Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Freedom versus security

In my previous post I described the three main components of piece activity (mobility, freedom, and coordination). While there are some minor points I will add to the final version, it seems to hold up to a second-look.

Making the dimensions of activity explicit, especially the 'freedom' dimension, has helped me get a better grasp on certain positions (roughly, a piece's freedom is the number of squares to which a it can move while still carrying out its important defensive roles). This concept of freedom can subsume a lot of seemingly disparate ideas under its heading. Here are some examples:

1. Overloaded piece. A piece is not all that free if it is defending against one threat, but when it has to defend more than one threat, its freedom is especially curtailed, often being reduced to zero.
2. The knight/knight lock. Many people like to put two knights so they are defending each other. This is a solid formation, but at the same time it limits the freedom of each knight. This was first pointed out to me in Josh Waitzkin's lectures provided with Chessmaster.
3. Pawn chains. While pawn chains are solid defensively (except at the base, and except for the fact that they can create a weak color complex), the pawns in the chain are giving up some freedom for this strength. Move one pawn and the enemy is given undefended pawns.
4. Pinned pieces. This was in the original post, but I find it a very useful way to think of why, exactly, pinned pieces are bad. It has spurred me to work hard to break pins whenever reasonably possible, rather than wait until it is necessary to do so.
5. Winning won games. They say, when you are ahead in material, to play defensively (i.e., safely), avoiding blunders until you simplify down to a won endgame. There is a tradeoff between safety and security, and when way ahead, this means it might be a good idea to sacrifice some freedom, stay in a secure formation (e.g., knights defending each other), and trade down when possible.

What this exercise has taught me, besides what piece activity is (before I ran all three activity subfactors together into an ambiguous pile, which hindered my ability to explicitly evaluate a position), is how useful word-based explanations can be. While examples are nice, and crucial, having them fit into a framework helps sort them into memory in ways that are more likely to stick. I think most of us have noticed this with tactics (forks, pins, skewers, etc), and the same should be true of the strategic themes.

I'm sure this is all common knowledge to the good players out there, but to me this is like discovering a new island of ideas in the chess world.

By the way, Howard Stern said he reached 1599 at ICC. Considering he's only been playing about a year, that is really bloody impressive. I'll see about finding the audio.


Blogger Unknown said...

Who's Stern's coach?

2/28/2007 05:24:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

J'adoube: I'm not sure. There are rumours that it's Susan Polgar, but I don't think so.

He's obsessed with the game. He's been talking about cutting out TV so he can focus more on chess. His skyrocket in the ratins was one of the things that spurred me to get a chess coach.

One thing to be sure of, it ain't Fritz. :P

2/28/2007 07:56:00 PM  
Blogger takchess said...

I would not be surprised if his coach is the same as Don Imus's coach. The name escapes me but he is an Englishman who was a young phenom but discontinued playing serious chess. He was on the show talking about chess during the US championship.

2/28/2007 10:58:00 PM  
Blogger transformation said...

poker player philhelmuth is like 40 in the world at ICC in bullet. he is active, and a true speed junkie, and for sure no dummie.

stern is not my favorite, but he is assuredly not a dummy either, siri and xmsr (nasdaq symbols), lap dances and all.

imagine being his lawyer?


3/01/2007 06:57:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Tak, that would be ironic if Imus and Howard had the same chess coach (they can't stand each other).

Transform: Especially since he starting talking about chess, Stern has rapidly become my favorite feature of Sirius satellite radio. Almost despite myself.

3/01/2007 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

One thing to be sure of, it ain't Fritz. :P

Oooooohhhh. . .you wound me! I am cut to the quick. . .

3/01/2007 11:34:00 AM  
Blogger takchess said...

My take on Stern/Imus is they are friendlier than the trash talk you hear. I listen to Imus and his rhetoric regarding Stern is toned down of late. Imus is passionate about chess as well and I imagine they would play over the 64. Just for bragging rights.

3/01/2007 04:46:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I listen to the show every day.
He has said on air that it's
Dan Heisman, he flew him in to stay with him for a bday gift.

3/01/2007 07:58:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Heisman, eh? Wow, that is fairly surprising. I would think Howard would hate the Socratic method of teaching...

Thanks for the info, dev.

3/02/2007 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Classplayer: If in one year he is already above 1200 USCF, and he is 52 years old, that is pretty darn good. Better than most in their start. That's a rise of about 800 points in a year. Yes, people always rise fast in the beginning, but not that fast.

3/03/2007 02:30:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

From the minutes of a 2006 USCF delegates meeting:
Paul Truong and Susan Polgar have been working with Howard Stern, who professes an interest in chess. Don Imus has further developed his interest in chess. He and his son Wyatt are taking instructions from David Goodman. Howard Stern and Don Imus have a strong rivalry which stems back to when they were at the same radio station. The Outreach Workshop looked at the possibility of a made for media event that would have
them compete over a chessboard with a significant prize to be given to the winner's favorite charity. Everybody wins. Both Don Imus and Howard Stern and chess get major public exposure. The likelihood of a well attended event is strong, which would please the venue, and funding the charity will help many more people.

3/03/2007 11:29:00 PM  
Blogger BlunderProne said...


I guess any publicity is good.

3/04/2007 05:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi! Just to set the record straight, Howard made it public last year that I have been his chess coach (now for about 18 months). I was on his radio show on Sep 10, 2007. I don't coach Don Imus. My website is

2/25/2008 09:35:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Dan: thanks for the note. I posted extensively about your visit here.

2/25/2008 12:52:00 PM  

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