"...a Chessmaster should be a combination of a beast of prey and a monk."

Saturday, January 25, 2014

My System

Well, I have a couple of weeks off here for Chinese New Year. So my idea is that I will try to work my way through Nimzowitsch's "My System". I've had a copy of the Quality Chess Ian Adams translation for a few years. I've looked at some of the sections of this before but I would like to really go through the whole book and digest as much as I can. I'm sure with a work like this you can read it multiple times at different strength levels and get more out of it, so I don't intend to master it, just to learn as much as possible for me right now.

 Today I worked through the first chapter. My plan is to try to work through a chapter a day which should be just about right for the break I've got right now. Basically, part of this has to do with Silman and others talking about the idea that "tactics only till 2000" isn't really a good approach. "My System" seems to have a lot more to do with positional ideas.

 As far as chapter one goes, it was interesting to me to think about trying to win tempos in the opening instead of pawns. I guess most of the time in the opening I am thinking about capture-recapture sequences involving pawns on specific squares to see whether they can be won or not. While I don't think that's a bad thing, obviously there are other things that can enter into calculations as well. Part of me is suspicious of whether I would be able to properly take advantage of just a tempo or two advantage in the opening. On the other hand, the best way to learn how to use it is probably to end up having that kind of advantage in games and then seeing what I can do with it. So this is something I will try to to think about more. Ok, so there are some really obvious cases, like the reason that developing the queen early is bad in terms of it getting chased around by developing moves of the opponent. But it seems there are many more cases where this can be an issue.

 Another point that caught my attention was the idea that you should decline all gambits or if you accept them it shouldn't be to hold onto the pawn. Somehow that doesn't seem quite right to me. On the other hand, he isn't probably telling you that you should never in your chess career accept a gambit and try to hold onto the pawn. Rather, I think he's trying to educate the learner about the specific importance of the development and the tempo. I believe that the rule of thumb I learned was that a pawn was worth about three tempos. So for a gambit to be sound you have to gain about that much time. Nimzowitsch is trying to show you how important and valuable that time is to someone who is not very advanced, so he is saying you should rather have the time than the pawn. Also, the way he frames the rule is "You should never play to win pawns before you complete your development." So it's not so much that it's never right to win a pawn but that in the beginning of the game, you must focus strenuously on the development of your position rather than acquiring profit. The image he uses is a child of six going onto the stock market to buy stocks. It's not appropriate.

 I think that I didn't really understand all about the pawn in the center though. He showed some examples of how free pawns in the center can "demobilize" the opponent by chasing pieces around and moving them away from their optimal positions. I got that. Then he was talking about the idea of a free and mobile center pawn and how to treat it. Some of this seemed less clear to me. I understood the basic idea that there are two main ways to handle an opponents pawn that is free and mobile like this. One way is to capture and trade it off, the other is to restrain it. He showed some different examples of this. Still, in some of the examples it was unclear why the players played the way they did. It seemed sometimes that the pawn could be advanced instead of accepting the trade off and some other little issues like that.

 Well, hopefully I will have more to post about this book in the next days.

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