First Impressions & Poor Defenses

First Impressions & Poor Defenses

| 17 | Endgames

Seeing a new position for the first time, a chess player sees bits and pieces that eventually form into ideas and lead to a positional evaluation. The quality of the positional assessment depends on many things. Factors include how familiar the position is and how much time is available for analysis. A given position might be familiar in terms of its material configuration, pawn structures, stage of the game, and so on.

Usually, the process of determining what is familiar about the position happens unconsciously; that is why it is usually hard to describe the first impression of any given position. I assume my description of what I saw looking at today’s position will be somehow biased - and that the second, the third and the later “thoughts” have already started to overwrite those very first images, ideas or feelings.

With all the new technologies available, neuroscientists can detect what parts of brain are active when looking at certain objects. However, my goal here is just to focus on this small positional evaluation, and instead of describing what the position is about according to common criteria, to attempt a representation of what it was to me at first, before I consciously divided it into elements like material, king’s position, passed pawns...


So, here we go! Recently, I bought a nice wooden chess set, so setting up the position is a pleasure. The first thing that I recall about the position is that its 3D shape (in contrast to the graphical board I commonly use when analyzing) looks aesthetically pleasing. Then there is the panicky feeling that black is up a pawn and that I've made a mistake choosing this position for an example. It would be too easy for black to win this position. So, I frantically re-count pawns – oh good! There is an equal number… so, it is a materially equal position, which puts me at ease. The knight on b3 is annoying because of some checkmating ideas. I notice the h5 pawn and think of the Caro-Kann and how it can be weak or strong depending on the stage of a game. Only then do I realize that a bunch of my pawns & pieces are hanging, and then guilt comes from not having done a basic “blunder check”(where one looks for all the possible checks and captures) when first assessing the position. And automatically, a sequence of images comes of some positions where I blundered pieces and I consider how better blunder-checking could have prevented some of them...

So much for first impressions! Now I would like to share with you the evaluation of the position according to criteria commonly used. White’s king is worse because of the planted knight on b3. As we know Knight + Queen is a dangerous tandem, especially in attack. The pawn structure on both sides is similar in a way: the black a4 pawn holds two white pawns: a3 and b2; likewise, the white pawn on h5 holds two black pawns, g7 and h6. However, black’s other pawn is a central passed pawn, while white’s pawn on g2 cannot get anywhere. The active queen adds to black’s advantage and the combination of K+Q makes white’s first rank especially vulnerable.

What to do for white? In the first game I had white and thought of somehow improving the knight position. Placing it on f4 doesn’t work tactically, and blocking the e-pawn wouldn’t do it either, since I want my queen to attack the pawn. My initial plan was to attack e6, tying the black queen to its defense and only then looking for a more substantial plan. As the game showed, the waiting strategy does not work; white needs to come up with a real plan right away.


The following ideas are important:

  • Black combines the advancement of the passed pawn and the weakness of the 1st rank to obtain a decisive advantage.
  • White should try to play for a perpetual-check draw but be careful not to drive the black king to the center of the board where it will be active.
  • The pawn endgames should generally benefit white as the e-pawn is far advanced and generally cannot be protected by the black king.
  • In the position where the white queen is blocking the e2 pawn the advance of the black king decides the game.

Next week we will look at the second practice game I have played from the position above, and also analyze what happened in the real game. If you have not yet, be sure to practice this position with a friend yourself, before we draw our further conclusions next week about the position.

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