly based on the problem of an undisciplined mind. Allthough the outcome of such non-chess battles can influence the result of your games, I don't think a chessblog is the appropriate place to talk about these matters. The treatment room of a shrink sounds more suitable:)


  1. The stuff on piece activity is OK, but seems to discuss signs and consequences of piece activity, not piece activity itself. Outpost is a way to get activity, but is not activity. An open line gives activity, but is not activity. Focal points and targets seem more related to attack than activity, but of course attacks spring from activity (i.e., are a consequence of activity).

    Usually it is defined in terms of mobility (the Q is worth more than everything else precisely because it has more mobility) and freedom to roam (flexibility, not pinned for instance).

    However, activity in this sense isn't enough for an attack. You need focal points and targets, and this is where activity and attack intersect, where you have to know how to get the right activity, to situate and coordinate your pieces so that their activity actually can be used. The lines need to be toward focal points, the outpost should be where it can do some work.

    Your last paragraph is as wrong as it is provocative. I know you are happy to be wrong as long as you feel you are making personal progress, but your last statements seems less innocuous than that.

    Perhaps for a tactical wizard like yourself blunders are the result of lack of discipline, but for us mortals it has many alternative explanations. I show daily when I do attack training in Fritz and can overlook a piece or pawn that is hanging because of defecits in my chess vision, not discipline problems. This is something that can be worked on by those of us in the unwashed chess masses that still blunder, and it is unhelpful to dismiss it as whining or something best left for a psychologist. That's just insulting.

  2. Of course I didn't mean to insult you. Instead I wanted to help you. I used a series of wake up calls from from very subtle to less subtle. Obviously I crossed the line with this latest post and passed a certain treshold and became rude for you. I apologise for that. If you don't like my wake up calls or insist in me being wrong I will no longer bother you with it and I will withdraw my words.

    If one of my readers sees something that lies in my blind spot I hope he will feel free to wake me up. Even if that means to be rude beyond a certain treshold.

    I hope you will accept my humble apology.

  3. That is the Tempo way, I know. I usually don't get annoyed.

    The problem is I still don't know what your point is. Clearly it is possible to improve basic tactical vision, which includes things as basic as seeing what is safe and what isn't. You seem to be saying the opposite, but without anything to support your claim whereas I have direct experience with improvement at vision (of course sloppiness is part of it, but my point is that it isn't all of it). What is your point? The Koans aren't working dude.

  4. Tempo,

    Missing in the battle of the piece placement is the need to control the center. This oversight could be explained by the fact that back in the Steinitz’s day ( and Tarrasch), controlling the center with pawns was the main idea while an augmentation of that included indirect control with pieces on the wings through the hypermodern movement. So the question is whether this meme is something to included for piece battle or pawn battle.

    I believe its ultimately a piece battle issue since I view pawns in the opening and middle game as a “supporting cast” member in the play. In studying the old games, controlling the center was the first priority for both piece and pawn placement. The battle of the center dictates where the players will create secondary weaknesses as they take resources and time to defend or attack the central squares. If one is allowed to “win” the center, then the conversion to a permanent advantage could be realized either through a direct attack on gaining material or checking the King. Under these circumstance, the second player tends to create further weaknesses in pawn structures or inherits a cramping position with much less mobility.

  5. BP,
    you ar quite right. Not thinking about the center is a gros oversight. Not to mention, an outright blunder. I have always found 'the center' a rather vague idea. Hence it moved to the background in my thinking. High time to ponder about this and to see if the importance of the center can be derived from the ideas here or that it is an asset in its own right.

  6. Are blunders still blunders when they have other origins than "lack of discipline of mind" at that moment (not necessarily in general)?
    If they have another cause I simply wouldn't call them blunders anymore.
    For me, to blunder means to overlook something I surely had not overlooked if I had only followed the usual procedure I do every move. So it means lack of discipline (at that moment). This may have different causes, such as being tired or not wanting to do all the checks all the time, because it is too stressful or one prefers to think about philosophy, politics or experiences instead.
    If it is something I don't see despite following my usual procedure then it's not a blunder anymore.
    If you can still put a piece en-prise while following your usual procedure, it's not a blunder. Then it says something about the thought process and what you are doing during it.

    Blunder /= "simple" mistake