Train Your Brain! Target Consciousness, Part 1

Train Your Brain! Target Consciousness, Part 1

| 23 | Strategy

Target Consciousness. I coined this phrase long ago, and I still consider it to be of enormous use to students who want to play much stronger chess, and also appreciate high-level games. The concept is simple: you need to train your mind to spot targets on the chessboard (or, if there aren’t any, play to create targets) and then to immediately focus on making use of whatever target you have.

The most basic targets are weak squares and weak pawns, so that’s what I’ll focus on in this article. When I teach, it’s not unusual to discover that a student has no idea which side of the board to play on. Once I make him a Target Consciousness addict, though, he no longer has a problem concerning vicinity – suddenly the correct side of the board to play on is lit up with shockingly bright colors!

Of course, training the mind so it becomes a bloodhound that always seeks (and then destroys or uses) a target is far from easy. But you have to start somewhere, and once you embrace the concept completely and always do your best to look for the target (this will also teach you to not create targets in your own camp!), it will eventually become second nature – an unconscious use of (target) consciousness! 

Our first example is a very simple illustration of how you create a weakness and then devote yourself to its destruction.

Silman – Jose Marcel
San Francisco, 1981

1.d4 f5 2.g3 g6 3.b3 Bg7 4.Bb2 Nf6 5.Bg2 0-0 6.Nd2 d6 7.Ngf3 c6 8.0-0 Qc7 9.Re1 Na6 10.a3 Bd7 11.e4 fxe4 12.Nxe4 Nxe4 13.Rxe4 Rae8 14.Ng5 e5 15.dxe5 dxe5 16.Re1 Nc5 17.Qe2 Kh8 18.Qc4 Ne6 19.Nxe6 Bxe6 20.Qc5 Bf5 21.Be4 Bxe4 22.Rxe4

This kind of position is easy. You see a target (e5), you block it (rook on the e4-hole) so it can’t move, and then you hit it with everything you’ve got. The “hitting weapons” are the queen, both rooks, the bishop and the f2-pawn. A real team effort!

22...Rf5 23.Rae1 b6 24.Qe3 Ref8

The threat is 25.f4 when e5 is attacked by no less than FIVE White units!

Another thing a student discovers when he embraces Target Consciousness is that his opponents often can’t handle the heat and fall on their faces, losing without a fight.

Silman – Rasmussen
Grants Pass, 1984

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Nf3 c6 5.e3 dxc4 6.Bxc4 b5 7.Bd3 a6 8.0-0 Bb7 9.Qe2 Nbd7 10.e4 c5 11.d5 e5 12.b3 Be7

Black seems to be doing okay – White’s passed d-pawn isn’t going anywhere (it’s static), and Black’s queenside majority is dynamic. The first thing White wants to do is create a target. Thus his next move speaks for itself.

13.a4! b4??

And Black immediately caves! In fact, he’s strategically lost after this move. Instead, he had no choice but to sacrifice a pawn by 13...c4! 14.bxc4 b4 when, though Black is a pawn behind, he has a passed b-pawn and use of the very nice c5- and d6-squares (Black’s dark-squared bishop will end up on d6 while a black knight will find that c5 is a fine post).

White is better after 13...c4, but at least Black would have some positive things to make use of, and he could put up a real fight.

After 13...b4 black’s queenside majority is no longer dynamic (it’s frozen), and what is left is a weak pawn on c5 (the e5-pawn is also under pressure) and a weak square (a huge hole, in fact) on c4. Worse still, Black’s position is suddenly passive and without prospect. In short, Black has no targets to make use of, while White has targets on c4, c5, and e5.

We'll finish this game with a positional puzzle:


Here’s another example of weak squares as targets. The creation and use of the weak squares/targets in this game is clear and useful for players great and small, but the technique required is more advanced. However, the fact that the technical phase is also ruled by Black’s creation of enemy targets creates a satisfying picture:

Kuznecov - Silman
Oregon Open, 1986

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6 5.c4 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Nc3 0-0 8.Be2 b6 9.0-0 Bb7 10.f3 Nh5 11.Nxc6

Not a particularly good move. What happens White plays the tempting 11.f4? We’ll use this question to create our first puzzle.

11...dxc6 12.Qb3 Bd4!

Black is already targeting the d4-square/hole for annexation. Since White’s dark-squared bishop supported that square, Black makes a point of trading it off.

13.Bxd4 Qxd4+ 14.Kh1 Nf4 15.Rfd1 Qe5 16.Bf1 Rfd8 17.a4?! Ne6 18.Ne2 Nc5 19.Qc2 a5

Suddenly the c5-square has also fallen into Black’s hands!

20.Rab1 Qc7 21.Nc3 Rxd1 22.Rxd1 Rd8 23.Rd2 e5

Notice White’s weak squares (which Black has targeted): b4 , c5, and d4. (The importance of b4 is that White can’t challenge c5 by b2-b4. Thus control over b4 also gives Black control over c5!) In comparison, Black’s squares on b5, and d5 are firmly controlled by the c6-pawn.

24.Qd1 Rxd2 25.Qxd2 Ne6 26.Ne2 Qe7 27.Nc1 Kg7 28.Nb3 c5

Black gives up b5 and d5 but sees that it turns White’s bishop into a Tall Pawn, and that White’s knight isn’t able to reach the dream square/target on d5. Another point, though, is that it freezes White’s queenside pawns so that they are stuck on light squares. This means that they are potentially vulnerable to the affections of Black’s bishop for the rest of the game.

29.Nc1 Bc6 30.Qd1 Qd7 31.Qxd7 Bxd7 32.b3 Nd4

The b3-pawn is an obvious problem and White’s bishop is quite wretched.

33.Kg1 f5 34.Bd3 Bc6 35.exf5 gxf5 36.Kf2 Kf6 37.Ke3 Kg5 38.Bb1 h5 39.Bd3 h4 40.h3

Now White’s kingside pawns are also trapped on light squares.

40…Be8 41.Be2 Bg6 42.Bd1 f4+ 43.Kf2 Bb1

Black’s bishop is getting closer and closer to the tasty morsels on a4, b3, and c4.


We'll end this game with a puzzle:

In our next puzzle, can you see the target Black will go after? Once you see it, how will you go about claiming it?

The following puzzle shows White using a common strategy, designed to create a target in the enemy pawn structure right out of the opening. 

This was a very important game for me. I had to win this final round game to tie for first!

I gave a few games from the U.S. Open to show that targets appear all the time. If you want to get good, you simply must train your brain to look for and make use of targets! 

Erik Osbun - Silman
Berkeley 1981

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 c5 5.Nge2 cxd4 6.exd4 d5 7.a3 Be7 8.c5 0-0 9.g3 b6 10.b4 a5 11.Bb2 axb4 12.axb4 Rxa1 13.Bxa1 bxc5 14.bxc5 Nc6

Here’s the list: d4 is under pressure, the whole f1-a6 diagonal is weak (due to the upcoming ...Ba6), the c5-pawn might fall after an eventual ...e6-e5 which destroys its defender on d4, and finally, due to White’s lack of development, the b-file can easily be claimed by a black rook.

15.Bg2 Ba6 16.0-0 Qa5 17.Re1 Rb8 18.Bf3

I’ll show the rest of the game in puzzle form:


I hope I’ve convinced you to train your brain in the wonders of Target Consciousness. If not, I’ll hopefully convince you in Part 2 on this subject. It’s that important.


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