Thursday, January 11, 2007

Lesson 2: Pawns to the rescue!

I had another helpful lesson with my chess coach (Jonathan Schroer) tonight. We went over the games from last weekend's tourament.

In the first game, his biggest concern was with this position (black (me) to move):
Here I played Qxc6. I didn't even seriously consider Bxe3, but he had no doubts. After Bxe3, the requisite fxe3 saddles white with isolated doubled pawns on the e-file. Not only that, but doubled isolated pawns on a half open e-file, creating a natural line of attack. He said that this is such an obvious move that I should focus on pawn structure for the next week, reading up on it in Wolff's Idiot's Guide and (this will make Patrick happy), the book Chess College: Pawn Play, which focuses on pawn play in the context of annotated games.

He then went into about a half-hour mini-lecture on pawn structure, constructing a heirarchy of pawn weaknesses. From doubled isolated pawns on half-open files down to backwards and doubled pawns. He says he doesn't call doubled pawns a weakness, but a passivity, because it depends so much on the position whether the stuck pawn is actually detrimental to the position (e.g., it could cover a nice center square). However, it is not mobile which often becomes a weakenss. This lecture portion had some helpful bits, but it was a bit fast and abstract for me: I've read most of this stuff in Pandolfini's book. But, then again, it obviously hasn't set into my mind enough, or I would have played Bxe3! (Incidentally, I asked if he ever played Wolff, and he has twice: he said he took an awful beating (as white) both times).

We next went over my second game. He homed in on the following position:
For him (and Fritz), f5! was an obvious good move. If black plays exf5, black has helped open a nice line for my white bishop, and my f rook is now on a half-open file, and my black bishop also lies on an open diagonal.

While I often end up with a nice pawn structure like in the above diagram, with a pawn duo in the center, I tend to leave the pawns there until a direct threat forces me to move or until the endgame begins. I basically never push pawns. He wants me to consider pawn pushes more often, as it is the pawn structure that largely determines the activity of my pieces, and a push which will radically increase such activity needs to be made when the iron is hot.

I told him that I am not good at calculating all the variations out, especially with these pawn pushes that will radically transform the board's terrain. Hence I tend to make moves that I can visualize better. He said that I don't always need to calculate everything out. To help evaluate pawn push effects on piece activity, Nimzovich's concept of overprotection often provides useful hints. In the present position, my f pawn is overprotected: my queen, black bishop, and (indirectly) my f-rook are all defending it. While I have always thought that the point of overprotection is to maintain the safety of a square or pawn, that is only a small part of the story. In this case, the fact that it is overprotected also implies that if I push it forward, a great deal of potential will be unleashed, as the long-range pieces being blocked by the overprotected pawn will suddenly have a surge in activity. He stressed that when I look at the board, I should visualize my pieces' movements extending through the pawns to other squares to which they could traverse if that pawn were not there. It seems this will be very useful in helping me to figure out when to move my damned pawns!

I found this discussion very enlightening and helpful. In both games, the main critiques (besides missing a tactic here or there) were focused on pawn structure evaluation, so he has given me another negative to turn around!

Before I left, I told him I didn't like my two-knight's defense as black, and he told me how to fix it. He thinks I am plenty strong in the opening, though, and doesn't want me to work on it too much. That's a relief!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't say enough about learning about pawn structures. The past several months I have been reading and studying Baburins book on pawn structures it is in direct agreement with your coaches assessment. You're lucky you are learning this now from a good coach and not having to stumble upon it by your own hand - it'll save you a lot of time and frustration.

1/12/2007 01:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I should visualize my pieces' movements extending through the pawns to other squares to which they could traverse if that pawn were not there."

Yeah, kinda like the Care-Bear STARE, you see.

1/12/2007 05:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Diagram 1: you probably mean Bxe3 in stead of Bxe6.

He wants me to consider pawn pushes more often, as it is the pawn structure that largely determines the activity of my pieces, and a push which will radically increase such activity needs to be made when the iron is hot

Sounds like my post "positional play for dummies" to me.
Maybe it is easier to remember good advice when you pay for it?:)

1/12/2007 07:00:00 AM  
Blogger Montse said...

About double pawns, I agree. It depends on the situation. To the endgame this might become generally speaking a liability? Why? Because these pawns cannot protect each other. So something else has to do it or cover these pawn. In the middlegame these double pawns can act like for instance a tree where you can attach your monkeys (bishops) to it. Great attachment points for both bishops (double). And if for instance they aim to the opponents kingside, they become deadly.
So most books will learn you, that double pawns are weak pawns.This is true because you look to these things as an isolated item not in conjunction with all other pieces left on the board.
A good advice: when material is even,and a trading down of pieces will be imminent try to prevent that your pawn structure is being smashed into pieces. So this implies a strategy, that you can apply. So when there are a few pieces left on the board, try to trade down the pieces in such away that you obtain a winning K+P versus K+P. Your chances to win will increase greatly when you have an intact pawn structure.

I am glad that you are enjoying the lessons. Write the advice down, because sooner or later they will become your guiding lines for detecting danger and how to proceed or to invoke a plan in certain situations.

1/12/2007 09:03:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Tempo and Patrick: it was nice to recognize some of the stuff from your posts when he was talking (it was exhilerating to have information that that I have seen spread around in different places integrated into a coherent and novice-friendly heuristic).

Tempo: he also talked with me about good/bad versus active/inactive bishops. Maybe he is stealing your material!

Tempo: you are right about Bxe3: I've edited it.

1/12/2007 11:48:00 AM  
Blogger takchess said...

Nice post. I think that pawn pushes are a constant theme in play against the Sicilian. The coordination of pieces especially on the castled kingside I find somewhat challenging. I hope to further study it.

I have been lent a VCR tape by Nigel Davis called Silicide. It's a whites perspective to beat the Sicilian all geared around 2 Nf3 and 3 Nc3. alot of pawn pushing
very interesting

1/12/2007 12:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did not see that second one, but the first was really clear. That looks like a "null move" mate to me, and after doubled pawns are forced not only are they both hanging but there is an open diagonal line to White's King.

1/13/2007 01:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post! I definitely learned from it. All i hope now is that i can remember/recall it at the appropriate times. You should start charging money for your coach experience's posts :-)

1/13/2007 03:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bxe6, interesting typo. Mirroring along the horizontal axis and not along the vertical.

1/13/2007 04:16:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Edwin: I considered not posting it as the ideas seem like a secret weapon to my uninitiated mind. But then I realized I was being insane.

1/13/2007 10:40:00 AM  

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