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The objective of development is about improving the value of your pieces by increasing the importance of their roles. Well-developed pieces have more fire-power than undeveloped pieces and they do more in helping you gain control.
Now we will look at 5 practical things you can do to help you achieve your development objective.
- Give priority to your least active pieces
- Exchange your less useful pieces for your opponent’s useful pieces
- Restrict the development of your opponent’s pieces
- Neutralize your opponent’s best piece
- Secure strong squares for your pieces
Let’s look at some examples of each.
1. Give priority to your least active pieces
You have seen in a previous lesson that when thinking about development you should have 2 questions in mind:
- Which piece needs to be developed (which piece is the least active) ?
- Where should it go (where can its role be maximized) ?
In the example below it is black’s turn. What would you do here to improve your development?
Step 1 – Find your least active piece
The least active piece is the piece that has no role or has the least important role. In this position black has two pieces the initially seem to need attention – Bf8 and Ra8. However, the Bf8 is already quite useful since he adds pressure on white’s a3 pawn and also gives added protection to black’s king-side. Therefore it is clear that the Ra8 needs attention the most.
Step 2 – Decide where the least active piece should go
We identified the least active piece and now we must decide where the Ra8 should go. Naturally the rook should go to d8 where he will attack the white queen and help to control a number of squares on the open central file.
When you have a good understanding of the development objective – moves such as Rd8 will be second nature to you.
Which rook should you capture?
The concept of the least active piece can also be used when you must choose between two or more pieces that you can capture. Firstly you should consider the point-value of the piece but you should also consider how active the piece is. Let’s look at an example:
In the position above black has 2 attractive options – Nxa1 or Nxe1. Which rook would you rather capture and why?
Here you should ask yourself – which rook is more active? The Re1! Also, the Re1 performs the role of protecting the e4-pawn. The Ra1 is undeveloped and currently has no useful role.
Now you may be tempted to think that Nxe1 is correct, but white will recapture with the Ra1 he will again have a rook on e1. But by playing Nxa1!, Rxa1 the Re1 will now be in the corner and black will win the e4 pawn too.
In other words, by playing Nxa1 we are in fact “capturing” the Re1 since the Re1 will end up on a1. To be clear, both Nxa1 and Nxe1 are good moves but Nxa1 is much better.
This second example illustrated that when you have an option to capture two pieces of similar value, you should capture the piece that is playing a more important role.
2. Exchange your less useful pieces for your opponent’s useful pieces
Look at the example below. Which piece is white’s least useful piece?
White’s Bd2 doesn’t serve a very useful purpose since its role is severely restricted by the white pawn-structure. On the other hand, black’s Bd6 is well-developed and serves a useful purpose of covering the c5 and c7 squares – which makes it hard for white’s rooks to enter black’s territory.
It is often a good idea if you can exchange a less useful piece for your opponent’s well-developed piece.
In this case white can play Bb4! and force and exchange of the bishops. After this exchange white can improve the roles of his pieces even more by placing a rook on c7 and capturing the b7-pawn.
2. Restrict the development of your opponent’s pieces
Restricting the development of your opponent’s pieces is a very useful way to get an advantage in the development objective. Study the examples below to see how white gets an advantage by restricting black’s pieces:
White can restrict black’s development by targeting the movements of the Nb8 with the move Bb5!
By restricting the development of the Nb8, white also restricts the Ra8. On the next move white may play Nc4, hitting the d6-pawn too.
The black pieces have been paralyzed. White can now use his knight and king to gain complete control over the position and go to support the advance of his d-pawn. Even though material is equal white should win easily due to his significant advantage in development.
3. Neutralize your opponent’s best piece(s)
In the position on the diagram below it is black’s turn to move.
Black has a small advantage in material (he has an extra pawn), but white’s knight on d6 forced both black’s rooks into defensive positions (Rb8 must defend the b7-pawn and Rf8 must defend the f7-pawn.)
At first, the move Ne8 may seem like a bad move since you are retreating your knight to the back rank. However, if you consider the reason for this move – it makes a lot of sense.
From this example you can see how an understanding of the main objectives can help you find good moves – in this position your most relevant objective was to neutralize your opponent’s best piece.
P.S. Note the useful role of your Bg4 – covering the square which prevents white from improving the development of his rook to d1 from where he could defend the Nd6.
4. Secure strong squares for your pieces
Improving the role of your pieces often means placing them on good squares. However, good squares aren’t always freely available and you must sometimes “create” good squares for your pieces.
In the position below white would ideally want to improve the role of his Nd3 by moving it to c5. From c5 the knight will subject the black pieces into defensive positions to defend the b7 and e6 pawns.
But white can’t play Nc5 right now since black will simply chase the optimistic knight away with the move b7-b6.
Here is another example:
White wants to play Rc1 and take control of the open c-file which would be a good improvement for his rook.
But playing Rc1 straight away won’t achieve any advantage since black will neutralize the Rc1 by playing Rc8. Instead, white prepares the Rc1-move by first playing Ba6 which controls the c8-square and prevents black from playing Rc8.
Although a long battle still lies ahead, white will have a development advantage. Remember that strong players aim to accumulate small advantages.
P.S. If you were tempted to play g4-g5?! to secure the e5-square for the knight you should be commended for a good idea, but the idea doesn’t work so well since:
- You give black the opportunity to develop his rook by playing Rc8 and
- black can attack your g5-pawn by playing h7-h6.
5. Don’t help your opponent develop
We just looked at 5 ways how you can achieve your development objective. There is however another thing to keep in mind – don’t help your opponent to develop. There are 2 common mistakes whereby you will simply be helping your opponent to develop:
- Making a weak threat that can easily be blocked
- Making an exchange that helps your opponent to develop a piece
Don’t make weak threats that only help your opponent to develop
In the diagram below we see an example of the first case:
Black “developed” his bishop to b4 – checking white’s king, but white will simply block the check by playing c3 and attack the bishop in the same time. In essence black only helps white to strengthen his central pawn-structure.
Avoid making weak threats that help your opponent to develop.
Don’t make pointless exchanges
The next example illustrates that you should avoid making pointless exchanges since it usually only helps your opponent to develop:
- dxc4? will help white to develop with Bxc4
- Bxf3? will help white to develop with Qxf3
Black should rather make a move that improves his own development, for example 0-0 would be a better move for black since it improves his development and doesn’t help white in the process.
The mistake of making a pointless exchange has been referred to by Grandmaster Igor Smirnov as – “to take is a mistake“. Of course this doesn’t mean you should never make exchanges. Rather, it means that in most cases you should avoid making a pointless exchange since it will usually just help your opponent to achieve his own development objectives.
Next Lesson – The Pawns: Their strengths and weaknesses
Previous Lesson – Chess Strategies: Accumulating small advantages in development