What do you see when you look at a chessboard? Your answer may depend on your strength. Experts and masters refer to vectors. A queen has a definite magnitude and direction as she moves. Whether titled players are looking five moves ahead or twenty they are acutely conscious of all the lateral and diagonal movement possible for the queen as far as their vision extends.
When I began playing at a club nearly three years ago I answered this same question, posed to me by the woman teaching me the game, by tentatively reciting the names of the pieces. My materially focused answer wasn’t wrong, but rather incomplete. She told me a chess board is actually a multi-dimensional field that encompasses space and time. Whoa!
After looking at her incredulously I took in what she was saying. As the chessmen move forward they take up squares from the enemy pieces. If they keep making enemy pieces move away they can eat up additional ‘territory’. The idea of controlling space is a zero-sum concept. I take some land from the other side and add it to my the good guys’ acreage.
Against staunch defense it occurred to me though that the board’s material occupants were held down by rules much like those forces which govern our movements, keeping us bound to a rock in space. Sometimes you couldn’t take any space. It was frustrating to have this happen.
Ultimately we are trying to help the pieces triumph over the rules that govern them. This is not a small task. A rook is nominally better than a bishop but sometimes we have the worse piece. Make sure files get closed and pawns pry open the bishop’s desired diagonal.
As an exercise try to arrange your chessmen in such a fasion that they control the maximum amount of space possible. How many squares can you take? You see there is a limit to the positive space you can enjoy on the chessboard.
You will find many positions where no spatial advantage exists and one cannot easily be manufactured. Have you ever been in such a situation? Because of the inherent limitations of your army every square you seize may cause you to lose another somewhere else!
Today as I’ve progressed a little further in my development I see that my teacher missed out on an important concept, negative space. The objective of gaining space can be met not by actively controlling everything, but by protecting the territory which leads to those squares you want to possess. In an endgame these are called corresponding squares but I believe that restricting this particular idea to the last few moves of a chess game is to do ourselves an injustice. It’s something to think about!