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!