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Steve’s Chess Tips – Trading down

When is it a good idea to swap material in chess? I’m not talking about the times (both rare and fun) when an opponent lets us capture his Queen at the cost of a pawn or minor piece; I mean straight even trades. When is trading a good idea?

Back when I was starting out, I’d trade like a Moroccan rug merchant just to get as many pieces off the board as I could. I figured that the fewer pieces on the board, the less trouble I could get into, so I’d hoover off as many as I possibly could. Wellllllll, sometimes this was good thinking and sometimes this was very bad thinking.

There are exceptions to every rule, but in general it’s a good idea to trade down when you have a material advantage. Let’s consider a straight King-and-pawn ending in which you’re ahead seven pawns to your opponent’s six. You launch a series of trades and captures in which you end up with a two pawn to one pawn advantage. This is good — do the math. A 2-1 advantage is far better than 7-6.

Conversely you generally don’t want to trade pieces when you’re behind in material. The same math applies here. Being on the short end of a 7-6 pawn differential isn’t pleasant, but being on the downside of a 2-1 deficit is even worse.

So trade when you’re ahead and keep material on the board when you’re behind. By the way, you’ll also want to trade down when you can obtain a clear advantage by doing so.

Here’s an example of bad trading, by a guy who should have known better. Check out this position from Frank Marshall – Akiba Rubinstein, Vienna 1908. White has just played his Rook from f7 to g7:

Position after 51.Rg7

Marshall is ahead material and decides to sucker Rubinstein into a disadvantageous trade. Akiba takes the bait and obliges — in spades. After 51…Rxg7
52. Bxg7 hxg4 53. Kxg4 Nxc3, we get this:

Position after 53...Nxc3

Now here’s the question: should Marshall trade one more time by playing 54.Bxc3 here? Why or why not?

ChessCentral is taking pre-orders for Rybka4. Order yours now and get a free copy of my Guide to Computer Chess CD!

Have fun! — Steve

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