Introducing Material Imbalances

GM Illingworth
Feb 24, 2015, 10:11 PM |

A material imbalance is any difference in the material both sides have in a position. It can be as simple as bishop vs. knight, or as complex as Rook vs. Two Bishops and a Knight (who can forget Vachier Lagrave-Tomashevsky from the recent Tbilisi Grand Prix tournament?). In this post I'll use one of my recent games to demonstrate a few basic ideas pertaining to the rook + pawn(s) vs. two minor pieces material imbalance.

First of all, I'll give you a puzzle to solve, where you'll need to consider the following three questions to make the right decision:

a) Which pieces are better here - White's rook and two pawns, or Black's minor pieces?

b) Should White use his king as a fighting unit or keep it tucked away?

c) How should Black place his pieces?

Now I'll present the rest of the game (where White mistakenly used his king as a fighting piece with 20.Ke2?) to demonstrate the battle between the rook and minor pieces and how I was able to coordinate my rook and minor pieces to generate threats against the opponent's king:
A key factor for the success of the knight and bishop against the rook and two pawns was the fact I still had a rook on the board. The side with the rook almost always benefits from the exchange of rooks, so that they are the only side left with a rook. Indeed, in the game White's second rook turned out to be somewhat superfluous as it lacked an invasion point, and we might add that if we removed Black's rook, it would be much easier for White to invade Black's position with a Rd8 or Rg8 move at some point. 
Thanks for reading, and feel free to write about your experiences with this material imbalance in the comments! In addition to my blog, I also have a blog on my website