17 April 2012

Hanging Pieces

Deliberate practice includes activities that have been specially designed to improve the current level of performance.
K. A. Ericsson, R. Th. Krampe, and C.  Tesch-Römer, "The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance," 368. 
[D]eliberate practice requires that one identify certain sharply defined elements of performance that need to be improved, and then work intently on them.
Geoff Colvin, Talent is Overrated, 68.*
Having spent more than a decade coaching elementary school age beginning chess players, I have observed the pattern that pieces are frequently left undefended. These pieces are ripe for plucking. Those who learn to spot the fruit of error enjoy a bountiful harvest. Observing the strengths and weaknesses of beginning players is one thing, but learning that tactics involving hanging pieces was my own weakness was quite another.

Chess Tempo's "Rated Tactical Motif Performance" lists the tactical motifs identified by users of that site for each problem. For each motif, information is given concerning the number of problems that I have attempted, the number correct, a percentage, and a rating performance. After 637 problem attempts, hanging pieces appeared as as one of my worst percentages, and my lowest performance rating: 37/72 problems, 51.39% correct, performance >200 below current target.

In order to improve through practice, exercises must address those areas where I fail. Failure, thus, becomes not a cause for anger, but data to diagnose. Through the problem search on Chess Tempo, I found those problems that involve hanging pieces, limiting the search to those above a target rating (higher than my current performance). I then set my training to solve only problems from this set. Chess Tempo creates a new rating based only on solving problems in this user created set. The rating offers one index for tracking improvement over the new few days and week. Because I set a minimum rating, the problems were difficult. In my first session with this set, I solved 4/16 for 25%. My performance was 4.8 over the initial target.

That was yesterday. Today, before solving another set, I reviewed my errors. Chess Tempo offers Silver and Gold members access to the source game, which is already in my reference database in ChessBase 11. Yesterday, I opted for a one-month trial of Gold membership ($4). So far, it seems money well-spent.

De la Riva Aguado,Oscar (2515) - Hassan,Abdul (2296) [C14]
Bled ol (Men) Bled (12.1), 07.11.2002

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e5 Nfd7 6.Bxe7 Qxe7 7.f4 a6 8.Nf3 c5 9.dxc5 Nxc5 10.Bd3 Nc6 11.0–0 Bd7 12.Qd2 f5 13.exf6 Qxf6 14.Rae1 0–0 15.Ne5 Nxe5 16.Rxe5 Rac8 17.g3 Be8 18.Rfe1 Bf7 19.Bf1 Nd7 20.R5e3 Nc5 21.Bg2 Rfe8 22.R3e2 Nd7 23.Nd1

White's last move is interesting. In this game, it precedes Black's decisive error.

Black to move

23...Bh5?? 24.Rxe6 Rxe6 25.Rxe6 Rxc2

And now we have the position that appears as Problem 48544 on Chess Tempo.

White to move


I played 26.Rxf6, the third most common wrong move. My move actually loses by force, as I have now hung both my rook and my knight.

26...Bf7 27.Re8+ Nf8 28.Bxf7+ 1–0

The Chess Tempo problem carries the combination another two moves.

*Geoff Colvin. Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. New York: Portfolio, 2008.

K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Th. Krampe, and Clemens  Tesch-Römer. "The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance." Psychological Review, 100, no. 3 (1993): 363-406.


  1. Hmm, I don't think I'd classify that as "hanging piece". My classifications on that one would be double check (as Bxd5 is threatening Re8#), and maybe Counting (as the capturing sequence ends up picking up a piece).

    To me, "hanging piece" is simply an unprotected piece, nothing more - everything else has another motif behind it. *shrug*

    1. Tactical problems with only one motif rarely give me trouble. Multiple motifs do not discount the presence of any one of them. Double check, pin, and discovery are all motifs tagged on this one problem, in addition to hanging pieces. On first glance, it appears that White has two pieces hanging, but with the right moves, White's problems are resolved and Black has a piece still hanging.