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The idea of compensation in evaluating a chess position

Compensation refers to the situation where your significant progress in one objective compensates for your opponent’s progress in another objective.

It would be ideal if you could get an advantage in each of the 5 objectives. However, if you are playing against a strong opponent, that is hardly possible.

In a practical game you will need to prioritize your objectives in order to maximize your control – even if it means making some compromises on other less important objectives.

Material is usually the most important objective

In most cases we could argue that material is the most important objective. Material is also the easiest to measure – we can simply compare the pieces and calculate the difference in point-values. Of course we cannot say material is always the most important. For  example, a few extra pieces (material) will be meaningless if you cannot stop a checkmate threat against your king (king-safety)!

Here are two examples to illustrate the concept of compensation:

Example 1

Although a strong pawn-structure is an important objective, it is quite possible to get some form of compensation for your weakened pawn-structure in the sense that the broken pawn-structure actually improve the mobility of your pieces.

compensation in chess evaluation

White has several weaknesses in his pawn-structure. However, these weakness are compensated by

  1. the increased mobility of white’s rooks (compare white’s rooks with their black counterparts) and
  2. the pawns help white to control several important squares, particularly central squares.

The main thing to realize about a weak pawn-structure is that it can be a permanent weakness – which implies your structure will become vulnerable towards the endgame-stage when your pieces aren’t there to defend your weak squares. Once the king access weak squares among pawns, he becomes exceptionally strong.

Example 2

In the next example black’s disadvantage in material is compensated by better development and the opponent’s vulnerable king.

compensation in chess evaluation 2

Which side would you choose if this were your game? Most players will probably prefer to play with the black pieces here since it is often easier to attack than to defend.

When is compensation enough to compensate for other weaknesses?

In many cases you cannot exactly determine who has an advantage. In such case you will rely quite heavily on your experience and intuition. If you want to become a strong player you will need to develop a strong intuition (which only improves with experience and practice.)

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