30 July 2011

Pawn Power in Chess960

If the title of this post reminds you of the book 'Pawn Power in Chess' by Hans Kmoch, that's exactly what it's meant to do. I read it years ago, and while I can't say that it had any direct impact on my knowledge of chess, it certainly made me think more about Pawn structures. Already having some familiarity with the book's ideas, I wondered, 'How much of its content is relevant to chess960?'

'Pawn Power' is divided into three parts: 'The Elements of Pawn Play', 'Pawns and Pieces', and 'Pawn Power in the Game'. The first part, the 'Elements', presents the basic formations of Pawns that can arise during the course of a game: passed, isolated, backward, doubled, chained, etc. Unfortunately, Kmoch introduced an entirely new terminology that obscures his explanation and that renders his exposition meaningless without a guide to translation. For example,

'Helpers and sentries neutralize each other if there is a helper for every sentry. A half-free Pawn with inadequate help is no true candidate, but a faker.' (p.6) • 'An unfree Pawn or a faker may suddenly become a passer of decisive power by means of a sacrificial combination. We call such a Pawn a sneaker.' (p.8) • And much more of the same.

Chessville.com has just such a guide: Glossary of Terms 'Pawn Power in Chess'. If you manage to cut through the jargon, which was never adopted by other chess writers, you will see that his catalog of Pawn structures is comprehensive and applies equally to chess960.

The second part, 'Pawns and Pieces', presents specific characteristics of Pawn structures that enhance or reduce the powers of the Bishop, the Knight, and the Rook, with one chapter on each of the three pieces. For example, Bishops are affected by masses of Pawns on the same color or the opposite color that the Bishop moves; Knights prefer outposts where they can't be harrassed by enemy Pawns; Rooks work best on open files. This again applies equally to chess960, although Kmoch's examples are naturally drawn from positions in traditional chess (SP518 RNBQKBNR) where the specific opening is usually discernible in the position.

A further chapter, 'The Sealer and the Sweeper', deals with Pawn moves that close and open the position. I can't remember seeing any of this sort of action in any chess960 games, but there is nothing inherent to chess960 that excludes it from taking place. The last chapter in part two, 'The Center and the Fork Trick', is about a specific tactic that occurs in traditional chess, usually from 1.e4 openings.

The third part, 'Pawn Power in the Game', is about common formations that arise in the opening of traditional chess. About 60 pages, representing 20% of the book, deal with Benoni formations. I doubt there is much here that applies to chess960.

A web search on 'Pawn Power in Chess' returns reviews of more recent books in the same genre, for example Understanding Pawn Play in Chess on JeremySilman.com. While I haven't read any of these other books, I wouldn't be surprised to find that their content is just as relevant to chess960 as Kmoch's opus: 50% exclusive to traditional chess, 50% generic to chess960. This is still a higher percentage than most chess books, especially books on the opening, which are 100% exclusive to traditional chess.


biffmeatstick said...

The section on pawns and bishops had terms like "leucopenia" for weakness of the white squares. I never got past that chapter.

GeneM said...

Great general idea in this blog post Mark. Reassessing traditional ideas in the new light of FRC-chess960.

I believe that Reuben Fine's famous list of 9 opening principles of chess would be found in need of revision if ever deeply tested in say setup RNBBKNQR (S#549).
Some of Fine's so-called principles would be reclassified as merely esoteric tactical facts that are particular to a subset of chess960 setups.
Some other of Fine's 9 opening principles would be confirmed and bolstered as true principles of opening chess in a theoretically setup-agnostic world.
And we might find it necessary to add a principle about handling rooks; or about handling opening play when the setup has both white knights starting on the same shade of square.

Thanks, GeneM, 2011/Oct/16