Saturday, December 12, 2009

ACIS Notes 002 -- Strong and Weak Squares

I am still making my way through Grooten's Chess Strategy for Club Players. In Chapter 9, Strong and Weak Squares, there is another idea that startled me concerning strong squares. The idea is to use a strong square not only for an outpost (like a Knight on d5), but also to use it like conveyor belt to bring more pieces through that strong square and into the game. I have already been introduced to a related notion of echanging. When you exchange, you give your opponent the opportunity to bring their pieces forward. Here we will see White using a square to cycle his pieces through a strong square, and not necessarily as a result of exchanges. Also, while exploring these ideas, I try to make special note as to the reasoning behind which pieces you want to keep, and which pieces you want to exchange. Please comment if you think I am incorrect, since I need to learn what is correct.

Below is a position from Grooten-Hazewindus, Eindhoven 1982 (Chapter 9, p.137, Grooten):

We start by noticing White's control of d5 and e4, Black's isolated pawn on e5, and the opposing bishops, White on e4, Black on f5. According to Nimzowitsch, in order to control a pawn, you must first blockade. The owner of the pawn wants to advance it, and to do that you need control of the square in front of it, thus Black wants to keep the light Bishop, and White will want to exchange it. In addition to the Bishop struggle over e4, White's Knight on d5 is very strong.

1...Qc5 2. Nc3 is a dual purpose maneuver: (1) for the White Bishop to attack b7; (2) for the Knight to control d5. This allows another White piece to occupy d5. 2...Rc7 3. Rd5 Qc4 4. Re1. The White Rook moves to d5 with tempo, and the second White Rook comes up to relieve the White Queen. At first, this looked like a lot of meandering, until I played it through a few times and was able to "see" the masterful maneuvering (not that I would be able to create this myself yet - but then again, that is the purpose of ACIS, to improve...). 4...Kh8 5. Qd2 Be6 6. Rd8 Qc5 7. Rd1 Note how all of White's heavy pieces are lined up on the d-file in a formidable battery. The pressure is a bit much for Black, but there are not many choices. Here the alternatives that Fritz11 found:

  1. (0.57): 7...Rcf7 8.Rxf8+ Bxf8 9.Bd5 Bxd5 10.Nxd5 Kg8 
  2. (0.64): 7...b6 8.Rxf8+ Qxf8 9.Bd5 Rd7 10.Qe2 Qe7 
  3. (0.68): 7...Bf6 8.Rxf8+ Qxf8 9.Bd5 Bf5 10.a3 Bg7 

7...Rf7 8. Rxf8 Qxf8 (Fritz likes ...Bxf8 better) 9. Qe3 (keep the pressure on, and the White Bishop on e4 to prevent ...e4, thus freeing the Black Bishop). 9...b6 10. Bd5 (Qe2 prevents ...e4) and here we see the third White piece cycling through the d5 strong point. Before I read Grooten's explanation, I would have never understood all the "meandering". Now I can see that it is "maneuvering", and not just to shuffle pieces. The movements are designed to double attack, or threaten double attack and put the opponent on the defensive, gradually weakening his position and making it more passive. The d5 conveyor belt is a great way to get pieces in the enemy camp safely, while tying up Black in defense. 10...Bxd5 11. Rxd5 (piece number four on d5) 11...e4. At this point Black has a choice. To leave the pawn on e4 where it will remain weak and eventually fall, or try to get some activity for his Bishop. 12. Nxe4 Re7 13. b3 h6 14. Qd3 Qf4 15. Rd8+ Kh7 16. Qd5 h5 17. Ng5+ Kh6 18. Nf3 Rc7. Black tries to stir things up, but White maintains an iron grip on the center, and soon it proves to much for Black. 19. g3 Qc1+ 20. Kg2 Rc5 21. Qe4 (1-0).

The next game is from the same chapter on Stong and Weak Squares, Botvinnik-Szilagyi, Amsterdam 1966:

The action starts with 15. Be2. Despite White's Bishop as being "bad" it can certainly be active, since Black has no opposing Bishop. The best diagonal for pressure on the Black King will be a2-f7, and therefore White wants to place this Bishop on c4. Here Fritz suggests 15...a5, ...a6 and ...Bc7, which mobilizes Black's Queen-side, and attacks White's Queen-side. Also I believe that Black will want to keep his c-pawn glued to c6 in order to oppose the White pawn on e4, over control of the d5 square. 15...c5. I believe Szilagyi is motivated to attack White's Queen-side, but ...a5 is probably better, because with the text move, Black blocks his own Bishop.

Now, at this point, we see what separates me from a really strong player. My fist instinct (actually just a blind following of a rule of thumb) is to say "open the position up, I have the 'two bishops'!". Botvinnik on the other hand says "hey I have the light squares, we can close thing s up for a while then I will penetrate my opponent's position along the light squares...". That is a defining difference between me a strong players (hopefully not for long) in that a strong player will think of advantages along a whole color complex, and for me I'm just starting to see that such a thing exists.

Back to the game, 16. b5 Ne8 17. Nc4 (entombing Black's dark Bishop) 17...Nd6 18. Bg5. This move would make no sense to me, if I didn't understand Botvinnik's strategy of total domination of the light squares. So now Black has a choice - (a) allow a further weakening of light squares with ...f6, or take the Bishop and allow further disruption deep inside his territory with Nxd6, threatening Nxc8. 17...f6 18. Be3 Nxc4 This activates another "change of the guard" or conveyor belt as we saw in the previous example. The Knight is traded away, but now the White Bishop can come in with force, and together with the Queen invade along the light squares, which was Botvinnik's plan from his 15th move. 20. Bxc4+ Kh8 21. a5 Bc7 Here Botvinnik decides to trade off the Rooks, and start the invasion on the light squares. 22. Rfd1 Nf8 23. Qa2 The Rooks are ready to be traded, and the Bishop-Queen battery is established. 23...Rxd1+ 24. Rxd1 Rd8 (through this whole exchange of Rooks, Fritz slightly favors keeping them on the board with ...b6) 25. Rxd8 Bxd8 26. a6 (more light square domination, and locking in Back's dark Bishop) 26...b6 27. Kg2 Qd7 28. Qe2 (this begins maneuvering to change the Bishop-Queen battery into a Queen-Bishop battery without allowing a Queen exchange) 28...Ng6 (essentially a 'pass') 29. Bb3 Ne7 30. Qc4 Done! 30...h6 (more weakening, but what else?) 31. Qf7 Kh7 32. Bc4 Qd6 Here it is worth noting the difference between methodical following of a plan, and catching the occasional opportunity. At this point, there is a King-side attack opportunity, starting with 33. g4, threatening 34. Bxh6 see below.

  1. (8.23): 33.g4 f5 34.exf5 Qf6 35.Qe8 Bc7 
  2. (2.85): 33.Kh2 Bc7 34.g4 Kh8 35.Be6 Qd8 
  3. (2.71): 33.h4 Bc7 34.Be6 Qd8 35.g4 Bd6 

Botvinnik stuck with his guns, and played 33. h4. 33...Qd1, trying to get some action to no avail. 34. Qe8 f5 35. exf5 Nxf5 36. Bg8+ Kh8 Black resigned here, in the face of 37. Bf7+ Kh7 38. Qg8# (1-0).


  1. Without having read your whole post, I don't think that chess is about squares but rather about activity of the pieces. Sometimes you can sack a whole piece just to open up a square for another piece, but what is the square without the piece, it is nothing.

    I'll continue this thought a little on my blog.

  2. In the first game, why did he push his d-pawn? The great thing about the Zurich '53 book was that Bronstein would say something like Black thought he was trading pawns by grabbing the one on b2, but then realized there was a tactical snag (blah, blah, analysis).

    But if you read a typical bio of someone's game, what do you often see? I beat this loser ingeniously, look at me!

    Game 2, Botvinnik could have won quickly, by my observation, with 32.g4 33.Bxh (threatening mate on g7) KxB 34.Qh5 mate, and I don't see anything that stops Black from getting mated quickly. I would assume White was in time-pressure.

  3. Way cool food for thought - I have a big deliverable the next few days - I'll dig into this over the weekend...

  4. We discussed this position once in depth at my chess club. I dug it up from Steans simple chess. Which BTW is probably the best book written on positional chess ever. The book is very thin, and does not cover all aspects of positional play. But its explanations are unparalleled.

    Blacks problems start after 15 ... c5. This is really a terrible move. Had he chosen a plan that would not give white two outposts on a silver plate, he would not have been worse.