– What makes people, chessmen thrive?

– Why some teams win more than others?

The answer: the power of cooperation. A great team play. An effective coordination between team members.

What is the coordination, or harmony between pieces anyway?

Dominique Digeon, Alekim Bogolgabov

Is success all about relationships?

The quality of your life is the quality of your connections with other people, your family members, friends, coworkers.

No major goal in the game (of life) can be achieved by an individual on their own. Even the Queen (of England) can’t do that. As in warfare, team sports, business environment, or chess, a coordinated action of the group members is required.

For example, “it is a common military practice to “divide and conquer.” Say that you are outnumbered and “outgunned” by an opponent that is a coalition of different groups. Attack them when they are working together in harmony, and you may well be defeated. But if you can get them to split up, either by forcefully separating them by various strategies and tactics, or by getting them to fight amongst themselves, your chances of winning are much greater. Just look at military history and you can see how effectively this works”. [1] This is Sun Tzu’s second strategic approach to how to defeat the enemy (“to prevent the junction of the enemy forces”, as he put it).

Synergy (Greek for “working together”) demonstrates that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

The value added by the system as a whole, beyond that contributed independently by the parts, is primarily created by the relationship among the parts; that is, how they are interconnected. In essence, a system constitutes a set of interrelated components working together with a common objective: fulfilling some designated need. [2]

So it seems it’s all about pulling together. Cooperation. Combined action. Group value.

Basically, team members should do the following to deliver an outstanding performance:

  • Support each other,
  • Keep lines of communication open at all times,
  • Follow the set strategic objectives by carrying out subordinate day-to-day (or move-to-move) operations in their designated roles (it’s the biggie!).

Ilija Penušliski, Capa said it was a draw!

Piece cooperation and harmony in chess

Say you are a great chess tactician and you’ve come up with the best plan possible for the position before you. But how do you put everything in place?

Let’s see what the great Capa has to say about it: “… the main thing is the coordination of pieces, and this is where most players are weak. Many try to attack with one piece here and another piece there without any concerted action, and later they wonder what is wrong with their game.

You must coordinate the action of your pieces, and this is a main principle that runs throughout.” [3]

Another brain box of chess, Dr Lasker points out that there is cooperation and interaction between any two chess values, and this interaction has a certain typical character which always manifests itself whenever two values come into cooperation. The result of the cooperation

  • in attacking positions is to strengthen each element of the group;
  • in positions of defense, to protect each other;
  • in positions of balance, to complement each other.

The stronger cooperation is always a position of greater mobility than the weaker cooperation would allow. By cooperation you aim to keep your position plastic, alive; by lack of cooperation you take the life out of the position.

The main idea is to increase the range of possible plans to follow, without specifying too early which road you would prefer to travel. Flexibility. Adaptability. Elasticity. [4]

Here lies the connection with strategy. Only a combined action of pieces will allow them to achieve the common goal – your strategic plan. And as we know the main principle of strategy is to put the break on them, while achieving freedom (“greater mobility”) for yourself.

The coordination between pieces constitutes the main dynamic force of any strategic plan or a combination in chess. The value of each piece increases as it serves a role in fulfilling the set strategic/tactical objectives.

Hierarchy of things in chess: Strategy -> Tactics -> Coordination of pieces -> Basic board contacts

Both Dr. Lasker and Capablanca haven’t provided an explicit explanation what this cooperation is consisting of actually. Some easy explanation for the rest of us. In fact, it’s hardly possible to explain it in the language of reason. As we know, the logic is inferior to our unconscious power brain.

Yet this is exactly the area in which expert chess players excel. Scientific research shows they are faster than chess novices in identifying chess objects and their functional relations.

So it’s time for us to try (“Try not. Do or do not. There is no try”,  I hear Yoda, in The Empire Strikes Back, mutter here) to uncover and get familiar with different kind of relations, or contacts between pieces.

Later we will give a break-down analysis of all basic contacts that may arise on the board. They are the foundation upon which the piece harmony rests. And that would be an easy task.

Unfortunately, as we go bottom-up to define the coordination of pieces, things become more and more elusive. We seek harmony all the time, the beautiful, the ideal, but their traces are still escaping us.

After all, there can be only one Capablanca! Only the blessed know “the law by which their pieces are in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger” (Sun Tzu’s definition of harmony in warfare, rephrased).

* * *

1.  http://www.loveshade.org/5bb/belief5.html
2. Benjamin Blanchard, System Engineering Management, John Wiley, 2004
3. J. R. Capablanca, My Chess Career, Dover publications, 1966
4. Emanuel Lasker, Manual of Chess, Dover, 1960

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