"To take is a mistake" - tension in the chess position

"To take is a mistake" - tension in the chess position

I've heard this a lot recently -- is it true?
(SPOILER: often but not always)

Clarity and anxiety in junior chess

I see this played quite a lot in the Scotch Game at the junior club:

[Event "Coaching"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2015. 0. 0"]
[Round "?"]
[White "NN"]
[Black "NN"]
[Result "*"]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nxd4 5.Qxd4+=
*

White's Queen occupies a fine central square and cannot be bothered by
Black's minor pieces.

Why do juniors swap so readily? I think the tension gets to them. They
have learned that an unresolved tension (Nd4-Nc6) might be overlooked
later on (Qf3?? Nxd4 or Nc3 d6; Bc4 b6??; Nxc6+ or Bc5 Be3 Nge7?? Nxc6).
But swapping can also be a mistake. I think 4...Nxd4? just gives White
better chances, but I also think 3...exd4 is more or less forced. So,
how do you judge when to keep, and when to release, the tension? When
do you seek to swap, and when to hold steady?

"The ability to create and to control the tension of battle is perhaps
the principal attainment of the great player." -- Savielly Tartakower

To take is a mistake - definitely!

Opposed Rooks

[Event "Coaching"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2015. 0. 0"]
[Round "?"]
[White "NN"]
[Black "NN"]
[Result "*"]
[FEN "r2r2k1/ppp2ppp/8/8/8/8/PPP2PPP/3R1RK1 w - - 0 1"]
[Setup "1"]

{Swapping here by either side gives the opponent control of the open file
and the chance to invade on the 'seventh'.} *

Swapping a developed piece

Remember the start of the Opera Box Game?

[Event "Model game 3.1: lightning development"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "1858.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "morphy"]
[Black "duke/count"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C41"]
[PlyCount "33"]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 Bg4

{one piece developed each.}

4.dxe5 Bxf3 5.Qxf3 dxe5 6.Bc4

{...with two white pieces developed to Black's none, threatening mate!
White's pawn swap forced an advantageous piece swap, getting ahead in development.}

6...Nf6 7. Qb3 Qe7 8. Nc3 c6 9. Bg5 b5 10. Nxb5 cxb5 11. Bxb5+ Nbd7 12.
O-O-O Rd8 13. Rxd7 Rxd7 14. Rd1 Qe6 15. Bxd7+ Nxd7 16. Qb8+ Nxb8 17.
Rd8# 1-0

Assessing exchanges

Some related examples from recent junior matches:

[Event "Tension"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2015. 0. 0"]
[Round "?"]
[White "NN"]
[Black "NN"]
[Result "*"]

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.Bb5+ Nd7
{DIAGRAM Comments invited!}
*

[Event "Coaching"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2015. 0. 0"]
[Round "?"]
[White "NN"]
[Black "NN"]
[Result "*"]
[FEN "r3kb1r/pp1npppp/2pq1n2/7b/3P4/2N1BN1P/PPP1BPP1/R2QK2R w KQkq - 2 9"]
[Setup "1"]

{Assess Ng5}
9. *

[Event "Coaching"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2015. 0. 0"]
[Round "?"]
[White "NN"]
[Black "NN"]
[Result "*"]
[FEN "2rq1rk1/1b1nbppp/p3pn2/1p2N3/3P4/1QN1B2P/PP2BPP1/R4RK1 w - - 5 14"]
[Setup "1"]

{Assess Bf3}
14. *

[Event "Coaching"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2015. 0. 0"]
[Round "?"]
[White "NN"]
[Black "NN"]
[Result "*"]
[FEN "1q4k1/5ppp/p2bp3/1p1n4/3P4/1Q1NB2P/PP3PP1/6K1 b - - 2 25"]
[Setup "1"]

{Assess ...Nxe3}
25. *

"Don't simplify against Capablanca!",

... I keep telling them at the office. (CHERNEV)

If Black hopes to swap their way to a draw in the Ruy Lopez exchange variation, they are mistaken! Every swap brings White closer to a won Pawn endgame.

Capa was master of the advantageous exchange, allowing the opponent to
weaken their position with every tempting swap.

[Event "bishop ending: same colour"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "1996.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Menchik, V."]
[Black "Capablanca, JR (Hastings 1930/3"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A47"]
[PlyCount "84"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 b6 3. e3 Bb7 4. Bd3 c5 5. O-O Nc6 6. c3 e6 7. Ne5 d6 8.
Nxc6 Bxc6 9. Qe2 Be7 10. Bb5 Qd7 11. Bxc6 Qxc6 { White is slipping
behind in development and activity.} 12. Nd2 O-O 13. dxc5 dxc5 14. e4
Rad8 { White would of course like to move her Knight, but the next puts
a pawn on a dark square.} 15. e5 Nd5 16. Nf3 Rd7 17. Rd1 Rfd8 18. Bd2
b5 19. Kf1 Nb6 20. Bf4 h6 21. Rxd7 Rxd7 22. Rd1 Rxd1+ 23. Qxd1 {
Black's next pushes the Bishop out of action on g3, then Black makes a
raid on the Queen's-side.} 23... Qe4 24. Bg3 Qc4+ 25. Qe2 Qxe2+ 26.
Kxe2 Na4 27. Kd2 Nxb2 28. Kc2 Nc4 29. Nd2 Nxd2 30. Kxd2 { The Bishop
ending that follows is very difficult for White: a pawn down with a duff
Bishop.} 30... c4 31. Bf4 a6 32. Be3 Kf8 33. Bb6 Ke8 34. Ke3 Kd7 35.
Kd4 Kc6 36. Ba7 { White is running out of squares for the Bishop.}
36... f5 37. a4 { Doing Black's work for him.} 37... g6 38. f4 h5 39.
axb5+ Kxb5 40. g3 a5 41. Ke3 Bc5+ 42. Bxc5 Kxc5 1-0

"To take is a mistake" - well, sometimes!

Exchanging to victory:

[Event "Exeter Club Ch'p"]
[Site "Exeter Club Ch'p"]
[Date "2003.??.??"]
[Round "8"]
[White "Regis, D."]
[Black "Trussler, PK."]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "A21"]
[PlyCount "59"]

1. c4 g6 2. Nc3 Bg7 3. g3 e5 4. Bg2 d6 5. e4 Be6 6. d3 Nc6 7. Nge2 Nge7
8. O-O O-O 9. Be3 ( 9. Nd5 ) 9... Nd4 10. Qd2 c6 11. f4 f5 12. Rae1 Qd7
13. b3 Rf7 14. a4 a5 15. Nc1 Kh8 16. N3e2 c5 17. Nc3 b6 18. Nd5 Bxd5 19.
exd5 Re8 20. Qd1 Ng8 21. Ne2 Nxe2+ 22. Rxe2 Rfe7 23. fxe5 Rxe5 24. Rfe1

{DIAGRAM "White's pawns are all on light squares. If White is left with
just the Bg2, Black will have a won game."}

24...Rxe3! 25. Rxe3 Bd4 26. Qd2 Qe7 27. Kf2 Bxe3+ 28. Rxe3 Qxe3+ 29. Qxe3 Rxe3 30. Kxe3 0-1

[Event "outpost for knight on d5"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "1945.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "smyslov"]
[Black "rudakowsky (CHERNEV)"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B83"]
[PlyCount "59"]

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
{ ? Black needs that Bishop. White now has a simple plan: exchange off
the other defender of the d5 square, improve the position of his pieces,
and look for the win!} ( 13... Bd7 14. Rd1 Bc6 ) 14. Bxc4 Qxc4 15. Bg5
{ !} 15... Rfe8 16. Bxf6 Bxf6 17. Nd5 {Mission accomplished !} 17... Bd8 ( 17... Qxc2 18.
Rf2 Qc6 19. Rc1 Qd7 20. Nc7 ) 18. c3 b5 19. b3 Qc5+ 20. Kh1 Rc8 { White
now turns his attention to the King} 21. Rf3 Kh8 22. f6 gxf6 23.
Qh4 Rg8 24. Nxf6 Rg7 25. Rg3 Bxf6 26. Qxf6 Rg8 27. Rd1 { Black's
position cracks.} 27... d5 28. Rxg7 { !} 28... Rxg7 29. Rxd5 Qf8 30.
Rd8 1-0

The tension formation (Euwe-Kramer)

[Event "To take is a mistake "]
[Site "?"]
[Date "????.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "NN"]
[Black "NN"]
[Result "*"]
[ECO "D67"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 O-O
8. c3 d6 9. h3 Na5 ( 9... Bb7 10. d4 ) 10. Bc2 c5 11. d4 {One of the
classic formations, under debate and contest for over a century. The
correct placement of the pieces will be different, depending on the
central pawn formation. But the central pawn structure is not yet
fixed! It might turn out to be symmetrical, or open, or closed, or...
So where do you put your pieces? And what do you do in the meantime? }
*

Another tense formation (NID):

[Event "Nimzo & Benoni"]
[Site "ChessPub Guide"]
[Date "2011.11.18"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Nimzo-Indian: Main Line"]
[Black "7 0-0 dxc4 8 Bxc4 cxd4"]
[Result "*"]
[Annotator "John Emms"]
[ECO "E54"]
[EventDate "2011.04.14"]
[PlyCount "31"]
[Source "ChessPublishing"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 O-O 5. Nf3 d5 6. Bd3 c5 7. O-O
{DIAGRAM - Another tense formation, which could resolve in many
different ways. Here's one: } 7...dxc4 8. Bxc4 cxd4 9. exd4 b6 {
Karpov has made this line his own, and has scored very well with it. }
*

Many top-level opening choices have some sort of unresolved tension like
this. In fact, following Carlsen, the aim of the opening may not be a
fruitless search for an advantage as White or equality as Black, but
a position which gives you chances to outplay your opponent.

"The whole concept has changed! Now the main concept is “to get a
playable position and maintain the tension”." - Sergey Karjakin

'Release and strike'

Compare, exhibit A, getting into trouble in the Slav:

[Event "Tension"]
[Site "Summer Coaching"]
[Date "2015.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "NN"]
[Black "NN"]
[Result "*"]

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc4 Bf5? 5.cxd5 cxd5 6.Qb3! Bc8!+= *

And Exhibit B, a modern main line:

[Event "Tension"]
[Site "Summer Coaching"]
[Date "2015.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "NN"]
[Black "NN"]
[Result "*"]

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc4 dxc4! {idea: ...b5} 5.a4 Bf5!=
*

Similarly:

[Event "Tension"]
[Site "Summer Coaching"]
[Date "2015.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "NN"]
[Black "NN"]
[Result "*"]

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4! 4.Nxe4 Bf5 ({or} 4...Nd7) *
*

And lastly:

[Event "Tension"]
[Site "Summer Coaching"]
[Date "2015.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Lee"]
[Black "Nimzowitsch"]
[Result "0-1"]
1.d4 Ng6 2.Nf3 d6 3.Nbd2 Nbd7 4. e4 e5 5.c3 Be7 6.Bc4 0-0 7.0-0

{DIAGRAM}

7...exd4! 8.cxd4 d5!

{This incisive resolution of tension is in Black's favour.}

9.Bd3 dxe4 10.Nxe4 Nxe4 11.Bxe4 Nf6 12.Bd3 Nd5 13.a3 Bf6
=+ {...} 0-1

Compare this
equalising line in the Queen's Gambit Declined, Orthodox Variation:

[Event "Tension"]
[Site "Summer Coaching"]
[Date "2015.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "NN"]
[Black "NN"]
[Result "*"]

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Be7 5. e3 O-O 6. Nf3 Nbd7 7. Rc1 c6
{Tense! White waits for Black to take on c4, Black waits for the Bishop
to move...} 8. Bd3 {Now we can play Capablanca's freeing manoeuvre:}
8...dxc4! 9. Bxc4 Nd5 {This has almost entirely replaced the previously
played 'Extended Fianchetto'} (9...b5) 10. Bxe7 Qxe7 11. O-O Nxc3! 12.
Rxc3 e5!= *

You see exchanges used brilliantly in so many of Capablanca's games,
either to consolidate a plus or to step aside neatly out of pressure.
It's easy to appreciate, hard to do!

[Event "1 e4 e5"]
[Site "ChessPub Guide"]
[Date "2012.01.20"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Zaitsev Variation"]
[Black "9...Bb7"]
[Result "*"]
[Annotator "Victor Mikhalevski"]
[ECO "C92"]
[EventDate "2012.01.20"]
[PlyCount "64"]
[Source "ChessPublishing"]

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 { We've been here before...} 9... Bb7 { The so-called
Zaitsev Variation, which has been all the rage since it was taken up by
Anatoly Karpov.} 10. d4 Re8 11. Nbd2 Bf8 12. a4 { The critical move,
but it is very tactical and requires lots of preparation.} 12... exd4
13. cxd4 Nb4 { leads to very complex positions which were thoroughly
explored in the Kasparov - Karpov matches.[VM] Black exposes the centre
and relies on piece activity for chances -- rather a hypermodern
approach.[DR] "Chess is awful. If you don't have the centre you have
difficulties... And if you do have the centre, you really do have
problems!" -- Tarrasch.} *

Some closing thoughts

"Never make a good move too soon" - James Mason

"The threat is stronger than its execution." Nimzowitsch

"Sometimes the hardest thing to do in a pressure situation is to allow
the tension to persist. The temptation is to make a decision, any
decision, even if it is an inferior choice." -- Garry Kasparov

"A swap is rarely neutral - it will favour one side or the other.
So make sure it's you!" -- Me

Chess Quotes

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