Friday, May 22, 2020

Practicing Imbalances Part 3 : Seeking in Critical Positions


In this post I’ll finish this series around the book, How to Reassess Your chess with a brief summary on static and dynamic imbalances. But mainly, I’ll also walk you through a recent game (loss) with National Master and how, for me, it’s a learning curve in applying these. Yes, of course I lost…but not too miserably. I believe my practice is making me better at picking candidate moves as I made I all the way to the endgame with the master and a great lesson was provided.   


The rest of the story:

  • (Superior Minor Pieces …discussed last post)
  • Pawn Structure (Many have written about this)
  • Space (Annexation of territory on chess board)
  • Material (Silman used this to justify exchange sacrifices versus owning pieces of greater value)
  • Control of a key file or square (files, diagonals … you get the drift.
  • Lead In Development (Dynamic …fleeting … temporarily giving you more force in a region of the board)
  • Initiative (Again Dynamic, fleeting and temporary dictating the tempo of the game.)


Silman had a lot of Nimzo-Indian games in the section under pawn structures making the argument for when double pawns can become assets. I decided to shift my repertoire to using the NID because I felt it was easier to understand plus I used to play it regularly 325 years ago before switching to a Slav.

He puts a lot of rules out there for each of the imbalances that for some become common sense but for dense forests like myself I still have to think through the thickets. I believe that eventually, practicing the puzzles beyond the book and in my games I will eventually develop a better common chess sense.

 A walk through a recent game.

Rather than regurgitate Mr. Silman’s words even more than what I’ve done, I thought I’d spin the board around and show you a recent game I played.  Keep in mind, over the board tournaments and club activity during the time of COVID-19 has driven everything online.  Finding a trusting group to play longer time controls than Blitz or Bullet lead me to a weekly G60 + 10s incr swiss with a local club.


My First round had me playing white against a National Master.  I knew he played the NID and I wanted to walk through the Hubner variation as I like the pawn structure coming out of the opening and familiar with the double c-pawn. 

1.d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 O-O 5. Bd3 c5 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. O-O Bxc3 8. bxc3 d6 9. e4 e5 10. d5 Ne7 11. Nh4 h6 12. f4

I just played f4.  I looked at the locked advanced pawn center and decide to play the 11. Nh4 with intent to advance the f-pawn because I felt I needed to open the position up a little more for my Bishops. I did not “know” this book line and the NM pointed out it was a line from the famous Fischer-Spassky match.  The favorable imbalance I had was the 2 Bishops… my thinking… open the position. Where to play? Kingside since my pieces are “pointing” there.


The game continues:

12…exf4 13. Rxf4


Tim pointed out that the 12…exf4 was not accurate and in the Fischer-Spassky Ng6 was preferred. But I “returned the favor” by capturing with my rook.  Ok, I did see the g5 fork and I felt better with my rook there as I can capture the f6 night and it’s a material exchange. I didn’t see after 13. Bxf4 g5 14. Bd2 gxh4 15 Rxf6 can still take place.  That’s why 11…Ng6 is so strong.



13…Ng6 14. Nxg6 fxg6 15. h3 Qe7


This was a critical position. My favorable imbalance with the bishop pair remains. I was looking at Black’s weakness on d6 and was looking for a strategy to optimize this.  My Rook on f4 is now sticks out like a sore thumb and my dark square bishop is jealous. But rather than calmly think through the process I feel into a “Kotov Syndrome” played 16 Qe1 thinking “dark squares” and e4… maybe I can gain something.


Suggested by my opponent was 16. Rb1 with an intent of putting some pressure on the q-side pawn majority (long term insurance for Black’s game in the endgame). This at least would bring my least played piece into the game, minor lift to b2 then over to the kingside for the party… all would have been a better plan in theme of the position.  I also think that regrouping with 16. Rf1 and if Nxe4 I have 17 Re1.


The rest of the game… I panicked and went for a series of exchanges. All opposite of what Silman’s teachings would have said.  If you are planning a King side attack, keeping the queens on the board is important. If you have space, DON’T exchange.  But no… I figured, crap! … if I disarm my opponent maybe I can get to a playable endgame

16. Qe1 Bd7 17. Rf3 g5 18. Bd2 g4 19. hxg4 Nxg4 20. Rxf8+ Rxf8 21. Qg3 Ne5 22. Rf1 Rf6 23. Rxf6 Qxf6 24. Be2 Ba4 25. Bf4 Bc2 26. Bxe5 Qxe5 27. Qxe5 dxe5

We just took the queens off the board. My opponent’s comments after the game “ every exchange was in my favor”.


Did I have a slim chance to pull off a draw or turn that passed d-pawn into something more?  In the position above I had a choice of saving the c4 pawn or the e4 pawn. In the grand scheme of imbalances, I chose the wrong pawn and this game the NM two opportunities to create outside passers.


To add insult to injury, I exchanged the bishop too!  Had I played 28. Kf2 first then after 28…Bxe4 29. Bf3 if he exchanges… My king on f3 I think I would have better managed the king side pawn majority as the pawns on the queen side could hold the line over there.

28. Bf3 Bd3 29. Kf2 Bxc4 30. a3 Kf7 31. Be2 Bxe2 32. Kxe2 b5 33. c4 a6 34. Kd3 h5 35. Kc3 g5 36. Kd3 h4 37. cxb5 axb5 38. a4 bxa4 39. Kc4 g4 0-1


Here’s the complete game if you want to click through it.


Maybe easier to view at




This was my first longer than a blitz game with a real opponent in months and after the Kotov/Silman deliberate training.  I still have work to do on visualization and calculations (note the 13.Rxf4 and not taking a safer approach with Bxf4) especially where I see a one mov threat ( pawn fork). My minds eye and inner panic meter seems to create blind spots that I can now focus on.


The other part is finding the best move in a critical position on the board. I guess here, defining the critical position where the position is somewhat balanced but with equal favorable imbalances on both sides. 


Move 16 in the game was one of those positions.  I may have spent about 10 minutes trying to figure out what the position demanded.  I wanted to open up the center just enough to BOTH bishops active.  I didn’t do a “fantasy” position as suggested by both Silman and Kotov.  Had I done that, I would have found either the 16 Rf1-e1 with Bf4 central strategy or the Rb1- b2 – f2 strategy to get my least placed piece into play.     



That ends this series on my studies of Positional imbalances. I’ll continue to practice and report any progress or regressions because … it’s all ebb and flow in the learning with a leaky bucket.


I may shift gears in the next post. I’ve been doing some work in faster games out of necessity and also how I am using databases to help my training.

Thanks for putting up with my amateur insights/ oversights.

Until next time,



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

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

A Game of Imbalances: Part 1

When I was first starting out in chess, the book to own was “My System” by Aaron Nimzowitsch if you wanted to understand the finer points of positional play.  He had words like “prophylaxis” and  more words to describe variations of pawn chains like an Inuit  has for snow. This is because his treatise is about the school of hyper-modernism where pawn centers are formed and piece activity is around attacking the center positionally. Quite dated and his concepts mostly holds with some exceptions today. I consider it a historic piece much like Staunton’s or Tarrasch’s  guides on positional play were over a century ago. I’ve read this book long ago, and yes, I could use a refresher. BUT this post will not be about Nimzowitsch’s insights, rather about how Jeremy Silman came and had us re-assessing our chess with the concepts of a more dynamic approach to looking at today’s games from a sense of positional imbalances.

Lesson’s from this amateur seeking improvement:

Don’t do what I did when I first got this book. I read it as quickly as I could passively absorbing the 7 imbalances, rifling through the exercises, not really giving them much thought and going directly to the Solutions section to “reassure” my ego that I knew what he was talking about.  To add insult to injury, I purchased the “workbook” only to try a few of the problems, fail an head directly to passively absorbing the lessons by nodding in approval of the solutions as if “I would have guessed that.”  Take my money please. No… not recommended. Not if you want to really learn and absorb the information. Slow down, genius.

This post will serve as my re-introduction to the new study I did using my slower approach and introduce the imbalances he brings up.  In parts 2 and 3 (I may do this in 4 parts… unsure yet) I will split up what I discovered from an amateur’s perspective on the imbalances.

My approach and fixing a leaky memory bucket:

I posted previously about slowing down and “going old school” as some commenters have mentioned.  There are over 200 diagrammed positions in How to reassess your Chess. I set each and every single one of them up on a chess board.  I used the clock on the end of chapter exercises set to 20 minutes and used the notation mentioned in that older post. Only after the clock ran down and I was through my own evaluation and analysis did I check the solutions section.  Just like I did in my recent studies with Kotov’s TLAG here and here, I created a set of notes using a method I adopted from Cornell University.

This approach falls under  deliberate practice . Rather than rote memorization (I don’t have a Eidetic memory as I posted a few years back) or my lazy  passive absorption techniques, I do find that when I am more engaged in the learning process the better I can retain. Let’s just say, at my advanced age and many years in my misspent youth doing youthful indulgences… my short-term memory plain old sucks. Three is my magic number I can juggle before having a good recall mechanism in my long-term storage which surprisingly survived the rock concerts and extra-curricular activities associated with such. The act of setting up the board, physically moving the pieces.. on a really comfortable and nostalgic set from my youth ( thanks to dear old departed dad)… seem to all help with my learning and retention process.  I’m a visual and tactile learner. I learn best through examples and doing it on my own with the right guidance. 

What I learned from the Kotov experiment is that I can retain more of the information from TLAG  and start to synthesize the material …especially around visual analysis. I knew the roadblock I faced (still) around picking the cadidates but I am getting better and it lead me down the path to “Maybe I can learn from Silman now”.  And I am.

What were my goals?

When reinvigorated my approach to studying back n January it was to improve my over-the-board (OTB) experience in slow tournament games. I wanted to improve my visualization for analysis in 3D like OTB and improve my positional sense so I could find …that seemingly elusive unicorn called candidate moves that seems to come natural to others.  Thank you to all who have commented so far offering advice… and am eventually getting there as well. But first I had to learn what I did not know.. if that makes sense.  Like learning an musical instrument on your own and by ear or listening and mimicking other musicians you like, when it comes to really playing the instrument and improvising and knowing which notes to hit when coming up with your own composition, you need to train more traditional. In this case here,  knowing “principal moves” in certain positions was a huge deficit because for the longest time… and as fallout from the days of the Knight’s Errant and purely tactical training, I had huge gaps of missing information and positional queues which are now just starting to come to light.  

But let me tell you, with state of chess these days under Corona Virus going mostly online, Blitz and rapid chess are the way to stay on game.  I’ll tell you how I’m crossing that bridge and improving my online blitz rating slowly but surely and how starting with improving my positional understanding through deliberate training is a part of that journey that will help BOTH blitz and OTB play in the future.

The list of the 7 Imbalances

  1. Superior Minor Pieces (the interplay between Bishop and Knights).
  2. Pawn Structure (a broad subject the encompasses doubled pawns, isolated pawns, etc).
  3. Space ( the final frontier… no… the annexation of territory on a chess board).
  4. Material (Owning pieces of greater value than opponent’s).
  5. Control of a key file or square (files and diagonals act as pathways for your pieces, while squares act as homes).
  6. Lead in development ( more force in specific area of the board).
  7. Initiative ( dictating the tempo of the game).  

In part 2, I’ll touch on Silman’s approach to thinking process, calculations and the Superior Minor Piece insights I may have picked up as an amateur revisiting this in a more deliberate way. I plan on covering the other imbalances in Part 3 but may even split the last two out in a separate post as it gets into a discussion on static ( first five)  versus dynamic ( last 2) imbalances.   I learned a lot and hope to share this if you’re up for it.  

Note: I didn’t mean to make this a post littered with links of “best of blunderprone’s blog” but I wanted to make sure some of the references were there in case you were curious of either  a) how insane I really am or for  b) educational purposes… hopefully it didn’t create too many squirrels to chase for you.