Dancing Horses

Dancing Horses

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Zebratov said (concerning my article, Memorization – The Great Chess Conspiracy):

99% irrelevancy of memory sounds a bit harsh.

Dear Zebratov:

I was hoping that this would remain a secret, but I guess the cat is out of the bag and truth must win out: I made that number up. Now, don’t be shocked – I make lots of things up. When I was 25 and on a date, the question “What do you do?” always reared its ugly head. I would be faced with a problem since I could (and usually would!) lie and say, “I’m a professor of exobiology at UCLA.” The date would always innocently respond with, “What is that?” And once I told her that it’s the study of the probable biology of alien life forms, a deep conversation would begin which inevitably led to a happy end to the evening.

On the other hand, I could have told the truth. However, I didn’t believe things would go well if I answered, “What do you do?” with, “I’m a chess player. I make no money. I’m homeless. I’m starving. In fact, I hope you’ll pay for this meal and give me bus money back to my park bench!”

Thus, I realized that lying was, in many cases, a win-win situation. In the case of the date, the lady always felt happy that she was with an eminent member of the intellectual community. It empowered her and made her happy. And I won (after apologizing for “leaving my wallet in my other jacket”) by her buying me a fine meal and keeping me company afterwards.

The same “win-win” philosophy also holds true for other questions. Here’s my favorite:

Q - “Why do you play chess?”

A - “For the money and the women.”

Everyone is happy! The questioner finally learns why people want to play chess for a living, and I avoid having to explain that I play chess because nobody would hire someone like me for a 9-5 job. The party goes on, nobody is bummed out, and life is good.

So now, after many smokescreens, we return to the actual subject (memory). The fact is, I have no idea how much of chess is memory (though I think the number is much smaller than most people suspect). When I said (in the aforementioned article), “I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but you’re 99% wrong (it might be 98%, but I can’t remember the exact number)” I meant that the guy asking the question (Mr. Rdecredico) was wrong in general (he tossed out a conspiracy theory too). I didn’t mean that 99% of chess isn’t memory.

Though the ability to memorize is important in chess (as it is in virtually everything else we do), the point of my article was to convince the reader that understanding trumps it.


Adamperfection asked:

I know in your book you say Bishop and Knights are both equal and you have to nurture the advantage of either one to make them superior to your opponents' minor pieces.

My question is which do you believe is easier to nurture? I find in my games at least that the Bishop pair is the easiest minor piece imbalance to nurture. Would you agree with that, generally speaking? 

Dear Adamperfection:

I think the Bishop is a far easier piece to master – it always stays on just one color, it moves in an easy-to-understand diagonal, and it’s effective at long distances. Conversely, the Knight, a short-range but extremely tricky piece, takes serious skill to use properly.

Bishops are usually thought to be slightly superior at the master level, but this only holds true if you can create positions that complement Bishops. Thus, once a Bishop vs. Knight situation arises, both players need to be instantly aware of it – this awareness allows them to begin molding the pawn structure into something that will favor their particular minor piece (my book, How to Reassess Your Chess 4th Edition is all about this kind of thing).

Fischer was a notorious lover of Bishops (his skill at utilizing them was unmatched), but he wouldn’t hesitate to play with the Knight if he felt the structure was pro-horse. On the other hand, Chigorin actually considered Knights to be better than Bishops, and World Champion Tigran Petrosian was also a Knight connoisseur.

Personally I was always attracted to Knights since I felt that I could manipulate most positions so that my Knight reigned supreme. But then again, if I had a Bishop(s), I would also be happy to prove that the enemy Knights were inferior.

Since the hopping motion of Knights confuses most amateurs, they are actually the more feared piece in non-master chess. But much of that is based on tricks and forks and general confusion. The real strength of Knights is:

* They often rule in closed positions since they are the only piece that can jump over other pieces.

* Unlike Bishops, which are stuck on one color, a Knight can reach any square on the board. Nothing is permanently safe from them.

Here’s a game that shows a Fischer Knight dominating an enemy Bishop in an endgame:

M. Damjanovic - R.Fischer, Buenos Aires 1970

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.Nf3 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 g6 6.e4 d6 7.Be2 Nxd4 8.Qxd4 Bg7 9.Be3 0-0 10.Qd2 Be6 11.f3 Rc8 12.Nd5 Nd7 13.0-0 Nc5 14.Rac1 a5 15.b3 Bxd5 16.cxd5 Qb6 17.Rc4 Qa7 18.Rc2 Bh6 19.f4 Rc7 20.g3 b6 21.Rfc1 Bg7 22.Bb5 Qa8 23.Qe2 e5 24.dxe6 fxe6 25.Rd1 Rd8 26.Bd4 Bxd4+ 27.Rxd4 e5 28.fxe5 dxe5 29.Rxd8+ Qxd8 30.Bc4+ Kg7 31.Bd5 Nd7 32.Qf2 Rxc2 33.Qxc2 b5 34.Kg2 b4 35.Qc6 Nf6 36.Kf3 Qd7 37.Qxd7+ Nxd7 38.Ke3 Kf6 39.Kd3 Nb6

The Knight is overwhelmingly superior to the Bishop. Why is that? It’s not very far advanced, so what makes it so good? The problem for White is that, once Black places his kingside pawns on dark-squares, his Bishop will be like a ghost. It will flit all over the board, but it won’t ever be able to touch anything. On the other hand, the Knight will do a myriad of duties (attacking and defensive), and in the long run, nothing is safe from it. At the moment the Knight is stopping white’s King from penetrating into the enemy position via Kc4.

Is this position a forced win for Black? Who cares! White’s position is so miserable and his defensive chore so onerous that few would be able to hold it against the upcoming brilliant Fischer maneuvers.

40.Bc6 Ke7 41.h4 h6 42.Ke3 Nc8! 43.Kd3 Nd6

Notice how the Knight has improved itself. It still keeps the White King out of c4, but it also eyes e4, watches the b5-square (if allowed, the Knight might journey to c3 via …Nd6-b5-c3 going after the a2-pawn), and also deprives the Bishop of both e8 and f7. One final point: the Knight hits f5, which means that a plan like Kd3-e3-f3-g4 and h4-h5 won’t achieve anything because white’s King isn’t allowed to move to f5 due to that amazing horse! All these things add up to freedom for black’s King, which no longer has to defend the kingside and can now move over to the queenside (c5 is the desired square) without worrying about any incoming fire.

44.Ke3 Kd8 45.Kd3 Kc7 46.Ba4 Kb6 47.Ke3 Kc5 48.Bd7 Kb6

Fischer takes his time and tortures his helpless opponent.

49.Ba4 Kc7 50.Kd3 Kd8 51.Bc6 Ke7 52.Ke3 Ke6 53.Kf3 Kf6 54.g4 g5 55.h5 Ke7 56.Ke3 Kd8 57.Kd3 Kc7 58.Ba4 Kb6 59.Bd7 Kc5 60.Ba4 Nc8!! 61.Be8 Ne7 62.Ke3 Ng8 63.Bd7 Nf6!

An absolutely lovely maneuver – the Knight clamps down on e4 and g4, forcing the Bishop off of the a4-e8 diagonal. That allows black’s King to safely move to b5 and begin queenside operations.

64.Bf5 Kb5 65.Kd3 a4 66.bxa4+

Letting black’s a-pawn reach a3 would be terrifying since if black’s Knight reached c3 it would be game over. Here’s a sample of the dangers White would face if he allowed …a4-a3: 66.Ke3 a3 67.Kd3 Kc5 68.Ke3 Ne8 69.Kd3 Nd6 70.Bd7 (Black threatened …Nb5 followed by …Nc3) 70…Nc4! (the Knight continues to stun the crowd!) 71.Be8 (71.bxc4 b3 queens a pawn) 71…Nb2+ 72.Ke3 (72.Kd2 allows 72…Kd4 with decisive penetration) 72…Nd1+ followed by …Nc3 with a quick win.

However, it seems that White might have been able to hold the game with 69.Bd7! (instead of 69.Kd3??) 69…Nd6 70.Ba4 Nb7 71.Bd7 and I don’t see a way to break through. 

One can fully understand Damjanovic’s desire to avoid …a4-a3, but it turns out that more fine play by Fischer proves that black’s winning by force.

66…Kxa4 67.Kc4 Ka3 68.Kc5 Kxa2 69.Kxb4 Kb2 70.Kc5 Kc3 71.Kd6 Kd4 72.Ke6 Nxe4 73.Kf7 Nf2 74.Kg6 e4 75.Kxh6 e3 76.Kg7 e2 77.h6 e1=Q 78.h7 Qe7+ 79.Kg8 Ne4, 0-1.

So to answer your question, Bishops are much easier to nurture, but Knights are the more artistic of the two pieces. If you learn how to make the horses dance, it’s a beautiful thing to behold.

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