Is material the most important thing in chess? Well, of course it is very important. Having extra material in a position is usually a long-term advantage that we could take advantage of later in a game, as it gets closer to the endgame. But, what if we have a terrible position in every other factor except for possibly being up a little bit of material?
In that case, having a material advantage would not really be beneficial. The opposite of this is if we are behind on material, but we have a terrific position with active pieces, open files and great lines open. In this article we are going to talk about how piece activity can trump a material advantage in chess.
The position above is an endgame taken from the game Jose Capablanca vs Savielly Tartakower (1924). Here, White is facing a bit of a problem. Despite having a strong position with a rook on the seventh rank and an advanced g-pawn, he is facing the loss of his c3-pawn. With no adequate way to defend it, he needs to get something good in exchange for losing the pawn. Here, White decided to use the locked down position of Black’s king in order to activate his own king with the move 35. Kg3!
After Black won the c3 pawn with 35…Rxc3+, White then played 36. Kh4 and walked his king into Black’s position. After the following moves 36…Rf3 37.g6 Rxf4+ 38.Kg5 Re4, White has an extremely active king and g-pawn that is very close to queening. Now, with the option to capture the f5 pawn, White declined the option and made the move 39. Kf6! threatening checkmate!
In the resulting position, White is down two pawns but Black is faced with a lot of problems. This position shows how important piece activity can be and how it can be more important than material in certain positions. White ended up winning this game within the next 15 moves.
So, whenever you can, maximize the strength of your pieces and make them as active as possible. Even at the cost of a little bit of material, this can greatly improve your position and help you to win games that may not have seemed winnable at first.
Read more about positional play here: “Three Types of Positions: Generalities”.