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James Altucher


Isolated Queen's Pawn

I've been making a lot of my idea lists private just because they are crazy ideas or things I'm learning that have no interest to anyone else.

But, as I am on this "journey" of achieving a higher rank in chess than I had 25 years ago when I last played in tournaments, I am on a constant question to learn more.

The theory is this: as the brain ages, somethings slow down and some things get better.

What slows down: memory and calculation.

What gets better: pattern recognition and "wisdom".

Wisdom could be defined as being able to make better decisions based on the patterns you now recognize. Not everyone grows wisdom, and this is the hard part of getting older.

Because I have been playing in more tournaments I can directly see and even measure how my brain has changed.

Memory: much worse. Probably 50% worse or more.

Calculation ability: not as bad but not as good as it was when i was younger. Maybe best to say it this way: the volatility of this ability is high for me. Sometimes I am very good. but sometimes I am worse than I have ever been. Like equivalent to the first month I ever played back when I was 17 years old.

Here's my big problem: because the above two things for me were so good when I was younger I never really had to rely on wisdom.

I knew nothing about chess. I knew how to calculate and I was great at memorizing openings and crushing people right away.

Now I have to learn about chess. Concepts that I never cared about before like: space advantage, weak squares, open files, bishop pair, endgames, different pawn structures, etc.

Plus I have to learn more about stamina, mindset, etc. I never had to care about this before. It's really hard for me.

So I keep track now of what I learn. Here's an example of something I knew before but now have to learn in a deeper way. What to do with an Isolated Queen's Pawn.

I roughly knew before (don't let the pawn advance and exchange the bishop that controls the square in front of the IQP is the main things I knew). Now I have to learn deeper.

So I am studying the game Karpov-Uhlmann to get a better understanding. Again, some things are obvious to me but somethings are a bit deeper.

    1. Karpov-Uhlman


    This is the game. Notice that Black has an isolated queen's pawn. Which means no pawn can protect it and in an endgame (when fewer pieces are on board) it is almost enough to be winning for the other side.

    This snapshot is from a video at Worth noting that Karpov was about to become the World Champion when Bobby Fischer refused to play and gave up the title.

    2. Why get an IQP?

    In chess, particularly among top players, every disadvantage usually has advantages that counteract.

    Someone gets an IQP because the two open files and the various open diagonals for the side who has the IQP can create big attacking chances.

    The other side's goal is to avoid that attack, exchange pieces and get into an endgame.

    3. Strategy #1 - get a tempo

    This was earlier in the game.


    White waited until the dark squared bishop developed BEFORE using his D-pawn to take the C-pawn, isolating the black D pawn. He did this so it forces the dark squared bishop to move twice (which it did by taking the C pawn back).

    It's a small thing, but forcing a piece to move twice creates an extra tempo. Which is one way to slow down an attack or create an attack of one's own.

    4. Strategy #2- exchange the piece that can control d4.

    White doesn't want the IQP to go to d4 for various reasons. So when the dark squared bishop was on C5 white tried to put a R on E1 and then his B on e3 to exchange but (see image #1) Black retreated his B to D6. Notice the green arrow in the image in #1. White intends now to do Bg5 followed by Bh4 and Bg3 to try and exchange the Bishop.

    This is NOT a strategy I would have pursued in 1997 but one I would try to pursue now.

    5. Strategy #3 - control the square in front of the IQP. Ideally blockade it with a Knight


    Because the pawn on d5 is isolated, no pawns can kick the Knight away that is now firmly situated on d4. Then we overprotect that knight and square - the knight on b3 and the pawn on c3 and the queen on d1 are overprotecting it.

    Meanwhile, in the above image, White is also trying to trade the black lightquared bishop (it just moved to g6 to avoid that).

    Another thing to note that. We said in strategy #2 to exchange the dark squared bishops. White can do that by moving to B to g3 but since there is no rush (he can do it anytime) there's no need to do it when there are better moves to do first. This is a subtlety I am learning to appreciate. No rush.

    6. Strategy #4: accumulate small advantages

    A few moves later black made a small inaccuracy. I NEVER would've noticed this as "inaccurate" back in 1997.

    Black played pawn to a5 and then white did pawn to a4.

    The key is: both sides created a weak square. a5 made b5 "weak" for black (white can put a knight on b5 and it can't be kicked away by a pawn).

    White also created a somewhat weak square on b4 with one exception, the pawn on c3 is protecting b4.

    So, tiny tiny inaccuracy. Black's b5 used to be equal to white's b4 but is now a little worse. So why did Black do a5? He wanted to attack the knight on b3, which is defending the d4 square. And he figured if white did a4, then b3, and b2 become weak.

    But net result is this is all a tiny advantage for white on this side of the board.

    In chess, like in business, it's the accumulation of tiny advantages that often wins the game.


    7. Strategy #5: Know when to give up one advantage for another

    White gave up pursuing the IQP. He allowed an exchange of pieces on d4 and now there are two IQPs there so they nullify each other as an advantage.

    But white got something in return. Because of the weakness on b5, he put his bishop there and now his bishop is slightly more powerful than black's bishop.


    The next question is: whose rooks are stronger. They look equal but white is slightly ahead.

    8. Strategy #6: head to the 7th rank vs fighting for the open file.

    This is a another nuance I totally would not have understood before. I'm not sure I 100% understood it now.

    White has the choice of moving his rook to the c file to challenge black's rook on the c file. He also has the choice of moving the E rook to E7, getting control of the 7th rank.

    I know forever that a game is practically winning if you can get a rook to the 7th rank. But perhaps I have not deeply understood it since when I first looked at this position I thought moving Rac1 was the correct move.

    instead, Karpov moved his R to E7.


    My first thought was that , from here, Rc2 Rxb7 Rxb2 and it might be equal. But white has that extra move to go Rae1 and then Ree7 and now he has two rooks on the 7th rank and that could be winning if black allows it. Kicking myself for not seeing this as an obvious idea.

    9. Now it's clear


    A few moves later: White has invaded. Now it's obvious what Karpov was aiming for. He gave up the IQP advantage and now has strong bishop and two rooks on the 7th. This is what I should've seen. I hope I see this in a game I'm playing in the future.

    Note that the rook sitting on d6 also has almost no squares to go to compared with white's two rooks.

    10. The final position


    With this accumulation of advantages (two rooks on 7th, strong bishop, two connected passed pawns aiming at the black king, weak black rook useless on d6), black can't stop checkmate and resigned.

    A great game. You can find GM Avetik Grigoryan's analysis at:

    11. What I learned

    I roughly knew how to deal with an IQP.

    But I am impressed with how he transformed the IQP advantage into others:

    - weak b5

    - strong B

    - two pawns on seventh rank

    - pawns on the kingside dominating the black light-squared bishop

    - the black king weaker than the white king.

    There is zero chance I would've understood any of this.

    There is one thing to intellectually understand something but another to deeply understand it so it becomes obvious in a real life situation. I hope I can gain this understanding.

    Another thing is: these are 3 or 4 strategies emphasized in this game. There are 100,000 other strategies like this.

    When I was younger, again, I relied on sheer calculation and memorization and no deep knowledge. I hope I can catch up.

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