Knight outposts

Knight outposts

When looking at openings I often ask players to perform the following exercise:



On a bare chessboard, put a knight on a1. How many squares can it move to? Just two. On b1, three. On c1, four. On c2, six. On c3, eight. From this you can see that moving from b1 to c3 in the opening makes the knight more than twice as powerful.

Now, this is part of the argument about control of the centre, and helps explain why development towards the centre is so important. But it is particularly true of knights, because their step is so small. A bishop developed in fianchetto on b2 or g2 can extend its reach to the other side of the board, but a knight on b2 can hardly make it to the half-way line. Knights become much stronger by being moved into the centre, but as a rule are vulnerable to being swapped off or nudged by pawns. An outpost is a square which a knight can occupy , which is either immune from attack (like d5 in the lower diagram) or the opponent would get into other sorts of trouble by getting rid of it (like in the Tal game overleaf). So, one of the key strategical ideas in chess is the knight outpost.

  [Event "knight outpost?"][Site "-"][Date "1945.??.??"][Round "?"]

  [White "smyslov"][Black "rudakovsky"][Result "1-0"]

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Be2 Be7 7.O-O O-O 8.Be3 Nc6 9.f4 Qc7 10.Qe1 Nxd4 11.Bxd4 e5 12.Be3 Be6 13.f5 Bc4? [13...Bd7 was essential] 14.Bxc4 Qxc4 15.Bg5 {!} 15...Rfe8 16.Bxf6 Bxf6 17.Nd5 {!} DIAGRAM


17...Bd8 (17...Qxc2 18.Rf2 Qc6 19.Rc1 Qd7 20.Nc7) 18.c3 b5 19.b3 Qc5+ 20.Kh1 Rc8 21.Rf3! Black's pieces are passive;White has enough of a bind to effect a King's side attack.

21...Kh8 22.f6 gxf6 23.Qh4 Rg8 24.Nxf6 Rg7 25.Rg3 Bxf6 26.Qxf6 Rcg8 27.Rd1 d5 28.Rxg7 {!} 1-0 (28.Rxg7 Rxg7 29.Rxd5 Qf8 30.Rd8)

  David Norwood describes an exercise given to players in the old USSR where they were given the position in the diagram



and asked:


remove pairs of pieces of equal value to White's advantage.

The solution they were looking for was to remove all the Qs,Rs, and everything else apart from the Kings, one White knight and the Black B on f8. Then White's knight could go to d5, dominating the board, while Black's poor bishop couldn't ever swap it off. It would be a pretty miserable bishop anyhow, which is our next idea - the bad bishop. But this exercise also starts to show you how to plan a game of chess based on the pawn structure: this 'remove pairs of pieces' exercise is what you can try and do by exchanging pieces, and this is pretty well what Smyslov does in the illustrative game.

More knight outposts.


  Here's three more, in increasing difficulty. The Boleslavsky game works on the same strategical principles as the Smyslov one but is more tense in terms of tactics. The Botvinnik game shows an outpost being created rather than given to you, and the Tal game shows a common Ruy Lopez theme of outpost with overprotection.

Fighting tactically with an outpost.

  {boleslavsky-lisitsyn, moscow 1953}

  1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6 6. Be3 Bg7 7. f3 O-O 8. Qd2 Nc6 9. O-O-O Nxd4 10. Bxd4 Qa5 11. Kb1 e5 12. Be3 Be6 13. a3 Rfd8 14. Nb5 Qa4 {taking the d6 pawn loses a piece, but White has a great pawn sacrifice of his own}



15. c4! Bxc4 (else White has a bind) 16. Nc3 Qb3 17. Bxc4 Qxc4 18. Bg5 Qe6 19. Bxf6 Qxf6 20. Nd5 Qh4 21. Qe2 Bf8 22. Qf1! Rac8 23. g3 Qg5 24. h4! Qh6 {not ...Qxg3, Rd2!} 25. g4 g5 26. hxg5 Qxg5 27. Rh5! Qg6 28. g5! h6 29. Rxh6! Qxg5 30. Rh5! and Black resigns: 30... Qg6 31. Qh1 Qe6 32. Rh8+ Kg7 33. Qh7#

Building an outpost.

  [Event "?"][Site "amsterdam"][Date "1965.??.??"][Round "?"]

  [White "botvinnik, m."][Black "donner, jh"][Result "1-0"]

  1.c4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 Be7 5.O-O O-O 6.b3 b6 7.Bb2 Bb7 8.cxd5 Nxd5 9.d4 c5 10.dxc5 Bxc5


11.Nbd2 Nd7 12.a3 N5f6 13.b4 Be7

 Pretty level-looking? But Botvinnik has a keen and clear mind, and has spotted an outpost opportunity.

  14.Nd4 Bxg2 15.Kxg2 Qc7


Perhaps now you can start to see it too. The exchange has made Black's white squares on the Q-side a little weak, and if White can use his extra space to get in b5, suddenly the N has a dream home built on c6.
16.Qb3 Rfc8 17.Rfc1 Qb7+ 18.Qf3 Nd5 19.e4 N5f6 20.b5 a6 21.Nc6
Bingo! The rest is an effective exercise in realising this advantage. White will trade a pair of rooks - so Black can't use his two rooks to fight back along a file, but leaving White a rook to be a nuisance with. Black's one rook just can't dodge well enough to stop this...

  21...Bf8 22.a4 axb5 23.axb5 Rxa1 24.Rxa1 Ra8 25.Rd1 Ne8 26.Nc4 Nc5 27.e5 Rc8 28.Ra1 Rc7 29.Ra7 Qxa7 30.Nxa7 Rxa7 31.Nxb6 1-0

Outpost with overprotection of supporting pawn (tal-bronstein)

  1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 O-O 9.h3 Na5 10.Bc2 c5 11.d4 Nc6 12.Nbd2 Qb6 13.dxc5 dxc5 14.Nf1 Be6 15.Ne3 Rad8 16.Qe2 g6 17.Ng5 c4 {!} (making an outpost out of d3) 18.a4 Kg7 19.axb5 axb5 20.Rb1 Na5 21.Nf3 Qc7


22.Nd5 {!} 22...Bxd5 23.exd5
Unleashing the force built up behind the e-pawn.

  23...Rfe8 24.Qxe5 Qxe5 25.Nxe5 Nxd5 26.Ra1 Nb3 27.Bxb3 cxb3 28.Bh6+ {!} 28...Kg8 {?!} 29.Nc6 Rc8 30.Rad1 Rxc6 31.Rxd5 f6 32.Rxb5 g5 33.Rxb3 Kf7 34.Rb7 Re6 35.Rxe6 Kxe6 36.h4 Rg8 37.f4 Bc5+ 38.Kf1 gxh4 39.Rb5 Rc8 40.f5+ Kd6 41.b4 h3 42.Rxc5 h2 43.Bf4+ 1-0