People get excited by many different things. Some swoon over a good beer, others are into cars, and many live for sports. As a chess nerd, I and most experienced players go crazy over advanced holes (central holes are the most prized. From White’s perspective: d5, e5, d6, or e6). Holes, of course, are squares that can’t be defended by a friendly pawn.
In our first diagram, some players might think b5 and d5 are holes, but that’s not the case. Both of these squares can be turned into a no-landing zone by the simple pawn move, ...c7-c6.
Now let’s make a slight adjustment to the position:
By undoubling Black’s pawns (That’s right, the doubled c-pawns were actually a good thing, and turning the c7-pawn into a “healthy” undoubled b6-pawn is a clear negative from Black’s point of view), suddenly the b5 and d5 squares are indeed weak. It's not necessarily the end of the world, however, if White dithers and doesn’t take advantage of them. For example: 1.b3? h6 (Stopping Bg5) 2.Qd2 Kh7 and now an “aggressive” move like 3.f4 (which in most positions would be the thematic choice) allows the blocked g7-bishop to come to life after 3...exf4 (now the a1-h8 diagonal is an unclogged highway!) when Black is fine.
All this is no-brainer stuff for strong players, and it can easily be no-brainer stuff for you, too. Of course, this fits in perfectly with our “You Have It, He Doesn’t!” theme. Moreover, this theme not only wants you to train your mind to notice things like weak square complexes (explored in You Have It, He Doesn’t! Part 1), holes, and superior minor pieces, but to actually create one of those advantages if it doesn’t yet exist. Once it’s there and you are fully aware of it, you can devote yourself to making it rain pain on the enemy position.
On the other side of the pond, the defending side needs to avoid allowing such things to exist. Or, if that is impossible, to let it happen with the understanding that it won’t be effective in that particular position and that the thing you have is more important than the thing he has! In other words, chess is an act of creation, and the resulting battle of ideas can only be won if you make maximum use of whatever favorable imbalance you have.
How to Reassess Your Chess by Jeremy Silman, courtesy of Siles Press
CREATING WHAT DOESN’T EXIT
Saying, “Wow! Look at that hole! I have no idea how it got there, but I’m going to use it!” is a great start, but what do you do if there’s nothing to use? Do you go back to the caveman, “I’ll make tactical threats and hope he falls for my trick!” mentality? Of course not. Instead of playing “cross your fingers and hope” chess, you need to acquire as many positional skills as possible (even if you’re a tactical genius!) and learn how to transform a position into something you can work with.
First you train yourself to notice positional weaknesses in the enemy camp (such weaknesses often have tactical repercussions).
The next step is to create them! Here’s a very basic example, taken from my book, How to Reassess Your Chess 4th Edition.
At the moment, the only central hole is on d5, which is owned by White. However, White can’t make use of it so it’s a useless commodity. Since knights are short-range pieces, and since knights are the greatest admirers of central holes, Black needs to find a way to create one. Fortunately, it’s easy to do so!
This “wins” the d4-square, which also turns the knight into a winning minor piece.
It’s important to point out that many players would go for an “attack” by 1...f5, which is wrong, wrong, wrong. Why? It ignores the battle of minor pieces (you should try to make your minor pieces superior to the opponent’s), it weakens the Black king’s pawn cover, and it hands over the h1-a8 diagonal to the previously “dead” g2-bishop: 1...f5? 2.exf5 gxf5 3.f4 (Now the bishop is better than Black’s knight!) 3...Rac8 4.Rbe1 and White’s advantage is obvious.
After 1...b4 White can’t avoid trouble:
* 2.c4 Nd4 3.Qd1 Ra2 4.Rf2 Rfa8 5.Rbb2 Ra1 6.Rb1 Rxb1 7.Qxb1 Ra3 8.Rb2 Qa7 and White’s busted.
* 2.f4 (trying to create some counterplay) 2…bxc3 3.Qxc3 Ra2 and White is suffering. An example: 4.f5 Nd4 5.Kh2 gxf5 6.exf5 Rc2 7.Qe1 Re2 8.Qd1 e4 9.dxe4 Qxe4, 0-1.
* 2.cxb4 Nxb4 3.Qc3 Ra2 (with a clear advantage) and now 4.f4 fails. Let’s see if you can figure out why in the puzzle:
Using Something That Seems Far, Far Away
Sometimes you’ll notice a weakness or hole that’s quite a distance from most of your army. However, just because it will take some time to make the trip to that sector, it doesn’t mean that it’s not doable. The key question then is: “Are the perks of owning that hole worth the effort in claiming it?”
Here’s a great example:
In this position White played 33.c5, creating a hole on d5, but also locking in “permanent control” over d6. After 33...a5 White continued his plan (ownership of d6) with 34.Nb1 (Intending Nb1-a3-c4-d6, gin!)and here Black needed to say, “There is no way I will allow your knight to reach d6!”
Remember: Being aware of your opponent’s plans (not idiotic one-move threats that have nothing to do with the position, but real plans based on a specific imbalance and the position’s overall needs) allows you to defend against them. Being oblivious will mark you as a permanent victim for the rest of your chess days.
So how can Black stop White’s plan?
Returning to the position after 34.Nb1, let’s see how the actual game went.
Here’s a horrific example of someone dancing to the tune of their own doom:
Why is the final position (after 17.Rxd5) lost? Here’s the list:
- Black has zero counterplay. Black has no weaknesses to attack (…Rc4 can always be met with f3).
- Black’s bishop is horrible vastly inferior to White’s knight.
- Black’s d6-pawn is weak. Black’s kingside pawn structure is in disarray.
- Black has two gaping holes on d5 and f5. White’s knight, once it lands on f5, will dominate the board.
The problem with this game (which was easily won by White) was that White had many plusses while Black didn’t have one positive thing to say about his position. What we’re going to do is try and figure out how to play this line for Black (even if you have no knowledge of any theory) in a positive manner. I’ll give you a chance to show your stuff in puzzle form, but if you fail OR succeed, please press the “?” and look at the notes inside the puzzle.
A Mix of Imbalances
Here’s a common sequence in the Sveshnikov Variation: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 (creating a hole on d5!) 6.Ndb5 d6 7.Bg5 a6 8.Bxf6 gxf6 9.Na3 b5
Black has a backward pawn on d6, doubled f-pawns, a gaping hole on d5, and another hole on f5. Why would anyone play such a position? In fact, it looks a lot like our previous (hopeless for Black) example, doesn’t it?
Compare this position’s pawn structure (which is a good, dynamic structure):
To this position’s pawn structure (which is devoid of dynamism):
The difference between the Sveshnikov position and the other (awful) position, is that one position was a one-way street (White had everything, Black had nothing), while the Sveshnikov position is filled with goodies for both sides. In that popular position Black has: two bishops, the open g-file might prove handy for Black’s rooks, the “f5-problem” is easily cured by a timely ...f7-f5, Black has more center pawns, and Black also has the nasty threat of ...b5-b4 winning a piece. In other words, both sides have things to brag about and also things to worry about. The game revolves around all of these things and the winner will be the guy who manages to maximize his plusses. Play sometimes continues:
What we’ve learned is that holes in the enemy position will often give you a huge advantage, and at other times it will merely be one positive versus the enemy’s positives. But you’ll completely fail if you:
- Aren’t able to notice a weak square/hole (in your position or in your opponent’s position).
- Aren’t able to notice the possibility of creating one. Fear weak squares in your camp no matter what else is going on in the position.
We’ll finish with an interesting situation (once again taken from my book, How to Reassess Your Chess 4th Edition) where White needs to find some sort of plan.
In the game White played 1.Bc3?, which doesn’t take advantage of the position’s key points (White can play for a4-a5 but it’s not clear what that really accomplishes). It’s also important to see that both sides have pressure on the opponent’s e-pawn (White is hitting e5 with his b2-bisop and f3-knight, Black is hitting White’s e4-pawn with his f6-knight and b7-bishop).
By now I expect the alert reader to be looking for holes, and a glance will tell you that White has a weak square/hole on d4 and Black has a weak square/hole on d5. Clearly, both sides would love to plant a knight on the enemy’s weakened square! Once you notice these things, the next step is simple. You ask, “How can I get a knight there?”
One straightforward way for White to do this is Nd2-b1-c3-d5. However, 1.Nb1 hangs the e4-pawn (the d2-knight was one of its defenders). Once you sum up the variables, and once you know the plan you would like to take (Nd2-b1-c3-d5), the right move suddenly hits you in the face:
This defends e4 and frees the d2-knight to begin its epic journey to d5.
1...a6 2.a4 axb5
Black can also try to get a knight to d4, but he doesn’t have time to do it: 2...Bd6 (defending e5 so the knight, after the f8-rook moves, can dance the ...Nd7-f8-e6-d4 tango) 3.Nb1! Rfe8 4.Nc3 Nf8 5.Nd5 Qd8 6.Red1 and now 6...Ne6 fails to 7.Nxe5.
Possible is 3.cxb5 with the idea of Nc4, which would leave White dominating the position (Black’s queen, c8-rook, d7-knight, and e7-bishop are all being blocked by their own c-pawn).
However, Black would respond to 3.cxb5 with 3...c4! risking the loss the c-pawn so that his d7-knight and e7-bishop can enjoy some activity.
3.axb5 doesn’t allow that kind of nonsense.
3...Ra8 4.Nb1 Rxa1 5.Bxa1 Ra8 6.Nc3 Bd6 7.Nd5 Nxd5 8.exd5! when Black’s pieces are passive while White’s a1-bishop, rook, and knight are all eyeing e5. In other words, Black is in desperate trouble. Here’s a possible continuation:
8...f6 9.Nh4 Nf8 10.Nf5 g6 11.Nxd6 Qxd6
White now has the two bishops, and since Black doesn’t have a dark-squared bishop, White wants to rip open the a1-h8 diagonal.
Not subtle, but very effective.
12...Re8 13.f4 Nd7 14.Bh3 Bc8 15.Be6+
(White claims the monster e6-hole!) 15...Kf8 16.Qf3 exf4 17.gxf4 Qe7 18.f5
and Black won’t survive.
All that started with basic recognition of holes, which was followed by the formation of a plan to take advantage of the d5-hole, and then the calm implementation of that plan.