Challenger's Corner: How to Punish Bad Piece Play

Challenger's Corner: How to Punish Bad Piece Play

Nov 13, 2018, 12:57 PM |

On my stream last night, I had a particularly interesting game which focused on relative piece value. Before we dive in to that game, let's give this idea of relative value some context by defining it a bit more clearly. Since a lot of my viewers tend to play the London System, I think this is a prime example:

When I'm working with my students who play the London, I'll ask them: "do you like it when Black plays 2...e6?"

The answer should always be yes! Black is confining his bishop on c8 behind the pawn structure, and should he ever play for a ...d7-d5 break, he will also need to supplement this with a plan for this bishop. Now, it's worth noting that 2...e6 is not a bad move, in fact it's quite common. But in terms of relative piece value Black has created a handicap for himself in having to find a solution for the c8 bishop. In the mean time, White's pieces are uninhibited.

Pressure Causing Immediate Blunders

While various openings have their own nuances, understanding relative value of material is much more crucial in the middlegame and endgame. Here's an example from a recent game of mine:

Here, the material is equal, and you all know the saying: "all rook endgames are drawn". But here it's quite the opposite. The bishop on f1 stuck, and doesn't have a clear future. Once I play 18...c5, the pawn structure is locked and White's own pawn on c4 hems in the bishop. Meanwhile my bishop on e6 is the much more potent piece, constantly eying the c4 pawn. Black's advantage isn't "winning", but the relative comfort of Black's position makes the game more comfortable. The game continued:

You're not convinced. White didn't have to play 22. Kc3?? and the game could have continued on. Fair. Remember relatively valuable pieces give their owner more comfortable plans, and the opponent more discomfort. Just like how building small over the board advantages are important, compounding this discomfort on to your opponent can help generate mistakes.

Using More Valuable Pieces, Long Term

As I alluded in my definition of the comparison of relative piece value, it's usually not sufficient for a winning advantage. It's how we use these more valuable pieces to generate pressure onto our opponents so that they induce blunders and concessions. Here's an endgame I had on Monday night's stream where Black put up a lot more resistance:

This game is a lot more illustrative of the long term pressure that becomes possible when you preserve relative advantages in your pieces. In this game, my light squared bishop was superior in the early endgame, but I was able to trade that for a concrete space advantage. Then, by targeting his weaknesses, I was able to tie down his rooks into passivity. This allowed me to use my more active king for the critical e3-e4 push and break through for the win.

As I mentioned in the analysis, I only had 20 seconds as I played the endgame (assisted by a 2 second increment), here's the highlight of the endgame so you can watch this game in real time:

Incorporating Valuation into Your Opening Strategy

So now we've seen how to compare pieces of similar value based on their actual over the board contribution, and how these differences can make our opponents uncomfortable - both in the short and long term. If you were taking a deeper look into both of these games, you may have noticed that the creation of the relatively poorer piece was self-induced. Is there a way to be proactive and make your pieces better than your opponent instead of the other way around? Of course! And that brings us to the key game for today's blog.

In this game, I was able to make the most of my opening by containing both Black's dark squared bishop and his misplaced knight on h6. By constantly asking Black to prove his development, it gave me time to generate a weakness on c7, milk his time, and cause him to blunder with 29...h5?. Here's the full game highlight:

Knowing how to create these small relative advantages stems from a simple question Aagard suggests in his Grandmaster Preparation series: What's my worst placed piece?


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