Karpov's 7 timeless reference points for evaluating a position
Stage one: Comparative analysis.
- Material relationship between the forces
- Presence of direct threats
- Position of the kings, their safety
- Possession of open lines
- Pawn Structure, weak and strong squares
- The centre and space
- Development and the position of pieces
Stage two: choosing a plan.
The choice of an attacking or defensive plan in any situation is determined by an objective evaluation of the position. And although these positions are different in terms of their specific features, for each of them there are defined rules about the methods of battle in better (1), worse (2) and equal (3) positions.
1 In better positions – with an advantage in development – you should try to prevent your opponent from completing the mobilization of his forces. To achieve this you should choose, as the opportunity arises, moves that present concrete threats, forcing your opponent to waste time and energy deflecting them. Often such moves are associated with tactical blows that help you to open up the game and get to the enemy king more quickly.
2 The main task of the game in worse positions is to slow down your opponent’s attack. The best method for this is to simplify the position with the help of exchanges of the attacking pieces. Moreover, you should always remember that attack is the best form of defence. That’s why, when you’ve beaten off the first wave of the attack, you should prepare a counter-attack at the first opportunity.
3 In equal positions the battle, as a rule, goes peacefully: unnecessary aggressive actions might only ruin everything. Usually a long period of manoeuvring starts, during which both sides strive to avoid weaknesses in their position and try to create them in their opponent’s camp.
1 Material relationship
The evaluation of any position starts with a calculation of material strength. In an equal situation the accent shifts to other reference points. If the material equality is destroyed, though, then under stable equal conditions the side that has obtained an advantage absolutely must win. To this end most often systematic exchanges take place, reducing the number of active pieces and making the material superiority even more noticeable. In the end the situation gradually reaches one of the theoretical endgames, which you should be able to handle rather confidently. As Philidor himself even stated, “the ability to play the end of the game is the ability to play.” The defending side usually strives to organise tactical complications, to take the battle into irrational positions in which the opponent’s material superiority would lose its significance.2 Presence of direct threats
“What is threatening me? What else can my opponent do? What else can I do?” – these questions should be asked constantly during an evaluation of any position – better, equal or worse. You can’t play chess successfully without constant, concentrated attention during the game.3 Position of the kings
The position of the king is one of the most important, and in many cases the most important reference point of the evaluation. Obviously a successful attack on the king can wipe out many of the pluses in a position, leading to the biggest material losses of all kinds. An attack on the king is really a specialised topic. So we’re restricting ourselves to illustrating the basic types of such attacks: with uncastled king, and with castled kings on opposite sides and on the same side.4 Reference point – Open lines
* Breakthrough in the centre * Between the centre and the flank * Attack on the edge of the board * Dangerous diagonals * Control over important lines – files, ranks and diagonals – has considerable influence on the evaluation of a position and when all else is equal usually leads to a better game.
- Breakthrough in the Centre
- Between the centre and the flank
- Attack on the edge of the board
Opening the a-file with the kings castled short has its own specific character. The rook file on the queenside is the farthest removed from the kingside, which is why, up to a certain point, the main events don’t touch the castled positions. It’s also important that the side that is planning to seize the outside file must concentrate strong forces on it, diverting them from the kingside. This involuntarily weakens the position of his own king and in some cases allows his opponent to strike an equivalent counter-blow. Then again, such cases are quite rare, as the opponent also has to move significant forces away to the outside file in order to somehow combat the incursion there.Dangerous Diagonals
Control of important diagonals has again and again been decisive in many of the examples we’ve looked at already. Practice has created entire openings systems, the main focus of which is a battle from the first moves for diagonals on which the bishops can display activity. Thus, in the King’s Indian and the Sicilian Dragon Black’s main piece is his dark-squared bishop. In the Réti Opening or the English Opening White in his turn envisages an important role for his light-squared bishop. Quite large sacrifices are sometimes made for control of a long diagonal.5 Pawn structure.
Weak and strong squares * The opinion of the experts * The problem of doubled pawns * Capablanca gives a lesson * The Carlsbad structure * Eternal knights * No matter which game we’ve been studying or what kind of episode we’ve been examining, the position of the pawns has always directly or indirectly influenced the choice of plans, the actions of both sides, and finally the result of the encounter. Emanuel Lasker: “The Pawn, being much more stationary than the pieces, is an element of the structure of the position; the way the array of Pawns is placed determines the character of a position and hence also the plan appropriate to it.” José Raúl Capablanca: “The character of the pawn structure plays an important role not only in the endgame, but also in the opening and middlegame. Often opening variations are rejected solely because bad pawn formations arise in them. This kind of bad pawn setup is one of the determining factors according to which we reject this or that route to the middlegame.”6 The centre and space
* Five typical structures * Methods and counter-methods * Are we able to plan? *
Despite the unrepeatable and unique nature of each game, it’s possible to make quite an accurate classification of typical positions that arise in them with their characteristic strategic plans. The main reference point for such a classification is the condition of the pawn structure in the centre. It’s this that most often determines the plans of both sides, the direction of the game and its character. The placing of the pawns in the centre creates five basic types of position, and in each of them many years of practice have established fairly precise plans of attacking and defensive play.
- Closed centre with fixed pawn chains;
- Static centre. The central pawns are fixed in pairs;
- Dynamic centre. There is already pawn contact in the centre, but the final position of the pawns hasn’t been determined yet;
- Mobile centre, when any of the central pawns can move;
- Open centre. There are no pawns in the centre.
Whatever opening we start the game with, we have to take the first opportunity to envisage precisely which characteristic positions the game is heading towards and which strategic plans are typical for the structures that are arising. Positions with a closed centre often arise in the Ruy Lopez, the French Defence or the King’s Indian. Positions with a dynamic centre are characteristic for half-open openings and primarily in Sicilian Defence games. The mobile pawn centre is a feature of the Evans Gambit, Alekhine’s Defence, the Grünfeld Defence and a few other openings. Open and static centres are created in the Ruy Lopez, the King’s Gambit, the Slav Defence and the Queen’s Gambit accepted.1 Closed centre In positions with pawn chains situated on the central squares the game, naturally, moves to the flanks. Attacks take place on the side where there are open lines, or where superiority of forces can be created in the shortest time. With opposite-side castling, as a rule, the attack occurs on the side where the opponent’s king is located. Plan of attack: Prepare a flank attack with the aid of a pawn storm. Its goal is to clear a path for the attacking pieces. Plan of defence: Counterattack on the other side or place obstacles in the way of the opponent’s pawn attack.
Basis of the active plan – pawn storm on the flank.
2 Mobile centre The main weapon against a mobile pawn centre is to blockade it. An attack on one of the central pawns forces it to advance, after which it should be blockaded – and the weakened squares in front of the pawns occupied by pieces.
3 Open centre Active piece play is characteristic of positions in which there are no central pawns. The players’ main task is to take possession of central lines and important central points. Active plan of play: After achieving a superiority in the centre (an advantage in development) the active plan of play consists of creating weaknesses in your opponent’s camp. After this a piece attack is undertaken on the side that has been weakened by the previous manoeuvres. Defensive plan of play: Defend the weak points, offer piece protection to the flank that is under attack. Basis of the active plan – piece manoeuvres with the goal of provoking weaknesses in your opponent’s camp.
4 Static centre A manoeuvring battle for the central squares and a switching of the attack to the flanks at an appropriate moment are characteristic in positions with fixed central pawns and the presence of open and half-open lines. Active plan of play: After obtaining the initiative with a peaceful centre, you should look for any opportunities for active play on the flanks. A peaceful position in the centre is a precondition for an attack on your opponent’s king.
5 Dynamic centre Positions with an undetermined pawn position in the centre are distinguished by the fact that they can easily transpose into any of the previously-examined structures. This forces the players to keep a careful eye on the centre and try to foresee impending changes in it in good time. Plan of active play: Consists of each player trying to prepare best for possible changes in the centre, which most often arise after the pawn advances d4-d5 or e4-e5. Before the position in the centre has stabilised, flank attacks, especially pawn attacks, should be undertaken circumspectly and carefully. At the same time you should always be on the lookout for possible counteractions by your opponent in the centre. Defensive plan: Don’t rush to determine the position in the centre. This forces your opponent to be circumspect in his attack. If a flank attack begins, try to prepare a favourable counterblow in the centre. A dynamic centre requires you to be especially cautious during flank attacks.
The most important law of chess
* A lasso for the knight * The bishop hunt * How difficult it is to be a rook * The queen: thorns and roses * The obstinate pawn * Kings under arrest *
As yet we don’t know all that much about chess. Every action has its main underlying cause, and every doctrine has its basic postulate. In philosophy – an abstract science – it’s the question of the primacy of matter or spirit. In physics – the most earthly discipline – it’s the law of conservation of energy. And in chess? A commentator places a question mark after a move and asserts: a chess law has been violated. But how many laws of the game are there? And if we can manage to give at least an approximate number and find preliminary definitions, then which of these conditions are the main ones and which are secondary? There are no answers to these questions. We don’t know the truth either. But based on the aim of the game – mating the enemy king – we’re prepared to suggest that the chief law of a chess game is to restrict the mobility of your opponent’s pieces. All of them together and each one separately.
Because what is mate to the king, exactly? It’s an attack on a chess monarch whose movement is completely restricted. An attack that you can neither evade nor defend. To sum up, we repeat: the king must be 100-percent restricted, and it’s enough to drive back, isolate and pin down the movements of the other pieces so that they don’t interfere with the attack. Only then comes mate. Thus we’ve proved something, although there’s a great deal more that requires proof.
Restricting the mobility of your opponent’s pieces (and in association with this: domination by your own) – is the most important law of chess. Let’s take this as a working hypothesis and – onward! More often than we might expect, the evaluation of a position and the plan of action is formed precisely from the extent to which one or other of your opponent’s pieces is badly placed. Despite the actual material equality on the board, a poorly-placed piece belonging to your opponent signifies for you, even if it’s temporary and shaky, nevertheless a material advantage.
Such an advantage must be exploited quickly, with knowledge of what you’re doing, otherwise it will disappear without a trace. You should constantly remember this at every stage of the game. Let’s look at some demonstrative examples from practice in more detail, when all the chess pieces endured restriction of their actions (partial or complete) in turn. Usually people talk about ‘the seriousness of the research,’ and ‘the enjoyableness of the excursion’.
The authors have tried to unite these concepts and make an excursion into chess serious, and the research into the question enjoyable.
What restricts the mobility of a chess piece? There aren’t that many bases – there are seven. The mobility of a chess piece is restricted, if:
- it’s occupied with the defense of another piece or an important square;
- it’s tied down, i.e. it’s covering a valuable piece or an important square;
- another piece or important square is simultaneously under threat;
- by moving it unfavorably, it destroys a connection that has been established on the board (blocks another piece’s line of action, takes an essential square away from it and so on);
- the square to which it could move is attacked by enemy pieces …
- … or occupied or blockaded by another piece (your own or an enemy one);
- its path is obstructed by your own or enemy pieces.