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Nigel Davies: Follow the Rules (and Be Eaten Alive)
People like rules. Some teachers like them too. When one of their students gets mated on the back rank for the nth time they announce, through gritted teeth, some guidance such as 'REMEMBER TO MAKE LUFT FOR YOUR KING SO YOU DON'T GET MATED ON THE BACK RANK!'. They can probably back this up with a wealth of examples to show why player XYZ lost because of this. So is this good advice?
The problem is not that it's bad to make luft - it's the thinking (or rather lack of thinking) behind it. In many positions it can be quite irrelevant or even wrong to do such a thing as back rank mates are not the issue. Not only that, they can damage the kingside pawn structure, rendering it less flexible or even inviting a sacrifice.
What happens if this is pointed out? The typical reaction is to want more rules. 'REMEMBER TO MAKE LUFT FOR YOUR KING SO YOU DON'T GET MATED ON THE BACK RANK! BUT WATCH HE CAN'T SACRIFICE!'
What about the loss of time? 'REMEMBER TO MAKE LUFT FOR YOUR KING SO YOU DON'T GET MATED ON THE BACK RANK! BUT WATCH HE CAN'T SACRIFICE! AND MAKE SURE YOU CAN'T USE THE TIME FOR SOMETHING BETTER!'
Are we getting towards better guidance? In fact it's getting worse, but I'm going to leave it up to you to figure out why.
Comment by George Zachar:
Adhesion to simple rules (luft, moving averages) is entirely appropriate when one is at the earliest stages of learning a game. However, once one has advanced past dilletantism/amateurism, such a mechanistic approach is the mark of inevitable failure.