Strategic Dilemmas


I hope by writing this blog, and laying out my thoughts and ideas, I will have a little more confidence in any strategic decisions in future games. I also hope others might find it interesting/entertaining.

 Knight vs Bishop?

In my games I often find myself agonising over strategic considerations. This game was one such situation. My opponent was a very aggressive player (as can be seen from his opening choice). I had already played one recent game against him, and I considered him highly dangerous.

Anyone that has ever wrestled an Anaconda, will know exactly what it felt like; as much as I tried to maintain control, and keep him down, he found new, unexpected ways, to threaten me.

We join the game after Black's 20th move. Both sides have completed development, and it's time to decide on a plan. I don't usually play 1.e4, but this was a Thematic "Ruy Lopez" Tournament with the first three White moves set.

With Black's last move he unpinned his knight which was now at liberty to travel. I did not relish the thought of this. Both d5 and g4 seemed like reasonable staging posts. With Black's bishop on c7, my pawns on h2 + g3 were going to be hard to protect.

So immediately I was faced with a dilemma; should I exchange my bishop for Black's knight? I felt it was the right move, but worried about facing an endgame of bishop + pawns vs knight + pawns.

Convention tells us that in the endgame a knight is more powerful than a bishop when:

  • The pawns are localised on one side of the board
  • The position is closed
  • The opposing bishop is "bad", or all your pawns are on its opposite colour.

Well, none of these appeared to be the case, so if I was going to exchange my bishop, I would have to have strong strategic reasons.

My plan was to put pressure on, and eventually win Black's pawn at e4. I figured that Black's bishop would not be able to help in the defence of that pawn, whereas my knight would be able to attack it. Also after 21.Bxf6, if black captured back with his pawn he would end up with a weak f-pawn. I would try to control the f4 & f5 squares. The knight had to die!

In conclusion, it was a relatively long, and hard-fought game. We both made mistakes, including my 28th move which might have cost me the game. Ironically, if I had not erroneously played my knight to g4, it may have struggled to become as active as it did.

I don't claim to be a particularly good chess player (I hover around 2200-2300 here), but I believe my decision to exchange my bishop for his knight on move 21 was fairly sound. While it is important to keep one eye on the endgame, at move 21 the game was very much still in the middle game, and I had strong plan in mind.
Any comments/feedback appreciated!