Work Hard or Work Smart?

Work Hard or Work Smart?

| 20 | Middlegame

SirLewis asked:

I often times work really hard in the middle game to try and get an advantage, but when the dust settles I find that I'm in a completely hopeless endgame. Right from the beginning of the endgame my opponent has favorable conditions usually in the form of a passed pawn or, more frequently, a situation in which, on one side of the board he has a two versus one pawn advantage, and on the other, I have a four versus three advantage, or something similar. I find it incredibly frustrating! How should I play in the middle game to avoid ending up in a lost endgame?

Dear SirLewis,

In the very first line of your message you have mentioned you work really hard during your middle game, I am going to assume that you mean concentrating on the game and calculating as many variations as possible is what you mean as the 'working hard' part over a chess board. Now, working hard may be very important to be successful in anything you do, but it is not nearly as important as working efficiently!

I like to give simple analogies to express my points generally, so here is one. Imagine you were a tennis player and you find that you are invariably losing a game as it goes into the fifth set. You get back to your coach and you guys start hitting the ball hard again. You continue to work hard the same way you had always worked and you put in all your effort during the match, but you find that you continue to lose in the 5th set anyways. What is the problem? You can improve the minute angle in your forehand or you can add another 10 km/hr to your serve, but are you really working to fix your problem? As long as you do not find the problem that leads you to lose the 5th set, no matter how hard you try, you are going to just bounce off that brick wall with increasing frustration with each rebound. You might want to change the way you think, maybe you need to work on your stamina or maybe you are mentally fatigued. The point is, find your problem and work on it!

Coming back to your chess question, every problem in my opinion comes with a pattern. When you play enough games, analysis will help you find the pattern which tilts the game favorably for your opponent. I have had several personal experiences where I had found patterns such as poor time management; blunders at critical times; mistakes right after a draw offer; low level of play against lower-rated players and the list can go on. At different times of my career I faced different problems and had to slowly work and eliminate these to improve my chess. This is a continuous process and unfortunately some patterns even recur. But nevertheless, you have to continue to work on those particular areas to see a clear difference in your results.

From your question I would think your endgame understanding is the problem. As you have mentioned yourself, it looks like you realize your problem when it is probably too late. If you are able to identify patterns such as the passed pawns or the pawn majority on a favorable side, just a few moves before they actually occur on the board, then you will be able to avoid it. To be able to achieve this, there is no way around other than studying the endgame in a proper manner.

Start from the most basic ones and work your way up. There is no point trying to study something that is over the top of your head. If you do not understand what endgame is favorable for you, then you are probably not going to steer the middle game in the direction you want and eventually get lost in the proceedings. So go on and work on your endgame skills and you will see loads of difference in the way you understand the middle game. 

TheMrLooka asked:

In a typical king's indian pawn centre (with white's pawns on c4, d5 and e4 and black's on e5, d6 and c7),  I see black play c6 many times. And white more often than not white decides not to take the pawn. Why not? After dxc6 bxc6 black's d-pawn is really weak, plus if black recaptures on c6 with a piece there is a nice post for white's knight on d5.

Dear TheMrLooka, 

To begin with, black actually does not play c6 very often in the King's Indian defense. There are some lines which involve this break, but the typical idea would be to open up the king side with the f5 break. The reason for that is something you have explained yourself, black's d6 pawn becomes quite weak after a c6 break. This break particularly will be bad if black already started the king side expansion with f5, f4 and g5 etc.

Take a look at this typical King's Indian position, it is not very sound for black to try and break c6 here and neither is it sound for white to try and break g3 here. Any unnecessary pawn moves in your weaker side will only give an extra target for your opponent to attack.

Black is justified with the c6 break in the following game, but white is not in capturing on c6.

Once the d5 pawn is traded off, white's d4 square which was previously unreachable becomes a weak square because of its possible access through the e6 square. Unless white has an immediate attack on the 'd' file or a possible c5 break to ruin black's pawn structure this trade will favor black. In the game, black tried Ng4 a little too early giving white a good advantage. A simple Ne6 first would have given black a very good game. The most impressive part of the game was actually the route of the black knight which eventually found its home in the 'd4' square, but the journey was rather lengthy indeed (f6, g4, h6, f7, d8, e6, d4)

In Chess often you will have to pick some areas which you would like to focus on at different times within a game. The reason being that one cannot try to conquer everything at the same time, unless of course you have total control over the board, then you can just flaunt your advantage anywhere you like. When you decide to play in one section of the board it is often easier if the other areas are closed and hence do not give much of a counter play for your opponent.

In the King's Indian Defense for example, the center remains closed and white achieves a little bit of extra space with the d5 pawn. One of the main plans for white is to advance the queen side pawns with b4 and c5 and dominate black on the queen side. While black is trying to do the same on the king side, the player who strikes the first blow is likely to be the favorite in such cases. Now, to be able to continue attacking on the sides, it is necessary for the center to be closed. If you think about it, any time you try to attack on the side with the center open, the position becomes too fragile. You need a solid center that will not collapse to be able to shift your pieces to the side and launch an attack. With an open center, it is not easy for you to do that.

In this pawn formation white does not have to do anything in the center. A capture on d5 is no big deal as he would just recapture with the c pawn leaving the pawn formation untouched. The open 'c' file will help white much more than black.

In this position however, white cannot just ignore the center. Black will constantly try to eliminate his weak d6 pawn with the d5 break and white will have to constantly put pressure on the d6 pawn and the d5 square to gain any advantage. Black is also going to eye the d4 square as a potential weakness as we saw in the game before. This pawn formation can be good or bad for either side depending on the piece position. But the point is, the whole strategy of the game has been altered with an open center.

Lastly this pawn formation in most cases will work out great for white.

Hopefully this answered your question. 

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