The Nerd Club - Introductory Strategy


This is the blog for the CMT-group chess club. The idea is to teach a bunch of theoretical phycisists how to play chess.

Hi guys, and thanks for a good session this thursday! Here I am going to summarize the points that were made last time so that we will not forget them. Then I will elaborate on the important principle of 'Improving you Minor Pieces'. Also I will analyze a game between Frederik and Asbjørn that has many instructive points. Frederik actually achieved quite a good position but threw away a minor piece in the face of some uncomfortable pressure. Also I will briefly talk about some mistakes that were made in the opening by Johannes in a game against me, since these are common and may be instructive to you guys.

Jeremy Silman has made the book 'How to Reassess Your Chess', and my goal with this chess-course is to teach you the basics that are taught in this book. Silman explains that a major problem for just about every player below master-level is to come up with a reasonable plan at all steps during the game. His cure to this disease is to teach the readers of his book about the most common imbalances in a game of chess. Once you learn about these concepts and understand how you should react to them, simply looking at a given position and picking out all the imbalances should guide you easily to a proper strategy.

The problem for you guys might be that you may not yet be at the point in your chess-career (that's right, I said you have a chess-career) where building up a proper strategy is a big concern to you - you may be more worried about not throwing away pieces due to some basic tactic or to come out of the opening without being lost already. So I understand these concepts may be somewhat advanced. But still I insist on showing you the basics of positional/strategic play. Then we can leave it for a while and return to this topic at a later time when you feel the need to learn about it more clearly.

The list of imbalances that I feel are relevant for you goes:

  • Superior minor piece(s)
  • Pawn structure
  • Space
  • Material
  • Control of a key file
  • Control of a hole/weak square
  • King Safety
  • Initiative 

These are all important, but I feel the first one is especially important, so this is the only one we will focus on for now.

Superior minor pieces:

To understand when a minor piece is good or bad, and understanding how to make it better, is extremely important. To establish the basics of this, we need to understand something about pawn structures.

A hole is a square that cannot be attacked by an enemy pawn. Thus in the above diagram we see a lot of holes: White has control of the holes b7 and g6, while Black controls the holes a5, b4, d4, e5, f4 and h4. 

Knights versus bishops:

A knight is local in space, meaning that you want to have your knight close to the action somehow if you want it to be influential. But locally in has influence like an octopus. Therefore if you can get a knight close to the enemy camp (where it cannot easily be chased away) it is the most effective.
To make your knights happy you thus have to look for (or create if you can) holes/weak squares that they can pop into; the closer to the enemy camp the better.
Because knights can jump around like maniacs, they are usually good in closed positions (meaning the pawn structure is closed/static).

A bishop on the other hand has the ability to scope the whole board, and when it does this it is happy. But if its scope is limited, it may very well be a bad piece, not doing much. Silman places bishops in three categories: 

  • Active bishop: A bishop outside its own pawn chain and/or enjoying life on an open diagonal
  • Useful bishop: A bishop that looks ugly, but does some important (sometimes defensive) task. Such a bishop may still be vital to keeping ones position together.
  • Tall-pawn: A bishop that is not serving a useful function and is trapped behind its pawns. Such a bishop takes on the persona of an overgrown pawn but, sadly, cannot turn into a queen if it reaches the end of the board. 
So bishops need to have a clear view of the board to be the most effective. Thus it is very important when you play NOT TO PUT ALL YOUR PAWNS ON THE SAME COLOR AS YOUR BISHOP! This will practically entomb your bishop behind its own army, demoting it to tall-pawn status.
A bishop is usually good in open positions (i.e. positions where the pawn structure is not too closed/locked up, but where there are a lot of open diagonals and open space in the position).

Here is a game I played shortly after I read Silman's section on minor pieces. Note how my game plan goes: First, complete developement before anything else (that is follow the three opening rules first and foremost). Then, once my army is nicely developed, note how I try to improve my minor pieces, in particular my knights. They have the nice c5-square to sit on; although note that this c5-square is not a real hole, since White can play b4 at some point, taking away that square. Note how on move 19 my minor pieces are all very active - not that my opponents position is bad, but I have achieved a fine position, with so active pieces that the opponent can easily go wrong. And note how devastating it is for White once my knight hops into the 6th rank - a knight so close to the enemy camp, that cannot easily be chased away is often a giant nuisance for the enemy.


This here is just a thought-up position to show a good knight versus bad bishop, and how to improve the knight. 
Had the f6-pawn been on g7 instead, the above endgame would be a totally different story.

Above we saw the knight roaming because it had a nice outpost, the pawn-structure was closed up and the bishop could not easily activate. If we look at the next diagram:


We see a situation that favors the bishop over the knight; the position/pawn structure is very open, so the bishop has free scope. Also the pawns are scattered, which means they will require a lot of protection. But the knight can only protect locally, while the bishop can quickly shift attention from on part of the board to the next, meaning that Black should have the upper hand here (not sure that it is winning though).

Now I want to show a very instructive diagram from Silman, which shows how not to move your pawns if you want to make your knights and bishops happy:

I hope this example shows that you have to think about how you move your pawns if you want to maximize the potential of your minor pieces.

A good advice when you cannot come up with a plan: Try to improve your worst minor piece.

Now here is the game Asbjørn vs. Frederik. As always I urge you to do an analysis of the game first without looking at my notes; then after you have made up your own opinion of the game and where the critical moments were, you can look at my notes in comparison. First without my notes:


And with my notes:

Johannes vs. Bjarke

Here are some puzzles where you can practice your ability to use the above knowledge. Note that often you only need to find the first or maybe the couple of first moves; the rest is just to show how the game could play out.




Looking forward to seeing you next time!