Thursday, December 4, 2008



Years ago, during one of my games with Nigel Short, I made a superficially active but weakening move which almost cost me the game. Afterwards Nigel quizzed me as to why I played this way to which I replied that "I'm a busy kind of player". "Yes," replied the other Nigel, "even when there's nothing to do."

Knowing that you can learn a lot from the insights of great players I took Nigel's words quite seriously. Reviewing some of my games I realised that he was quite right, I did have a definite tendency to try to do things even when there was nothing to do. As soon as tension appeared in the position I found it difficult to resist the opportunity to play some 'forcing moves' no matter where they led.

Since then I have come to realise that one of the hallmarks of very strong players is the ability to recognise when they should try to do something and when it is better to play a move which just simply improves their position. This is why top class games often give the impression that nothing is really happening whilst in reality their outwardly innocuous moves represent a cagey struggle to outmanoeuvre their opponent. The two adversaries are working towards the right moment to strike, knowing full well that a premature attempt to force matters could simply lose the advantage or even totally rebound.

Almost all players start out by playing a brand of forceful tactical chess which is the clearest and simplest route to success. As we improve and come up against ever stronger opposition we all gradually realise that tactics alone are not enough. In fact there will inevitably come a point at which it is necessary to think strategically in order to enjoy continued success.

Club level players can't usually afford the luxury of having unlimited time with which to perfect their chess so as chess players they often remain youthful tacticians. There is a tendency to indulge in forcing moves regardless of whether they are good or bad, any tension between pieces and pawns is resolved very quickly.

There is no easy cure for this tendency, the only one that really works is to spend years studying and playing chess after which greater insight gradually develops. Having said that I can point out some of the most common scenarios in which the tension is usually resolved prematurely. Hopefully you will be able to avoid these mistakes yourself and even lure your opponents into making them. You just need to get them into the right kind of position....

First of all let's look at a very popular opening at club level, the King's Indian Attack. This was one of Bobby Fischer's favourite lines which I learned to play by following the maestro's example. The moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d3 d5 4.Nbd2 Nc6 5.g3 produce the diagrammed position below.

Black has tried various deployments of his pieces in this position of which 5...Nf6 6. Bg2 Be7 7. 00 00 8. Re1 b5 is regarded as the main line with Black going for counterplay with a massive Queenside Pawn advance.

The classic game, which is followed by most White exponents, is Fischer- Miagmasuren, Sousse(izt) 1967. This game continued 9.e5! Nd7 10.Nf1 a5 11.h4 b4 12.Bf4 a4 13.a3!? with a double-edged position which Fischer, being Fischer, happened to win in magnificent style.

In my experience very few players at club level will play like this for Black, in fact most of them will find it difficult to resist resolving the tension by exchanging Pawns on e4 at some moment, yet this is a positional mistake.

One of the main problems with throwing in the moves ...d5xe4; d3xe4 is that an eventual e4-e5 by will allow White to use to e4 square for a Knight.

One example of this from my own games was the game Davies - Schrancz, Harkany 1986 which went:

1.e4 e6 2.d3 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.g3 Nc6 5.Bg2 dxe4 6.dxe4 Nf6 7.Ngf3 Be7 8.0-0 0-0 9.Qe2 b6 10.e5 Nd7 11.Ne4 Qc7 12.Bf4 Bb7 13.Nf6+! Nxf6 14.ef Bd6 15.Bxd6 Qxd6 16.Rad1 Qc7 [diagram]

...and now 17.Ng5! gxf6 18.Ne4 f5 19.Rd7 Qc8 20.Qh5 would have given me a winning attack (20...fxe4 21.Bxe4 f5 22.Qxh7#). If Black's pawn had stayed on d5 it would have continued to cover the e4 square and thus prevented the deadly manoeuvre of 11.Ne4 and 13.Nf6+.

Black could also stop White's e4-e5 by following up his ...d5xe4 with...e6-e5, but this has the drawback of leaving a hole on d5. A good example of this kind of play was Stein- Zinn, Helsinki 1961: 1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 c5 3.Bg2 Nc6 4.0-0 e5 5.d3 Be7 6.Nbd2 Nf6 7.e4 Bg4 8.h3 Be6 9.Qe2 dxe4 10.dxe4 0-0 11.c3 Nd7 12.Nc4! b5 13.Ne3! [diagram]

White's last two moves bring his Queen's Knight to a square from where it can jump into the d5 weakness.

13...c4 14.Rd1 Qc7 15.Nd5! Bxd5 16.ed Na5 17.Nd4! ed 18.Qxe7 Rae8 19.Bf4 Qxf4 20.Qxd7 Qf6 21.Rxd4 Re2 22.Rf4 and White won easily.

One of the most popular plans at club level is the kind of attacking build-up you can get from Queen's Pawn Games in which White plays something like d2-d4, e2-e3, Bf1-d3, Nb1-d2, possibly f2-f4 and then Ng1-f3 before planting his f3 Knight on e5, castling short and then switching his rook on f1 to f3 and even h3. An additional Pawn push with g2-g4-g5 might also come into it and White might have developed his Queen's Bishop on g5 before playing e3 and f4. Although this plan sounds rather primitive it can prove devastating if Black doesn't handle it right. In practice he very rarely does.

One of the classic mistakes by Black in this kind of position is to attack White's Bishop on d3 at one moment with ...c5-c4, apparently forceful but in reality a move which helps White's plans considerably. Let me show you what I mean:

Carty - Connelly
Dublin League 1996

1 d4 d5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Bg5 e6 4 Nbd2 Be7 5 e3 O-O 6 Bd3 c5 7 c3 Nc6 8 O-O c4?

This may seem like a normal, natural move to start some kind of general pawn advance on the Queenside but in 9 cases out of 10 it is the wrong idea.

The problem is that it takes all the pressure off White's d4 Pawn and gives him a free hand to expand in the centre with a subsequent e3-e4. To add to Black's troubles this often leads to the c4 Pawn itself becoming a weakness if Black meets White's e3-e4 with ....dxe.

Black should play 8...b6 though White will get attacking chances after 9 Ne5.

9 Bc2 b5 10 Qe2 a5 11 e4! Re8

If there follows 12 Bxf6 ef 13 Qe4 g6 14 Bxe7 winning a piece.

12 e5 Nd7 13 Bxe7 Qxe7 14 Ne4!

Very nice play by White, 15.Qxe4 wins at least a pawn because of the dual threats to the knight on c6 and h7.

14...f6 15 Nd6

White had a clear advantage and won in 33 moves.

This ...c5-c4 mistake is actually Black's usual reaction when a player below master level finds himself in this kind of position. Here's another example from one of Brian Carty's games:

Carty - Hearns
Dublin League 1997

1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 e6 3 Bg5 Be7 4 Nbd2 d5 5 e3 Nbd7 6 Bd3 O-O 7 O-O h6 8 Bh4 c5 9 c3

Black should probably play 9....b6 followed by 10...Bb7 when he might be able to simplify the position with a subsequent ....Nf6-e4. But sure enough there came: 9...c4? and after 10.Bc2 Qb6 11.Rb1 Qc7 12.Bg3 (12.e4 immediately was also good) 12...Bd6 White played 13.e4! with advantage.

The frequency with which these tension resolving mistakes are played by Black is a strong argument in favour of playing these systems with White at club level.

If you want something for White after 1.e4 e5 then I recommend playing 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bc4 Bc5 (not many players will 'risk' 4...Nxe4) 5.d3 d6 6.Be3(!) [diagram]

The exclamation mark is for its psychological value, again you can expect most sub-master level players to resolve the tension with 6...Bxe3 which after 7.fxe3 gives White a strong central pawn mass and a half-open f-file.

Believe me, it happens all the time; my evidence is the following two snippets:

Meynell A - Lusher C
London Rapidly 1996

1.Nf3 Nc6 2.e4 e5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bc4 Bc5 5.d3 O-O 6.O-O d6 7.Be3

Black should probably play 7...Bb6 with a sound game. But he just couldn't resist capturing on e3:

7...Bxe3 8.fxe3

White has the better game and an easy-to-play plan of attack on the f-file. I would expect White to score something like 70% from this position in games between club players of similar strength.

8...a6 9.a3 Ng4 10.Qe2 Ne7 11.h3 Nf6 12.Rad1 Ng6 13.Qe1 c6 14.Nh4 Nh5

Black should play exchange the Knight off before it reaches f5 with 14...Nxh4 15.Qxh4 Be6.


White had a very strong position and went on to win.

Bramson - Vadanam
England 1996

1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.d3 d6 5.Nf3 Bg4 6.h3 Bh5 7.O-O c6 8.Qe2 O-O 9.Be3 Nbd7 10.a3 Re8 11.Rae1 Bxe3?

Here we go again, though Black showed admirable restraint in delaying this move for so long.


Once again it is by no means easy for Black to defend. In fact he lost a pawn after 12...Nb6 13.Bb3 d5 14.exd5 cxd5 15.e4 d4 16.Nd1 Qd7 17.Qf2 h6 18.Qg3 Kh7 19.Nh4 Rac8 20.Nf5 Rg8 21.Qxe5.

No comments: