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!

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