It’s all about perception. Our brain understands any situation based on what it’s been trained to see and what it thinks is out there [1]. Two chess players can see the same position and come away with vastly different perceptions.

I have posted the below position from Teichmann – Chigorin, Cambridge Springs 1904, in a few Facebook groups inviting comments about how valuable the e5-bishop really is – is it “good”, or “bad”?

Well, most chess books tell us about the center very much the same (for example, see [2]), and based on that amputated view of reality, the e5-bishop in the diagram below should be perceived as dominant and strong.

Actually, this bishop is miserable!? – Really, you gotta be kidding me!

A powerful bishop freezing the blood of the enemy, or just a fake? (Thanks to Samuel Bak for another great piece of chess art, “Bishop, Knight, Rook”)

What’s wrong with the bishop “strong”? What is missing from the picture if we can’t seem to see things clearly here? Could it be that our brain doesn’t perceive something very important, perhaps something we haven’t been given due attention during  our primary chess education? Maybe something we don’t take into picture consistently every time we think the next move, and we should?

To find out, let’s take a look at the game (with the game commentary from Vladimir Alatortsev, [3])

Richard Teichmann – Mikhail Chigorin

Cambridge Springs 1904

1. d4 d5 2. c4 Nc6 3. Nf3 Bg4 4. cxd5 Bxf3 5. dxc6 Bxc6 6. Nc3 e6 7. Bf4 Nf6 8. e3 Bb4 9. Qb3 Nd5 10. Bg3 O-O 11. Bd3 Qg5 12. Qc2 f5 13. Be5 Rf7 14. O-O-O Bxc3 15. bxc3

Teichmann-Chigorin, 1904, after 15.bxc3

A very instructive position. White has a centralized bishop occupying a classic outpost. Moreover, it’s eyeing at the black king’s position. Yet, the bishop can’t be considered as an attacking piece. Why? Because it’s detached from the rest of the army. Even its pressure at g7 is fictitious as the bishop isn’t coordinated with other team members. For that purpose, White needs to have other pieces taken part in the attack, by playing Rg1 and g2-g4 to open the g-file, for instance. The pressure on g7 will mean something only after the rook joins the attack. But White simply has no time for it as his king needs defense. And for that the bishop is better placed at b2.

Here’s Botvinnik’s comment: “The basic weakness of White’s position is the “strong” position of his bishop at e5, even though it is evident that White pinned all his hopes to it! For the bishop is badly placed at e5, as it can’t share in the defense of its king when Black begins an energetic counter-attack… only four moves were necessary and Black’s attack was irresistible,” [4]

It’s a completely different story with the black knight which too is occupying a central position. The knight soon becomes one of principal attackers, together with the black queen, bishop and b-pawn. The knight hasn’t established an effective coordination with friendly troops yet, however, Black can ensure it much faster than White on the K-side (Rg1, g2-g4). The coordination of pieces is dynamic in nature.

15. …b5! 16. Rhg1 Qe7 17. Rdf1 Qa3+ 18. Kd2 b4! 19. c4 Ba4 20. Qb1 Nc3 21. Qa1 Rd8!

Almost all black pieces including b-pawn have achieved a harmonious cooperation. They are all after the white king. Coordination between white pieces is deteriorating with each move.

22. g3 Ne4+ 23. Ke2 Nc5 24. Qb1 Nxd3 25. Qxd3 Qxa2+ 26. Kf3 Bc2 0-1

Black pieces have completed a successful attack on the white king. On the other hand, the “strong” e5-bishop has never taken part in the battle. We’ve seen an exemplary coordination of black troops, and a lack of coordination on the other side. Formally speaking, the position of the e5-bishop was ideal, but the form was at odds with inner meaning of the situation – the bishop has not played part in defending the Q-side at all.

In a game of chess, there should not be spectators. If chessmen of one side are not participating in offensive operations (piece cooperation in attack), they should be standing on defensive positions (piece cooperation in defense).

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Let’s remind ourselves once again of what the great Capablanca told us:

“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“, Capablanca, My Chess Career.

On the scale of the value of pieces (see section E-2-v), perhaps the coordination should move up to the top of the list…  After all, it all may be about the coordination of troops, piece harmony, team play, working together. Chess is a team sport…

* * *

Sources and references:

[1] How your chess vision works, “What actually happens under your skull when you read a chess position?”

[2] “Any piece placed in the center is controlling more squares than it would elsewhere, which means that this is where it possesses its greatest fighting value. Furthermore it is from the center that pieces can be transferred to either of the flanks in the smallest number of moves,” Isaac Lipnitsky, Questions of modern chess theory, Quality chess, 2008, p.14 (this widely accepted view on the value of a centralized piece doesn’t take into account that piece value and dynamic position evaluation are dependent on chess contacts, that is, how pieces interact during the game and what kind of relationships they establish at any time)

[3] V. A. Alatortsev, Coordination of pieces and pawns in the game of chess, Moscow, Fizkultura and sport, 1956, p.41

[4] M. Botvinnik, One hundred selected games, Dover publications, p.17

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