The Nerd Club - Space and Pawn Breaks

The Nerd Club - Space and Pawn Breaks

Feb 2, 2016, 5:33 AM |

Hi chess friends,


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

Today we are going to learn about space. Space might be a bit hard to grasp as an advantage since it is not as tangible as say weak pawns or a material advantage. But nonetheless it is an important factor in chess. If you lack space, it becomes increasingly hard to move your pieces around and your pieces may get in each others way, while the side with more space has an easy hand moving his pieces around and maximizing their potential. Sometimes therefore, if you have a space advantage you can afford to be patient, since your opponent's lack of space restricts his possibilities of active counterplay. Let us see a great example by the former World Chess Champion, Anatoly Karpov: (Here I am again stealing a lot of stuff from "How to Reassess Your Chess" by Jeremy Silman, highly recommended.)



Let me just reiterate a very important point from the game:  In closed positions, pawn breaks are necessary to open lines for attack and to activate rooks and bishops, while pawn advances (often also pawn breaks) are important in gaining more space. So far we have seen Karpov (who was known as a strategic mastermind who loved to nurture small positional plusses into more) completely dominate the game. Let us see how the game continues:



 What did we learn here? 


  • A big space advantage takes away many enemy options. The side with less space can end up with passive, cheerless defense.
  • In closed positions, the side with more pawn breaks is the side to call the shots.
  • With a massive space advantage, you do not need to rush things, since your opponent is devoid of counterplay.
  • If you have a space advantage, also remember the other imbalances; for example, having a superior minor piece can be the thing that together with the space advantage secures the victory.

More common though are situations where one player possesses more space in one sector of the board while the other player controls space in another sector. Let us take a look at two common openings where this takes place: The King's Indian Defense and the French Advance variation.


Let us look at a game with the French Advance:
 Fighting against space!
Now that we have seen the positive side of having more space, let us look at what can be done to counter a space advantage. Silman lists four general rules:
  • Exchange pieces so your limited territory becomes less uncomfortable.
  • Use pawn breaks to crack his pawn-facade.
  • Try to prove that your opponent's gain in space has left weak squares behind.
  • Treat a space-gaining enemy pawn center as a target!

 Exchanging pieces:


Use Pawn Breaks!
 Often times a way to deal with a big pawn mass that takes up space is to challenge it somehow. A rule of thumb is that to really attack such a pawn mass, you need to be able to attack the 'root' of a pawn chain - because all the other pawns are protected, except for the root. Let's look at a nice, common example:
Now let's see an example where White knows what he is doing:
The next is a really great game in my opinion, one where Black plays very creatively in inducing pawn weaknesses by using pawn breaks. Let's take a look:
Weak Squares due to Gains in Space
 Each time you push a pawn forward, you leave some squares close to home less protected. Sometimes this doesn't matter, but if you push all your pawns far up the board you risk having a lot of squares close to home for the enemy pieces to land on. Let's see an example from a game by Capablanca in a simultaneous match, one of the most respected World Chess Champions of all time known for almost never losing any game. This is an example where he actually loses:
In the above position (White to move) we see that White has a nice central space advantage; however, the central pawn mass c4-d5-e4 cannot easily advance since Black controls all the squares in front of them. At the same time, the knight on c5 is eyeing some other juicy squares that it can jump into - d3 or f4. Thus the advance of the pawns has left a lot of weak squares behind, that Black can exploit. And as I said, Black went on to win this game.
A Pawn Center May Be a Target
In the 1800s and 1900s, a big pawn center was regarded as a safe advantage. Only in the 1920s did a group of players such as Nimzowitsch, Reti, Alekhine and others begin to challenge this dogma of chess understanding. They were called 'Hypermoderns' and their idea was simply that in some positions, you could easily allow your opponent to build a big pawn center since those pawns, a bit weak from advancing too far maybe, could then become a target of attack and could crumble. A very good example of this modern opening (and middle game) approach is the Greenfield Defense. Let us see a nice example with Vasilij Smyslov, also a former World Chess Champion:
Do note that of course sometimes a big pawn center IS a strength, but only if it can be sustained and not become a static target of the opponent.