In chess, compensation refers to various (typically positional) advantages a player has in exchange for a (typically material) disadvantage. The term normally refers to medium to long-term advantages as opposed to short-term advantages. The terms "initiative" and "attack" are generally used to describe a short-term advantage.
Compensation can take many forms:
- Better pawn structure
- The "two bishops", which refers to having bishops of both colors while your opponent does not. Almost all modern players consider having both bishops as an advantage, though historically there has been great debate as to how much of an advantage they constitute. The two bishops are most likely to show their power in the endgame.
- Better piece activity and/or better development (common in gambits)
- Having the enemy king open to future attack, either due to a loss of pawn cover or being trapped in the center of the board is often excellent compensation.
- Passed pawns are often decisive in the endgame
- Connected and/or protected passed pawns are even more deadly.
- Control over key squares, diagonals, files, or ranks
Polugaevsky versus Evans
A rook on the seventh rank (the opponent's second rank) is usually very powerful, as it threatens the opponent's unadvanced pawns and hems in the enemy king. A rook on the seventh rank is sufficient compensation for a pawn (Fine & Benko 2003:586). In this position from a game between Lev Polugaevsky and Larry Evans, the rook on the seventh rank enables White to draw, despite being a pawn down (Griffiths 1992:102–3).
Spassky versus Fischer
- 1. e4 e5
- 2. f4 exf4
- 3. Nf3 g5
- 4. h4 g4
- 5. Ne5
reaching the first position shown. Fischer examines an alternate fifth move for Black:
- 5... h5
- 6. Bc4 Rh7
- 7. d4 d6
- 8. Nd3 f3
- 9. gxf3 Be7
- 10. Be3 Bxh4+
- 11. Kd2 Bg5
- 12. f4 Bh6
- 13. Nc3
reaching the second position, where Fischer explains "White has more than enough compensation for the pawn." (Fischer 2008:123)
- Fine, Reuben; Benko, Pal (2003), Basic Chess Endings (1941) (2nd ed.), McKay, ISBN 0-8129-3493-8
- Fischer, Bobby (2008), My 60 Memorable Games (1969), Batsford, ISBN 978-1-906388-30-0
- Griffiths, Peter (1992), Exploring the Endgame, American Chess Promotions, ISBN 0-939298-83-X