Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Knight/Bishop Mate -- An Almost Complete Waste of Time

White to Win

It's a problem you will find in almost all chess books -- certainly in all chess books dealing with the endgame.

The infamous knight-bishop mate.

It is probably one of the trickiest forced mates in all of chess. Go the web and you will find countless websites explaining to you how to do it.

This isn't one of those sites.

This one is going to do something much more radical but at the same time much more practical -- and tell you that "you shouldn't care." In other words (barring sheer boredom), don't bother learning it.

People will huff and pout -- "Of course, you have to learn this forced checkmate! It's essential to any serious chess student's studies!"

But I am right . . . . and all those hours you spend on learning this mate is virtually a complete waste of time (and for novice chess players -- the 95% of us! -- "hours" is not much of an exaggeration).

Why do I say this? Why am I flaunting the conventional chess wisdom that you find in countless chess books (where authors devote page after page to this very problem).

Quite simply . . . . Because the situation never comes up.

(I imagine people are huffing and pouting more furiously now.).

Okay, okay . . . . . of course, it occasionally comes up. All things occasionally "come up" -- chess positions with 5 queens on the board occasionally "come up" -- but it does not come up frequently enough to ever justify spending the time to learn the process of forcing mate.

Don't believe me?

In the last couple years I have played over 3,758 games of chess. This mate came up Zero times. That's "Zero" with a great big, capital "Z".

Want more proof?

I downloaded 9,408 random games from this site (http://www.pgnmentor.com/files.html#openings).

How many games came up incorporating the knight/bishop mate? Two.

That is .002% by my math. (In other words, there is a .002% chance you will be in a situation where you will need to know this ending. Or once in every 3,704 game.).

I know what the counter arguments will be:

1) If you find yourself in this situation -- and you DO NOT know the mate -- you will throw away a "won-game."

Fair enough. (Indeed, many Grandmasters have found themselves in this very scenario and were forced to take the embarrassing draw.). But again -- do the math. Wouldn't you win more games, by spending the time you would invest in learning this mate and devoting it to tactics training or opening study?

More importantly -- say you do spend the time needed to learn this ending. And lo and behold, some 3,704 games down the road , you come across this ending. Do you think you will remember it? Make no mistake about it -- it will be years (yes, years!) before you will ever come across a game requiring knowing this mate. Think your memory is that good?

2) It's not about knowing the mate, but chess skills in general (how the knight and bishop work together).

This is a better argument, but, again, not a very good one. Yes, you are learning how the knight and bishop work as a team -- but in a very limited scenario (when the two are pinned against the lone opposing king.). Throw in a couple pawns or an opposing piece -- and much of the knight/bishop coordination you learn in memorizing this mate becomes next to useless.

So, in summary . . . .

Unless you are bored, just plain curious, or really eager to harness your knight/bishop coordination skills -- skip learning the process of forcing the knight/bishop mate. You'll be cursing my name when that 3,704th game comes along and you need it, but if you devote your chess energies else where, I can almost guarantee you will benefit more because of it.

You have a limited amount of hours for "chess studies" -- you might as well invest them properly.

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At 3:23 PM, Anonymous Chess Sets said...

Interesting post. I enjoyed the read.

At 6:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

IS VERY GOOD..............................

At 2:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your advice makes statistical sense. Okay. let's go for early bishop and knight exchanges in the game we're just starting to play. BTW, your chess blog reminds me of my stamp blog at www.latelyphilately.blogspot.com Thre's an attitude that we seem to share: just have fun and don't take the hobby too seriously.


At 7:16 PM, Blogger el rabino said...

You ignore the beauty of chess, all is not competition. Need you know to Troitzky? No, sure, but two knights v. pawn is art, you should not wasting the time, you are not an artist!!!

Chess is more than to win to weak chess players.

I can doing mate with bishop&knight in 25 seconds maximum, in all winner positions: it isn't dificult, 1 hour and good explanation...

Ricardo (Spain)

At 12:51 AM, Blogger petersmith said...

Thre's an attitude that we seem to share: just have fun and don't take the hobby too seriously.
Pawn Shop


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