Monday, February 13, 2012

Chess960 Opening Survival Guide 2: Covering weak squares

Here's a theory for you for part two of the Chess 960 survival guide.  In Chess960 we need to elaborate on what we mean by a weak square during the opening phase of the game.

Here is a possible definition: A Chess960 weak square is a square that was already under-defended to begin with, yet cannot be satisfactorily strengthened with a subsequent developing move...

SP439: multiple chess 960 weak squares

Why do I think that the three yellow squares are weak?
  1. d5: weak because there is not many good developing moves available that strengthens the square in any kind of satisfactory way
  2. c7: weak for exactly the same reason as d5, except that there is also a forking tactic involved on that square
  3. a8: weak because of the long diagonal attack on it and that it is simply an undefended square
If  lucky, the weak squares dissolve away quite naturally through the action of the first few moves. If you are not keen to them, you could find that the weak squares become the elephant in the room rather than the mouse! The point is that chess 960 weak squares are *invisible* and have to be inferred. They are easy for either side to miss and take a bit of time to find. This is because Chess960 weak squares are both a positional AND tactical weakness. Even though they are invisible, they so totally shape the position, and so the invisible is as important as the visible! 

It is difficult to stare at a chess 960 start and just not see these invisible weaknesses. Eventually practice will reveal them quicker and quicker in your awareness. For example there are a few ways to deal with the weak squares in SP439. Here are a few quick ideas:
  • ... d5 (followed by c6!? and Na6/Nc7)
  • ... b6!? (followed by Bb7)
  • ... g5!? (counter attacking to create more tempo to deal with the weaknesses)
In the first idea (d5/c6) notice something really interesting about the trade off that black has with c6!? Although the move is non developing, it does not impede development but actually achieves three things in one move. It eliminates all the three weak squares at the cost of only one tempo. Therefore black has actually achieved a net gain with c6! The idea only works because although black gives up the tempo with a non developing move, white has nothing in their development to prove it's weakness and actually struggles to find any play against it.

Here is another example:

SP941 The Bacrot Disaster: multiple chess960 weak squares
  1. b5: weak because there are not many satisfactory way that black has to strengthen it and leads to a mating attack with Qb5
  2. c5: weak for the same reason as b5 and leads to a forking attack on d7
  3. d7: weak for the same reasons as b5 and d5
There are a few ways to deal with the weak squares in SP941. Here are a couple of quick ideas:
  • ... c6!? (followed by Bb6)
  • ... f6!? (followed by c5)

The survival guide theory to play Chess960 especially when you are black, is to count the number of weak squares on each side of the board (traditionally called the Kingside and Queenside). Because of the way that tempo plays out in Chess, we must try to do more than one thing with each tempo we get. In chess it's quite easy to achieve two things with one move, but difficult to achieve more than two. If you count the weak squares and find that there are more than two weak squares on either one side of the board or the other, you are going to have to think how to strengthen them as a top priority especially if you are black. You need to work out a way to plug the holes as efficiently as possible, because there are more than two holes! You are going to have to accept compromises in the position, but always keeping an eye out for counter attacking chances that do happen.

Here are avenues of thought on how to deal with three chess 960 weak squares
  1. If you are white, you have an extra tempo to play something that gives away the tempo but strengthens the weaknesses
  2. If you are black, you can counterattack on white's equivalent weak squares, which can buy you extra time to sort out the weaknesses
  3. Sometimes it is possible to expend a non developing tempo, if that non developing move achieves three things, in particular removing three weak squares in one move. This can be equivalent to a net gain in tempo!
  4. If white allows, black can play out pieces to unusual squares like Na6!? if the position does not require the piece to come into active duty for some time, or if the piece makes a useful threat on it's unusual square, or the piece can redeploy to a very good square without cost. This can sometimes lull the opponent into a false sense of security and then later spook them out as the position transforms into something effective.
So here is a Chess960 insiders tip:
If you want to read the chess 960 start position really well, count the number of chess 960 weak squares on each side of the board kingside and queenside. If three weak squares exist on either side, you must develop a plan to make at least one of the squares stronger to reduce the problem down to two or less weak squares, especially if you are black. Always keep an eye out for counter attacking chances when the opponent is misreading the position.

Enjoy 960!
(note that this is only another theory!)

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