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Perron, Sean

Diary of a Woodpusher

Chapter 2
Pawn Song
Sean Perron

I have decided to change my approach to chess studies a bit. An experiment if you will. To put it bluntly, and kindly, in the past my efforts were rather scattered. I would look at a little of this and a little of that, but bouncing from idea to idea does not allow the targeted concepts to take root. Which, perhaps, has resulted in the broken expert player you see before you today!

And so I am resetting the table. Instead of flitting from topic to topic, it is time to immerse myself in one aspect of the game for a prolonged period of time and really understand the concept in full. The topic in question is pawn structures.

I have confessed before to having holes in my chess education and, frankly, the biggest gaps involve my understanding of pawn structures. The whole game revolves around whatever skeleton of pawns we dangle out there, and the more familiar you are with them the better.

Instead of flitting from topic to topic, it is time to immerse myself in one aspect of the game for a prolonged period of time and really understand the concept in full.

Some well known formations, like the Carlsbad for example, I actually understand really well. I know the basic plans and ideas and can generally find my way. Other structures are a complete mystery, or at the very least leave me struggling as to discovering the most promising plans both players should follow. With some patience I believe I can close these gaps, become better aware of the typical middle game tactical shots associated with them, and even learn how to keep pressing for a win in the endgame.

Of course Black could have played better, but that's not really the point. The game well illustrates what happens when you do not have that d5 push as well covered as you thought.

My library of chess materials contains a treasure trove of seemingly useful material to assist me in that quest for knowledge. Among them are no less than seven ChessBase DVDs on pawn structures, including an excellent series by Sam Collins and a separate volume on isolated queen pawn formations. In the more traditional dead tree format, located on the bookshelf behind me, I have the classic Pawn Power In Chess by Hans Kmoch, the rather slim The Power Of Pawns by Jorg Hickl, and Pawn Structure Chess by the ever prolific Andrew Soltis.

I am a great collector of books, and media in general, but a terrible consumer of them. If you also count two pawn structure guides I acquired at chessable.com then I currently own enough instructional material on our topic to last well past the end of this year and into the next! If nothing else, in the short term, I am being introduced to some remarkable games such as the following...

Of course Black could have played better, but that's not really the point. The game well illustrates what happens when you do not have that d5 push as well covered as you thought. It introduced the idea of a timely exchange on f6 to gain control of the d5 square, and a timely pawn advance to clear that same important square d5 for a minor piece just a few moves later. Among the structures I plan to examine are the Carlsbad, Caro Kann, French, Slav, Hedgehog, and a bazillion Sicilian formations. And I will be sure to share with you examples that leave an impression.

Effective study does not take place in a vacuum. You need to apply what you have learned, otherwise the concepts and plans do not take root. What I plan to do, as I work through this material, is to save the games in a special database and play training games against the computer. That way the newly acquired ideas are practiced without competitive risk at a tournament, and the extended exposure becomes more immersive than mere passive reading.

Effective study does not take place in a vacuum. You need to apply what you have learned, otherwise the concepts and plans do not take root.

Recently I was able to play several games against titled opposition. And while I did not exactly distinguish myself, lessons were learned from the three losses. The first was a fairly lifeless game against IM Justin Sarkar. Afterwards I found FMs Dale Haessel and Alex Yam examining an endgame option I rejected. Alex felt that perhaps White can grovel for some time, but Dale demonstrated one or two ways for my opponent to turn the screw.

The challenge I present to you here is: set the endgame position presented here up with a friend or on your computer, and play it out. Black to move. Most importantly, whatever you do, no peeking at engine evaluations please! The computer is a ferocious defender and will put up stiff resistance. However, practicing how to win positions like this against a strong engine puts you well on a path to a nice fat rating. Getting better at chess requires a little work!

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