First position

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A position from a recent game. My move, as black. Where should black put the hanging bishop?

I mentioned staring down my technical deficiencies. Well, this isn’t technical exactly, but it’s a position I didn’t play very well. Here’s my analysis as I remember it:

  • It seemed to me that black’s position isn’t comfortable, or at any rate white has long-term trumps. White will capture on e4 with a nice centralized knight holding the c5 pawn, which restricts black’s queenside. Ba3 would hit the c5 pawn but that looks dicey, offside over there and vulnerable to getting trapped by a b4-push.
  • White’s light-squared bishop is unopposed and could become dangerous pointing at my queenside (say from f3). White’s Rb1 supports a queenside advance.
  • To counter white’s queenside & light-square play, I need to make my unopposed dark-squared bishop equally meaningful. d4 looks like the ideal square to do so, probing and pinning f2. (Although, should I be using d4 for my knight instead?) The play must be on the kingside because the a1-h8 diagonal is empty; me pointing at his empty queenside squares doesn’t have the same effect as a Bf3 pointing at my queenside targets. Can I get my queen to g3 with a meaningful threat? Can the knight travel over there via e5? I could put my queen on e5 hitting his knight, but Bf3 is solid and then I look vulnerable to a subsequent Re1.

So, the game continued 17…Bd4 18.Nxe4 Qc7 19.b4 Rfd8 20.Qc2 Be5. You can see that I couldn’t figure out any profitable way to use the Bd4 (all Qf4 expeditions come to nothing) and that I’m floundering on how to place/use my pieces.

Now let’s rewind and get some help from the computer engine.

Stockfish rates the pictured position as -.67, more than a half-pawn in black’s favor.

Why would this be? It seems that

  • The c5 pawn is in fact vulnerable.
  • The Ne4 looks active but it’s not immovable, and it’s not attacking anything. It just holds c5 and really gets in the way.
  • If I put a knight on d4, the white bishop can’t be maintained on f3.
  • The right move in the diagram is 17…Ba3, where it attacks c5 AND takes away both b4 and the c1 square, making c5 hard to defend. The Nc6 and possibility of …a5 make the bishop perfectly safe.
  • On a3, the bishop leaves both d4 and e5 open for my other pieces.

Stockfish’s critical line goes 17… Ba3 18. Nxe4 Qc7 19. Qd3 Rad8 20. Qe3 Rd4 21. Nc3 Qf4 22. Qxf4 Rxf4 23. Rbd1 Bxc5, using the dark squares c7, d4 and f4 and winning the c5-pawn in just a few moves.

So how badly did I misunderstand this position?

  • c5 is weak, not restrictive.
  • I can use the dark squares MUCH faster than he can gin anything up on the light squares.
  • My play is on the queenside, not the kingside.
  • Ba3 is beautifully placed, not offside.


Maybe even more fundamental is that I evaluate positions too cynically.

This comes up again later in the same game. I’ll post that as Position 2. Hoping enough cold-hard-facts analysis with Stockfish will help cure me of that; you know, I have been surprised at how often I (and similarly rated opponents) play the engine’s top choice.


7 thoughts on “First position

  1. I have a hard time stopping myself from moving the bishop back to g7, which neither you or Stockfish mention. That hole on g7 just looks so dangerous to me, especially with h4-h5 maybe coming. But I guess White doesn’t really have much, especially given that he doesn’t have a dark-squared bishop. See, I can evaluate positions too cynically too!

    1. Fascinating.

      My thought about Bg7 was that it essentially deactivates the piece. The idea of my king being in any danger didn’t occur to me. I guess I could cook something up (Bc4, Ng5, Qh4 setup?) but it seems like it would take a LOT of moves to get there.

      But you’re right, it seems like the same mental mechanism, conjuring vague perils instead of being objective.

    2. They psychology of this position is a bit weird. The fianchettoed Bishop is so common, the Bishop should feel “right” on g7…but I didn’t seriously consider this move at all. Trading Queens and trying to do something funky with Nd4, threatening the e2 Bishop was the first thing to come to mind.

      Didn’t even immediately notice the Bishop was en prise.

      1. I find that irritating but necessary on chess tactics servers — some percent of the problems are just “noticing” problems. Not pattern recognition, just “oh I didn’t see that bishop over on g1”.

  2. Regarding “noticing problems”, a few years back I coined dfan’s first law of tactics server blindness: If you can’t see any good candidate moves after a minute, you can probably capture a piece with a pawn.

    1. Nice.

      Now that you say it… I stink at blitz yet used to score pretty well in OTB time scrambles, which in hindsight seemed to stem from

      1) the impulse to play active moves, not passive ones and

      2) a general willingness to hack stuff off the board without regard for potential consequences. (Not the same as your specific rule, but related.)

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