Superior introduction to most demanding part of chess. Basic concepts of middle game play are systematically and logically presented. Every significant idea is illustrated by well-chosen excerpts from master play, including games by Alekhine, Capablanca, Lasker, Reshevsky, Botvinnik, Marshall, Pillsbury, and other prominent players. 80 illustrations.
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The Middle Game in Chess
By Eugene A. Znosko-Borovsky, J. DU MONT
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1980 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
THE MATERIAL BASIS OF THE GAME
1. THE ELEMENTS
A GAME of chess is contested within a strictly geometrical space, namely, a square board sub-divided into 64 squares of equal size. There is no physical difference at all between any of these squares, their colour being only a matter of convenience, making them easier to survey.
Yet their respective location on the chessboard affects their individual importance. This distinction becomes evident when we compare the squares situated on the edge of the board with those in the centre. The centre squares are, for all practical purposes, at an equal distance from the corners of the board; in consequence it is easy to support from there any point that may be attacked or, conversely, to initiate an attack wherever opportunity offers. In practice, whoever controls the centre has the command of the whole board.
The centre squares being surrounded by other squares, any piece posted there radiates power in every direction, whereas its effectiveness is considerably less if placed near the edge of the board, as there it lacks at least one side for its radiation; in the corner it is even cut off from two sides.
The less radiation a piece possesses, the smaller is its power. Therefore pieces gain in strength by approaching the centre; they are strongest when posted there. Every piece has theoretically an absolute and constant value; but in practice its effective value varies according to the square it occupies. It is therefore of very real advantage to obtain control of the centre.
It must not be assumed that the best tactical plan is to place all one's pieces in the centre, thus rendering them as powerful as possible. This would only lead to the forces facing four fronts instead of only one as in the initial position. In addition numerous pieces massed within a small space would obstruct each other and become less instead of more powerful. Finally, our task is not only to occupy strong squares, but equally to guard our own weak squares against intrusion by the enemy.
It may be said that the occupation of a centre square by placing a piece upon it is not always necessary: it is at times sufficient merely to control it, thereby preventing its occupation by a hostile unit. Actual occupation is only of value if it is more or less permanent.
Apart from the small centre of 4 squares, we can speak of a wider centre comprising the 16 squares nearest the middle of the chessboard.
One could while the time away by making a valuation of each square starting from the small centre, where the value is 36, down to the corners, where it dwindles to 23. These valuations, however, could at best be of interest to the mathematician; the practical player only values ideas.
The lines which are formed by various sequences of squares can be divided into two main groups:
I. Vertical (files) and horizontal (ranks).
The last named have the distinctive feature that they comprise squares of one colour only. For this reason a Bishop which moves diagonally cannot control the whole chessboard but only half of it: hence its limited power. Diagonals are of varying length: the longest comprises 8 squares, the shortest only 2. All other lines, vertical and horizontal, always contain the same number of squares, namely, 8.
From any square, in the centre or otherwise, there are always 14 squares on lines of the first group.
The maximum number of squares on diagonals, namely 13, is available from each of the 4 centre squares. This number is smaller the farther we get from the centre, the minimum being 7 from any outside square. We must therefore conclude that the diagonal is the weakest line on the chessboard. It is of practical importance to realize the strength of a diagonal which is about to be occupied. A line affects the power of a piece in the same way as does a square.
If the importance of a line necessarily depends on its length, it depends even more so on the part of the chessboard which it traverses. It is the strength of the squares of which it is composed which determines the value of a line. A line near the edge of the board has not the same importance as a line near the centre. We increase the power of our pieces by placing them on important lines, and therefore it is important to occupy such lines.
It is clear that the weakest lines are the outside ranks and files. But from a practical point of view the last ranks and files but one, forming the girdle Q Kt 2—K Kt 2—K Kt 7—Q Kt 7 must be considered the most vulnerable; the reason is to be found in the fact that the outside ranks and files are protected on one side, so to speak, by the absence of further squares which makes them immune from a turning movement.
Ranks and files differ, in the main, in their direction. This distinction is of the greatest import, as in a normal game of chess there are only two adversaries.
As the forces are marshalled on horizontal lines, the front of each army is prepared to sustain and repel assaults on vertical lines, which are the lines of attack. Thus a number of ranks belong wholly to one camp or the other; others provide the field of battle.
The case of the files is entirely different; in each one of these there are squares which are in closer proximity than the others to one or the other of the players. Hence their character is diametrically opposed to that of the ranks. K 3 and K 6 are identical in every respect, but K 3 belongs to White and K 6 to Black. From the point of view of the players one is neutral, the other active. He protects the one whilst attacking the other. The file is active whilst the rank is neutral. With each square on a file activity goes on increasing, but on reaching the fifth we assume the initiative and start the attack with all the attending risks.
We cannot allow an enemy piece to settle down within our lines, as, for instance, on our third rank; at the same time we try to occupy corresponding squares in the enemy's camp. It is of great advantage to us if one of our pieces, having reached such an advanced position, can be maintained there; if it is driven back we have in most cases only wasted time.
Thus we perceive that in addition to the value of each square on an empty board, there is another and different valuation depending on the disposition of the two armies; we shall see that further variations occur according to the relative position of the pieces at any given moment. As the squares influence the pieces, in the same way do the pieces affect the value of the squares, which value varies consequently with every move. We must acquire a clear perception of the difference between the constant and the variable value of the squares, which is of the utmost importance for the proper handling of a game of chess. It is easy enough to remember the first; but it is far more difficult correctly to assess the changes which are constantly occurring. But if insufficient attention is given to this matter, and one adheres blindly to the constant and preconceived valuation, it will not be noticed in time when the usually strong and sound has become weak and precarious.
Although our chessboard is an ideal square—and the lines thereon are perfectly regular—this space in which the chess-men do battle is not altogether similar to spaces which we find in geometry or in everyday life. It is a strange world, subject to its own peculiar laws.
Supposing you wish to travel from K R 1 to K R 7, you will remember what you have been taught at school, namely, that the straight line is the shortest distance between two given points, and you will follow the R file and accomplish the journey in six moves. But if your King should choose to travel diagonally in a broken line K R 1—K 4—K R 7 he will also arrive at his destination in six moves. The number of squares is the deciding factor, not the length of the journey.
Geometrical theorems (such as the square of hypothenuse) are not valid on the chessboard. Take the right angle Q R 4—Q 4—Q 1, and you will see that each side Q R 4 to Q 4, Q 4—Q 1, and Q 1—Q R 4 comprises four squares.
The possibility of employing with the same degree of effectiveness lines visibly different in length is of great importance, for, in consequence, it becomes possible to aim at several points at the same time, which is the basis of numerous combinations.
Let us examine the following position (Diag. 1):
Black has played ... P—R 4; how is it possible to reach this pawn? It seems out of the question, as the white King is two squares behind. The game to all appearances is irrevocably lost. And yet it yields but a draw. It is unbelievable, yet it is so.
Instead of playing K—R 7, following up the pawn on the same file, White plays on the diagonal 1 K—Kt 7, P—R 5; 2 K—B 6. If now 2 ... P—R 6; 3 K—K 7 protecting his Q B P on the next move and queening it in two more moves. If instead 2 ... K—Kt 3; then 3 K—K 5, threatening 4 K—Q 6, again guarding his Q B P. Therefore 3 ... K × P; after which 4 K—B 4, P—R 6; 5 K—Kt 3, intercepting the black pawn.
The diagonal enabled the white King to stop the hostile pawn, which he could not have done by pursuing it on the file, for on the diagonal he was approaching his own pawn.
In this study the importance of a diagonal is clearly demonstrated, but equally so, the importance of the centre, for from here both flanks can be threatened at the same time. In this way we qualify, to a certain extent, what was said about the weakness of a diagonal. At least in the case of the King and the Queen (which can move on a rank, a file or a diagonal), the diagonal in a way unites the characteristics of vertical and horizontal lines.
It is essential to become acquainted and perfectly familiar with these peculiarities of the chessboard. They possess not only theoretical interest, but practical importance as well. How many lost games have been due to ignorance of them! How many more to their neglect!
They must become a player's second nature and emerge subconsciously whenever they are needed.
In the position shown in Diag. 2, White, instead of choosing the shortest way to win, namely, 1 Q—B 2, decided on another line of play which he deemed to be just as safe: 1 K—B 4, P—Kt 8 (Q); 2 Q × Q ch, K × Q; 3 K—Kt 4. Black's R P falls and White's B P cannot be stopped as the adverse King is not within the "square."
Great was White's surprise when Black, instead of the expected 3 ... K—B 7; played 3 ... K—Kt 7; occupying another diagonal from where he can reach the adverse B P, because White must lose a move capturing Black's R P, which otherwise, protected by its King at Kt 7, would reach the queening square.
A player cannot be expected at all times to think out the correct line of play: he must have the feeling for it. To that end the chessboard and all its peculiarities must be perfectly familiar to him and hold no secrets. It would be a good thing if every amateur could, without sight of the board, visualise all its lines and angles with a clearness and precision that would enable him, without thinking, to determine the colour of every square and the rank, file and diagonal on which it is to be found.
It is no easy task to speak of things that are neither visible nor tangible.
As regards space, we have the chessboard, but time in reality represents but an idea and is, in theory, unlimited. On the restricted space of the chessboard this leads to strange happenings.
If in chess the unit of space is the square, that of time is the move. As in the case of the squares, the moves are always equal, alternating with strict regularity between the two players. Yet in making a move it is possible to lose time, which might be of paramount importance. To lose a tempo, it is sufficient to take two moves in executing a manoeuvre which could have been carried out in one. Advancing a piece and moving it back again also loses time. It is tantamount to losing a strong square and surrendering it to the opponent.
There is another distinction: some moves are voluntary, others are forced. If there is perfect freedom in the choice of move and a wide range to choose from, the stronger the moves are likely to be. If moves are compulsory, it is a sign of weakness both of the position and of the pieces. Starting from the initial position with a limited number of possible moves, the object of the mobilisation is to obtain different positions with an ever-increasing number of available moves. Whenever this number begins to grow less it is a sure sign that the position is deteriorating and that the pieces are becoming correspondingly less effective.
Although moves are equal in point of time, it is important that they should be made at the right moment. The same move, played at different times, has entirely different values. The order of the moves is of the utmost importance. Not unlike the lines formed by squares, we have series of moves.
Chess is not played move by move, but in well-considered series of moves, which should meet all requirements, namely, freedom for the player, constraint for the adversary; proper timing of each individual move; use of the maximum power of each piece at all times.
The more numerous the moves conceived as one series, the wider the range of their possible variations and the greater their effective strength. A move which initiates such a sequence of moves is the move of a master. If it leads to nothing it is of no value; you must be thankful if it does not ruin your game.
We must also pay attention to another point, namely, whether our moves are active or passive. A real offensive begins when our threats are ahead of the opponent's defensive measures.
A game of chess can, on broad lines, be divided into three main phases: the opening, the middle game, and the end game.
Our primary object is to enter upon the middle game, which is the very life of chess, without lagging behind our opponent. If we drift into a middle game without having developed the whole of our forces, our game will be dominated by the adversary and in consequence our pieces will be weaker than his, and their freedom of action will be restricted. As in actual warfare, faulty mobilisation can be put right but rarely, and then only with difficulty.
Whoever starts the middle game with an advance in development and with the command of the centre, has every reason to hope for ultimate success.
Success will come to him whose end game represents the realisation of what has been achieved in the middle game. It is here, above all, that the factor of time becomes paramount. Speed plays a decisive part, for it might turn a pawn into a Queen. In the middle game time has as much value as space.
Space and time are the conditions in which chess is played. The active element is force. Force reveals itself in space and time, combines the two in its movements, and is itself, for its effective application, conditioned by them.
We have established a unit of time and a unit of space. Is there equally a unit of force? If so, is that unit subordinate to a particular principle? Were the answer in the negative the game itself would lose in balance and its laws would become arbitrary.
In examining the pieces which represent the element of force in chess, we shall find this unit. These pieces, one and all, obey the same principle; they are alike in all essentials. There are, it is true, some strange variations: e.g., the King cannot be captured, for the game is lost when he cannot avoid capture; a pawn can be turned into a Queen. But the difference between the pieces rests in their particular ways of moving; it can be stated that therein lies the only distinction between them.
The power of any piece depends on its speed, or, in other words, its power to control or threaten a certain space in a certain time. The greater the space and the shorter the time, the greater the speed of the piece, and consequently its power.
Force, as applied to chessmen, is therefore expressed in terms of time and space. Could there be a more eloquent demonstration of the logical consistency which forms the basis of chess?
As we have seen, the unit of space is the square; that of time is the move. In the same way we have a unit of force, namely, the motion in one move from one square to the next. In principle this unit is the pawn, although allowance must be made for the pawn's peculiarities, namely, the initial double move, the capture on a diagonal, and queening.
As we have said, the real difference between the pieces lies in their respective speeds: and we find in chess a curious state of affairs which is peculiar to that game. If a piece attacks another, it is not the weaker but the stronger one which has to give way. A light ball will always be driven back by a heavier one. In warfare, also, a more heavily armed aeroplane will force a less fortunate opponent to retire.
Another of the pawn's peculiarities is that it cannot retreat and, as each side possesses eight pawns, they form an arm distinct from the other forces.
As a unit amongst the pieces, one could take the King which, in one move, can occupy any adjacent square; the King's move is the forerunner of the moves of all other pieces which command files, ranks and diagonals in any direction. The moves of the strongest piece on the board, the Queen, are merely an extension of the moves of the King, the weakest piece in chess.
Excerpted from The Middle Game in Chess by Eugene A. Znosko-Borovsky, J. DU MONT. Copyright © 1980 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsDOVER BOOKS ON MAGIC, GAMES AND PUZZLES,
PART I. GENERAL REMARKS,
I. THE MATERIAL BASIS OF THE GAME,
II. IDEAS IN CHESS,
III. STRATEGY AND TACTICS,
PART II. THE MIDDLE GAME,
I. THE STAGES OF THE MIDDLE GAME,
II. SUPERIORITY IN POSITION,
III. INFERIOR POSITIONS,
IV. EVEN POSITIONS,