How to Beat Socrates in Chess
The Greek philosopher Plato represents his teacher Socrates as one who was never afraid to ask to toughest questions facing humankind. What is justice? What is the best political balance between liberty and equality? What composes the human soul and what is the best education for forming it? What is the summum bonum, the greatest good available to humans? In chess, is it better to be up in material or to have a better position?
Ok, so that last question has more to do with my own deliberations as I try to become a better chess player. In the past (and probably in the present) I suffer from being overly obsessed with having more pieces than my opponent, to the neglect of the other imbalances that exist in the game. I played chess by numbers without any understanding or sensitivity towards the position on the board.
This brings us to my good friend Tom (socrates123b, if you want to challenge him; I'm sure he'd love to play you in a game of chess960). My first game against Tom on chess.com was in 2007, where I was up huge in material, but still managed to get myself checkmated because of my lack of consideration for the position. Since then, I have learned a few things about this issue of material vs. position.
If I have a material advantage, I will win if:
- I can equalize all the other variables on the board.
- I can find a way to actually use my extra pieces.
- I can resettle my pieces, tightened them up, and make a plan instead of lashing out without thinking.
When going for a material advantage, the particular position must be carefully considered. (e.g. It's probably not a good idea to trade an advanced centralized knight for a trapped rook in a locked game.)
In a recent game I played against Tom, this same theme appears. I was able to win material on the queen-side off of a tactic, but Tom responds with a very aggresive attack on the king-side, where I had absolutely no space and made no attempt at a defense. In the end, though, I was able to hang on for a win, the only one I've had against Tom since we first started playing in 2007 (see the game title, which is meant to say 960 instead of 360). Am I actually getting better at this royal game?