How to evaluate progress in the material objective

Evaluating material is a simple process of comparing the material that is still on the board.

There is no need to count the points of all the pieces – just find the differences between the two sides.

It is a good idea to always start with the highest value pieces and work your way down, ie. Queens, rooks, bishops, knights and lastly pawns. Of course we don’t need to compare the kings since both sides will always have a king. We will look at 4 examples that will make this process clear:

Example 1

Find the differences in material in the position below in order to determine which side has a lead in the material objective.

material evaluation 1

Compare the material:

  • Queens: Both sides have a queen (no difference)
  • Rooks: Both sides have two rooks (no difference)
  • Bishops: Both sides have 1 bishop (no difference)
  • Knights: Both sides have 1 knight (no difference)
  • Pawns: Both sides have 7 pawns (no difference)

The difference: There is no difference here! We can conclude that material is equal in this position – neither side has any advantage with regards to the material objective.

Example 2

Find the material differences in the position below to determine which side has made more progress in the material objective.

material evaluation 2

Compare the material:

  • Queens: Both sides have a queen (no difference)
  • Rooks: Both sides have 2 rooks (no difference)
  • Bishops: Both sides have 2 bishop (no difference)
  • Knights: Both sides have 2 knights (no difference)
  • Pawns: White has 6 pawns but black has 7 pawns (black has an extra pawn)

The difference: Black has an extra pawn which gives him 1 point advantage with regards to the material objective.

Example 3

Find the differences in material to determine which side has a material advantage.

material evaluation 3

Compare the material:

  • Queens: Neither side has a queen (no difference)
  • Rooks: White has 2 rooks, black has only 1 rook (white has an extra rook)
  • Bishops: White doesn’t have a bishop, black has a bishop (black has an extra bishop)
  • Knights: Both sides have a knight (no difference)
  • Pawns: Both sides have 6 pawns (no difference)

The difference: White has a rook vs. black’s bishop. The value of a rook is typically 5 points whereas a bishop is typically valued at 3 point. This implies that white has 2 points material advantage based on the differences in material.

Of course we will not only compare material when we evaluate a position – but material is often the most important factor in a position – therefore we will always compare the material first of all.

Example 4

The 4th example is a little harder since there are significant differences in the material. However, the process remains the same – find the differences:

material evaluation 4

Compare the material:

  • Queens: Both sides have a queen (no difference)
  • Rooks: White has 1 rook, black has 2 rooks (black has an extra rook)
  • Bishops: White has a bishop, black doesn’t have one (white has an extra bishop)
  • Knights: White has 2 knights, black has 1 knight (white has an extra knight)
  • Pawns: White has 6 pawns, black has 7 pawns (black has an extra pawn).

The difference: White has a bishop + knight vs. black rook + pawn.

The value of a bishop + knight is typically about 6 points (3+3). The value of a rook + pawn is also about 6 points (5+1). Therefore we can conclude that neither side has any significant material advantage. However, the point value of the pieces should only be seen as a general estimation of their potential in normal situations and that there can be factors in the position that influence there values.

Note: A knight + bishop can often outperform a rook + pawn. We have already discussed this in the lesson about how to play in chess positions that feature material imbalances.

Conclusion

Evaluating the progress made with regards to the material objective is done by comparing the differences in material of the remaining pieces on the board. After practicing this process a few times on any chess position, you will quickly develop the habit of comparing material and finding the difference. In time you will become so good at this that you will be able to glance at any positions and compare the material in a few seconds at most!

Next Lesson – How to evaluate progress in the development objective

Previous Lesson – How to evaluate a chess position

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