Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Help, please! What the #%*@ is space?

How do Knights think about "space" in chess? Anyone have any suggestions for good literature on this topic? I am working through the problems in Chapter 12 ("The Final Frontier") in Wolff's book.

Unfortunately, the chapter isn't as well-written as his other chapters, and the problems' solutions are not as well annotated. On some problems, one of the questions is "Who has more space?" Even when one player clearly has more numerical space (i.e., controls more squares, both on his side and his opponent's), he gives the advantage to the other side. He doesn't explain his answer, and the chapter fails to give a clear explanation of how to determine who has more space. It is quite frustrating! Sometimes he says someone has more space if their pawn structure controls more of the board, and sometimes he says they have more space if they simply have more material on one side of the board, even if the material doesn't have any mobility. He provides no grand unified theory of space.

Perhaps the problem is that "space" is really used sloppily to refer to multiple factors such as piece mobility, the spatial aspects of the pawn skeleton, localized force in certain regions of the board, and coordinated localized force. It is all quite complicated and confusing.

To get help with my confusion, I went to Seirewan's chapter on space in Play Winning Chess. Unfortunately, it is not very good. For one, Seirawan's space counting method is seriously flawed for endgames. For Seirewan, your space is equal to the number of squares you control in enemy territory. However, in particular in the endgame, overall mobility all over the board is very important, sometimes especially important on your first four ranks.

One nice feature of Wolff's chapter is that it has me thinking more about controlling squares with my pawns, and to take pawn advances much more seriously: those irreversible steps lead to structures that fix the board, gating the flow of the pieces later in the game. I am starting to picture the board almost like a potential energy surface, where the pawns and pieces determine where certain pieces would have maximum potential energy, where the potential energy is equal to tactical opportunity.

Anyway, just impressionistic ramblings. I think I'll be ready for Nimzovich's My System soon: I read some of that at Amazon and it looks like an amazing book, and it may help me think more clearly about space.

I wrote about this stuff a little bit in an earlier post, and Temposchlucker had a nice response on his blog. Then, I pitched the topic as piece mobility, so it was somewhat more focused.


Blogger Patrick said...

Personally I hated My System. Lou Hays published the public-domain version with poor sans-serif typeset and tiny diagrams. Looks like dot-matrix printouts too. But Mr Hays can sell thousands of copies of a book he didn't write without any royalties to the real author. Same with his "Combination Challenge" which was downright copied from Reinfeld's 1001 combos. A shame.

Anyway! Sorry for ranting!

You can have my copy of My System if you pay for shipping. Or maybe we can make a trade.

3/23/2006 01:01:00 AM  
Blogger Patrick said...

PS, watch The Master teach nimzo a lesson about space, light-square weakness, and zugzwang:

3/23/2006 01:23:00 AM  
Blogger takchess said...

Perhaps you will enjoy Dan Heisman book on positional evaluation. This is a very scientific treatise on the subject of space, force, development etc.It's out of print but digging around I'd bet you'd find one. Or you could buy my copy for $ 14,985.50. 8)
I have hays copy of My System. He put in alot of additional diagrams and converted it to algebraic text so I would buy that volume over any other one. I haven't finished it but intend to. Good info ,Nimzo is a little Quirky which makes it fun. if you have a moment take a look at the past post on the Fried Liver which has a Morphy and Fischer Games of the Loli Attack which is a improved fried liver.

3/23/2006 06:08:00 AM  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

I don't know if Seirawan defines it different in different books. In winning chess strategies he defines it as: all the squares behind your pawns are considered your space unless an enemy pawn can attack them.

I believe that most of these terms like space, king activity, mobility, badly placed, etc. are used in a relative way. It means that the author can't tell it in a precise mathematical way.

I should define it in a negative way: lack of space is the experience of physically being choked during an OTB-game:)

3/23/2006 08:10:00 AM  
Blogger sciurus said...

A very short and simple introduction by Dan Heisman on this topic can be found here. It may give you an idea on how he thinks about "space" before buying the book takchess recommended.

3/23/2006 09:32:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Tempo: I don't understand. If they are used in a "relative" way, what does that mean, and why would that stop people from writing about it clearly and rigorously?

Perhaps instead of saying "space", it should be fractionated and replaced with what you are actually talking about. Don't say "space" when you mean "queenside mobility". If you mean "the pawns are protected and controlling center squares", say that, don't just say "space". "Space" is used in so many ways that it acts as a barrier for novices like me to understand what is going on.

Maybe I'll compile a list of what people mean by "space", and post it here. When I use the term as an evaluation factor in chessplanner, I describe it as including piece mobility, and piece coordination, and consideration of who has more real estate under control (the latter is kind of like the game Go, where that is the only consideration).

Takchess: I luckily found a copy of Heisman's book for relatively cheap on Amazon. I looked a few months ago and couldn't find it anywhere. He needs to re-release it.

Sciurus: I hadn't seen that Heisman piece: thanks, I'll print it out!

3/23/2006 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Patrick, I'll trade you "Pawn Structure Chess" for "My System."

The Heisman piece on space, which I have seen elsewhere in other guises, is good. Because of his article, I used mobility as an evaluation factor in games instead of space. I ended up replacing it with "space", because mobility seems to be one aspect of space. Heisman says that what makes space worth considering is that it can give your pieces more activity, so space is really a pseudofactor.

I am not sure I agree with him, but am tempted. Can anyone think of spatial evaluation factors that are not easy to assimilate to mobility? If I have a bunch of pawns pushed forward, and my opponent doesn't, but we presently have equal mobility, isn't that a spatial factor that can't be subsumed under mobility? (Sure, there are examples where having more space is bad, as Heisman shows, but I can show examples where being two queens up isn't an advantage: it is the averages that matter).

3/23/2006 02:07:00 PM  
Blogger Qxh7# said...

I thought Silman's explanation of space in Reassess Your Chess was good. How do I think of space? I think of it as the area behind your pawns (usually, peices sometimes). Basically its the area you have to safely (for the most part) manuever in. For an interesting game based on space... and the effects of having no space for your bishop.. look at my post

Having space is a good thing. But in general space is just one type of imbalance in the game. No single imbalance is always better than every other type of imbalance.

3/23/2006 02:41:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Qxh7, that is exactly the notion of space Heisman evaluates and finds lacking.

Heisman says:
Space in and of itself is not an inherent advantage; it is a means toward an advantage. The real advantage of having space is that if utilized correctly, it allows your pieces to do more than your opponent's pieces (“better army activity”). No more, and no less. If a spacial [sic] advantage does not incur an activity advantage, then it can be – and likely is – meaningless.

Is Heisman right? Is piece mobility enough to capture everything people mean by space? Or is my previous comment correct?

3/23/2006 03:23:00 PM  
Blogger Nezha said...

hello - if I may suggest, try "simple chess" by stein (not the one from emms) - This has the clearest explanation of space from the experience.

3/23/2006 10:47:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Nezha: thanks, it is cheap so that motivated me to order it...

I am also reading up on the topic in Silman.

3/24/2006 02:36:00 AM  
Blogger King of the Spill said...

You have asked a really interesting question, namely "What are the different definitions of space that people are using?"

3/26/2006 06:43:00 PM  
Blogger Druss said...

Space is a tricky subject, and one that I find difficult to grasp. Especially if I'm trying to formalise it.

Sometimes I find it easier to think of it the other way round - when am I cramped through lack of space, and why is it bad? Sometimes it is easy to say: I can't move my bishop out of its little box; my pieces are cramped up and can respond to the opponent switching his attack point; I can't move my knights to better spaces; my pieces are all piling up on one another. All those things are bad, and should be avoided usually.

3/28/2006 06:49:00 AM  
Blogger CelticDeath said...

I think of it as the total number of square under your control (either by pawns or by pieces). These would have to be square under your control, but not necessarily occupied by your pieces. Also, they cannot be meaningfully contest by the opponent.

3/29/2006 04:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Grey-cells-teaser said...
this is a link where they take each piece ability to move as "space"

12/28/2007 05:14:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Gray: thanks. See my next post where I ended up with that. I consider mobility (number of squares to which a piece can move) as activity more than space, but it's all good.

12/28/2007 07:36:00 PM  

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