Chess Personality: Assertiveness

Chess Personality: Assertiveness

Oct 22, 2011, 5:18 PM |

Strong calculation, amazing board sight, and intuition are some of the typical traits that a coach tries to build in his students. But what I want to discuss today is how being assertive on the chess board is just as important as any of the above skills.


Let's start with the usual preface:

We must get acquainted with the following somewhat well known but otherwise extremely fancy tactical scheme:


Now isn't that a great example! I would definitely call that assertive chess - White played an improbable move (Nxe5) that was supported by brute force calculation.

Now let's finally move to our main example which will discuss the use of assertiveness in a more practical setting:
Now does this position look familiar? I sure hope so. If it does not, I recommend rereading the preface, or reading the preface for that matter! While it looks similar, there are a couple of differences.

Q1: What are the differences between this current position and that of the preface?
Make a mental note of these observations, and let's see how significant they are:
Now, Player A must be a little distraught. When he had played Nxe5, he no doubt thought that he was winning in a similar line to the preface. However, he has reached this position and counting material, he has lost a queen for a knight.
While he can spend time sulking and regretting this mistake, he insteads follows an important concept:

What the position "used" to be is unimportant - the only thing that matters is the position at hand.

Let's point out an obvious, but important back-to-reality fact about chess.  Chess is a game, not a mathematical equation. Thus, winning or losing occurs from competition, and not from some physical law or theorem.
Player A should think like this: In the current position, what are my strengths? My weaknesses are obvious: I am down material (Q for N).

Q2: What are the factors in the position favoring White?
(take about a minute to answer)

Answer: White is slightly ahead in development, and Black's king is a bit exposed.

Let's move a little further along in the game:
Player B must be very confident right now. He is practically winning by a queen, and isn't that a good enough guarantee for a win? However, we must think about what Black does not want in this position (and consequently, what White wants).
1. Black does not want to allow White time to develop his pieces.

           When one is ahead in material, the usual approach is to slow down the game and slowly trade off material into a winning endgame, when the material advantage makes the win more clear.
So how does Black make this happen? Let's be more specific about development:
White has developed all his minor pieces except one: his dark squared bishop. Thus, to avoid allowing white "time" to develop this piece, Black should avoid moving on a dark square.
Thus, both moves Ka6 and Kc8 are called for. However, Black makes the move Kc7. While this is not losing, it definitely it not "assertive":
Now it is yet again White's turn to make a decision.
Q3: What is the best move for White in this position?
If one were simply counting material, the best move would absolutely be taking the bishop on d1. Let's look at this possible continuation:
What is the result of the exchange/captures? White has Knight+Bishop for a Queen, so doesn't this mean that he has benefitted? (he previously only had 1 knight for a queen).
The answer is actually no, and the reason for it is that the position has become more clear: With more pieces coming off the board, Black's advantage, even if it has "shrunk", has become more tangible in view of the endgame. White's only compensation for the deficit in material was the attacking chances on the exposed Black king, but with so many pieces coming off the board, these chances greatly dissipate.
Thus the move played in the game:
And now we see another example of brute assertiveness - even if it is a bit tactically flawed. It looks like White is just offering his b4 pawn for free. However, there is actually a very insidious point behind it. If Black were to accept this pawn, then it would activate yet another piece for White, as well as opening more avenues of attack towards Black's King. Don't take my word for it, take a look:
Q4: What is Black's best move here?
The answer is in fact, to relieve the pressure by giving up some material with Qxe5:
Does this mean that Player A's idea is incorrect? Sure, in the current position it loses to this remarkable (and generous) exchange, but actually the idea is correct, but it must come after White deals with the problem on e5. In fact, the problem is extremely easy to deal with:
Let's see more of the game continuation:
White plays for mate!

note: Bxh8 would give white a 2 rook vs queen material imbalance that favors white, but White sees that he can play for checkmate with just his R vs Q imbalance!

This is, of course, because his pieces are of much greater quality than Black's. Just look at Black's kingside bishop and rook.
now for the finale:
So what have we learned today? How to be assertive in chess, of course!

Here are some starters that were brought up in this lesson:
1. Maximize the quality of your pieces.
           Simply developing your pieces is not enough. Their value increases as their reach of influence increases, and it doesn't hurt to have them in prime position to attack the king!

2. Play the position by knowing what you want and doing everything you can to make that happen.
           Always ask what the position asks of you. After blundering his queen, Player A realized that he needed to take advantage of Player B's exposed king and place his pieces on their best squares to do so. ( i.e. He decided to play his kingside rook to c1 and his minor pieces in the center.)
3. Speed up your development, but not your opponent's!
            One critical moment is 13...Kc7 when Black allowed White to develop his dark squared bishop to f4 with tempo.
4. Calculate, calculate, calculate!
            White unintentionally gave Black a chance to get back in the game with his interesting move 18. b4, which would have allowed a simplifying 18...Qxe5. He should have first played 18. Nxg4 and then follow with 19. b4 - we saw how this continuation could have played out.
5. Don't give up until the end! (keeping things unclear)
            Remember that chess is a game and not a mathematical equation. Just because you are materially "losing" does not mean the game is over yet. Chess ends in checkmate, not when you are winning by, say, 6 points (2 minor pieces!).
6. Be imaginative, but more importantly, be brave!
           8. Nxe5 is definitely a blunder, but 18. b4 is a deliberate sacrifice. Instead of holding on to the material that he had left, Player A was willing to give up material in order to improve his pieces and hence further his attack on the Black King. A real life analogy is investment: putting a little money in the stock market is no guarantee, but you will never know unless you are brave enough to make the move. The saying goes, "Fortune favors the brave."
I hope this lesson was instructive and fun, and I would really appreciate if you would leave feedback for ways I can improve.

Thanks a lot and until next time,