Friday, March 7, 2008

The Remainder Is Just A Matter Of Technique

Don't you just hate it when some chess author goes into a sequence of moves and ends the variation with "winning is just a matter of technique". This normally happens when the final position is a "strategically won" position.

But what is a "strategically won" position? Does this mean that if I play less than optimal moves, I will still be able to convert that advantage into a win?

Is chess really that simple? Is it really a game of "my opponent goes there, I go here" like what Closet Grandmaster mentions?

Not exactly.

Alexei Suetin, in his book 3 Steps To Chess Mastery, explains that what the phrase means is that, "By a strategically won position, we normally mean the achievement of an objectively big and very stable positional advantage, which with correct play, can no longer be shaken. However, to convert such a position into a win, as we know from numerous examples, is not always a simple matter. Accurate realisation of an advantage is one of the indications of a high standard of play."

Now isn't that the truth. :)

Converting the advantage is not easy indeed.

Take the following position that I had (see picture on left). I am White. This position arose out of the Sicilian Dragon (I've got to admire these fanatic Dragon players for their tenacity).

Black had just moved 17.... Be5 and I made the move 18. Qh4

The outcome and result of this game is of little importance.

I find this position somewhat fascinating and it's good to setup the position on an actual board. I've given questions that I often ask myself in practical game play. I find this to be a very good technique towards improving my analysis skills and I encourage you to do the same. Before looking at my suggestions/replies to the questions, try to work it out yourself.

What is important is the following:

Have a think and work through this process:

Question 1. How would you evaluate this position?

1) = Even position
2) White +/= (Slight advantage)
3) Black =/+ (Slight advantage)
4) White +/− (Advantage) or +− (Decisive advantage)
5) Black +/− (Advantage) or +− (Decisive advantage)

If you said (4), you would be correct. White has a very strong advantage. Which leads to the next question that had to be asked:

Question 2. Why is the position considered a strong or decisive advantage for White? Try to work it out on the board before reading on.

Let's examine this more closely.

A strong advantage usually indicates that either the side with the advantage has a winning attack or more likely, has a command of space and position.

Have a look at the board (if you've set it up) and now ask yourself.

I've reproduced the diagram again on the left for your convenience.

Question 3. How many squares does White attack or control? Try to work it out on the board before reading on.

Now take a look at the picture on the left.

I've highlighted all the relevant squares in yellow. These are squares which White has control of or can attack and compare with the squares that you try to visualise on your board. Do they match?

If you fail to see all the squares, do not fret. You're in good company because I failed to see some of the highlighted squares too. :)

What this means is that because we are unable to see the squares, we have inadvertently limited our attacking opportunities when they arise. As a result, we tend to make sub-optimal moves because of our limited "chess vision". With constant training, this defect in our chess thinking can be corrected.

Anyway, back to the task at hand.

Now we know that there are a lot of squares being attacked/covered by White's pieces. As a result, Black's pieces are severely restricted. And by restricting your opponent's pieces, you have more room to manoeuvre your pieces into winning positions or positions which can give rise to winning tactics, combinations - which brings me to the next question.

Now look at your board (if you've set it up) again.

Question 4. Given that we now know which squares that White can control and possibly launch an attack from, do you see any tactics/threats/combinations that White can perform from these squares? Please do try to work it out on the board before reading on.

Tactics, combinations and strategies are the main motifs of chess play.

With tactical and combinational vision, one is then able to come up with a plan (be it a long term plan or a short term plan) and work out a coherent strategy to convert that to a win.

Now take a look at the diagram on the left.

I am looking at this without Fritz running at the moment and I'm sure I will possibly have missed some moves. But of the position, 3 major combinations come to mind.

The first combination that popped in my mind are the ones highlighted in yellow.

#Threat 1 (highlighted in yellow). White is planning to take on the g6 pawn with hxg6. After that, the h-file is open and White is threatening to mate on h7 or h8 (if the dark square bishop moves from the a1-h8 diagonal).

This threat should be on the fore front for most of us.

#Threat 2 (highlighted in Green). White is planning to attack on the Queenside with moves like either Bb6 (attacking the Queen) or Nb6 (attacking the Rook on a8).

Usually a good plan of attack especially when the opponent has less mobility is to create a 2nd weakness in your opponent's camp. This is called the Principle of Two Weaknesses (PDF link to Dvoresky's ChessCafe article) and has been effectively employed by all World Champions and many of the world's elite chess players to great effect.

Threat #3 (highlighted in red). I love this threat the best, not because it's the strongest but because of the trap. If Black tries to defend, White has the possibility to play Nc5! It took me a while to see this move but in the end I saw it. Now White threatens to take on the light squared bishop with Nxe6 and if fxe6, hxg6 (which in combination with Threat #1 threatens mate soon). The Knight cannot be taken with dxc5 because of Nf6+, winning the Black Queen.

If you see any combination I missed out or find any refutation to any of the above combinations, please do let me know. I am constantly trying to improve/streamline my thought process and this would help me and others heaps. Thanks.

That's pretty much it for now. By explaining all the steps, I hope to share with you how I play/visualise chess. I don't profess to say it's the best but it has helped me immensely as a low rated player towards the long road of self improvement.

As a final quiz, my opponent played 18... f5. See last picture on left.

What do you think is the strongest reply?

Examine the possibilities and see if any of the threats you analysed earlier can help you to come up with a winning plan/combination.

Till then, cheers and good luck. :)


  1. Very cool position. Good explanation also.

    On the topic of evaluations in books leaving you hanging. I find it is more a matter of the author finding the position outside of the scope of the discussion than being lazy. But it is annoying when you are unable to solve certain positions and your only guide the author leaves you hanging with no end in sight.

  2. dk: thanks for the compliments :)

    drunknknite: thanks! i concur. i think my biggest pet grieve with some chess authors is when they leave you hanging with no explanation how to go forward. but on the whole, most of the better authors like Nunn, Watson, Davies etc. explain certain concepts well and very rarely leave the reader hanging. i avoid certain authors like the plague.

  3. That was very cool post. How do you put in all those shadings and arrows?