Horsing around!

Horsing around!

IM mat_kolosowski
Oct 28, 2014, 12:00 AM |
8 | Strategy

Am I going to write about chess players misbehaving during their games? Not really, at least not this time. In this article I will try to show you that chess can really be beautiful and surprisingly or not, this can be achieved without sacrificing pieces or conducting an incredible attack on the enemy's king. It's not a mystery that a single piece can change the outcome of the game, very often in a spectacular and unexpected way. Which piece is the one that is the most difficult to handle from the very beginning, when we learn the chess basics? Which piece is not a fast one and way too often is left on its own on an edge of the board being totally useless?  Do you already know what this article is going to be about? Maneuvering with knights has always been something I admired a lot and you, my dear reader are about to see a few examples that are my favourite ones.

"The fact that a knight is temporarily on the edge of the board is of no great significance."  - Anatoly Karpov
"Inexperienced players have a fear of this piece, which seems to be enigmatic, mysterious, and astonishing in its power. We must admit that it has remarkable characteristics which compel respect and occassionally surprise the most wary players" - Eugene Znosko - Borovsky
"Seize the outpost K5 with your knight and you can go to sleep. Checkmate will come itself" - Savielly Tartakower
"The weaker player the more terrible the knight is to him, but as a player increases in strength the value of the bishop becomes more evident to him, and of course there is, or should be a corresponding decrease in his estimation of the value of the knight as compared to the bishop." - Jose Raul Capablanca
"Tartakower once wrote that after planting a knight in the centre you can go to sleep. This is not to be taken literally, of course, but it contains more than a germ of truth." - Samuel Reshevsky
Is it always possible to maneuver so nicely with your knights? No, it's not. In great majority of the games it's not necessary and not even possible to do that. Nevertheless, a strong player should be able to take the most of his pieces in those critical situations, when extraordinary measures should be taken. Such maneuvers are very easily missed by both players and very often come as a big surprise to the player who didn't see such a strategical possibilty until it was already too late to avoid it. Why are they so difficult to find? It's relatively easy to tell the difference between a good and a bad bishop or a good knight versus a bad bishop. In most situations, it's determined by the pawn structure. The situation with good and bad knights is in a way different but also similiar at the same time. A good knight is an active piece, its position should be consistent with the general plan of yours.
The quotes I have included in this article are there for a reason as they show the basic guidlines when handling the knights. A knight on the rim is dim but on the other hand, as Karpov pointed out, it's not a big problem when the knight stays on the edge of the board temporarily, especially when it's heading towards the centre in order to occupy an outpost. As you already know, the perfect moment to go to sleep is when your cavalry controls a central square. Why? Because from a central square it has a great influence on as many as 8 squares and your opponent usually can't get rid of it. Very often such a knight can dominate the position (see games Botvinnik - Panov and Anderssen - Steinitz). Does a knight have remerkable characteristics? Definitely, after all it's the only piece that can jump over anything on its way. Can it be surprising? Undoubtedly. The first thing that comes to mind whenever a player puts his knight in the corner of the board may be: "He's not going to take it off the board in his next move, is he?" or "What is he afraid of so much that he puts the knight next to the king?".
Why do I think maneuvering with knights is difficult, especially for inexperienced players? It's all about the fact that the paths for the knights are not so obvious as comparing to let's say bishops or rooks. A player needs to be ready to break quite a few rules in order to improve his knight e.g. "A knight on a rim is dim", "don't make two moves in a row with the same piece in the opening". Sometimes you need to go back to go forward (Nimzowitsch - Rubinstein; Kolosowski - Leniart) or you need to go to the right to find the most effective way to go to the left (Karpov - Kasparov). Moreover, a knight is a relatively slow piece. It needs several moves to be improved and maneuvering with a knight can only be undertaken when the position is of a strategical character. There's simply no time for that when both players conduct their attacks against the kings. When and how to maneuver effectively? Here's some advice:

1.Make sure the position is strategical not tactical - if there is lots of threats, possible captures or one of the kings is in danger, it might be too time-consuming.
2.Look for potential outposts, especially in the centre - a knight in the centre is a powerful piece which can dominate the whole position.
3.Look for the worst placed piece in your position, if this is the knight, find a better spot for it.
4.Don't be afraid to take a step back or to place the knight on the rim of the board if it can become active in long perspective.
5.Study the classical games. Learn the ideas used by masters and use them in your games as a part of your sub-conscious knowledge.

Have you already placed the knight on e5 outpost? Good, you can have a rest now.

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