Friday, August 14, 2009

The Player's Laboratory

A.S. Suetin wrote a book titled "Three Steps to Chess Mastery", Pergamon Press, 1982. Here are some excerpts (in some cases, not verbatim) from the section titled "The Player's Laboratory". This book contains some of the best self-training advice you'll find outside a Dvoretsky/Yusupov book.
Working on One's Own Games
For a player wishing to improve, the cold analysis of mistakes is not enough. The problem is simultaneously to establish the psychological cause of these mistakes. Not sparing your pride, you should frankly re-establish the course of your thinking, endeavoring to give answers to approximately the following questions:
  1. What specific variations did you calculate, when considering your moves, especially at the turning points of the game? It is very important to note what you missed in your calculations, and what your opponent showed you in your joint analysis after the game.
  2. What considerations were you guided by in choosing your plan?
  3. When evaluating your positional mistakes, endeavor to understand their cause. Were they a result of an insufficiently deep understanding of the position, or of tactical oversights? After all, oversights can often lead to positionally unfavorable situations.
A commentary on a game, irrespective of its character, should definitely:
  • show the turning points of the game
  • disclose the course of the thinking of the two players, and, in particular, show specific calculations
  • trace the strategic outline of the game
  • convey the feelings of the players;
Here are a few simple but essential rules: Do not be one-sided in your analysis, by examining only 'your' variations. Endeavour to look into the ideas of your opponent. Each time that you point out a mistake, indicate the correct continuation. Do not forget the analysis is not a practical game. It requires more specific proof than intuitive decisions.
The Study of Master Games
A harmony between evaluation and calculation in your play can be achieved only if you constantly practice analysis. Therefore it is essential to analyze master games, to be able to understand correctly their ideas in their annotations, and also to evaluate the quality of the annotation. There are two main trends in the "Method of Annotation":
  1. Give preference to evaluations of a general nature. Specific variations merely illustrate and confirm the general ideas. A good example of this style of annotation is Bronstein's Zurich 1953 Tournament Book.
  2. Out of variations, you deduce an evaluation of the position, i.e. proceed from the particular to the general. Rarely do you give broad generalizations, but give obvious preference to the detailing of analysis, and the study of latent combinational resources. A good example of this style is Chigorin.

Thus there are two methods of annotation, and both are perfectly lawful. Each reflects chess reality: deductive (from the general to the particular) - the strategic content of a game, and inductive (from the particular to the general) - the tactical content.
The modern way of annotating a game is as though to synthesize both methods, harmoniously combining specific analysis with generalizing evaluations. Alexander Alekhine was a potent example of this synthesized approach to annotation.
The ability to make a critical evaluation of a commentary being studied, the ability to think independently, are essential qualities for an analyst.
Work with Literature
A disdain for the reading of methodological works and especially the study of information is fraught with unpleasant consequences. The 'natural player' will never attain any great heights. On the other hand, the reading of chess books is by no means a simple matter. It should not be forgotten that chess material, in what ever form it is taken, always demands active perception. But this presupposes in particular a business-like, critical study of literature, which is not at all easy to attain. It should be mentioned that an over scrupulous tracing throughout 'from cover to cover' of even the most authoritative books can lead to a loss of lively individual thinking, to a loss of 'taste' for chess. How can some proportion be achieved here? I think that this depends on setting yourself a correct goal of improvement. And this is closely linked with the development of your analytical ability.
The Importance of Active Independent Perception in the Study of Source Material
Nimzovitch wrote in his book "How I Became A Grandmaster": "I took the book of the 1906 Nuremberg tournament with notes by Tarrasch, and gave it to a bookbinder, and asked him to sew into the book blank pages between each two pages of text. Then I began working through the games...Any results found were immediately noted down on the intermediate pages. I always 'played' for one of the two sides--either for White, or Black. I first endeavored to find the best move, and then looked at the move made in the game. In this way each 'game' lasted at least six hours. I consolidated my learning roughly as follows. In one of Salwe's games, a typical isolated queen's pawn position was reached: white knight at f3 and pawn at d4, black knight at d7 and pawn at e6 (in addition, each side had a mass of pieces). It turned out that White had no reason at all to hurry over the occupation of e5 with his knight, since within a few moves the black knight itself set off to attempt to reach d5, and thus, without any effort on the part of White, the square nevertheless fell into his hands. Such a state of affairs was immediately recorded by me on the blank pages, and, what's more, the point of it was not the purely chess content of the manoeuvre, but, so to speak, its psychological peculiarities. Frequently squares are vacated automatically. The result of my efforts was as follows:
  1. I had a prepared opening repertoire
  2. I became proficient at playing in a slow, waiting style, and I found it quite incomprehensible that formerly I could have sacrificed without an exact calculation...
  3. An important achievement was also the fact that, thanks to careful study of certain games, I began to understand the strategy of closed positions, and, in particular, grasped the principles of the pawn chain, and also partly of centralization."

Whatever chess book we study, we should always be able to separate the important from the second-rate, and disclose the essence of the problems raised, etc. And in studying chess, the art of critical analysis is always especially important.
The Test of Mastery
A player must first master various principles, schemes, and characteristic tactical and strategic devices. At the same time the development of one's thinking is preceded by the acquisition of combinative vision. This is also a complicated process: At first a player notices only simple threats, then he begins to see all sorts of double attacks, and, finally, that harmonic interaction which leads to combinations. Only after going through such a schooling does a player obtain the necessary basis, which allows him to use flexibly his knowledge and skill. The analysis of complex positions, where strategic and tactical factors are closely interlaced, is first and foremost very hard work. For the unprepared it may even be beyond their strength. Therefore, don't try to take too many steps at once. Get to know your true capabilities, each time, of course, setting yourself new problems. Along this path there is much disillusionment, causing annoyance and dissatisfaction. Without these bitter feelings you cannot get by. But remember that if you are dissatisfied, it means you are searching. This is one of the fascinations of the art of chess.

"Chess ennobles man, since it is full of disappointments" - Tartakower
The Analysis of Adjourned Games
The best teacher in mastering the art of analysis is practice: learning comes both during play, and in the subsequent study of a completed game. For the development of analytical skill, very much can be given, for example, by work on adjourned positions (this is currently outdated, but one can take a game and at move 39 or 40 'adjourn' the position and analyze from there for this exercise). The analysis of adjourned positions should be regarded not only from the practical point of view. Each well analyzed position increases the ability of a player. Experience has shown that it is precisely in the endgame that the largest number of mistakes is made by inexperienced players. Perhaps the small number of pieces on the board makes the study of the endgame a boring task for young players. But we can readily see what interesting, tactical variations can arise in the endgame positions.

Don't be Afraid to Take Risks
The most promising players are those who, from their very first steps, display analytical inquisitiveness. While their first attempts may not always be successful, what is important here is the initiative!
Where the Necessary is Combined with the Useful
For a young player, wishing to raise his standard of play, it is important, even essential, to make analysis an integral part of his home training. The starting position for this can (and should!) be most varied (after all, in practice one has to deal with all kinds of situations). But nevertheless, the emphasis should be on complicated middle game set-ups, full of tactical content. For the most part, such a criterion is well satisfied by positions arising at the transition from opening to middlegame in present-day openings.It is no accident that it is on such problem set-ups that the strongest players sharpen their analytical mastery. In this way a dual aim is achieved: the development of analytical skill, and a penetration into the jungle of a particular opening system, which one can add to one's 'armoury'. What generally happens is that, the deeper you go into the jungle of such positions, not only does the evaluation not become clearer, but often the player is faced with an even more confused picture. But this should not dismay the analyst. A knowledge of highly complicated, practically inexhaustible positions opens up enormous scope for the development of the most varied aspects of chess thinking. The result is that, along with the development of analytical potentialities, the player's genuine understanding of chess grows, without being confined within some formal framework. Also, the deeper your analysis of positions in the transition from opening to middle game, the greater advantage you gain over your future opponents. And in opening preparation, virtually the most important thing for the practical player is to be constantly ahead in your 'production secrets'. Thus, you should attempt to be a Sherlock Holmes of chess. And remember that each time you can get down to the essence of the problem by a combination of painstaking and inventive work, worthy of a clever detective. It is not all positions, arising on the transition from opening to middle game, that are full of specific content. But always, after the completion of mobilization, there arise a certain complex of strategic and tactical problems (provided, of course, that in the opening neither side has made some bad mistake, allowing the opponent quickly to gain a serious advantage). Therefore, when studying variations, you should attempt in particular to see the 'physical meaning'- the intrinsic strategic and tactical ideas. In short, when studying an opening (i.e., in essence, a specific middle game [specialization training]) you should not so much aim to remember the variations, but rather to study the most important critical positions that arise here. Otherwise, for the trees you may not be able to see the wood!
The Technique of Opening Preparation
When working on opening analysis, a player involuntarily encounters a very important problem - the correct organization of this work. Whatever one says, without the necessary order one cannot hope for success in chess. In work on one's opening repertoire, this is reflected in the correct selection of information for analysis. Indeed, without the necessary material on which to make a judgment, it is difficult to imagine and subsequent serious analysis. No less important is the habit of being systematic and orderly in the complex of specific and general chess knowledge. In this collecting of information it is important to have a sense of measure. It must be borne in mind that, in practice, the selection of material for an opening repertoire must be restricted to games which are the most important in the theoretical sense (this is what grandmasters and master do). Otherwise, there is the risk of 'drowning' in the abundance of material. Therefore, initially it is probably expedient to obtain in full games which interest you, with the most important specific comments on the opening and middle game. Of course, learning to choose the most important games, i.e. the information which deserves complete trust, is not an easy matter.

Practical Advice
The mastery of general principles undoubtedly assists the conscious perception of opening variations, and makes a player's thinking more economical and effective. But even so, a genuine knowledge of opening theory is impossible without the development of a special memory. This memory should be exercised by regular and sensible training. From your first steps you should beware of 'swotting up' multi tome encyclopedias. It can only kill your lively interest in chess, and hence your ability as a player. You can work correctly on the opening only while improving your overall standard of play. You should study the opening together with the ideas inherent in the subsequent middle game. What should you be guided by in your choice of opening? This is a problem every player has to face. You should not aim to remember as many variations as possible, but equally it is not good to overdo one and the same set-up. For tournament play you should build up a definite opening repertoire, consisting of a limited number of carefully worked out systems. Ways of working on opening theory depend to a great extent on the character of the player. Whether it should be a greater or lesser diversity of schemes, a deep analysis of a narrow range of variations, or play in a variety of strategic systems--this is a matter of taste. There are no general prescriptions. But to make it a rule to learn from your own games and from others', and not to repeat mistakes made earlier--this is an already patent prescription for everyone. In order to avoid such unpleasantness, you should make it a habit to investigate your opening mistakes, consistently accumulating and supplementing valuable experience. And we should point out once again that, in building up his opening repertoire, it is expedient for a young player to adopt systems rich in sharp play.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An American Hero

Photo courtesy of Johannes Fischer

Hikaru Nakamura, The premier United States Chess Champion, contemplates his next move against the opposition. Players come and go in the USA chess scene, but Nakamura seems to possess a certain staying power, especially across the broad spectrum of chess competition that he calls home. From anywhere to being one of the top players on ICC in bullet chess, to the Chess960 World Championship, Hikaru has shown a desire to compete with the best of the best at all various incarnations of the game we call Chess.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

B-Method Self-Examination

First, let me say that I make no claims to the accuracy of the following analysis of this game. The goal of this article is to articulate and demonstrate 'how' to use the "B-Method" during play. I make many assumptions during this analysis, and the plan I undertook during the game could easily be the incorrect plan given the specifics of the position. However, I do hope that it serves as a fairly clear example of how to implement the "B-Method" in your games.

This game was played from May to July 2009 on an email server, so it serves as a good training ground for using the "B-Method", as I am able to make notes into Chessbase as I ponder my moves over the course of the game. The opponent will remain anonymous, and I will pick the game up at move 27. As is required for using the B-Method, this game is considered from only one side - Black's perspective.



27.Rexc2
Ok, let's begin this exercise with a quick review of the B-Method Squares Strategy.
Essentially, you, as the player of the pieces from whose perspective the position is being evaluated from, in this case, BLACK, have the task of answering, at first, the three vital questions posed by the B-Method:

The Strategy Question (SQ) - the central square from which your strategy focuses from - the specific area you are defending.

The Direction Question (DQ) - Which direction are your pieces cooperating in from your selected Strategy. You generally look at the influence of your pieces here - Pawns, Knights and Bishops primarily.

The Color Question (CQ) - which color squares should you be trying to play actively on? It stands to reason that you can answer this question best by what color squares your opponents' pieces defend the least.

These three questions give you a basis from which to understand which of your opponents' pieces are in conflict with the given strategy chosen -that is, what pieces you need to Put to Question (PQ) to advance the strategy. This should lead you to develop a list of Candidate Moves (CM) - moves that advance the strategy, and analysis and calculation should give you the 'best' move as the Game Move (GM).

SQ: Strategy Question: e5-Strategy. Black has chosen the e5-Strategy as he is defending the e5-area from attack. As a pawn sits on e5, this would also be considered a "Pawn Strategy" from e5. In B-Method shorthand: +S(e5...)

DQ: Direction Question: f4. Here it is important to note what squares your pieces cooperate on. In this position, the Bb7 and the Knight maneuvers Qf5 and Nf4 all place the black pieces in position to attack in the f4 direction. +S(e5>f4,...)

CQ: Color Question: White squares. Black Bb7 and Nd5-f4/Qf5 cooperate on the white squares. It's important to note here, generally speaking, with bishops of opposite colors you would want a strategy that takes advantage of your own bishops' color. +S(e5>f4, wsq)

PQ: Put to Question: Which white pieces defend the white squares that we are attacking? These squares are namely e4, f3, e2, g2 and d3. the White pieces that defend those squares are Pg2, Nf3(to e1), and Qh4. Those are the pieces we want to 'put to question', i.e., attack and divert or trade off. Also note that the white Bishop is essentially invisible to our white-squared strategy. +S(e5>f4, wsq), >> Nf3,Qh4,Pg2

CM: Candidate Move: Queen is threatened, so a queen move is indicated.
CM1: Qf5 attack the light-squares e4/f3/d3 and it cooperates with Bb7 and Nd5-f4.

GM: Game Move: Qf5

27...Qf5 28.Bc5


This time, more briefly:

SQ: e5-Strategy (same)
DQ: f4 (same)
CQ: wsq: (f3, g2,e4,e2,d3); Nd5/Bb7/Qf4 work on wsq; Pg2/Nf3/Qh4 defend wsq;
+S(e5>f4,wsq)>>(Pg2,Qh4,Nf3)
CM: Nf4

28...Nf4 29.Ne1


SQ: e5-Strategy (same)

DQ: f4. Black wants to control/occupy f4,g3,h2 and attack e4,f3,g2. Black's pieces cooperate against g2,f3,e4,d3. Therefore, pursue the e5-strategy towards f4. +S(e5>f4...)

CQ: What color do the white pieces cooperate on?
The Black pieces cooperate on Black squares: Qh4, Bc5 - this shows white-squared weaknesses. The White pieces cooperate on White squares: - wsq: Nf4,Qf5,Bb7; Therefore, Black should strive to attack the white squares and aim for a white-squared initiative.
+S(e5>f4,wsq)

PQ: Black should look to those pieces that are defending the white squares (Ne1,Pg2) and seek moves which tangle them up in play ('Put to Question'). These are your candidate moves.

CM: Candidate Moves
CM1: Ba6: threatens Ne2+ winning the exchange; easily parried by Kh1.
CM2: Be4: threat Bxc2 winning exchange;Red8: occupation of the open file. this seems to froce the Rook to b2, a better square to meet a minority attack by black on the queenside and supports the push b4.
CM3: Rac8: Rook to open file and pinning the Bc5 to Rc2; This may induce white to play b4, weakening his Q-side pawns by the mere fact of their advancement, making them susceptible to a minority attack on the Queenside.

All three lines are analyzed. Your responsibility is to select the move that meets the needs of the position the best.

GM: Rac8 - I chose this move because it brings the out-of-play Ra8 into the game and adds pressure along the c-file.

29...Rac8 30. b4

As you can imagine, if the pawn structures do not change, in general, your strategy would probably stay the same. But always be on the lookout for an improvement in target-setting and strategy!

SQ: e5
DQ: f4 direction
CQ: Black pieces coop on wsq; White pieces coop on bsq; +S(e5>f4,wsq); Pg2 (weak), attack(e4,d3);
CM:
CM1: Be4:attack Rc2, square d3.
CM2: Ba6: threaten Ne2+, winning exchange.
CM3: a5: minority attack on queenside.

GM: a5 - I chose ...a5 because it seemed the most consistent plan at this point as it removed the a-pawn from attack on a7 and will allow an eventual ...Ba6, also consistent with a white-squared strategy.

30...a5 31.a3 [ 31.bxa5? g5 32.Qxh6 ( 32.Qg3 Rxc5) 32...Rc7-+]


SQ: e5
DQ: f4 direction
CQ: Black pieces co-op on wsq; White pieces co-op on bsq; +S(e5>f4,wsq); Pg2(weak), squares e4,d3;

CM: Candidate Moves
CM1: Ba6; pressurizes white squares in white position (d3,e2); threat Ne2+.
CM2: Be4; threatens Bxc2, winning exchange.

GM: Ba6 - continues the attack on the white squares d3 and e2.

31...Ba6 32.Kh1

SQ: e5 (same)
Now here, according to my notes, I changed directions with the advance of e4. Is this correct? I cannot say for sure either way, as both strategies have their plusses and minuses, but the end result bore it out. I felt the change was warranted due to the major weakness of the d3-square in white's camp. It also illuminates the fact that you have to always be ready to change stride if the position presents itself. From a color complex point of view, it seems consistent as Black is still playing on the white squares - squares that White has the most trouble defending.
DQ: d4 direction
CQ: White squares: +S(e5>d4,wsq); Sqs: d3,e2,c2,e4;
PQ: Put to question the pieces Ne1, Rc2;
CM:
CM1: e4 - gains space, attacks f3,d3.
CM2: Ne2 - attacks Rc1

GM: ...e4

32...e4 33.Rd1

White's last move seemed to be not the best, leaving the Rc2 vulnerable, but it is a difficult position to play. He is slowly being squeezed.
SQ: e5
DQ: d4
CQ: wsq +S(e5>d4, wsq); d3,e2,c2;
PQ: targets: Rc2, Ne1,Rd1;
CM:
CM1: e3 - Now possible because Bxe3 cannot be played due to White's last move.
CM2: Red8 - Black can grip the light squares with this move followed by a4 and Nd3.

GM: ...e3 - Black chooses this move as it appears to be more to the point and results in a passed e-pawn for black.

33...e3 34.f3


SQ: e5
DQ: d4
CQ: wsq; White defend the black squares - Qh4, Bc5;
PQ: Ne1; Rd1; Pf3;
CM:
CM1: Bb5 - threaten Ba4, winning exchange.
CM2: h5 - takes the g4-square away from White's queen. White's queen is now in peril.
CM3: axb4 - this exchange is unecessary at this point and is not forcing enough.

GM: ...h5

34...h5 35.Qg3



SQ: e5
DQ: d4
CQ: wsq; White defends the black squares - Qg3, Bc5;
PQ: put to question the pieces Ne1, Rd1, Rc2;

CM:
CM1: Bb5 threat: Ba4; idea axb4, Ra8 occupy open file;

GM: Bb5

35...Bb5 36.Rb2 axb4 Black Resigns [1-0]



Black resigned at this point, probably not looking forward to more moves of tiring defense.

A simple example that was pretty clear-cut from the Black perspective. Black, in a position with Bishops of opposite color, chose to play on the wihte squares (his own bishops' color), and was able to dominate white in the center of the board. Meanwhile, White could not generate any meaningful counterplay on the black squares nor defend his white-squared weaknesses for long.

I hope this simple example gives you some idea of how powerful the Squares Strategy B-Method can be if used correctly (did I use it correctly? Only Bangiev can tell me!). Color complexes play an important role in nearly all chess games, and the B-Method has at it's core a color complex-based strategic system.

Keep on Checking!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Going Stale

I want to write today about something that I believe every non-professional chessplayer encounters occasionally, and that is "Going Stale." What does that mean?
Specifically, I'm talking about that time when you are approaching the end of a study cycle and you begin to pick up some games to try out your new-found skills in chess, whatever that may be: a new opening, endgame knowledge, middlegame strategy, etc. You soon discover, much to your horror, that you seem to be 'fighting' the board and the pieces at each step of your game. The openings you mis-play, you select offendingly bad plans in the middlegames, and you cannot even hold a Philidor's Position in a Rook Endgame. Simply Horrifying.

Why does this happen?

As you study (not 'play') chess - any aspect of it: openings, middlegame, tactics, strategy, endgames - your mind tends to 'change modes' where the importance of the 'game' slips from becoming something related to the final score to something related to execution of a specific tactic, strategy, or sequence of moves, as in an opening variation. It is as if a switch had been flipped in your mind where the focus of chess has gone from a results-oriented approach (i.e., the final score of the game) to a short-term, solve-this-position approach (i.e., specific positions). This can be illustrated with the simple idea that a position can be reached that, in 'solve' mode, you know you can achieve some short-term goal (win a pawn at the expense of position), but in 'game' mode, you may decide to take a less risky approach to the position and play a variation that offers not quite the same long-term chances, but present less risk to you short-term. I believe that the longer you 'study' without playing actual games that mean something to you (at least psychologically, rating points not withstanding), the more difficult and longer it takes to get your mind to flip the switch back to the results-oriented mode of play.

The Obvious Remedy

The obvious remedy to this avoidable situation is to play somewhat meaningful games every day, expecially study days. This way, you get the opportunity to apply anything you just studied and you keep your 'chess switch' from spending too much time in the 'wrong' position, i.e., study-mode. Time controls such as G5, G10 and G15 serve this purpose well and do not take up entire blocks of time you may have alloted to playing chess each day. It also serves the purpose of giving you immediate feedback so you can identify what areas of your game are still lacking.

To avoid "Going Stale", play frequently!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Further exploration into the B-Method

Welcome back and today I want to explore a few more aspects of Alexander Bangiev's "B-Method" Squares Strategy. Today I want to discuss the role of the minor pieces (Bishops and Knights) and some relevent facts useful towards playing with those pieces efficiently with regards to exchanges. Minor Piece exchanges are one of the most important (and misunderstood) aspects of chess with regard to lower rated players. Hopefully we can give you some guidance on making the right exchange decisions, outside of the obvious.

Bishops and Knights are evaluated differently in every position, but dogmatically are set at a value of 3 pawns apiece. Given this, it makes sense to evaluate any trade between these pieces - Bishop for Bishop, Knight for Knight, or, most importantly(!), Bishop for Knight - as an 'obvious' even trade. However, when taking into account the given position, each minor piece on the board needs to be evaluated with the position in mind. This gives rise to 'good' and 'bad' bishops, poorly placed knights, knights without outposts, and 'tall pawns'. This is something that only the esoteric among us do with any consistency at all across our chess careers. So, to delve into the true differences between thes two seemingly equal-but-different pieces, we need to examine the inherent differences between Bishops and Knights. This may seem obvious to some, but you might learn a thing or two that will give you pause next time you plop down your Bishop on g5 to snap off that f6-knight.

The first and foremost observation one can make about Bishops and Knights and their inherent difference is that a Bishop can affect play on only one color square, whereas the Knight can affect play on both colors, but only one color at a time, unlike the Queen or Rook, which can affect play on both color squares simultaneously. As well, the Bishop is considered a long-range piece because it can easily travel from one side of the board to the other in one move, much like the Queen or Rooks, but the Knight would need to clunk along with 6 moves to go from a1-h8. These differences have far-reaching implications with regards to the B-Method and the idea of Color Complexes. But for us, we will specifically deal with the effects of the minor piece exchange.

Everyone has had at one point in their chess career been met with the difficult decision of whether to trade off a minor piece or not, based on the current position. Sometimes it is an obvious choice, or a forced sequence - sometimes it is not. How do you decide?

With regards to exchanging of minor pieces, if one trades a Bishop for a Bishop (of the same color), then it can be said that *both* sides lose control over the color of the squares the traded bishop resided on. But, if one trades a Bishop for a Knight, the player with the Bishop loses control over the color squares it resided on, but the player with the Knight loses control over the opposite color squares that the exchanged bishop (or knight, for that matter) resided on.

Think about it for a moment: A Knight on a white square can only move to black squares and therefore can only affect black squares where he sits. To trade a white-squared bishop for a knight means the knight would have to be on a white square, hence controlling the black squares within reach of the knight. When traded, the knight loses control of those black squares. Did a light just come on?

Now, the alert ones in the audience might say, "But wait! I can just move my other Knight and he now affects the other colored square!" Does tempo mean nothing to you? True, you *might* be able to redeploy your second Knight if still on the board to 'cover' for the just-exchanged piece, but the loss of time (generally speaking, of course) would probably be prohibitive, not to mention the positional characteristics that would most likely be against you, namely the loss of covering the opposite-colored squares with the second Knight. In any event, you'll find that sometimes that manouevre avails itself, many times it does not, and of course, the devil is in the details (in everything, it so seems!).

In the context of the B-Method, note that the third question you MUST answer is the Color Question - which color squares are you going occupy and which color are you going to attack? With the huge assumption that this question is correctly answered, that answer feeds into the next series of questions: Which pieces do I Put to Question (PQ), what moves are a means to that end - Candidate Moves (CM), and which candidate move meets the needs of the position the best - the Game Move (GM).

This is why it is very important to answer the first three questions before you begin seeking out actual moves/variations as it gives you a glimpse into properly evaluating the color complexes that exist in every position stemming from the 4 central squares - e4,d4,e5 and d5. Without even using a board, we can generalize a position in which we wish to play on the dark squares - because our pieces coordinate best against the dark squares and our opponent's pieces defend mostly the light squares. Given that, we would want to eliminate or tie up the opponent's pieces that defend the dark squares, which would be specifically his dark-squared Bishop and any Knight in play that sits on a light square (I'm excluding the major pieces for this example - you'd normally take them into account as well). This is known as active target-setting, and will lead us directly to the next step in the B-Method - Candidate Moves.

Once you have considered correctly the color aspect of the position, moves that would probably never have been considered through the usual brute-force analysis or 'feeling' methods of most players become moves that you *have* to consider, and the number of moves under consideration becomes drastically reduced, as you will see that very few moves support the Strategic Goals you have outlined in your answering of the first questions in the B-Method. All this without any real analysis at all, but with (simple?) assessments into the position from a Squares Strategy/Color Complex point of view.

This is in summary an important piece of understanding color complexes, minor piece exchanges and the long-term effect they can have on a position, and how it relates to the Squares Strategy/B-Method.

Next, I'll take some positions from some of my recent games and make an attempt to use the B-Method in rudimentary form to get a general assessment of the position during the game. I'm sure this will stimulate some commentary from readers in agreement and in disagreement with my analysis of each position, and that can only help all of us to become better chess players. Bangiev takes it way beyond anything I could hope to accomplish in his CD's with regards to his assessments - my goal is to demostrate that Joe FishBlitz has a shot at using this positional assessment process to come up with good moves and even better positional judgments.

Until then - Good Chess!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Chess Art

This is a repost of "Chess Art" as I neglectd to credit the artist. Sorry!



Art Credit: M.L. Walker

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Color Complexes and the Bangiev Method

Color Complexes and the Bangiev Method

I've been interested for some time in Alexander Bangiev's "B-Method" of decomposing a chess position so that one can find reasonable candidate moves based on (what I find) his unique and innovative system called the Squares Strategy. Here I'll attempt to explain as much as I can how a run-of-the-mill player like myself views this method and if it is something that the average Joe chess player can take advantage of. Bangiev claims that this method targets players rated approximately 1800 in the german rating system, and that is just about where I sit today, give or take 100 points. I will leave out the "B-Notation" - the shorthand symbolic language he uses to discuss the specifics of a position - as that just tends to confuse the new learner. I'll attempt to explain it in laymans english. Hopefully I do not violate any copyrights. If I do, I apologize.

First we must define what it is we are looking at: What is The Squares Strategy? If you were to read the scant reviews about Bangiev's Chessbase CDs on Chess Cafe and other 'reputable' sites, you'd most likely be put off on purchasing these CD's, and that might be justified at some level, but I find that the reviewers missed the mark in attempting to understand what Bangiev's B-Method is all about: Color Complexes.

Everyone knows what a 'color complex' is, even if you are not specifically aware that is what it is called. All chess players have erroneously played g3 in front of their castled king position after trading off their light-squared Bishop, at some point in their chess career, and had the unwanted pleasure of watching your opponent occupy the squares f3, g4, and h3 and proceed to slaughter your King where he stands. Those squares are a 'color complex' of light squares. This is the basis of the B-Method, but don't let the terminology scare you away. Just knowing that is where the ideas are coming from is enough to get us started.

The B-Method begins by asking the same three questions at each move of the game:
1) The Strategy Question (SQ)
2) The Direction Question (DQ)
3) The Color Question (CQ)

After answering those three VITAL questions, we can continue with three more questions:
4) Put to Question which pieces
5) CAndidate Moves
6) The Game Move

Naturally, one has to understand the question before one asks, so lets try and decompose each question in simple(r) terms.

The Strategy Question (SQ)
The Strategy Question is the starting point in Bangiev's B-Method. It seeks to give the player a consistent starting point from which to develop the correct plan from the central pawns based on the players' perspective, i.e., from his point of view. It takes into account only the true center of a chessboard: d4 and e4 (from the white perspective), and e5 and d5 (from the black perspective). Given that, White is restricted to two specific strategies: d4-Strategy and the e4-Strategy. Black, on the other hand, is restricted to two similar strategies: e5-Strategy and the d5-Strategy. Naturally, a different (but similar) strategy manifests itself depending on which square is taken into consideration. For example, after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 it makes perfect sense for White to consider an e4-strategy as the e4-pawn controls the white squares d5 and f5. Naturally White will want to occupy d5/f5. A similar idea exists for Black in the same position: he would consider the e5-strategy and direct his efforts along the black squares d4 or f4, and attempt to occupy those squares. As you may see at this point, this leads to the Question of Direction. Which way do I go?

The Direction Question (DQ)
After establishing the SQ and the starting point, you are faced with a decision of which direction you should seek play in. As is well known in chess, you cannot attack in two directions effectively simultaneously. Answering the Question fo Direction properly gives you the most likely and effective direction based on piece and pawn placement in the current position. But, to answer this question, you must make some assessments in the position. Here your task is to determine which direction (in our example of the e4-strategy above) your pieces cooperate the best in, i.e., which direction from e4 do your pieces concentrate their infuence the most in. Given the correct strategy from SQ, there can be only one of two answers for our e4-strategy example: d5 or f5.

The Color Question (CQ)
Once here, we know two things: The strategy (e4), and the Direction (d5). Contrary to the Direction Question in which you ask 'which direction are MY pieces cooperating in?', here we look at the opponent's pieces and ask 'what color squares do my opponents pieces defend?'. If, in our e4 example, Black is defending the dark squares heavily, then you may want to consider a Color strategy on the opposite color, which makes sense because there will be less resistance on that color. Your decision here should be primarily based on the defender's piece placement and your ability to eliminate or neutralize defenders on the color you choose to play on. Also note that Pawns, Bishops and Knights all attack a single color at any one time. Coordination of these pieces and the selection of the proper color to play on is vital to success when using the "B-Method", and is its strength with regard to Color Complexes.

Put to Question (PQ)
The next step we consider is: which opponent's pieces are defending the color squares which we have chosen to occupy/attack from CQ? Here we look for candidate moves that will eliminate or get those pieces entangled or caught up in the action. This is obviously the most difficult part of the B-Method, but given the focus from the previous three questions, this should limit to only a few moves for consideration as candidate moves, the next step.

Candidate Moves (CM)
Your candidate moves are those moves you came up with in the PQ step. Enumerate them and analyze to determine which move meets the needs of the position the best.

Game Move (GM)
The Game move is the move that meets the needs of the position the best from your list of Candidate Moves.

This is, in a very broad nutshell, the B-Method. Is it useful as described above? I think it is, but it will take a certain amount of practice and training to get used to the ideas presented. A good start would be to take a bunch of master games and play the first several moves then do the assessment yourself for both sides, note it, and see how the players follow your ideas. Continue to reassess the position every move or so. Naturally, a better way is to buy all three CDs but I don't want to sound like a Bangiev Shill, but they can be had at the Chessbase Store on the internet.

Happy Chess!