Is A Knight On The Rim Always Grim?

Is A Knight On The Rim Always Grim?

| 26 | Strategy

SkladakoV’s question is about this position.

He asked: “What if White doesn’t take by 16.Bxa5? Doesn’t that leave the knight on a5 stuck on the side of the board?”

Jeremy Silman: I think most people would avoid 15...Na5 due to 16.Bxa5 (which occurred in the actual game). Of course, White doesn’t have to chop that knight. However, White’s problem is that there are more weaknesses in the white camp than the black camp:

  • The c3-square is begging to be occupied (at some point) by ...Ne7-d5-c3.
  • The b5-pawn will need to be defended for a long time.
  • The e2-pawn will be pressured by ...Re8.
  • Other than White’s weaknesses, Black also has a central space advantage, and in many cases, Black will trade off the light-squared bishops by ...Bd5.

All in all, the game is close to equal, but I would prefer to play Black. Why? Because it’s somewhat easier to play the Black side since Black's moves are obvious while White’s plans and moves are not as clear.

Not all sides of equality are the same!

Also note that the a5-Knight isn’t poorly placed since it forces White’s rook to prevent ...Bb3. The poor rook also has to babysit the b5-pawn. You can say that Black’s knight is “stuck” on the side of the board, but if that knight is forcing the rook to stay on the b-file then Black has the last laugh.

An Excellent Game

krudsparov said: “I just had to show someone this game as it’s my best so far.”

Jeremy Silman: Yes, it’s an excellent game! Very impressive. Here’s the game with both Mr. krudsparov’s notes (kru) and mine (js):

How To Improve Your Endgame Skills

EscapePlan69 asked: “I’m struggling to improve my endgame. I’m stuck at my rating level because of it. What should I do?"

js: This question can be dealt with in a straightforward manner (and this answer is the same for everyone): There are no pills that will help you, no prayers that will give you divine endgame powers, no wishing that will change your present endgame state. The only answer is HARD WORK! Find a good endgame book and study hard and long. The only real question is: What kind of endgame book should you buy?

Progress is possible, but not easy.

Let me start by saying that most endgame books are boring. Some people seem to like boring endgame books. So, if you don’t mind something without soul, then any number of books will suit you, and you’ll probably learn a lot (unless you fall asleep while you’re reading it).

But what about people that don’t like watching paint dry? These folks will read a bit of a highly recommended but boring book then put it on the shelf where it will accumulate dust. The result? You still won’t have any endgame skills. 

Here are some endgame books that have personality:

  • "Reinfeld on the Endgame in Chess" by (of course) Fred Reinfeld. This old but very enjoyable book can be found online for less than a buck.
  • "Winning Chess Endings" by Yasser Seirawan (No, I didn’t write this one. It’s all Seirawan!). This one gives beginners some very important lessons, but after that, things get a bit advanced. Nevertheless, this is an excellent book (thanks to Yasser’s instructive prose) and well worth buying.
  • "Silman’s Complete Endgame Course" by me. Takes you through beginner material, with each chapter titled by rating. The idea is to avoid overwhelming you by keeping material to your own rating group. After that, you can put the book away until you get better, or you can read the next chapter, or you can spend your life reading the whole thing. It’s up to your taste and the amount of time and energy you can invest in it.

  • "Capablanca’s Best Chess Endings" by Irving Chernev. The title tells you what it’s about—an instructive and highly enjoyable read.
  • "Mastering Complex Endgames" by Daniel Naroditsky. Note the word “complex” in the title. This is for players who love difficult endgames (even if they don’t fully understand them) and advanced players who want to go deeper into the mystery of endgames. I’m recommending this book due to Naroditsky’s excellent writing skills and his rare talent to make just about anything interesting and “human” (Seirawan has that same skill).

Of course, there are many other really good endgame books, but what’s good for one person isn’t good for another. If you like serious stuff with no humanity, go for it. If you need basic material, look for easy-to-understand prose. If you like copious amounts of instructive prose, make sure the writer has a bit of magic in his pen. But no matter how good the book is, you won’t get any better if you don’t dedicate yourself to actually reading it. (Sorry, but putting it under your pillow and hoping you’ll experience some odd science fiction form of osmosis just won’t work.)

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