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Dan Heisman


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Quote of the Month: Coordination of your forces means the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

In my book Elements of Positional Evaluation, which is about evaluating the value of pieces (and not positions), one of the seven elements is coordination. Of course, coordination is not just associated with individual pieces and how each relates to the other pieces; it is often considered "as a whole" on how all the pieces coordinate with each other.

One interesting aspect of coordination is that pieces that move on the same lines, like doubled rooks or batteries (pieces that move the same way on the same line, like a queen and bishop on the same diagonal) would seem to be coordinating well, when in fact that is apparently the exception. GM Larry Kaufman, in measuring the value of the pieces, noted that pieces are usually strongest when they are not "in each others' way." For example, he calls two knights that guard each other "redundant knights" and notes that this is usually a weak setup. On the other hand, he notes that bishops never get in the way of each other, and thus that is one reason why the bishop-pair (when one side has both bishops and the other does not) is often a distinct advantage worth, on the average, about a half-pawn bonus.

Therefore, dissimilar pieces are often more likely to coordinate well than ones that move similarly. This is one reason for the well-known concept that endgames with queen and knight are usually superior to queen and bishop, even though the latter can form a battery.

A well-coordinated army often consists of pieces covering multiple squares in the same area, are not in the way of each other, and do not cover the same squares redundantly unless it is a "focal point" for attack. This gives the army maximum coverage.

Cramped positions, on the other hand, are usually examples of uncoordinated armies. While these positions often consist of pieces that guard each other, they also usually inhibit each others' mobility and exhibit redundancy. Of course it is very possible to have other types of uncoordinated forces that do not involve cramped positions.

I would like to illustrate some aspects of coordination with two games I played against amateurs, both from 2006 (when I was still a young fifty-six). In the first I played the opening extremely weakly, and my army ended up a cramped and an uncoordinated mess. I only won after my opponent made an instructive tactical mistake on move twelve that allowed me to overcome all my woes and more. In the second game I was playing in a simultaneous exhibition; my opponent played the white pieces weakly and my army became very mobile and well coordinated. A winning attack quickly resulted.

Amateur (1500) – Dan Heisman
Main Line Chess Club, G70/5, 2006
Slav Defense [D10]

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6

I rarely play the Slav, but that is the point; I wanted to learn something.

3.cxd5 cxd5

The Exchange Variation of the Slav Defense.

4.Nc3 Nf6 5.Bg5

This is a rare move, but not a bad one. In my unfamiliarity with the position and my desire to "punish" this move, I quickly dig a hole for myself.

5...Nbd7 (?)

I took two minutes on this first move out of book. Motivated by a Cambridge Spring setup, I "prevent" the doubling of my pawns with 6.Bxf6, but begin to dis-coordinate my queenside. Normally blocking in the queen's bishop with a move like 5...Nbd7 is not a big deal, but here it is not the best idea, and neither is blocking my queen from the d-file. I knew that in the 5.Bf4 line in the Slav that my knight belonged on c6, but I was not so sure after 5.Bg5. Engines Houdini 3 and Stockfish DD rate 5...Ne4! best with near equality and also rate 5...e6 and 5...Nc6 as clearly better than my choice.

6.e3 Qb6?

Two clearly inaccurate opening moves in a row for Black is often enough to put his position on red alert, and I manage the task with my first two moves out of book! Not good. The queen blocks the queen bishop's other development route (via b7 by moving the b-pawn), thus further messing up my queenside. How can a master play so badly? I chose this game, rather than one where I played better, to show you!


Perhaps 7.Qd2 is a slightly more accurate way to guard the b-pawn. Perhaps my opponent was worried that on d2 I might later be able to play an effective ...Ne4, but his choice violates the principle "Don't develop your queen to files where later an opponent's rook will be able to oppose it." A more specific application of the principle "Don't develop your pieces where pieces of lesser value will be able to easily drive them away with tempo."

7...e6 8.Bd3 h6 9.Bh4

White correctly avoids any exchanges, both bypassing the loss of the bishop-pair with 9.Bxf6?! and avoiding trading when the opponent is cramped.

9...Bd6 10.Nf3 0-0 11.Bg3

This is unnecessary. White should just continue his development with 11.O-O with a big opening advantage. The bad news for me is that even after this minor error, I still have problems getting all my pieces out.


I am starting to run out of reasonable moves. My queenside is a mess – how can I get those pieces to effective posts? This is bad coordination near its worst. If instead 11...Bxg3 (to alleviate the queen from the need to guard the bishop), then 12.hxg3 Qa5 13.a3 (or even 13.Kf1!?, keeping the rook on the open file) leaves White in control. I am not dead lost, but I am not happy, either!


White both breaks the opening principle about moving pieces multiple times and creates an additional problem for himself. Can you spot what it is?

Black to play

Novice Nook
[FEN "r1b2rk1/1p1n1pp1/pq1bpn1p/3pN3/
3P4/2NBP1B1/PPQ2PPP/R3K2R b KQ - 0 12"]

The main problem is that 12.Ne5 is unsafe, as I show in the game continuation. Much better was 12.Rc1 when Black has nothing better than the slow 12...Bxg3 13.hxg3 Qd6 getting the black queen out of the way of the b-pawn, so that queenside development with 14...b6 is possible.


Winning a pawn – and the game. This is an example that no matter how much you mess things up strategically, if your opponent gives you a tactical shot, it is usually enough to overcome all previous woes (see The Principle of Tactical Dominance).

13.Bxe5 Nxe5 14.dxe5 Ng4

White to play

Novice Nook
[FEN "r1b2rk1/1p3pp1/pq2p2p/3pP3/6n1/
2NBP3/PPQ2PPP/R3K2R w KQ - 0 15"]

There is no way to guard both e5; e.g., 15.f4? and e3 hangs.

15.0-0 Bd7

The pawn won't run away, so finally I can complete my development! Just one pawn is all it takes (sometimes).

16.e4 dxe4 17.Bxe4 Nxe5 18.Qd2(?)-+

Better is activating a rook with 18.Rfe1, when White can put up more fight with an extra piece in the game, but the main damage has been done.

18...Bc6 19.b3 Rfd8 20.Qc2 Rac8

Now my pieces coordinate very well: centralized knight, bishop on long diagonal, rooks on both open files, queen on same diagonal with opposing king! Notice how much easier it is for my forces to coordinate with the cramping effect of White's e-pawn. That is one reason why losing a key central pawn is often more than enough to cause a losing position. The rest almost plays itself when things are this good!

White to play

Novice Nook
[FEN "2rr2k1/1p3pp1/pqb1p2p/4n3/4B3/
1PN5/P1Q2PPP/R4RK1 w - - 0 21"]

21.Rfe1 Bxe4 22.Rxe4 Rd3 23.Rc4 Rxc4 24.bxc4 Qd4 25.Rd1

Allows a small tactic, but there is no defense. If 25.Rc1, then 25...Rd2 attacks the queen and f2.

25...Qxc3 0-1

In the next game, played in a simultaneous exhibition, my young opponent plays rather passively in the opening, giving me good play and the bishop-pair. With some natural moves, I am able to coordinate my forces nicely and roll right through.

Amateur (1300) – Heisman,Dan (2224)
Renaissance Fair, Simultaneous Exhibition, September 2006
King's Indian Defense [E90]

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7

3...d5 would be the Grünfeld Defense.

4.Nf3 0-0 5.e4 d6 6.Be3

When White plays 6.Be2 e5 7.Be3 it is called the Gligoric System. We could think of White's rare, but not unreasonable, 6.Be3 as sort of an Accelerated Gligoric System. In any case, Black's reply to challenge the bishop is thematic.

6...Ng4 7.Qd2

Questionable. White can retain the bishop with 7.Bc1 – essentially a draw offer – or 7.Bg5. The loss of white's dark-squared bishop will especially be felt on the central squares d4 and e5.

7...Nxe3 8.Qxe3 Nc6

Putting further pressure on d4 and e5.


Normal, but probably inaccurate here. Better is probably 9.Rd1 with the option of keeping the center fluid.

9...e5 10.d5 Nd4

Normally this square is not accessible to the knight, but with the bishop gone and both the c- and e-pawns advanced, it becomes a central menace. Notice that a capture Nxd4 exd4 will further expand the reaches of Black's dark-squared bishop on g7.

11.Rc1 f5

The typical "break move" in the King's Indian against the e4/d5 vs d6/e5 pawn center. White has a variety of reasonable moves (12.Qd3, 12.exf5, 12.O-O, 12.h4), but they all leave Black with a large advantage, possibly on the verge of winning.

White to play

Novice Nook
[FEN "r1bq1rk1/ppp3bp/3p2p1/3Ppp2/
2PnP3/2N1QN2/PP2BPPP/2R1K2R w K - 0 12"]


But this is not one of them. By abandoning the pressure on e4, White allows Black's army to make further progress.

12...fxe4! -+

Best. Black opens up lines for his bishop-pair and gets to develop more pieces with tempo. Normally it is strong for White to maintain a knight on e4 in this pawn structure, but here the potentially recapturing knight has already retreated to d1.


If 13.Qxe4, then 13...Bh6 and 14...Rf4-+.

13...exd4 14.Qxe4 Bf5 15.Qf3 Qg5!

Also strong is 15...Bd7 with a discovered attack on the white queen.

16.Ra1 d3

Also strong is the immediate 16...Rae8 and if 17.0-0 Qd2-+.

17.Bxd3 Rae8+

White to play

Novice Nook
[FEN "4rrk1/ppp3bp/3p2p1/3P1bq1/2P5/
3B1Q2/PP3PPP/R2NK2R w K - 0 18"]

This is just the opposite of the previous game (at least until I won the pawn after White's poor twelfth move in that game): my pieces just flow into the game with activity and coordination. Every piece is super strong; for example, the advantage of the bishop-pair is near a maximum. Plus White's king is caught in a rook cross-fire on the e- and f-files.

18.Kf1 Qd2-+

Similar is 18...Bg4 and if 19.Qg3 Qd2-+.


Allowing mate, but nothing helps; e.g., 19.Be2 Rxe2 20.Qxe2 Bd3 and Black wins the house. 19.Bxf5 is the more painful way to rid your opponent of the bishop-pair!

19...Re1# 0-1

Reader Question I cannot play chess well anymore. I have not won a single game in more than two weeks. I just lose game after game, and cannot break this losing streak. I like your saying that you do not gain rating points by winning games but only when you gain skill and learn. I can see that works both ways. I am getting frustrated and angry, and chess is just not fun anymore. What should I do? Thank you.

Answer Long losing streaks are not uncommon. As is human nature, it sometimes gets worse because it becomes psychological. The possibility of an extra long losing streak also has to do with whom you are playing: if you play regularly against those rated slightly higher than you, it is much more likely than if your opponents were slightly lower rated. One key way to enhance your probability of breaking a slump (in addition to learning basic tactics backwards and forwards; see A Different Approach to Studying Tactics) is to avoid Hope Chess. For each move, make sure you ask "Is It Safe?: Does my opponent have a check, capture, or threat in reply to my candidate move that I can't safely meet next move?" For additional advice and insight, see Breaking a Slump. Also helpful are Breaking Down Barriers and Is It Safe?. Keep your chin up!

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