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Positional or Tactical Chess?

  • GM Gserper
  • | Jan 27, 2013

Probably all chess players ask themselves at some point of their chess career: "Am I a positional chess player or a tactician?" Based on the answer to this question they choose openings and the general strategy of their games.  But if you say that it doesn't really matter, then you have a point since as a well known chess saying goes: there are no positional and tactical chess players, there are only good and bad chess players!"

What made me write this article is the usual situation when a very inexperienced chess player, practically a beginner, starts the game with 1.d4, 1.c4 or 1. Nf3. I face this situation almost on a daily basis and I need to explain to my students that they shouldn't play these kinds of openings.  Don't get me wrong, I like all of them and if you check the database, you'll see that I have employed exactly these openings during most of my chess career. So, why do I strongly advise inexperienced chess players against these perfectly normal moves?

Usually it goes like this: my student plays 1.Nf3 and when I ask him why he chose this particular opening he says: " Well, I think I am a positional player, my style is similar to Kramnik's, and this is exactly what he plays". My usual thought in moments like this is: " You are am 1100 player for God's sake!  Before you talk about being a positional or tactical chess player you really need to learn how to play good chess first, and the best way to learn it is to play open positions which start with 1.e4!"  Then I try to explain to my student that it is not a coincidence that the majority of the great chess players started their chess journey by playing 1.e4.  Later they might switch to the closed openings, but at first they played all kinds of sharp lines which really improve your tactical skills and teach you how the pieces cooperate with each other. Just look at the games played by future World Champions.

Mihail Tal was 13 years old when he played the next game:

You may say that this is what Tal was famous for, he played like this his whole life including the time when he became the World Champion.  Good point! So, let's take a look at the games played by future World Champions who were known as positional chess players.

 Vassily Smyslov was 14 years old when he played the following game:

Vladimir Kramnik was just 9 years old when he played this game:

It was an absolutely crazy game.  It is difficult to imagine that the same kid who played White later got the nickname "Drawnik".

Finally I don't want you to think that 1.e4 is the only way to play for young chess players. True, it is the easiest way to get a sharp situation on the board, but if you have a desire to start 'fire on board', then almost any opening will do!

Jose Raul Capablanca was one of the finest positional chess players in chess history, but look at how he attacked when he was 13 years old:

Capablanca's comment when he was already the World Champion is very instructive: "Today I would most probably play a simple move 29. Qd2 which was also enough for a win."  But this is the whole point, young chess players should try their hand in sharp, complicated positions first and only then try positional chess.

It was very common in the countless chess clubs of the former Soviet Union that coaches taught their young students to play gambits, sharp openings like the Greco Attack and the Sicilian Dragon. My recommendation for all my readers whose rating is about USCF 1300 or below: try to play open sharp positions as much as possible.  Even if you play 1.d4 or 1.Nf3 go for complications whenever possible! Only a chess player who is proficient in tactics can be a successful tournament player.  Don't forget the popular saying that "chess is 99% tactics".  Don't be discouraged if you lose a game or two, the most important thing is to learn how to calculate variations and visualize a position, and you learn it best in sharp open positions!

Good luck!


  • 9 months ago


    yes i think tatctis is good but when you become experience player wheather  you want or not your chess become either m.tal or kasporove like or may become postional like capablanca or karpove like.but you have to excel in your own style. you must chose any chess engine to excel your style. if you have natural style like tal then pratice with huadini ,rybeka chess engine but postional player try the komodo or shreder postional engine for develoment.try to ply in your own style i am a postional player so i love to play with komodo one of the strongest at present time

  • 9 months ago


    ....yes. & yes yes. 


    Then.... There are moments, when YES, are may be ....yes....?! 

  • 11 months ago


    i used to play 1.e4 and got to see lots of tactical fireworks.. and after so many practice games with computer. i slowly realized that it's much better to play them with closed positions. and lots of maneuvering.. lots of trading pieces to avoid complication. and steer to endgame play. nowadays i prefer 1.d4 and i got 2100 blitz / 2300 bullet rating here chess.com

  • 21 months ago


    Just an update, my d4 openings have become much much more interesting lately. I attribute this to a quite a few hours of tactics training. So even though d4 is considered positional, quite a few moves seem to get me to very tactical rich spots.

  • 21 months ago


    very nice

  • 24 months ago


    Thanks for posting this, I've been wondering why my D4 openings have been getting really boring and difficult to play, they just suck the energy out of me. I think I will try switching to e4. Thanks again!

  • 2 years ago



  • 2 years ago


    exactly right!

  • 2 years ago



  • 2 years ago


    Great article. Thank you for sharing it! :)

  • 2 years ago


    Very nice topic, mister.

    And thank you VERY MUCH for bringing us these rare games. They're all incredible and even a bit unbelievable. Gosh, fourteen, thirteen and even nine years, and they all humiliate me hahaha!

    I must try and find a nice chess group for me. :D

  • 2 years ago


    Muito util!!! Obrigado!!!

  • 2 years ago


    TQ SIR..I will try to absorb you advice...

  • 2 years ago


    Great article! It only confirms why I like the Scotch a lot which leads to open and sharp positions! Thanks a lot! Can you suggest openings for black that leads to open and sharp positions other than the sicilian? It would help a lot! Thanks!

  • 2 years ago


    You can get sharp positions from any opening. You can attack with a plan like d4, Nf3, Bf4 (or g5), e3, Bd3, Nbd2, Ne5. I know a player who, in order to avoid learning opening theory played always d4, Nf3, g3, Bg2, b3, Bb2, 0-0, Nbd2. It looks quiet, but after a little while, as soon as white can play c4 or e4, the position is often blasted open. He successfully continued using the same opening until reaching almost 2000 FIDE rating.

    That said, I agree 100% with your opinion that chess is 99% tactics.

  • 2 years ago


    Btw, these were all great players, I still play 1.e4 because of tactical positions, which I like.

  • 2 years ago


    I started sharp and I still am, even at 2000 USCF. I play mediocre openings, but my tactics allow me to outplay my opponents even from the WORST positions.

    like this game:

    I was black, and I was several pawns down.

  • 2 years ago


    I don't disagree that most of chess is tactics, but I don't think, by any means, you ought to play certain openings or else risk not practicing them properly. Tactics occur in any opening; if they didn't, people really could get away with playing pure positional chess. But as said they occur anywhere, so at any point where tactics failed you, whether it was a missed attack, or simply failing to finish off the opponent tactically after a strong positional build-up, you will inevitably be exposed to tons of tactics, and any feature of the game for that matter.

    What's more important in my view is developing an ability to problem solve. If you can play the sicilian, even as a beginner, and get a sense of how to place pieces well, when an attack works, and, yes, tactics, I think you are learning as well as you could hope for.

    And yes, the english will result in plenty of tactics inevitably. Again, if it didn't, then tactics would cease to be important after all depending on opening choice, but of course they do still occur.

    If you're just blindly playing it because one of your favorite players plays it, well that's another story.

  • 2 years ago


    Also (sorry for the double post) most players under 1300 only know theory about 3 moves deep anyway! So it's really not like playing d4 or e4 will lead to some known theoretical, line. Most likely they'll play 3. h3 h6, blunder a pawn by move 7 and the game is crazy already! :D Actually I don't think there's such thing as a quiet maneuvering game for that class :D

  • 2 years ago


    Definitely agree twith the main point of the article but I also believe the e4/d4 sharp/positional duality doesn't really exist. e4 has the Ruy, d4 has the semi-Slav (which can be positional but can also be ridiculously sharp)

    An opening is what you make of it. If you want complications you can find them in almost any position. 

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