commentary on a position from Silman's Reassess Workbook


Here's a position that I thought made a good example after the following discussion in the "what book are you reading right now" thread:

check2008 wrote:

Just got Silman's How to Reassess Your Chess Workbook. Who here has read it? Any advice on how to read it? What'd you get from it?

A great book that really shows you the limits of Silman's system, but also helps you really use it...{snip} The challenge is to figure out how to use Silman's methods and blend them with your own way of thinking to arrive at playing stronger chess.

I'll start another thread with an example


So, here's an example -- this is problem 21 from the imbalances in the opening section of the workbook (see moves list for notes):









According to Silman, this position (as usual) is best understood through an understanding of the "imbalances."

Well of course correctly assessing a position is essential and imbalances are a big part of that -- but if you try to lean really heavily on imbalances and make them the alpha and omega of your thinking -- I think they get in the way as much as help. 

So, here, I don't think dxc5 is a particularly hard move to find so long as you begin with: What is my opponent threatening, what's his best move... do I have any 'emergencies' on the board, now? If that's your starting point (and IMO it should be) I think c5-c4 jumps out as a very ugly move you must prevent.

The imbalance Silman sees in this position is White's development advantage -- which is a 'temporary' -- dynamic advantage. You need to play actively to make use of it. A strong edge in development typically calls for a search for attacking tactics including sacrifices and typically opening up the position favors the developed player. Conversely, when you have a development disadvantage it is usually a mistake to open the position and locking it up could be good. 

Considering the imbalances in the postion I think playing dxc5 fits the imbalances well. -- dxc5 opens the position which is how White would like the imbalance handled.  And that's how I often like to use imbalances... they are my 'kibitzers' who say, "oh, so you like cxd5 for tactical reasons ?-- well  it makes sense with the overall strategic demands of the position too, so it's probably an okay move..." 

But would considering imbalances first and foremost really lead one to find dxc5 efficiently?  Maybe... but it's a fuzzy way to go in my opinion. It's very easy to miss the c4 push if you stay up in the high level clouds thinking about  development and opening things up in general, or searching for some attack that isn't quite there yet. I think there has to be a 'dialogue' between the high level thinking and the concrete variations. Silman rarely (ever?) says this in his text, but i think it's actually all over the place in his practice.

(I have more to say about Silman's teaching... but I'll save it for another post...this one's long enough as is.)


Well I'd say if you rely too heavily on any rigid system it's going to hurt you eventually -- so you're pretty much right, although I'll play the devil's advocate a bit.

Unless it's a faster blitz game (<5 minutes), I actually like to think in terms of imbalances before asking myself "are there any emergencies on the board now."  Because sometimes, an emergency is illusory.  After you break down the position sometimes you see you can drop that pawn or piece, or allow terrible looking doubled pawns, or accept a cramped position or bad bishop because what's important in the position has nothing to do with what may seem terrible on the surface.

Of course I can say that and then in tactical situations of course I'm immediately assessing what my opponent's last move threatens.  Or if I've seen a position before from memory I may already know I can't allow c5-c4.  And from my own style/experience I may skip or transpose steps in my thinking so we're pretty much back to any rigid system is bad.  Although unless the position is tactical or you've had a lot of experience with the position to know what can or can't happen, I'd argue that nearly every time you're going to want to start with imbalances.


JG, I have to say I don't use his thinking technique at all. 

I think that moves like ...c4 are pretty easy to spot, and the possibility jumps out at me immediately. And when I see that it's poor on e2, it makes opening the game hard because of the grip on e4, I see it as a threat. So you want to get enough pattern familiarity so that these things immediately strike you. If you see immediate tactics, obviously it does make sense to see the potential of them, since who knows it could win a piece, whatever, when the imbalances don't matter. If you feel the tactics would be more favorable if you improve your position first, do so.

I don't really get caught up in making a plan anymore. All I do is figure out my and my opponent's goals (and yes this is after analyzing the imbalances, once the potential stuff that jumps out at me is fully looked at), and figure out tactical and positional ways to achieve them. If that means me sacing my knight for a mating attack, I'll do that. If that means me maneouvering my knight to a better square (more of what people think of when they say plan), I'll do that if it works tactically and seems to fit the needs of the position. Don't insist on making a full fledged plan, just do whatever achieves the goals of your position, because the truth is, long term plans very rarely go along smoothly, unless the opponent is passive, because you always have to consider what the opponent does. He may make a new tactical threat, threaten to change the pawn structure (very important, because a different pawn structure may force you to change your plans entirely, who knows), maybe try to make an important piece exchange, anything that could change the position. Your plan will always change based on the dynamic features of a position, and you don't know whether that means you playing a bunch of tactical moves, or if you need to quietly improve, you need to figure out which works better. Ideally, you want to be as forceful as possible, so look at the most tactical ways of achieving the goal(s) first, then look for slower ways when the tactics will get better. Strategy is the forming of a plan, but tactics are ultimately what execute it (but of course, a good strategical position is what makes most of these tactics appear). Even in closed games if someone wants to win they will open a front eventually, they merely delay the tactics (often for a long time) until initiating them is favorable.  This flexible mindset makes it much easier to think clearly and miss less, and honestly, I'm not sure if Silman can really say he uses his thinking method, or that instead he just created something that seemed good.

So, if there are tactics already, look at them, but don't create them without a clear goal in mind, unless it's really really forcing, like forcing the queen to be trapped or something. But again, if you have a good database of patterns, ideas like that should come naturally, when you see a queen is short of squares.

The problem with getting too caught up making a big juicy plan is that it starts to make you much less alert of dynamic possibilties for you or the opponent. Don't be so committed! There is no reason to be!


I think the point is there are many ways to arrive at the idea of d4xc5.  Silman to an extent makes the imbalances fit the position, but isn't so clear on how to discern the relative importance between different imbalances.

IOW, you can take any position where White has a good move, and attribute that move to some imbalance or other.  No chess tactic or strategy could succeed without some "imbalance" somewhere, else every position would become hopelessly blocked, being precisely even in every respect . . .

Estragon wrote:

I think the point is there are many ways to arrive at the idea of d4xc5.  Silman to an extent makes the imbalances fit the position, but isn't so clear on how to discern the relative importance between different imbalances.

IOW, you can take any position where White has a good move, and attribute that move to some imbalance or other.  No chess tactic or strategy could succeed without some "imbalance" somewhere, else every position would become hopelessly blocked, being precisely even in every respect . . .

I very much agree with you. I don't think that means Silman's approach isn't useful though. I think of Silman's approach as  -- a way -- one way among many to understand a position. I think his workbook helps me see that.

If you want what in my opinion at least is a fascinating take on this, check out David Pruess recent "principled" king's gambit 2 video. He breaks down a King's Gambit opening with a sort of religious conviction that since White has pressured the center like so Black must apply counter-pressure or he's lost... and then he basically insists that black must have a move so now black must find it. 

It's a very intense perspective (one that doesn't come naturally to me) and it's no surprise to me that it comes from/produces an IM level player. It's like Pruess feels, on principle, that a certain type of move must be found, so then he finds it. I'm not explaining it well... but at any rate the video is worth watching and it reminds me of Silman's imbalances.

These strong players feel a real urgency and necessity in the best moves in positions where I would see a lot of "ok" choices.


It's hard to get the right thought process down. To me it has evolved naturally in actual play. I refer to imbalances, or whatever you want to call them, when seeing what each side should try to achieve, but it's no carbon copy of silman's thinking process. I pretty much make a fantasy position when I feel like it, when I find it necessary.

You should be able to get a good process that works for you, but don't feel you should directly copy somebody else's, since that rarely works.

What I really learned from silman's books is the potential of each imbalance and knowing to base my goals in some way on them, no matter what way I use to achieve them. At least trying to use his method gets you into the right mentality (one of the early games in the book he showed how you could use his technique... now, I don't think it was very efficient, but it certainly educated me on the position quite instructively and showed how you base a plan on the imbalances!), even if it in its purest form doesn't actually work well.


Just out of curiousity.. do you still think Lasker would make a terrible teacher for chess


I wish Silman wouldn't talk about thinking technique in his books.  This ruins his books for me.


Don't let that ruin them for you!