Destroying The Balance

A Lesson in Breaking the Material and Positional Equilibrium

Modern chess not only differs greatly from chess of 19th century, but it also varies from chess played over the past 25 years. If you examine games from the World Championships played over a quarter of a century ago, you will notice a very calm approach to openings and middle game positions. What has caused such a difference between then and the frenzied games of today? Technological progress, such as the availability and number of chess publications as well as the impressive amount of information available on the Internet, can undoubtedly be credited with providing us with high levels of information. Thanks to this hi-tech progress, modern chess masters and grandmasters are able to receive the latest chess information not only from innumerable magazines like “Informant” and “New in Chess”, but also by means of computer databases with unique collections of chess openings as well as middle game and end game keys. Today, it may seem that it is very simple to become a strong chess player: you should just stay current regarding recent games and novelties. However, as it turns out, this is not how it works in the real world of high-level chess.

For a chess player who knows only the material that was played before, it is difficult to count on success. He will never succeed with an experienced opponent who is also knowledgeable about previously played games. It is apparent today, that a base of knowledge in chess openings, middle games and end games is necessary; yet it takes more than this to succeed.

Nowadays , leading grandmasters see the chess struggle from a slightly different point of view. Maybe it sounds strange, but for a chess victory it is not only necessary to wait for your opponent’s mistake, you must also make some of your own “mistakes”. Second World Champion Emanuel Lasker discovered this in the beginning of 20th century. Lasker’s psychological approach to chess was crucial to his success. He understood that “machines” did not play chess. His opponents were people with weaknesses and human imperfections. After analyzing his opponent’s style, Lasker did precise and individual preparation not only in chess openings, but also in the connections between opening to middle game and even middle game to end game. He chose the most unpleasant weapons for use against his adversaries. He frequently made dubious moves, which, in the case of alert opponents, would surely lead to a losing game for Lasker. However, it’s exactly at this point that the human weaknesses of Lasker’s opponents revealed themselves. Lasker’s rivals thought that victory was in their hands, but they were incapable of finding the correct path to victory. Lasker understood this fact. He knew that it was basically impossible for them to switch to the new type of position in the game, and because of that, they would lose. Lasker�s style of playing was incomprehensible and he himself was considered a magician. Lasker always had a bad position during the game, but despite this, he constantly won.

However now we know Lasker’s secret. Moreover, it is the main weapon of the higher chess players. We call this approach destroying the balance.Destruction of balance can include one or more of the following approaches:

1. Destroying the Material Balance: This usually is a sacrifice in the opening, middle game and sometimes even in the end game. The sacrifice may not only be tactical, but also justified by the position itself. There are various goals achieved with the sacrifice. For example, one can sharpen the struggle while defending difficult positions. Also, you can sacrifice during an attack to give your opponent the feeling that he might have some counterplay; but after evaluation your opponent will realize that his compensation will not be enough to win the game. Unquestionably, a chess player who is competent to correctly evaluate the consequence of material sacrifices has an advantage. The ability to make an accurate evaluation may be achieved by understanding both the material and kinetic power of chess pieces, their connection to the position, and the exact difference in the position after the sacrifice.

2. Destroying the Positional Balance: This is expressed not only in typical positions (isolated pawns or castles on opposite sides), but more frequently, you will have positions where it is important to choose a structure that accentuates a dependence on the arrangement of the pieces. You may also have positions where it will be important to take advantage of the particular character and habits of your opponent (this last case is very complicated and not practical to investigate in depth). When trying to destroy the balance of the position, it is necessary to choose which pieces should be sacked — a bishop or a knight, or maybe two pieces for a rook, and then to fully understand the ultimate results of your sacrifice.

Below there are two simple examples for each case with complete explanations.

1. Let’s take the position after 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 b5 4. cxb5 a6 5. bxa6 g6 6. Nc3 Bxa6.

In the opening, Black sacrificed a pawn only for positional compensation. The active bishop placed on a6 prevents e4, and thanks to this, White has to spend precious tempi to castle manually. Meanwhile, Black has an opportunity to finish developing and to begin pressing on the a and b files. White’s plan is therefore limited by these actions. Any break in center with e4-e5 will be difficult for White. Developing and arranging his pieces in active positions will also not be simple. In this position experience shows that even after transition to the endgame, Black’s chances are certainly not worse and frequently they are better White’s. As a result, the Benko gambit is still very popular. Moreover, White often chooses the counter-sacrifice 5. b6! and after this, Black has the inconvenience of attempting to finish developing his pieces on the Queenside while his original plan of attacking the a and b files is not as easy. This plan also allows White’s knight the magnificent square c4.

2. Let’s see the position after the first several moves in Nimzovich Defense: 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4. Here White plays 4. Qc2 0-0 5. a3 Bxc3 6. Qxc3.

Now White has two very strong bishops. If White can succeed in finishing development and opening up the position, his advantage will be unquestionable. What will Black have in this position? First of all, there is an advantage in tempi. Obviously, Black will be first to finish developing; he will have castled and he will be attempting to hinder White’s active plans. Obviously, it will be important for Black to try to limit White’s bishops. We see the conflict in this position: there is a static advantage for White and a dynamic initiative for Black. Consequently, the opponent who will better understand the advantages of his own position, as well as exactly where and when it will be necessary to destroy his opponent’s advantage to tip the balance of the game, will be victorious.

As you see, it is important to not only understand chess rules, but also the power of the game. Great chess players must strive for an appreciation of these types of positions and they should enlarge their game experience in positions where they can destroy the material or positional balance.

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