There is a common debate on the subject of what separates the different echelons of chessplayers. Some say it is tactics, others strategy. A lot of folks are of the opinion that opening knowledge is very important. Others claim that endgame skill is what bridges the gap between levels. Personally, I think the answer is a bit more complicated. Moreover, the higher up the ladder you go, the more complex the differences become. For example, the separation between an expert and master might be due to openings, tactical sharpness, or something along those lines. However, if you are talking about a 2550 and 2650, it gets a little more subtle. Don’t get me wrong, a 2650 is quite likely to have better opening prep. But how is it better? Is it more about depth or breadth? How much is based on understanding, intuition/experience, or simply the memorization of opening lines? I think this varies greatly from player to player as well, but I’m sure there are general patterns that can be found.
Apart from the standard areas of chess, I think there are other skills in a player’s arsenal that can make a huge difference. The one I’m going to focus on in this article is piece coordination. Simply put, stronger players just know how to play with their pieces. Take a look at a typical game between a GM and a 2300. More often than not, you’ll notice that the GM has nice looking pieces that are working together in harmony. The lower rated opponent, however, will often have at least one piece that looks funny. It could be a bishop that is locked in by pawns. Perhaps they’ll have a knight that is stranded on the edge of the board. Maybe they’ll have a rook or queen that looks out of play. I mentioned GM vs. 2300 as those examples are often the most striking. You can see the same thing occur, however, when an elite GM plays against a weaker one. The best person to look to for this, at least in my view, is Levon Aronian. I’ve seen him take what looks like a disorganized blob of pieces and have them blowing holes in his opponent’s position before they realize what is happening. This is not only true against weaker players, but also against other top GMs. Let’s check out his games from the ongoing Tata Steel tournament, and I’ll try to shed some light on my lunacy.
Knowing how to play with your pieces is an underrated skill, and I hope going over these games helped improve your understanding on the subject!