A Love Affair With Squares

A Love Affair With Squares

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No, I’m not talking about boring, rigid or out-of-touch people who are sometimes referred to as “squares.” I’m going to discuss squares on a chessboard and just how important a “key” square is. And so, now that my preamble is over, let’s leap fearlessly into the fray!

SkyMarshal wrote: “I have a big problem identifying key squares. Seems to be of great importance, but my eye keeps looking for positional advantages (knights in advanced posts, space, etc) and tactics. For example, in one of your articles about the Nimzo-Indian Huebner Variation, everything seems to be aimed at the f5-square. Both players went after that square and your comments also indicate that there is a fight for that particular point. I can’t see why that square is so important, and that occurs with any other key square in any other game. Let’s put it this way: I don’t fight for squares because I don’t understand where they are and what makes them so important.”

JS: Here’s the position you are alluding to:

The f5-square is THE critical point on the board. Why?

In this case, the f5-square is critical for four reasons:

  1. Look at Black’s c8-bishop. Not doing much at the moment. Look at Black’s e7-knight. Also not doing much at the moment. When you play chess, it’s your responsibility to find the most active squares possible for your pieces. Placing the e7-knight on g6 isn’t wise since it has nowhere to go and nothing to do, while …Bd7 is rather passive. However, I think you would agree that if that bishop or knight was able to live on f5 forever, THAT would be a very good thing. If Black’s bishop was able to live on f5 it would be blazing all its bishop-goodness down the h3-c8 and b1-h7 diagonals. Pretty cool. And if the e7-knight could live on f5 forever you it would be eyeing the e3-hole until the sun goes nova.
  2. Winning a square can deprive the enemy of space. If White is allowed to push his f4-pawn to f5, Black’s bishop and e7-knight would suddenly be in a straightjacket with little or no places to go, and White will suddenly enjoy a huge kingside space advantage. Thus, White threatens f4-f5 and Black MUST do something about it!
  3. By controlling the f5-square, Black will be able to imprison White’s dark-squared bishop. However, if the f4-pawn manages to move to f5, then White’s dark-squared bishop will burst into prominence.
  4. A square can be a battleground, with both armies trying to claim it! In this position White would love to “win” that square. Here’s a sample: 

Here’s the full game from the articles first diagram:

As you can see, a key square can be a home for a piece, a launchpad for a piece, or simply a square that needs to be kept out of enemy hands!

The following comment by SkyMarshal was interesting. She wrote that her “eyes keep looking at positional advantages (knights in advanced posts, space, etc) and tactics.” Yet, key squares are all about positional advantages (in particular knights in advanced posts).

Here’s an example of this:

Of course, you not only need to notice a weak square, you often need to create it!

Here’s one more example:

Black threatens to capture the b4-pawn. If White protects it by b4-b5 then Black’s bishop has free rein along the a3-f8 diagonal. White could try and make use of the d5-square by 1.b5 Qe6 2.Ne4 Be7 3.Nc3 but after 3...c6 Black’s very comfortable.

Returning to our position, White understands that he needs to find a good square for his knight while also depriving Black’s bishop of too much activity.


One could write a whole book on holes, posts, weak squares, and key squares. I hope this article has helped SkyMarshal understand what a key square is.

It’s simply a square that’s taken on massive importance due to what it might give to your own pieces, or what it might do for your opponent’s pieces. In either case, you need to train yourself to recognize it and then take appropriate measures.

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