Friday, November 15, 2013

Lessons from the Battle of Agincourt

Here's a question, posted at Chess Musings. It is about Game 4 of the 2013 World Championship (shown interactively below courtesy of "chess" website):

"With Carlson having an extra pawn, how come he had to settle for a draw?…obviously I am a beginner"
photograph links to

I replied as below. You can see a 'ChessNetwork' video of the game itself here. Moves and commentary are here.

"Just because the the total points value of your pieces (3 for a knight etc) is much easier to work out than other aspects of your position, does not always mean that it is particularly important.

It is much more important to think about things like piece mobility (do your pieces have good squares to go to), space advantage (perhaps you have a couple of pieces in the opponents half of the board and he/she has none), or an extra tempo (read about this if you do not understand the term because it is vital) and so on.

Chess is a war game. Surprise attacks, momentum and strategy are more important than numerical superiority. Don’t forget about the Battle of Agincourt! The British were outnumbered by the French in the ration of at least 2 to 1 but won. I’ve mentioned strategy so I’ll finish with the following description of the British strategy:

“The battlefield lay on 1,000 yards of open ground between two woods, which prevented large-scale maneuvers and thus worked to Henry’s advantage. At 11 a.m. on October 25, the battle commenced. The English stood their ground as French knights, weighed down by their heavy armor, began a slow advance across the muddy battlefield. The French were met by a furious bombardment of artillery from the English archers, who wielded innovative longbows with a range of 250 yards. French cavalrymen tried and failed to overwhelm the English positions, but the archers were protected by a line of pointed stakes.

As more and more French knights made their way onto the crowded battlefield, their mobility decreased further, and some lacked even the room to raise their arms and strike a blow. At this point, Henry ordered his lightly equipped archers to rush forward with swords and axes, and the unencumbered Englishmen massacred the French.”

Don’t think that this isn’t relevant to chess. Think bishops (long range pieces) and archers with the (newly invented) English longbows.

It is amusing to see Carlsen's bishop "arrowing through the air" six times - only to end up back on its home square on move 24. During the journey it manages to controversially capture a pawn in a manouevre reminiscent of Fischer's famous pawn-grab in 1972. Unlike Fischer's bishop, Carlsen's managed to escape.

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