"The Evans' Method" by Larry D. Evans

(Note: This piece first appeared in the (NJ) Castled King, Sept.-Oct. 1977. I was so impressed with it, I transcribed it! Many thanks to IM Evans for his support. - DHL)

The Evans' Method:
Developing a Strategical Plan

By Larry D. Evans

When I heard that THE CASTLED KING wanted me to clutter its pages with an instructional column, I decided to use the opportunity to try to teach the elements of chess strategy as I know them; that is to say:

(1) how to recognize and achieve a strategical advantage

(2) how to exploit such an advantage when the opposition possesses insufficient counterplay

(3) how to ensure that advantages achieved will outweigh those of the opposition through advance planning

Basically, the column will explore the intricacies of the first two categories. Each issue, a new strategical advantage (such as the two bishops, Queenside pawn majority, control of the center, etc.) will be defined, including a statement of the positional principles which govern its exploitation. In addition, an analysis of ideal examples will serve to illustrate known methods of converting each advantage to victory.

It is the third category, however, which is most pressing to cover in this introductory article. All of the positional knowledge in the world will not help the student unless he can utilize it in the formation of a strategical plan.

As the more experienced readers will recognize, the development of a plan is often no easy matter. Take, as an example, a position which I reached after a scant nine moves of play in the recent Manhattan Chess Club Championship.

My opponent, Jay Raeben, was the lowest rated player in the tournament, and I, unfortunately, was the highest. Needless to say, I had to play for a win, even though Black's position is almost symmetrical to White's, and certainly not advantageous.

Although I realized that I had to catch up in development, I could not decide whether to fianchetto the Queen's bishop or get it out conventionally by ...d6. This impasse led me to the conclusion that the time was ripe for some serious strategical planning, so that the development of the Queen's bishop could be coordinated with the general scheme.

So I sat back comfortably and devoted forty minutes to the development of a plan which would govern my next series of moves. The method which I used to organize the offensive is categorized below into its four fundamental components. Before perusing it, however, the student will probably find it beneficial to develop his own plan from the diagram. Only thus will he be able to compare his methods and conclusions to those which I am advocating here.

COMPONENT I. Know the strategical advantages already possessed, and draw basic inferences from that knowledge. (This general type of reasoning, by the way, should be done while your opponent's clock is ticking. There will be plenty of more specific stuff to think about on your own time!).

ADVANTAGE 1: Black has a powerful fianchettoed bishop on the wide open a1-h8 diagonal.

inference (a): He should not allow White to trade it freely for his less active Queen's bishop.

inference (b): If White should try to block the bishop by an eventual c3 (causing the fianchetto to bite on a pawn which is defended by a pawn, commonly known as "granite"), then it would be reasonable for Black to consider the "can-opening" maneuver: ...Rb8 & ...b5-b4 to reopen the diagonal.

inference (c): Black's play in general can be directed towards the Queenside, so that his most active piece might take an active role.

ADVANTAGE 2: Black has more pawns on the side of the board opposite to where the Kings are castled. This is not yet an advantage per se, because Black has only managed to exchange one Kingsideish center pawn (his e-pawn) for one of this opponent's Queensideish center pawns (his d-pawn). As a consequence, Black's Queenside candidate for queendom, his d-pawn (the pawn whose file is unopposed), has both the White e-pawn and c-pawn preventing it from ramming through for a touchdown. However, if Black can manage to exchange one more Kingsideish center pawn for another of his opponent's Queensideish center pawns, then there will be only one opposition pawn blocking the candidate, and Black will have realized the positional advantage known as "the queenside pawn majority." This is a clear demonstration that every move or exchange of center pawns should be considered thoroughly, as it usually carries with it an alteration of the strategical objectives for both sides.

inference (a): Black should seek the exchange of his f-pawn for White's e-pawn. The block still caused by White's c-pawn will then be nullified by the support of Black's c-pawn. The easiest way to accomplish this is to lure White's King Pawn to e4, after which it will be a target to Black's ...f5.

inference (b): Black should seek the exchange of his d-pawn for White's c-pawn. Black's c-pawn will then be the candidate, blocked by White's b-pawn, but aided by Black's b-pawn. This can be accomplished by luring White's c-pawn to c4, where it will be a target to Black's ...d5.

inference (c): Black's play, in general, should be on the Queenside, where White has fewer pawns to control squares, and Black has more pawns to make Queens.

The Queenside pawn majority, incidentally, is a positional advantage in both the middle and end game. In the middle game, the side possessing it is never wanting for a strategical plan: place one rook behind the candidate, one rook behind the support pawn, the rest of the pieces to control key squares in front of the majority, and ram it down the opposition's throat (usually advancing the candidate first). The implication is that the opponent will be reluctant to do the same with his majority, while a lot of pieces are still on the board, because his King will be in the vicinity and, consequently, exposed. In the endgame it is also an advantage to have the majority furthest from the castled kings, because the opposition's King will have to travel to block the Queenside candidate, thereby losing valuable endgame tempi.

CONCLUSION: The once obscure position in the diagram is now beginning to clarify. Black has many reasons to believe that his offensive should take place on the Queenside, and consequently that his Queen bishop should develop on the Kingside, to e6, or possibly even to f5, where it might lure White into playing e4. Then Black will have the famed Harrwitz bishops raking the side of the board which he wishes to attack. But there is still a great deal of knowledge to be gained from the position before a concrete plan can be developed.

COMPONENT II. Know the strategic advantages which the opposition possesses, and draw the related positional inferences. (This, of course, is also the type of non-specific reasoning which should be done on the opposition's time.)

ADVANTAGE 1: White is ahead two tempi of development on the open board (one to free the Queen bishop and one to develop it).

inference (a): Black should avoid excessive pawn moves, moving the same piece twice, or other time consuming maneuvers.

inference (b): Black should avoid an early clash of the pieces (since White has more to clash with than Black does) and an early clash of the center pawns which would lead to a further opening of lines sure to be dominated by White's more active pieces.

ADVANTAGE 2: White also has a powerful fianchettoed bishop on the open h1-a8 diagonal.

inference (a): Black can try to exchange it off with the counter fianchetto: ...b6, ...Bb7, & ...Na5, though this is obviously inconsistent with previous conclusions.

inference (b): Black should try to block the line of the fianchetto by an eventual ...c6 & ...d5, which is consistent with the development of his Queen bishop to f5. If White should try to prevent the formation of the chain, by answering ...c6 with e4, then Black can strike at the target with ...f5. On the other hand, if White waits for ...d5 and tries to reopen the diagonal with a "can opener" (such as e4 or c4), then Black is prepared to answer e4 with ...d4 or c4 with ...dxc4, in either case establishing a mobile Queenside pawn majority. The reason that it is easier for Black to open the diagonal for his fianchetto than it is for White is because Black's bishop coordinates better with his pawn play than White's does (Black's bishop and pawns both play on the Queenside, while White's bishop plays on the Queenside and his pawns on the Kingside).

CONCLUSION: Black's long-range positional analysis having been completed on his opponent's time, he now knows that his plan will involve the maneuver of moving his knight, followed by: ...c6, ...d5, and ...Bf5. Specific questions such as where and when to move the knight, however, can only be answered by exact calculation. This type of tactical reasoning, or reaction to and creation of direct threats, incidentally, must be done on each move; i.e., when your own clock is ticking!

COMPONENT III. Know the opposition's tactical threats, and moves which only look like threats, and analyze the possible answers to them. (In order to do this, Black must predict what White would play if unimpeded by Black's first move.)

POTENTIAL THREAT 1: White can destroy Black's plans for a Queenside pawn majority by doubling the pawns on that side by 2.Bxc6, assuming Black does nothing to prevent it on the first move.

answer (a): Black can open a new line (the b file), on the side of the board which he wishes to attack, by capturing the bishop towards the center. Then a rook on b8 and the bishop on g7 will converge on a focal point of attack in White's position: b2.

answer (b): Black, after 2...bxc6, can make White sorry that he gave up his powerful fianchetto by dominating the vacated h1-a8 diagonal with a Queen and Bishop battery, playing: ...Bb7, ...c5 & d6, and finally Qd7-c6.

answer (c): Black can open the whole center, and gain a tempo for the development of his Queen bishop by 2...dxc6. Although capturing away from the center would help to mobilize White's Kingside majority (Black's d-pawn would no longer be around to stop White's e-pawn), the two bishops on the open board, and the possibility of ...Bh3 would offer Black excellent chances for counterplay.

CONCLUSION: 2.Bxc6 is not a real threat.

POTENTIAL THREAT 2: White, assuming Black remains unconcerned, can attempt to exchange off Black's fianchetto by 2.Na4 and 3.Bc3.

answer (a): Black can reply to 2.Na4 with 2...b5, driving the knight back where it came from and accomplishing an aforementioned strategical objective (inference b of Black's first advantage).

answer (b): Black can answer the decentralizing 2.Na4 with the positionally desired 2...d5, and then 3.Bc3 by 3...d4, stranding the knight on the rim.

CONCLUSION: 2.Na4 is not a real threat.

POTENTIAL THREAT 3: White, if left undisturbed, can try to exchange off Black's fianchetto by 2.Qc1 and 3.Bh6, pinning it to the rook. (The reader will here note that unless White can challenge the fianchetto on the long diagonal from which it derives its strength, he has to rely upon a tactic such as a pin to ensure its exchange.)

answer (a): Black can unpin his bishop by reacting to 2.Qc1 with 2...Re8, so that he can answer 3.Bh6 with 3...Bh8, although self-trapping the Queen would just be begging for the annoying reply: 3.Bg5!

answer (b): Black can "overwork" the White Queen by answering 2.Qc1 with 2...Nd4, and 3.Bh6 with 3...Bxh6 and 4...Nxc2. White, however, would still be able to nullify Black's fianchetto by kicking the knight with 3.e3, and utilizing the newly created e2 square with 4.Ne2 and 5.Bc3. Contrasted to the 2.Na4 & 3.Bc3 plan from POTENTIAL THREAT 2 above, the knight on e2 would be well centralized and unexposed, and White's control over the d4 square would be sufficient to prevent Black's ...d5-d4 idea from POTENTIAL THREAT 2, answer b.

CONCLUSION: The dangerous threat of 2.Qc1 compels Black to find an adequate defense on his first move; adequate being defined as one which is consistent with his overall game plan. 1...h6, for example, though easily parrying 2.Qc1 by 2...Kh7, does nothing to contribute to Black's plan. Indeed, the weakness created on g6 will inhibit him from subsequently answering e4 with ...f5. Clearly, what Black needs is a knight move which besides the obvious intent of ...c6 followed by ...d5, creates a counter threat of sufficient puissance to deter White from his intentions. The analysis involved in discovering such a move, which unquestionably requires an understanding of all that has come before, is reserved as the final step of the process.

COMPONENT IV. Create tactical threats that are an aid to the realization of strategical goals.

THREAT 1: B1ack can play 1...Ne5, threatening to fork White's bishop and Queen knight pawn by 2...Nc4 (note that c4 is a Queenside square, weakened by the absence of White's d pawn, a subsidiary aspect of Black's majority on that side - see Black's second advantage, inference c). 1...Ne5, of course, is superior to 1...Na5, which would leave the knight stranded on the rim in the event of 2.b3. If White ignores the threat and continues with his own plan, then the variation 2.Qc1 Nc4 3.Bh6 Bxh6 4.Qxh6 Nxb2 will cost him a pawn. (The tactical theme is based upon the overworked Queen, and reminiscent of answer b to POTENTIAL THREAT 3.) On the other hand, if White takes time out to defend against the threat, then Black can play the positionally desirable 2...c6, which will enable him to answer 3.Qc1 with 3...Re8, since the Queen has an escape route after 4.Bg5.

The plan finally crystallized into a concrete form, and with forty less minutes on my clock (the time control was 40/2), I played 1...Ne5!?. My opponent, on the other hand, did not see the necessity of spending time to formulate a counter plan (an unorthodox move such as 1...Ne5 should have tipped him off that the time was ripe, especially if it followed a long think), and played his game move by move, quickly choosing the line of least resistance to respond to tactical threats. Although he maintained more time on his clock throughout, the end of the game came too quickly for it to matter:

2.b3? (opening the diagonal for Black's fianchetto, and creating a "hole" on the already vulnerable c3 square), c6 (White's ADVANTAGE 2, inference b) 3.e4? (same) d6! (There is no rush to play ...f5, as White can do nothing to prevent it. Black reserves the threat to play f5 at a more suitable moment, when he can recapture on f5 with the bishop.) 4.Rb1? (White should follow Black's example, and reserve moving the rook until he has someplace useful to put it.) f5 (Black's ADVANTAGE 2, inference a) 5.f4? Ng4 6.Bf3?? Qb6+ 7.Kg2? Bxc3 (the killer bishop crashes through to exploit the newly created hole on its diagonal; White's Queen bishop is overworked to the threat of ...Ne3+) 8.Bxg4 Bxd2 winning a piece.

Naturally, White's position in the diagram does not merit such an early debacle. On the contrary, the plan initiated by 1...Ne5 is objectively a faulty one!

As astute readers might already have noticed, Black has totally ignored the inferences which he drew from the positional realization that White is ahead in development, namely:

(1) Black should probably not be moving his knight all over the place instead of developing his Queen bishop (inference a).

(2) Black should be extra concerned about the weakness to his Kingside dark squares caused by the elimination of his fianchetto, especially if he intends to answer Bh6 with ...Bxh6, bringing the White Queen into the vicinity with tempo (inference b).

(3) Black should not be so enthralled by the possibility of winning White's relatively unimportant b-pawn, since it will open a new line (the b file) for White's pieces to utilize in springing to the attack (inference b).

White's advantage in development, which will evaporate unless exploited immediately, forces him to react to Black's scheme energetically, even sacrificially. The correct plan, for those who have not already deduced it, is to slap 1...Ne5 in the face by 2.Qc1!, prepared to meet 2...Nc4? with 3.Bh6, and 3...Bxh6? 4.Qxh6 Nxb2? with the mating maneuver 5.Rab1 Nc4 6.Rb4 Nd6 7.Rh4. The reader will note that five of Black's last six moves were with the same knight, and not once did he develop a new piece.

Of course, Black does not lose by force after 1...Ne5!?, since he can answer 2.Qc1! with ...c6, and 3.Bh6 by ...d5, blocking White's bishop to compensate for the exchange of his own. Black's Kingside dark squares would nonetheless be weakened, and his prospects on the Queenside would be greatly diminished without the influence of his fianchetto. But then, the analysis began with the realization that Black had no objective reason for believing that his position contained a winning plan. 1...Ne5 was an excellent practical try, however, because it was not deleterious to the position, and relied upon a psychologically understandable diffidence on the part of a less experienced and much lower rated player.

In any event, the example serves as another substantiation of the age-old chess truism: A bad plan is always better than no plan at all.