The Tension Question
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The Tension Question

GM Illingworth

How should you deal with piece tension in a position? 

My recent blitz game on covers this subject quite concisely. It started as follows:

White's last move (8.Qe2) is a good example of prophylaxis - stopping ...Ba6 while developing a piece, Now you have the opportunity to try and find the moves I played as Black:
White is dead lost in the position below, as he has no defence to ...Bd3/...Nd3, winning material. I won the game with ease. By the way, good alternatives for Black were 9...Ba6 and 12...Ba6.
Notice how this was all the result of White prematurely releasing the tension. First, with 10.dxc5, White only brought Black's d7-knight to a great square on c5, where the threat of ...Nxd3 gives Black a serious initiative. In turn, 11.cxd5 opened up the weak light squares, allowing Black to immediately pounce with 'non-automatic' play (playing the intermediate 12...Nb4, rather than automatically taking on d5 'because it's forced'). 
 However, releasing the tension is not always a bad idea - sometimes we have to trade pawns/pieces to deal with the opponent's awkward threat, or we can weaken the opponent's position (piece placement or pawn structure) in some way with the exchange (see note to move 10 below):
In the 10.cxd5 line, Black was not able to open up the centre favourably, as the d5-pawn gets in the way to some extent, and White uses the b5-outpost to stabilise the centre.
Do you think you're a master of pawn tension now? Let's test your skill with one more example, also from a blitz game of mine.
To summarise:
a) Don't automatically release the pawn/piece tension - ask yourself, 'who does this exchange favour?'
b) It's generally a good idea to release the tension if our opponent's pawn or piece is forced to a worse square with the recapture, or it's the most comfortable way to deal with the opponent's threat.
c) If the pawn/piece tension continues, look for a way to make the opponent release the tension, so our pawn/piece can advance to a better square. 
Do you have a pawn/piece tension position you aren't sure how to play? Share it in the comments below!