Good or Bad Piece?
Hi everyone! Beginning this month, I will do a series of blogs on the “Elements of Positional Play.” While opening preparation and calculation skills have taken a more important role in modern play—characterized by abundance of theoretical information and shorter time control, knowledge and application of positional concepts are still just as valuable to play well at any level.
During the past two weeks, Janton and I demonstrated the first and most important positional element: king safety. This week I will deal with the subject of piece placement and activity.
I would like demonstrate the importance of this positional element through a game by Dutch GM Robin Van Kampen who performed superbly at the recent 2014 Reykjavík Open.
Van Kampen, Robin - Thorfinnsson, Bjorn
N1 Reykjavik Open 2014 2014.03.05
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nge7 4.Nc3 d6 5.d4
Early in the game, White's position is already looking more comfortable as he places his pieces and pawns where they fight for control of the center.
5... Bd7 6.d5
gaining more space and forcing an enemy piece to retreat away from the main battleground.
6... Nb8 7.Be3
Developing another piece on an active square, where it controls many squares on both sides of the board.
7... Ng6 Black needs to get this knight out of the way to develop his k-side.
Planning to push the g6-knight back with h4-h5, similar to what d4-d5 did to the c8-knight.
8... h5 9.Be2!
White plans to target h5 pawn, while also creating the positional threat of keeping as many pieces on the board as possible because the enemy is cramped--just imagine Black like a family of 8 living in a small 1-bedroom apartment!
9... Bg4! Black sees the threat, and doesn't let himself get stuck with pieces stepping on each other's toes.
Restraining the g6-knight for good, rendering it a "bad" piece.
10... Nd7 11.Nd2
White decides to let the light-squared bishops be exchanged again to make progress. This exchange favors White because White is left with pieces better than their counterparts.
11... Bxe2 12.Q1xe2 Nb6 13.a4!
White yet again plans to shove back an enemy knight and gains more space, this time on the queenside.
13... Qd7 (13... a5 is no longer possible without losing material 14.Qb5+ ( or 14.Bxb6 c7xb6 15.Qb5+ Ke7 16.Nc4 +- )14... Nd7 15.Qxb7 Rb8 16.Qc6 Rxb2 17.Nb5! +- and White will win the rest of the queenside pawns.)
14.a5 Nc8 15.a6! more space and good squares for White!
15... c5 16.axb7 Q7xb7 17.Qa6 Rb8 18.Nc4
Let's take stock of the position, and compare both sides' pieces. White's queen is on a more active square than Black's, a1 rook may be equally good as the b8 rook, White's knights have are better placed and eyeing greener pastures on c6/b5 in the future, and White's bishop is developed while Black's hasn't even moved yet. Therefore, White has clearly better pieces and game considering all else are held constant. Other factors that makes White better is the number of weak squares & pawns in Black's position.
18... Qd7 19.Qc6!
Allowing other pieces such as both rooks to join the "queenside party."
19... f5 20.Qxd7+ the immediate 20.Ra6!? was another way to increase pressure.
20... K8xd7 21.Ra6 Nge7 22.Bg5!? exchanging another defensive piece to take control of more queenside squares like c6.
Another way to exploit White's piece activity is to open more lines with 22.f4! 22... e5xf4 (22... fxe4 23.fxe5 d6xe5 24.O-O! the king-side rook joins the party with decisive effect) 23.B3xf4 fxe4 24.Bxd6 Rh6 ( N8xd6 25.R6xd6+ Ke8 26.Nxe4 with more material and an endgame attack.) 25.Rxa7+! 25... N8xa7 26.Bxb8 Nac8 27.O-O +- and White is having too much fun winning material.
22... fxe4 23.Bxe7 B8xe7 24.Nxe4
Black is still in an almost "eternal bind."
24... Rb7 25.Ke2 Nb6 Black tries to break free
26.Na5 Rc7 27.c4! not just yet!
27... Rb8 28.Nc3 Ke8 29.b3!
Patiently improving his pawn stucture. What can Black do with his "bad" pieces?
29... Nc8 stay "bad" and wait, unfortunately...
30.Nb5 Rd7 31.Ra1 the last and worst piece finally joins the fun
31... Bd8 32.Nc6 Rbb7 33.Ncxa7 N8xa7 34.R6xa7 Another way to win is 34.Nxd6+ R7xd6 35.R6xd6 Be7 36.Re6 because White will take more pawns while keeping Black's pieces passive, but this may complicate matters so the game move is simple and best.
34... R7xa7 35.N5xa7 g5 36.h4xg5 B8xg5 37.Nb5
The game has transformed into a simpler ending in which White is a pawn up with a positional advantage. The rest of the game doesn't need much comment as it was only a matter of time and technique for White to win.
37... h4 38.Rh1 ( 38.Kd3!? 38... Kf7 39.Ke4 Kf6 40.Ra6 Ke7 ( h3 41.Ra1 the h-pawn will fall.) 41.Kf5 +- with a decisive invasion.)
38... hxg3 39.f2xg3 Be7 40.Kd3 ( 40.Rh6! is also strong as it keeps Black tied down40... Kf7 41.g4 Bf8 42.Re6 +- )
40... Bf8 41.Ra1 Rg7
Black gains a little bit of counterplay, but it was never enough to save the game.
42.Rg1 Rg4 43.Nc3 Rd4+ 44.Ke2 Bh6 45.Rd1 Rg4 46.Kf3 Rg7 47.Ne4 Rf7+ 48.Ke2 Bf8 49.Ra1 Rb7 50.Ra3 Kf7 51.Kf3 Kg6 52.Kg4 Rb6 53.Nc3 Rb7 54.Nb5 Rf7 55.Ra2 Rf1 56.Nc3 Re1 57.Re2 Rc1 58.Ne4 Rb1 59.Ra2 Rxb3 60.Nxd6 B8xd6 61.Ra6 Rc3 62.Rxd6+ Kf7 63.Kf5 Rxc4 64.Rd7+ Ke8 65.Rh7 e4 66.Ke6 Kf8 67.Rf7+ Kg8 68.Rf4 Rd4 69.d6 Kg7 70.d7 c4 71.Ke7 c3 72.d8=Q R4xd8 73.K7xd8 e3 74.Rf1 Kg6 75.Ke7 Kg5 76.Re1 c2 77.Ke6 Kg4 78.Ke5 e2 79.Ke4
To sum up, White got a good position from the start by placing his pieces and pawns towards the center, and where it controls squares on both sides of the board (Be3). Later on, White increased his advantage by pushing away enemy pieces from the center (d4-d5), harrassing and restraining the enemy knights on g6 & b6 (h4-h5, g2-g3), and finally inducing weak squares in the enemy camp with a5-a6! which allowed White control of strong squares where his pieces became "good" pieces. Until the last part of the game, Black was left with "bad" pieces that are either lacking room to move around or passively defending a weakness.