Practical Chess techniques: Motif of function

Practical Chess techniques: Motif of function


Ever wondered when a chess master proclaims that a certain side is better and then fails to state why they are better or where they are better?  The amateur player is left scanning the chessboard for possible signs and is usually left bereft. Its happened to me many times as I have listened to chess commentary.  Perhaps it has happened to you too?

I like to read chess literature and I came upon an article that was originally published in Purdys The search for chess perfection volume II in an article entitled Combinations verse planning.  Purdy himself got the idea form an article published in New Zealand Chess Player entitled 'Ortvin Sarapu coaches'. and with permission reproduced it in his own book. Tracing the technique back even further it seems that it was credited to the famous Russian Grandmaster Levenfish, also a famous writer and analyst.


IM Ortvin Sarapu


Essentially the technique seeks to ascertain which side is better and why they are better by looking at the motif of function.  By making a piece by piece and pawn by pawn comparison ascertain where the relative strengths and weaknesses of the position lie.  This is of fundamental importance because as Purdy himself states usually we can affect one of the following


1. strengthen our own position.

2. Diminish our weaknesses.

3. Negate our opponents strengths.

4. Accentuate their weaknesses.



GM Gregory Levenfish

Now naturally in order for us to do so we need to understand where the strengths and weaknesses of a chess position lie and this is where Grandmaster Levenfish's technique is designed to help the chess player do just that it in a methodical and systematic way. 



Here is the position with black to play and we make a piece by piece and pawn by pawn comparison in order to extract certain information from the chessboard to ascertain the strengths and weaknesses of the position.

1. There is material disparity, white has a rook for a bishop and a pawn.

2. Kings:  Blacks King is superior, it has more mobility and access to the centre.  Whites King is restricted by the dark squared bishop and the g and h pawns.  It has no mobility.

3. Queens : White queen is nursing the c pawn and the f2 square which is weak. Black queen is nursing the f pawn and is unprotected.  Probably even at present. 

4. Rooks: queens rook v the light squared bishop and extra pawn.   Bishop cuts across the centre and semi pins the g pawn.  Whites bishop and pawn are superior to the passive rook on the a file.

5. Other two rooks.  Whites Rook is pinned to the defence of the vulnerable f2 square whereas blacks rook is putting extreme pressure on the c pawn in an active way.  Black rook is superior.

6. Dark squared bishops: Blacks dark squared bishop cuts right through the centre of the chess board and restricts the mobility of the white king,  whites dark squared bishop is a defensive piece being tied to the defence of the weak c pawn.

7. Knights. Whit knight has a strong threat by coming to e5 forking the light squared bishop and the undefended rook on d3.  its a strong threat.  Blacks knight has pressure against the weak f2 and g3 points although it is pinned at present to the undefended queen.  The white knight is superior unless blacks knight has a greater threat.

Pawns : a pawns are equal. b pawn is more further advanced but is supported by the weak c pawn.  It could potentially become vulnerable. The c pawn in whites camp is a real and tangible weaknesses being under siege from the rook and knight.  Black g pawn is very dangerous, it can advance to create mating threats on g3, white g pawn is semi pinned and pretty weak.  White h pawn needs to protect the king from frontal attacks.  The white h pawn can advance although it seems a little slow at present.


Having ascertained whites weaknesses, the f2 square, g and h pawns as well as the besieged c pawn as well as whites strengths, the Ne5 manoeuvre, black can see if there is a greater threat and indeed there is. ..Ng3 making use of the pawn weaknesses if front of the white King and the strengths of his two bishops and we get the following beautiful combination.


Now it can be argued that this would have been found by looking at forcing continuations, which of course is absolutely true, however the Levenfish technique forces us to observe many things that we could easily miss in a less methodical way and instead of wondering what move our opponent is likely to play when infact they can only make a single move.  It is a good use of time when its our opponents turn to move and attempting to extract the information from the chess board may help us form plans and ideas.  Furthermore we can practice the technique when looking at tactics and trying to ascertain what the elements where that led up to the tactic being made possible.
Please see below for a video presentation of the above chess technique.
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