Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Reassessing Imbalances Part 2: Silman’s thinking method and Thoughts on Superior Minor Pieces

Today’s post will continue the discussion on insights I gained ( or reinforced those suffering brain cells) from taking a deliberate training approach to going through his How to Reassess Your Chess book. I paid more attention to the process he outlines and deliberately focused on improving my ability in these three areas:
  • Recognize the imbalance(s)
  • Assess it’s importance over others ( Very nuanced)
  • Properly looking to the position to guide my candidate move selection (Chasing unicorns)

Silman’s Thinking technique:

Silman’s writing style is a little condescending at times. I’ve learned to take it with a grain of salt and just become as receptive as I can to his ideas without feeling like I’m back in third grade with the teacher assuming I am going to do nothing but cause trouble. Okay, so maybe I was a troublemaker, but if the material was interesting enough, I would listen. Wrist rockets and hallowed out books with radios embedded inside all set aside, I approach professor Silman with an open mind. The thing I caught this time that I didn’t during my speed reading passive absorption approach was his interesting thinking technique.  Having spent some time with the toady, Kotov and his TLAG… I was open for a new approach.

Silman lists a 5 step approach:
  1. Figure out the Positive and Negative imbalances for both Sides  ( a tall order but this book puts it all out there)
  2. Figure out the side of the board you wish to play on ( Hint: it’s not really where YOU wish but understanding rather where the POSITION thinks you should play)
  3. Don’t calculate! Instead fantasize!  ( Where would you rather have your pieces… be reasonable)
  4. Once you have a fantasy position… can it be achieved reasonably well?  If not, iterate on the previous step until you have a position that can be reached.
  5. Once you have the position in mind…only now do you actually start looking at moves to get you there ( Candidate moves) and begin calculating.

The entire book is about establishing a firm footing in the first step but even at that, deliberate practice will help improve your ability to be able to assess the position from a perspective of imbalances.  I’m still a ways off, but I have noticed a little improvement when I am testing myself with exercises in the book or an annotated game. I am more likely to evaluate a position to at least 80% accuracy in terms of all the imbalances

Figuring out which side of the board is tricky without solid footing in these ideas especially in relatively neutral positions where both sides have trade-offs.  Looking at queen-side versus King side versus central plans can get tricky when faced with multiple imbalances in a position. Which one weighs more than the other? No clear answer and a lot like what Kotov would say, “it depends”.  The rule of thumb, “When in doubt go for a central plan.” Is good enough advice for this amateur to follow, especially in online blitz games.

The fantasy piece placement in this section seemed to rely heavily on how to place minor pieces more than anything else. In particular, looking for good outposts for knights was common.  But if you wanted to get a rook on an open file or open a diagonal to activate a bishop, then the fantasy may be around exchanging pieces and pawns to get that job done.

Superior Minor Pieces:

In the chapter on Superior minor pieces, he goes into great detail on position 63 from Alekhine-Junge Warsaw 1942 with white to move. He walks through the process, scolding us “3rd grade amateurs” on imperfect evaluations and how the correct and ONLY way to proceed becomes obvious if you follow his steps. But I get the point. Having a process to follow will help develop clarity in the position.

The chapter gives a great overview of good versus bad bishops and how to mitigate either depending on which side of the board you are on.  The epic Bishop versus knight battles and many other nuances are covered between what makes one minor piece more superior than the other.  What stood out for me was the valuation of knights depending on what rank they sat on compared to a Bishop.

  • Knights on 1st or 2nd ranks are mostly defensive or transitional
  • Knights on 3rd are mostly defensive but ready to jump to a more aggressive  5th rank position
  • Knights on the 4th are as good as a Bishop. Positioned as both defensive and attacking
  • Knights on the 5th are usually better than the bishop.
  • Knights on a 6th rank often have a winning advantage.

I knew about getting knights to outposts (usually on 5th rank) can be a strong point in the game but this has to coincide with your other pieces and plans of attacking.  I’ve also been on the receiving end of a knight plunking right down on my third rank (his 6th) and wreaking nothing but havoc.  In evaluating minor pieces in a position that is unclear, knowing these valuations of knight placements is a good tool in ascertaining the level of prioritization and importance of said imbalance over others in the position.   

Next time:

I’m hoping to wrap up the series in Part three with light discussions and insights on the other imbalances from this amateur’s perspective.  Thanks for putting with me.  Until next time.

-          Blunderprone


ChessAdmin said...

Your photo shows the 3rd edition. Silman basically rewrote it, including new examples, for the 4th edition. Any chance you can compare the two? I have the 4th edition and it's on my to-read list in the medium term.

BlunderProne said...

I only have the 3rd edition... I don't feel compelled to get another version of this book. Sorry. I think the general principles I covered are the same. It does sound like the book has been completely re-written with some claiming "it's a different book." I can't speak to it other than what I read in reviews.

My journey was to use this book and to some extent Kotov's lofty platitudes and start a practice of evaluating positions from the workbook as well as key positions from openings I play following annotated games and such to grow my positional evaluation capabilities. I do feel I have a better positional vision and understanding... but I need to put in practice and test with slow games. Currently, the on-line community is more of a blitz environment so I have shifted a little on meeting that challenge lately. I'm planning on blogging about this shift a couple posts down the road.

ChessAdmin said...

Didn't think you'd be purchasing the other edition, but also didn't take for granted what was in the photo was your only copy, heh.

LinuxGuy said...

George, your blog posts really stand the test of time! It's mostly because you are a strong enough player, but looking at these books through the lens of a teaching paradigm. You could donate this book away, as you are really beyond it. I think that most strong players have already subconsciously internalized anything of value from this book.

I particularly like your old post on Eidetic imagery, combining the visual memory with the understanding, that was a good way to put it.

For me, there is a spectrum between two very different types of positions. On the one hand, there are closed positions with lots of piece maneuvers and fixed pawn-structures, and on the other hand there are more open positions, like this game that I played yesterday. Again, for me the closed positions require a greater degree of chess understanding.

12...Bc5 This could be considered to be the first move of a line, whereas the previous moves could just be memorized, for sake of argument. I've never seen or played this position before, but I can see how it would be a theoretical position.

14.Bg2 This is one of those "nothing" blitz moves. 14.Nd5, which I had been looking at, is better.

16.Rad1 Oh no's, blunder I immediately thought after playing this. My opponent spent a long time here. No, 16...Nf2, 17.RxBd7 KxRd7, 18.Rh5, and now how does Black save a piece against Kf3? 18...Ng4, 19.Kf3 and White will have two pieces for the rook. Best was 16...f6.

16...Ne5?! 16...Be5 makes more sense.

21.e5? I knew that this move wasn't right, but didn't want to spend time looking for alternatives. A strong player would do a quick-scan here regardless of any time issues, and find the continuation 21.RxBd7 NxBf6, 22.Rxb7. The point is that if 21...KxRd7, then 22.BxNg4+ is two pieces for the rook, and winning for White. The reason this combo works is because the rooks are not connected on the back-rank. Yes, I would have seen this combo, it's any easy one, if I had looked for it, but stronger players know to look!

The positions in this game, after that opening tabiya, and before my last real blunder with the e5 push, are very concrete. IOW, the thinking goes beyond anything primary and hazy, such as the concept of imbalances. Actually, the imbalances are what lead me to many of my moves, even of the Nd5 move which I didn't play, and that combo that I missed would have been based on the imbalance of disconnected rooks. So, while imbalances are good for finding candidate moves, any analysis quickly moves beyond that.

The one silver lining of blitz is that you can build up experience quickly by playing lots of games. My games are more often decided by endgames, regardless of openings, which requires experience, since there isn't much time to think them out correctly in blitz.

What's interesting about my ratings on lichess, is that my bullet stays around 1500, my blitz 1800, and my rapid and classical ratings are both at 2000. This says more about which formats that I am best at than it says about any particular games that I play. A lot of the improvements, and breakthroughs that I have made in my chess abilities are less applicable to blitz situations, I've found. If anything, my abilities have improved, but there is still this forced impatience associated with blitz play.