11 Jun 2016

Transforming advantages in chess

Today, we have an interesting topic to discuss. It is entitled “Transforming Advantages” or converting advantages into a victory. This lesson has been prepared by FM Kevin Trujillo.
About the author (FM Kevin Trujillo):

I started playing chess competitively when I turned 15. Over my short 5 years playing chess, I have been able to play chess in many different countries. GM Igor Smirnov definitely sparked my desire to play chess.
FM Kevin Trujillo
A picture of me (left)

Transforming Advantages

Recognizing advantages in chess is not enough to win. It is crucial to understand the nuances of the position, and when to capitalize on an advantage and when to exchange it for another advantage.  For example: exchanging a very strong attack for material advantage.

It is important for amateur and even masters to be aware of this, because holding on to an advantage or failing to recognize when to transform it could even result in a loss. How can we do this?

In the following game, we will not only analyze how Capablanca navigated a position where he had a superior bishop, but we will also learn different ways in which you can transform small edges towards victories.

Nimzowitsch – Capablanca
Nimzowitsch vs CapablancaBlack to play

Let’s analyze this position. White would love to play e4 and develop his dark-squared bishop. The queen on a4 is in a very good position because not only does it support e4, but it allows White to play Ba6. We can see that White may attempt to play on the light squares. His plan would be to develop his rooks on the d and c files, as well as playing Ne5-c6 in the future if allowed.

Black has very active pieces and is ahead in development. White’s position has no weaknesses; however, his dark-squared bishop is still on c1, and Black should act quickly before White gets the chance to develop his queenside.

Now that we analyzed the position, what is the direction Black should take?

1… Qf6!
Nimzowitsch vs Capablanca
White to play

This move activates the queen, gives space for the rooks to develop, and pressurizes the b2 square.

White now has big problems developing his dark-squared bishop and his rook on a1. Black recognizes that White must play b3 (or a3-b4) to develop his bishop.  One way to transform a small edge into a big one is by stopping opponent’s “Freeing moves”.  By doing this, we force our opponent into a very passive position.

2.Ba6 Bxa6 3.Qxa6

White removed Black’s powerful bishop, but is now left in a good bishop vs. bad bishop situation.

3…Nb4 4.Qe2 Rfd8 5.a3 Nd3 6.Ne1
Nimzowitsch vs Capablanca
Black to play

The following move by Capablanca encircles a very important concept: It is okay to exchange pieces that are not crucial in your main idea. In other words, Capablanca is trying to take advantage of White’s bad bishop. By removing knights, he is not only isolating the pieces that are crucial in his master plan (good bishop vs. bad bishop), but he is leaving the opponent without counter-play.

6…Nxe1 7.Rxe1 Rac8 8.Rb1
Nimzowitsch vs Capablanca
Black to play

Black activated all his pieces, while White is still trying to develop his queenside. White still can’t develop his bishop, unless he willingly weakens his queenside. We can see that when you pressure your opponent and insist on your ideas, you can force your opponent to weaken his position and make mistakes.

White intends to play 9.b4 followed by 10.Bb2. How can Black stop this?


Now 9.b4 is met with 8…Bd6 followed by Qe4 with a big advantage for Black because the rook on b1 is under attack and Black threatens Rc2.

We can see that tactics play a huge role in strategic battlesBlack is using tactics to stop White’s plans. He is also using tactics to slowly improve his position and force the opponent to defend.

9.g3 Qd5 10.b4 Bf8 11.Bb2 Qa2
Nimzowitsch vs Capablanca
White to play

White was able to develop his bishop but at a very costly price. His light squares on the queenside are very weak and Black is ready to enter the 7th rank with his rooks.

12. Ra1 Qb3 13. Bd4 Rc2 14.Qa6 e5!
Nimzowitsch vs Capablanca
White to play

White is in serious trouble. Black is giving up a pawn in exchange of two very active rooks on the 7th rank.

15. Bxe5 Rdd2 16. Qb7 Rxf20-1

White kept playing, but he eventually resigned.

Note: you can watch this complete game here.


-> It is important to recognize when we can transform an advantage.

How do we do this? There are 2 ways:

  • Recognize your opponent’s “freeing moves” and prevent your opponent from freeing their position. This forces your opponent to either weaken his position or play passively for the rest of the game.
  • Pressure your opponent. When your opponent has to defend, he is prone to making mistakes. Capablanca pressured the b2 pawn, knowing that it could be defended easily, but forced White to play accurately.

-> Don’t be afraid to exchange pieces that are not part of your main idea.

Black was happy to exchange knights and light-squared bishops as we saw in the game because the knights did not play a role in his plan.

-> Tactics play a big role in strategic battles.

Capablanca took advantage of White’s hanging piece (the queenside rook) to improve his position and stop White from developing the queenside. Recognize your opponent’s tactical weaknesses (e.g hanging pieces, exposed king, etc) and use them to improve your position.


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P.S. Did you enjoy Kevin’s lesson? Please write in the comments below and let us know your thoughts. Also, please share this interesting lesson with your friends! :)

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