Your Questions Answered By Andrew Martin

Your Questions Answered By Andrew Martin

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International Master Andrew Martin from England presents a regular series of articles to answer any questions that readers have about the game of chess.

If you want to ask Andrew a question, then send an email to and next time your question could be featured!  Please include your real name and your member name, but you can ask to remain anonymous if you wish!

Now it's over to Andrew for this week's questions and answers...


Robert Simon  Hi Andrew!  I really like your articles and am honored for this opportunity to ask you things about chess to help me improve my games. The question that is still bugging me is about knowing who has the advantage on certain positions.  I just don't understand in some chess books how they calculate the advantage.  In some positions, it is obvious who is winning but other positions are just hard to judge.  I know that you, being an IM, see the position clearly and know who has the advantage.  Please give us tips on knowing who has the advantage.

Dear Robert, Judging who hold the advantage in any given position is without doubt a skill developed by experience. However, there are basic aspects of a position which one should always keep in mind. In rough order of importance they are:

1) Material balance. It may seem facile, but always count the pieces first!

2) King safety. Whoever has the more secure King can often use this to his or her advantage.

3) Piece placement. Whose pieces are more active?

4) Pawn structure. Which player has the better pawn structure?

I believe that a careful reconnaissance of all these factors before one comes to make a move will help you to judge any position more accurately. Coming up a game of small advantages and disadvantages before White goes wild with a piece sacrifice.

1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd6 A complete surprise for Haslinger. 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 a6 6.g3 Bg4 7.Bg2 c6 Another outing for Tiviakov's solid idea. White may be able to gain a small advantage in many different ways, but the Black position remains difficult to crack. 7..c6 is a good choice against opponents who are desperate to win. 7..Nc6 is more combative.

8.h3 [8.0–0 e6 9.a4 (9.Re1 Be7 10.h3 Bxf3 11.Bxf3 0–0 12.Ne4 Nxe4 13.Bxe4 Dworakowska, J-Ogloblin, N/Moscow 2004 (23) leads to a typical example of White's minute advantage. Two Bishops and the long-term prospect of b4-b5.; 9.Bf4 Qd8 10.Qd3 Bd6 11.Ne5 Bf5 12.Qe2 0–0 13.h3 h6 14.Rad1 Qe7 15.a3 Nbd7 16.Rfe1 Rfd8 17.Kh2 Rac8 18.Nxd7= Cristian, S-Rentner, D/ 2004) 9...a5 10.h3 Bxf3 11.Qxf3 Be7?! (11...Qxd4 12.Rd1 Qb6 had to be played, asking White to prove it!) 12.Bf4 Qd8 13.Rad1 0–0 14.Ne4 Nxe4 15.Qxe4 Nd7 16.c4 Re8 17.Qc2 Rc8 18.h4 Qb6 19.Rd3 Bf6 20.Rfd1± Shabalov, A-Gonzalez, R/Philadelphia 2004]

8...Bxf3 9.Bxf3 Not repeating Al-Modiahaki's 9 Qxf3, which we saw in the previous update.

9...e6 10.Bf4 Qd8 11.Qd3 Bd6 The time White gained with 10 Bf4 is regained!

12.0–0–0!? Very sharp! Once again a small advantage could be retained with simple moves: [12.Bxd6 Qxd6 13.0–0–0 Nbd7 14.Ne4 Nxe4 15.Bxe4 Nf6 16.Bg2 0–0 17.Rhe1; 12.Be5 Bxe5 13.dxe5 Qxd3 (13...Nd5 14.0–0–0 Nd7 15.Rhe1) 14.cxd3 Nfd7 15.d4]

12...Qc7 [Commentating live at the time, I thought Black's idea might have been 12...Bxf4+ 13.gxf4 g6 This is very risky because of the immediate 14.f5! and the Black King gets stuck in the middle: (14.h4; 14.Rhe1) 14...gxf5 15.Rhe1! Already Qxf5 is an unpleasant threat. (15.Rhg1 Nbd7 16.Rg7) 15...0–0 (15...Qd6 16.d5! Nxd5 17.Bxd5 cxd5 18.Nxd5+-) 16.Rg1+ Kh8 17.Qe3 Nbd7 Such a variation can't be seen through to the end one must trust one's intuition. Parker makes the practical choice, rejecting a line where his King would be in peril, whether he could have defended the position or not.]

13.Bxd6 Qxd6 14.Ne4 Nxe4 15.Bxe4 Nd7 The Knight will come to f6 and then everything will be in order. Haslinger makes a bold move.

16.Bxh7!? [16.Rhe1 Nf6 17.Bg2 leads to a position where it's very tough for White to make progress.]

16...g6 17.Bxg6 fxg6 18.Qxg6+ Kd8 19.Rhe1 Re8?! [19...Kc7! is an improvement, with the idea 20.Rxe6 (20.h4 might be better: 20...Raf8 21.f4 Rhg8 22.Qd3 Qd5 23.Kb1 b5) 20...Qd5 21.Kb1 Rhg8 22.Qf7 Raf8 Black marshals his forces very quickly and cannot be worse.]

20.c4? [20.f4! probably justifies the piece sacrifice. I don't see how Black organises his pieces now: 20...Kc7 (20...Qd5 21.Kb1 Kc7 22.g4 Rh8 23.Qd3±) 21.Qd3 Rh8 22.h4 Rag8 23.Re3 Nf6 24.Rde1± Re8 25.Re5 Haslinger is intent on opening up the Black King, but as the game goes, c2-c4 only exposes his own monarch!]

20...Kc7 21.h4 b5! 22.c5 Qd5 23.b3 Qf5! 24.h5 [24.Qxf5 exf5 25.Kd2 Nf6 sees the Black Knight heading for two excellent squares.]

24...Qxg6 25.hxg6 Nf6 26.Rd3 [26.f4 was perhaps a superior try, but both players were in time-trouble after the earlier complications. As the game goes, Black keeps light-squared control to the end and this is enough to take the point.] 26...Re7 27.Rf3 Nd5 28.Rh1 Rg8µ 29.Rh6 Kd7 30.g4 Ke8 31.g5 Reg7 32.Rh7 Ne7 33.Rf7 Rxh7 34.Rxh7 Rxg6–+ 35.f4 Nd5 36.Ra7 Nxf4 37.Rxa6 Ne2+ 38.Kd2 Nxd4 39.Ke3 e5 40.a4 bxa4 41.bxa4 Rxg5 42.a5 Rg1 43.Ra7 Re1+ 44.Kd2 Ra1 45.Ke3 Nb3 46.a6 Nxc5 47.Ra8+ Kd7 48.a7 Kc7 49.Re8 Rxa7 50.Rxe5 Kd6 0–1 My verdict on 7...c6 is that Black should only play this move if he is happy with a draw.


Greg Vanderford Hi Andrew, I've been struggling with trying to understand which squares are the "important" squares during a game that I should be fighting for control over. I think I am beginning to understand when my knights and bishops are strong and when to exchange etc. but for the life of me whenever I read a book talking about the "critical" d5 square or whatever it is I tend to be confused. Any help? Also, is there a rule of thumb for pawn structure other than don't stack them and allow them to get isolated?  Whenever I watch IMs and GMs pawn structures I'm continually awed by the pawn moves they make that I would never in a million years think of doing...? Thanks for listening!

1.c4 g6 2.Nf3 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.d4 Nf6 5.e4 0–0 6.Be2 e5 7.dxe5 I'll try to answer Greg's question by using one of Kasparov's early games, which is in many ways a technical masterpiece. I've never been a fan of this exchange variation for White. Black can usually dampen down White's early initiative and after that play to occupy d4 which is a HOLE. Meanwhile White has an OUTPOST on d5, but the difference is that he can always be evicted from that square with ...c7-c6.

7...dxe5 8.Qxd8 Rxd8 9.Bg5 Nbd7! A move first played in 1949 by Efim Geller and 50 years later still perfectly adequate for Black. 9...c6! is also very good, although more theory has collected there.

10.Nd5?! Doubtful. Danailov's idea is to check on e7 and take the Bishop on c8 but this costs a lot of time. The best move is [10.0–0–0 Rf8 and now: 11.Nd5! a) 11.Ne1 c6 12.Nc2 Nc5 c5 is the right spot for this Knight 13.f3 Ne6 (13...Be6; 13...a5) 14.Be3 Nh5! 15.Rd2 (15.Kb1!) 15...Nd4! 16.Rhd1 (16.Nxd4 exd4 17.Bxd4 Bh6) 16...Nf4 17.Bf1 Nfe6 Heggheim-Westerinen Hammerfest 1977 Solid control of d4; b) 11.Nd2 c6 12.b4 a5 13.a3 Re8 14.Kb2 Nf8 15.c5 Ne6 16.Bxf6 Bxf6 17.Nc4 axb4 18.axb4 Nd4= Black's control of d4 again gives him a satisfactory position; 11...c6 12.Ne7+ Kh8 13.Be3 Re8 14.Nxc8 Raxc8 15.c5 Bf8 16.b4 b6= S. Cvetkovic-Kuzmin Linz 1990. White's pressure is an optical illusion. As you can see, he now has to relinquish the pressure.]

10...c6 11.Ne7+ Kf8 12.Nxc8 Rdxc8 It's now time to set to work on d4. ...Nc5-e6 would appear to be the correct plan.

13.0–0–0 I don't know how Danailov felt about his Bishop on e2 - to me it looks only marginally better than a pawn. Perhaps that's why White cannot hope for too much in the Exchange Variation - the Bishop on e2 really is a difficult piece to activate. White had better than 13 0–0–0 e.g. [13.Nd2 Nc5 14.f3 Ne6 15.Be3 even so, after 15...Nh5 16.g3 Rd8 there is no problem in sight .]

13...Nc5 14.Bxf6 Bxf6 15.Bd3 Says it all. 15...a5 16.Rhe1 Re8 17.Bf1 Bd8! A fine way of activating his Bishop. thanks to the dominant Knight on c5, White has no corresponding manoeuvre . He tries hard, but the Bishop ends up firing blanks on h3.

18.g3 a4 19.Kc2 Ba5 20.Re3 Rad8! More excellent technique. After pushing a White Rook out of place, he takes the d file.

21.Rxd8 Rxd8 22.Bh3 The Bishop controls irrelevant squares. 22...f6 Nasty! Kasparov invites White to find a useful plan. In the meantime, Black can continue to strengthen his position by bringing his King to the centre. Rather pathetically, Danailov ends up haplessly moving his rook up and down.

23.Re2 Ke7 24.Bg2 Nd3! 25.a3 Nc5 Torture! Perhaps even better was [25...Bb6 26.Rd2 Nxf2 27.Rxd8 Kxd8 28.Nd2 when White is lost.]

26.h4 h5 27.Re3 g5! So that if White takes twice, the Rook penetrates to d2. But once the Knight moves, White's position collapses anyway.

28.hxg5 fxg5 29.Re2 Nb3 30.Kb1 Kf6 0–1 Or [30...Rd1+ 31.Kc2 Rc1+ 32.Kd3 Kf6 which is also a wipe out]. member, dsachs  Hi Andrew, I have a general question about the Sicilian Defence. When I analyze my games with Fritz, I notice the exchange Nxc6 bxc6 popping up every so often in the analysis window. I never consider this move because it brings another black pawn towards the centre of the board. Here's an example game where I had the white pieces. 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 a6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 d6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Be3 e6 7. Bc4 Nf6 8. f3 Be7 9. Qd2 e5 10. Nf5   Bxf5 11. exf5  ...Fritz suggests 10. Nxc6 bxc6 and I just don't understand the reasoning for this. The only reason I can think of is bringing the pawn closer to the centre takes it away from attacking the castled queenside. My move spoils my pawns, but I'd rather make my pawns worse than my opponents better. Is that crazy?

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 [5...d6 6.Be3 e6 7.Bc4 a6 8.f3 Be7 9.Qd2 e5 (I'm not sure why Black doesn't simply play 9...Qc7 10.Bb3 Bd7) 10.Nxc6 bxc6] 6.Nxc6?! Here is a typical example of the exchange you mention. It is unpromising for White because Black gains extra control in the centre including the critical d5 square. Moreover, Black can now operate on the b file. I know the machines have forced us to think about chess in a different way, but I simply cannot support a move like this if White wants to play for an advantage.The machines beat us every time tactically, but POSITIONALLY Nxc6 is poor. White gets nothing in return for this exchange; why he has even moved his Knight for a third time taking a piece that has only moved once!

6...bxc6 7.Bd3 [7.Bc4?! only stops ..d7-d5 temporarily 7...Bb4 8.Bg5 Bxc3+ 9.bxc3 Qa5 10.Qd3 Nxe4 11.Bd2 Nxd2 12.Qxd2 d5 13.Be2 0–0 14.Rd1 Ba6 15.Bxa6 Qxa6 16.Qd3 Qxa2 17.0–0 a5 18.Ra1 Qc4 19.Qxc4 dxc4 20.Ra4 Rfb8 21.f3 Rb2 22.Rc1 f6 23.Kf2 Kf7 24.Ke3 Ke6 25.Kd2 Kd5 26.Rca1 Rb5 27.Ke3 Rc5 28.Rd1+ Ke6 29.Rb1 Rd8 30.Rb7 Rd7 31.Rb6 f5 32.Ra6 f4+ 33.Ke2 Rcd5 34.Rxc6+ Kf5 35.g3 Rd2+ 36.Kf1 Rxh2 37.gxf4 Rd1# 0–1 Ananian,A (1562)-Castejon Caballero,A (2003)/Madrid 2008]

7...Be7 [7...Bb4 8.0–0 0–0 9.f4 d5 10.fxe5 Ng4 11.Bf4 Bxc3 12.bxc3 Qb6+ 13.Kh1 Nf2+ 14.Rxf2 Qxf2 15.Bg3 Qc5 16.exd5 Qxd5 17.Qe2 Be6 18.h3 f5 19.exf6 Rxf6 20.Kh2 Raf8 21.a4 Kh8 22.Rd1 Qg5 23.Qe5 Qxe5 24.Bxe5 R6f7 25.Rb1 Bf5 26.a5 h6 27.a6 Bxd3 28.cxd3 c5 29.Rb7 Kg8 30.d4 Re8 31.h4 h5 32.g4 hxg4 33.Kg3 Re6 34.Rb8+ Rf8 35.Rb7 Rf7 36.Rb8+ Kh7 37.Rb7 Ree7 38.Rb5 cxd4 39.cxd4 Re6 40.Rb7 Kg8 41.Rb8+ Rf8 42.Rb7 Rg6 43.Rxa7 Rf3+ 44.Kg2 Ra3 45.h5 Raxa6 46.Rxa6 Rxa6 47.Kg3 ½–½ Kosasih,C (2408)-So,W (2526)/Tarakan 2008] 8.0–0 0–0 9.Rb1?! [9.f4 Qb6+ 10.Kh1 d6 11.f5 d5 12.Qe1 is the only way I can see White can make sense of this line. Nevertheless, black is Ok after 12...d4 13.Nd1 (13.Na4 Qb4 14.Qxb4 Bxb4) 13...c5 14.Qg3 Bb7! 15.Nf2 (15.Bh6 Nh5) 15...Rab8] 9...d5 10.f4 d4 11.Ne2 c5 12.h3 Bd6 13.b3 Bb7 14.Ng3 exf4 15.Bxf4 Qc7 16.Bg5 Bxg3 17.Bxf6 gxf6 18.Rf5 Be5 19.Qh5 Kg7 20.Qg4+ Kh8 21.Qh4 Rg8 22.Rbf1 Rg7 23.Rh5 Rag8 24.Rxf6 Bxf6 25.Qxf6 Qg3 26.Rxh7+ Kxh7 27.e5+ Rg6 0–1 I have to say that this was a pretty poor game by White, but then very strong players don't often play Nxc6! member: PeterArt Dear Andrew, I'm a beginner, and learn about the game of chess at I've seen numerous books about openings.  I'm not sure if people memorize them, but I just wonder what’s a good style to start out with? I once read somewhere that the center of the board is strategically the most valuable; if you get bishops or knights there it is good, as their strike area will then be a big area of the board. However, if you put pawns in the centre, you usually keep a defensive line which stays intact quite long time in the game, and so you control the area too. I wonder what is better?  Is there a thematic guideline for exchanging this knight?  Cheers!

Without any doubt at all beginners should start with a careful examination of the OPEN GAME. After 1 e4 e5 both sides can develop quickly and the price of a mistake is high. Tactics almost always come into play and one learns how to ATTACK, which is also very important for the improver. You will be able to find planty of examples of 1 e4 e5 and offshoots wherever you go, but using Bronstein's '200 Open Games' as inspiration, which is one of my favourite books, I summarize the basics below.


For White

1) An attack against f7
2) Control of the A2-G8 DIAGONAL
3) Control of the h5-e8 Diagonal
4) Control of the f file
5) An attack against Black's e5 strongpoint
6) The good timing of both d2-d4 and f2-f4
7) The formation of a pawn centre d4,e4
8) To obtain control of d5
9) To outstrip Black in the development of the queenside.
10) Not to be greedy .

For Black

1) Careful defence of f7 and an eye on f2!
2) Control of the a7-g1 diagonal
3) To monitor and control the movements of White's Kingside minor pieces and Queen.
4) To look out for the freeing break ..d7-d5!
5) To keep a pawn on e5 for as long as possible
6) To control d5
7) To avoid opening the f file until absolutely necessary.
8) To keep pace with White in tems of queenside development
9)Not to be greedy and to be prepared to return any material gains for a good position


Both players should be acutely aware that a mistake, even a small one, in the Open Game, can be very serious thanks to the rapidity of both sides development.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Na5 6.Bb5+ c6 7.dxc6 bxc6 8.Be2 h6 9.Nf3 e4 10.Ne5 Bc5! This is about as open as one is going to get. In my view 10..Bc5 is a very promising way for Black to handle the Two Knights Defence. due to the threat of ...Qd4 , White has to play 11 c3, but then he cannot put a Knight on that square.

11.c3 Bd6 12.d4 exd3 13.Nxd3 0–0 [I like 13...Qc7! 14.Nd2 Bf5 15.Nf3 0–0 16.0–0 Rad8 17.b4 Nc4 18.h3 Rfe8 19.Nd4 ½–½ Georgiev,K (2660)-Harikrishna,P (2650)/Sochi 2007/CBM 118]

14.0–0 Re8 15.b4N [RR 15.Bf3 Ba6 16.g3 Bf8 17.Nf4 Bxf1 18.Qxf1 Qc7 19.Be3 Ne4 20.Qa6 Ng5 21.Bg2 Rad8 22.h4 Rd1+ 23.Kh2 Ne6 24.Bf3 Rd6 25.b4 Nb7 26.Qxa7 g5 27.hxg5 hxg5 28.Nh5 Bg7 29.Nxg7 Kxg7 Mostertman,M (2004)-Van Vliet,H (2076)/Venlo 2008]

15...Nc4 16.Nc5 Ne5 17.Nd2 Nd5 18.Nce4 Bc7 19.Re1 Bf5 For the pawn Black has excellent,free development and the initiative. L'Ami is a strong Grandmaster, but even he will have difficulties getting all his pieces out here.

20.g3 a5 21.bxa5 Bxa5 22.Bb2 Rb8 23.Qc1 Nf6 24.Nxf6+ Qxf6 25.Nb3 Bd3! 26.Qf4! [If 26.Nxa5 Bxe2 27.Rxe2 Nf3+ 28.Kf1 Nxh2+ 29.Kg1 Rxe2 is crushing]

26...Qxf4 27.gxf4 Bxe2 28.Rxe2 Nf3+ 29.Kf1 Nxh2+ 30.Ke1 Nf3+ 31.Kf1 Nh2+ 32.Ke1 Bc7 33.Bc1 the best White can hope for is a draw now,which he battles on to achieve

33...h5 34.Nd4 c5 35.Nc6 Rxe2+ 36.Kxe2 Re8+ 37.Be3 Bxf4 38.a4 Ng4 39.a5 Nxe3 40.fxe3 Rxe3+ 41.Kf1 Re6 42.a6 Rxc6 43.a7 Rc8 ½–½

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