Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Psychological Caution

Black to play

Exchange sac-wise, I’ve been in a bit of a slough of despond recently. A couple of days after last week’s post BORP? XXIX - I stumbled across a quote from Petrosian. I’m not sure if it helped or made things worse.

I repeat, that the first and main difficulty in making a positional exchange sacrifice is a psychological caution: after all, you have to give up a rook for a minor piece. The second difficulty is that the exchange is given up when this is not forced by circumstances. Therefore you must anticipate beforehand, in good time, how events will develop and take the necessary measures.

Tigran Petrosian

I don’t know where Petrosian said this. Or even if he said for that matter.

I came across it at  You can email them to find out the sources of their little nuggets of wisdom if you want, but I’m not sure I can be bothered in this case. I’m happy to take CQ at their word. I mean, everybody knows Petrosian is Mr Exchange-Sac. Everybody knows he did ... Re6 at Zurich sixty years ago.

Frankly, were it to turn out that the 'Boorish Armenian Peasant' - (c) the ECF’s ECU delegate - didn’t actually say what say he did I would regard that as more his fault than theirs. It is, after all, exactly what you imagine Petrosian should have said.

Anyhoo, Petrosian’s idea is entirely plausible. Yes, there are technical chess difficulties to overcome when making an exchange sacrifice, but the primary problem is about thinking process. It feels wrong to give up material so we often don’t when we could.

I’m reminded of Rowson’s thoughts on the difficulties we create for ourselves with the way we teach chess. Chess pieces have values, we tell beginners, and rooks are worth more than bishops and knights. The problem is that it’s very hard to let go of this concrete certainty when we reach the stage that it stops being entirely useful.

I’m quite sure that everybody reading this knows full well that 'it all depends', that a good minor piece is better than a bad rook, that chess strategy simply isn’t at home to rules and guidelines that can be followed  regardless of context or circumstance. We all know this intellectually. And yet somewhere much deeper in us rests the cast iron fact that 5 > 3. Whatever our brains might say, our chessic hearts tell us that going against maths has got to be a bit of a risk. 

Hard not to agree with Rowson in principle. Difficult to imagine how else you could teach chess without resorting to 9 - 5 - 3 - 3 - 1, mind.

Necessity being the nursemaid of overcoming psychological caution, here’s one of Petrosian's sacrifices that you would be able to play. I’m guessing you’d find the immediate follow up too. Whether you - or I, more to the point - would be able to anticipate beforehand that it might be playable, and head for this position in the first place .... well, that's a rather different matter.

2014 ISE COUNT: 38
TISE Index


Tom Chivers said...

Hort just seems to have rolled over. I don't think you see games like that by top GMs nowadays (as white).

ejh said...

As far as 9-5-3-3-1 is concerned, I personally use 8-4.5-3-3-1, which I believe I read in Euwe and Meiden and appeared to make sense of some things that more familiar scheme did not (e.g. bishop and knight versus rook and one or two pawns, two rooks versus a queen and so on).

Matt Fletcher said...

I try not to use any scale though I suspect I'm subconsciously attached to 9-5-3-3-1 that I learned as a kid.

John Cox said...

The Petrosian quote appears, recognisably but in a different translation, at the end of an essay on positional exchange sacrifices reproduced in 'Petrosian's Legacy' (p.69 in my Sam Sloan pirate copy).