10/03/2018, How to Evaluate a Chess Position

On March, 10th, 2018, I presented some concepts about chess strategy to members of Nairobi Chess Club, which I have learned reading the book “Methods of Chess Strategy” (Karpov & Kalinichenko) published by “Russian Chess House”, 2009. This post contains what was explained in that lesson with examples selected from that book.

When we conduct a game from the opening, through the middle game, until the endgame, we need to know some basic elements, which will help us to obtain a plan of play. The purpose of the strategy is obtaining that plan, while tactics is the group of elements that will help us to execute the plan. Strategy and tactics complement each other.

A plan is like a road map that we follow when going from one point A to another point B. In chess, the point A is the actual position and the point B is checkmating the opponent’s king. But expecting to obtain in chess a plan that drives you from the actual position to checkmate the opponent’s king is not realistic. This plan doesn’t exist. In chess, we use ‘short-term plans’ (‘step-by-step plans’). To obtain these plans, we need to evaluate the position according to strategic elements. These elements were established almost 130 years ago by Wilhelm Steinitz, the first World Champion in the history of chess.

These elements are:

  1. Security of the king: All chess players have experienced more or less dramatically that a king in the middle is more vulnerable than a castled king. Always try to protect your king by castling.
  2. Flexibility of the chain of pawns: Pawns have the disadvantage that they cannot move backwards. If we want to move a pawn, we need to be absolutely sure that it will not obstruct the activity of our pieces and will not risk the security of our king. If the chain of pawns is flexible, you are keeping chances to push the pawns forward in the middle game and create threats (passed pawns) to your opponent.
  3. Advantage of space: If you have more available squares than your opponent, you will have better chances to put your pieces in the best places.
  4. Development of pieces: If you are developing your pieces faster than your opponent, you will have more chances to get the initiative (to advance your game)
  5. Activity of pieces: Active pieces means that they can reach any part of the board quickly.
  6. Pair of Bishops: To show all its power, the bishop needs open diagonals. That is why bishops are especially useful in open positions when pawns and other pieces do not block them. Having the pair of bishops is a powerful combination because one of them moves along light squares, while the other along dark squares. They complement each other.
  7. Control over open files: Open files are like roads. If you are controlling these ‘roads’, your pieces (especially bishops and rooks) will use them to invade your opponent’s position.
  8. Majority of pawns: When all pieces have been exchanged and there are only pawns and kings on the board, you will have chances of to create passed pawns on the side of the board where you have a majority of pawns. Steinitz originally stressed the importance of pawn majorities, particularly on the queenside. The reason for that is castling short side is easier than long side, so if all pieces are exchanged, the pawns farther away from the king are on the queenside.

Evaluating a position means both YOUR OWN position, and also YOUR OPPONENT’S position according to the 8 elements:

  • The simplest way to evaluate is to compare how many of them are in both positions.
    • The side which has more of those better elements probably has the advantage. And if the advantage is clear, the plan will be to attack. Steinitz stated that: “The side that possesses an advantage must attack, otherwise he risks losing that advantage.”
    • When both sides have a similar number of advantageous elements, our plan will be improving those elements which aren’t better in our position.
  • At the same time, we will identify weaknesses in both positions, because if we are playing for an attack, we have to remember that “the attack will be effective when is directed at a weakness in the opponent’s position”.

Because we play with ‘step-by-step plans’, we must be ready to adjust our plans when necessary accordingly to our opponent’s moves. Remember that you are not playing alone!

Below are two games to illustrate how to evaluate a position:

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