Dynamics vs pawn structure

One of the most difficult positional issues is how to judge the dynamic piece play of a position against a wrecked pawn structure. The following game is very instructive
[Event "Linares"] [Site "Linares ESP"] [Date "1997.02.14"] [Round "9"] [White "Viswanathan Anand"] [Black "Alexey Shirov"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [BlackElo "2400"] [ECO "C45"] [Opening "Scotch"] [Variation "4.Nxd4 Bc5 5.Nxc6 Qf6 6.Qd2 dxc6 7.Nc3"] [WhiteElo "2400"] [TimeControl "300"] [Termination "normal"] [PlyCount "50"] [WhiteType "human"] [BlackType "human"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Nxd4 Bc5 5. Nxc6 {White saddles black with a double pawn. But at the cost of moving his knight for the third time} Qf6 6. Qd2 dxc6 7. Nc3 Ne7 8. Qf4 {White has a better pawn structure. So he decides to aim for an endgame} Be6 {Black prefers development before pawn structure} 9. Qxf6 {White has invested 3 queen moves to wreck the black pawns even more} gxf6 {Think all pieces away, and black has a lost ending. But look how he is ahead in development. Besides that, he has two open files for his rooks to work on. His doubled pawns are actually very strong in the middlegame.} 10. f4 f5 11. Bd2 O-O-O 12. O-O-O Rhg8 {Developing his rook while preventing Bf1 and Rh1 to do the same} 13. g3 h5 {Black wants to open up the position in order to make use of his lead in development} 14. Bh3 h4 {Cranking up the pressure} 15. Na4 {A counter attack is stronger than defense} Bf2 16. Bb4 {Puts pressure on Ne7 which in turn is the defender of f5} Rxd1+ 17. Rxd1 hxg3 18. hxg3 {White cannot take Ne7 because of gxh2 and the promotion thread} b5 {To give the King an escape square with tempo} (18. .. Rxg3 19. Bxe7 Rxh3 20. Rd8#) 19. Bxe7 bxa4 20. Bxf5 Bxf5 21. exf5 Be3+ {Forcing the white King in the corner} 22. Kb1 Rxg3 23. Rd8+ Kb7 24. a3 Bxf4 25. Rf8 Be5 {A draw was agreed because black can force the repetition} 1/2-1/2


  1. I have read hundreds of games annotated by grandmasters. I learned little from them. Mainly because these annotations fixated on the "how". The "how" is often demonstrated by lots and lots of variations. Maybe that works for certain people. But I need to learn the "what" first. To abstrahere the "what" from the "how" is very illogical to me.

    I found this game very clear. It is very evident what both players are after.

  2. This game demonstrates the choices you have to make. Shirov goes for the throat at move 5, while Anand goes for the endgame on move 8.

    Is it justified to commit your pawn structure and go for dynamic piece play in stead? The play of AlphaZero seems to point in that direction.

    I think that the right answer is "it depends". What price does black play for is fast development, open lines and mighty pawns. And what does he get for it?

    What is the price that white has to pay for his creation of a better pawn ending in terms of lost tempi, being behind in development and lack of open lines?

    If we can find a way do measure the pro's and the con's we will become able to make an informed decision.

    Until recently I have been totally blind for this aspect of the game.

  3. Vukovic has its preconditions which are an indicator of when you are ready to play committal moves. But in this game, we see committal moves from move 6. That shows a clear discrepancy. Somehow the piece activity of black in this game is in balance with the the committal moves that ruin his pawn structure.

    I think that a middlegame theory should address this idea. I always have been a bit disappointed by the book of Watson about advances since Nimzowitsch because it didn't address this subject.

    Do I have to think for myself AGAIN?

    1. The answer to your rhetorical question “Do I have to think for myself AGAIN?” is: YES! but you obviously already KNOW THAT!

      I did not counsel “throwing in the towel.” You’ve been educating yourself for over 23 years, not just the last 15 months. IMHO, the reason that you are now looking at the strategic implication of positions is because you spent sufficient time and energy improving your tactical skill. That level of tactical skill enables you to “SEE” strategic aspects that were previously hidden. Training is now required to form skill in evaluating strategic alternatives.

      I like Mister Lasker’s description of the evaluative process:

      This fundamental and universal principle [the overarching “rule” from Steinitz] may be briefly expressed as follows: the basis of a masterly [STRATEGIC] plan is ALWAYS a valuation.

      To value, to valuate, to judge, to estimate a thing does not pretend to exact knowledge. But knowledge by estimate, by judgment, by valuation, though not exact, according to the principle of Steinitz, is still an efficient guide for the master. And such a master is no exceptional person; you yourself might become a master if you cared to. But even if a player is not wholly a master, he may obtain almost equal advantage by observing [following] the principle. Thus he may confidently follow his own estimates. In a given position you value the Rook as being superior to a Knight and Pawn? Believe it, act on it, play to win!

      What now is the reason for my valuation? Valuations again! . . True, in each instance the reason is simpler, more sure, more trustworthy than its consequence, but the reason of a valuation is always itself yet another valuation. Finally, all my valuations originate from my experiences: my first losses and wins which gave me pain or joy; my first draws that called forth in me a variety of sentiments; my first analysis, which was crude and faulty. From then on I valued and continued to value; and with practice I became capable of more exact valuations. And from this rough material is generated, by continued trial and intelligent criticism, the series of valuations by which the master arrives at his conclusions.

      Perhaps intelligent “trial and error” might not be so overrated after all!

      Voorwaarts en opwaarts!

  4. Temposchlucker:

    "If we can find a way to measure the pro's and the con's we will become able to make an informed decision."

    I think the pros and cons will always be a subjective choice, based on skill and judgment. Evaluation is at the root of all decision making, but especially when taking strategic decisions.

    Some are happy to traverse a continually forking road (perhaps dwindling to a faint trail) through a dark forest, confident in their ability to navigate by gut feel if there are no established signposts. Others are happy to depend on a well-traveled road with numerous signposts, depending on a very clear road map pointing out the "right" way to go to get to the desired final destination.

    For some, the journey is the goal, regardless of the destination where the journey ends. For others, the final destination is the goal; the journey is merely a means to that end.

    We can learn all we can about things like tactical motifs/themes/devices, Steinitz and Nimzovich's "rules" or Silman's imbalances, with computer-based numerical precision concerning the overall value of one variation compared to another, BUT we still have to make our own comparative evaluations as to which we prefer based on how confident and comfortable we are with that evaluation and our belief in our capabilities to rise to the requirements of playing out that variation.

    1. My chess education is now 15 months underway. I just discovered some clear ideas how to handle the middlegame. For me it is too early to throw in the towel before I have even tried.

      Of Course you might be right. But without trying I simply cannot be sure.

      After all, I only have to make decisions IN A GAME. And every wrong decision supplies FEEDBACK (as do right decisions).

      There is a finite amount of scenarios. I don't know the next step, but I know the first step: unearth the scenarios.


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