Strategy: When things go wrong…
Misjudging 2 Rooks vs Queen
Today I consider an example taken from recent grandmaster praxis: gm Demchenko vs gm Postny, played in the 7th round of the Kavala tournament. Postny unnecessarily exchanges his Queen for 2 Rooks and soon finds himself regretting the decision.
As I had previously explained in this Strategic Thinking series, the Queen is almost always superior to the 2 Rooks whenever she has the initiative. The point is that the Queen coordinates very well with the other pieces. The 2 Rooks, on the other hand, are very poor defenders. Think twice before you exchange your 2 Rooks for the opponent’s Queen: the initiative is key.
gm Demchenko,A – gm Postny,E
What can we say? Clearly, the Black Rooks were useless! The White Queen created threats against the Black King and won pawns when there was nothing better.
It was not a good exchange at all, and once more demonstrates that the initiative is the deciding factor in the exchange of 2 Rooks for Queen.
I present here Part 1 and Part 2 of this series to allow for easy reference to this theme.
All About Exchanges
Tactical decisions are more likely to have an immediate impact on the course of the game, whereas strategic decisions are more long term in nature, often bearing visible fruit only in the late middlegame or endgame. For this reason, strategic analysis–regardless of its precise definition–often requires a completely different set of thinking skills.
Another distinction between tactics and strategy is that while tactical decisions can quickly and easily be shown to be either right or wrong (and rarely anything in between), strategic decisions are hardly ever clearly right or wrong, but often occupy that grey middleground where differences of opinions and evaluations –even amongst the strongest grandmasters–are more likely to occur.
For instance, most players might prefer the Knight to the Bishop in a given position, but you will always find a number of players holding the opposite point of view. The same will hold true when we talk of positions with doubled pawns…some players will do anything to avoid having such pawns, regardless of whether they are good or not. Or perhaps you might have already noticed that some players never castle Queenside or willingly sacrifice a pawn.
These are examples where right and wrong do not enter the chess-thinking process. Instead, more abstract qualities such as intuition, individual taste and judgement play more significant roles.
This makes a rigorous treatment of strategic analysis a more complicated subject to discuss objectively, and as a direct consequence explains why there are so few good books available to the reader compared to the number of good books on tactical matters.
I hope that the blog reader might be able benefit from my writings on this exact subject and hence be able to add to what he already knows and understands about chess strategy. I intend to discuss various themes, most not very well treated in published chess works.
To exchange or not to exchange…
William Shakespeare plays a Game of Chess (Painting by Karel van Mander): William
In chess there is a general axiom that more is better: that two Rooks will normally be better than the Queen; two minor pieces will normally be better than Rook (and pawn); minor piece plus two pawns will normally be better than Rook. Etc. When we are dealing with questions of material balance, it is generally a good thing to have more critters.
BUT not always! Chess would be a much simpler game than it is if the above axiom were a rule written in stone, but it is not. There are exceptions to the general axiom, and the master level player must use his judgement to discern the difference. Sometimes it is better to have the Queen to the two Rooks or sometimes it is better to have the Rook to the two minor pieces, and so on.
Let’s start with some examples from (grand) master level chess…
This position (after 19 moves) occurred in a game between two grandmasters in a tournament that I was playing in back in 2011, and I like to use it for teaching/training purposes. White stands better, but the fight is just beginning. White has two strong Knights–one of them sitting pretty on e5 and the other on its route to c5– that easily dominate Black’s two Bishops. As well, the pawn structure favours White (he only need worry about the pawn on d4, while Black has to worry about a7, c6 and his e-pawn)
The question is now how to proceed? In particular, should we play first 20.f3 (to stop any Rxf2 nonsense) and then play 21.Nc5, or should we play 20.Nc5 first and ignore any Rxf2 nonsense?
Understand that taking on f2 implies Black giving two-Rooks for the Queen, and the general axiom states that this would be good for White. Is this position an exception or not to the general axiom?
(Think about this for a day or two and I will give you the answer)
This position occurred after 22 moves in a game between two of the strongest grandmasters of the latter part of the 20th century (names later!) Both players–with distinct styles and preferences–willingly headed into the above position. Material is even, with Black having two Rooks for the Queen and pawn. Black also has the better pawn structure. White has the Bishop pair.
The question I put to you is this: who stands better, and why?
Following up on Tuesday’s blog article introducing this new series on strategy, we will consider in greater detail the two initial examples that I proposed. Decisions regarding deliberate exchanges such as 2-Rooks for Queen (and pawn), or 2-Minor pieces for Rook (and pawn) or 3-Minor pieces for Queen must never be taken lightly. Such exchanges should be considered strategic decisions.
While the material balance might be unchanged, the long term consequences of introducing assymetric piece configurations may be drastic, so much so that it could ultimately cost the game. This series will try to expound on general concepts related to these strategic decisiõns, with an eye towards finding practical guidelines for the reader to apply in his own games.
gm Fernandez Romero,E — gm Ipatov,A
Sabadell 2011 Spanish Tch