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Monday, November 17, 2014

Evaluating a Position the Levenfish Way

   G. Y. Levenfish (1889-1961) was a Russian GM who scored his peak competitive results in the 1920s and 1930s. He was twice Soviet champion, in 1934 and 1937 he drew a match against future world champion Mikhail Botvinnik. He also had a career as an engineer.
     Levenfish was a well-regarded end-game specialist and chess writer. As an author he wrote many books: Chess for Beginners, First Book for the Chess Player, Modern Openings, Izbrannye Partii I Vospominanya – his autobiography that was published after his death and his most famous work, Rook Endings which he co-authored with Vasily Smyslov.
     Some of his observations: he said tactical vision was a “gift of nature” which explained how young players became GM’s so quickly. This was also Alekhine’s opinion. In fact when I was learning how to play chess the positional players ruled the chess world and there were few books available on tactics. I guess it had to do with the belief that tactical ability was something you were born with.  Nowadays the pendulum has swung the other way and all I see on the forums are lower rated players parroting the saying ‘chess is 99 per cent tactics’ so that’s all most of them ever bother with, except for openings; openings are still a popular subject.
     Levenfish once proposed a system to evaluate the positional merits of a position that could be pretty handy. The method he advocated, even if it does not give you a precise estimate of the position or a strategic plan, does have some merit. It helps you notice things you might otherwise miss. Levenfish’s method should only be carried out after you first make sure there are no sound tactics available. I emphasize sound tactics because occasionally I play on line and quite often run into players who will play unsound tactics because they read 'chess is 99 per cent tactics.'  I have news for them. I am not very good at tactics but I am most likely no worse at tactics than they are. What that means is just sacrificing something for the sake of playing 'tactically' is not likely to work.  There is a difference between playing tactically and simply tossing away pieces.
     Since it takes a little time, Levenfish's Method is probably best done on your opponent’s time. If nothing else, it’s better than sitting there thinking, “If I play 13.Ne3 he plays 13…Be6 then I go 14.b4” etc. Chances are unless both players are pretty strong they’re thinking along completely different lines anyway. The main advantage to Levenfish’s system is that it forces you to think in a methodical way and as a result, you may see important details you might miss using a haphazard thinking process or no process at all.
     The Levenfish Method: Compare each of your pieces with its counterpart of the other color. You start with the Kings to see if they are faced with any threats. Then the pieces…are they developed? What are they attacking? What are they defending? Are they being attacked? Finally you would check the Pawns. That's all there is to it. Like I said, by taking a quick gander at the individual pieces and comparing them to their counterparts will often lead to seeing something that would otherwise be missed. And it's really quite simple to do.

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