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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Counting Pieces

      In his interesting book, The Inner Game of Chess-How to Calculate and Win, Andrew Soltis writes that when mentally processing the branches of the tree of our analysis one has to ask several important questions. First, and most important, is the evaluation of the final position. Botvinnik wrote, “A master’s strength is in the evaluation of a position.” You can calculate 15 moves deep, but if your evaluation of the final position is wrong you’ve wasted a lot of time. Another important question is, “Is it truly the final position?” i.e. when can you safely stop calculating? Other important questions are, is it the right move order and if you’ve made a mistake in your calculation, do you have a way to bail out (say by taking a perpetual)?
      In most evaluations we are guided by the material situation, but how do you keep track of it in a complicated position with a large tree and many captures? Soltis recommends the simplest way is at the end of the variation count up what’s left on the board.
      Sounds simple doesn't it? Soltis gives several examples, one by Alekhine (!), where mistakes in counting pieces were made. Another problem exists when the sequence of moves involves a material imbalance because in those situations much depends on the specific nature of the position rather than on a simple piece count. It’s so complicated Soltis devotes 60 pages to the problem, more than any other subject in the book.
     Here’s a good example from one of my correspondence games. Should black capture the P with 16…Bxb2 or capture the B with 16…Nxf4? Or, simply move the attacked R? I suggest setting up the position and trying to run through all the possible variations then, if possible, checking your analysis with an engine. There are some lines which result in a material imbalance, so that adds to the difficulty.

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