Know Your Position's Agenda

  • IM Silman
  • | Nov 30, 2011

The guy playing White has a wonderfully colorful name. For those not in the know about what "boomstick" alludes to, it was used in the movie ARMY OF DARKNESS in which Ash (played by the legendary Bruce Campbell), after being accidentally transported back in time to 1300 A.D., uses his 12 gauge, double barrel Remington shotgun (which he refers to as his BOOMSTICK) to battle demons.

Sargentboomstick (1689) – unknown (1910), over the board game.

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Bd3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 b5 8.Bd3 Bb7 9.e4 b4 10.Ne2

Boomstick said: “I think Na4 is main line but I didn’t know that at the time.”

10.Na4 is indeed the only move anyone takes seriously. The reason is that …c6-c5 is a critical break for Black, and 10.Ne2 doesn’t have anything to do with that super-important plan. On the other hand, 10.Na4 takes direct aim at c5. Then 10…c5! (anyway!) is black’s best reply. After 11.e5 Nd5 12.dxc5 Bxc5 13.Nxc5 Nxc5 14.Bb5+ Black has played both 14…Kf8 and 14…Ke7 with reasonable results.

10…c5 11.e5 Nd5 12.O-O h6

12...Rc8 was played in the game K. Sasikiran (2470) – P. Wells (2530) [D47], Torquay 1998. After 13.Re1 Qb6 14.Bg5 h6 15.Bh4 Be7 16.Bxe7 Nxe7 17.Ng3 cxd4 Black was already better. One can see why 10.Ne2 was never popular.

13.Bd2 Be7 14.Rc1 O-O
















White’s making reasonable looking moves, but he doesn’t seem to fully comprehend that his fate will pretty much depend on whether or not he can generate play against black’s King. This shouldn’t be a secret: white’s e5-pawn deprives black’s Knights of the use of the f6-square, the h6-pawn means that a defensive …g7-g6 will hang h6, and white’s Bishops and Knights are (or will be) aiming at the kingside. Far more to the point would be 15.Bb1, intending Qc2.

This is one of the differences between amateurs and professionals – pros know what the position is begging for, and every move is dedicated to pushing their own agenda. Amateur’s, on the other hand, often make good looking moves, but those pretty moves sometimes don’t really address the position’s needs.

15…Rc8 16.Ng3?!

Boomstick said: “Wanting Ne4.”

Yes, but you should be “wanting” the enemy King. Once again, 16.Bb1 was indicated.


A little soft. 16…Qb6 puts immediate pressure on white’s center.


Still making “normal” looking moves, and still ignoring the white position’s silent screams for kingside action. This move defends d4 but gives Black a free hand - in other words, white’s reacting to his opponent and not pushing his own agenda. Instead, White should (if at all possible) try and stamp the position in his own image – meaning the generation of kingside play. One way to go about this would be 17.Bb1! intending Qc2. Things get interesting: 17…cxd4 18.Rxc8 Qxc8
















Boomstick said: “Black gives up his solid Bishop for a easy to see tactic. I don’t understand this move.”

It’s easy to understand (Black is going after a tactic that he feels wins material), but the real question is whether or not it’s best. I suspect not. Instead, 17…cxd4 18.Rxc8 Qxc8 19.Bxd4 (now the Bishop is no longer eyeing h6) 19…Nc5 20.Bb1 Rd8 21.Qc2 g6 seems nice for Black.


Boomstick said: “Not Qxf3 when …Nxe5 picks up a pawn and stunts my attack with a clear advantage for Black.”

I can’t agree with you. Since your 18.gxf3 leaves Black much better after 18…cxd4 (as we’ll see), you should have “fallen” for black’s trap by 18.Qxf3! Nxe5 19.dxe5 Qxd3 20.Red1 Qa6















As you can see, by sacrificing the pawn, you gain time to get your kingside play going.

However, after 18.Qxf3 Nxe5 19.dxe5 Qxd3 20.Red1 Black does much better with 20…Qg6! (allowing the Queen to defend the King – isn’t it a wonderful sight when a woman rushes to the aide of her besieged, terrified man?). After 21.Ne4 (hitting c5) White gets a bit of compensation for his pawn, though Black will retain the better chances.


Boomstick said: “This may look solid but it releases all the tension in the center and allows me to focus on the kingside. I feel …cxd4 was much better, but maybe I’m wrong.”

You’re completely right. After 18…cxd4 (blowing up the center – a wise thing to do when you remember the old rule: “The best reaction to an attack on the wing is a counterattack in the center.”) 19.Rxc8 Qxc8 20.Bxd4 Rd8 Black enjoys a clear advantage (very active center pieces and far better pawn structure) since white’s once dreamed of kingside play is nowhere to be found.















Black’s horrible 18…c4 not only takes the heat off white’s center, it also virtually forces White to start his kingside attack.

19.Bb1 f5

Boomstick said: “This is sad but might be forced. I’m not sure if my advantage is clear.”

White now has plenty of play (far more than he deserved), but Black retains sufficient defensive resources. After all, his dynamic queenside majority and his (apparent) iron control over the d5-square has to count for something!
















Boomstick said: “I think this is best and has to be played - I isolate the e-pawn and keep up my kingside attack.”

Not so fast, Boomstick! While I completely understand where you’re coming from (and your logic seems spot on), the fact is that black’s better after 20.exf6 (not by much, but still a tad better) thanks to his control over the d5-square. So, instead of 20.exf6 you have the chance to unleash a surprise that deals directly with black's d5-square stronghold: 20.d5!! Nxd5 21.Bxf5 Nc7 22.Rxc4! (Worse is 22.Be4 Nxe5 23.Bd4 Nd3 24.Bxd3 cxd3 25.Qxd3 Bf6 26.Rcd1 a5 27.Qe4 Bxd4 28.Rxd4 Qf6 29.b3 Nb5 30.Rd2 Kh8 and white’s inferior pawn structure leaves Black with a small but annoying plus.) 22…exf5 23.Rd4 Qe8 24.Rxd7 f4 25.Bxa7 fxg3 26.hxg3 Ne6 27.f4 with an interesting and more or less balanced position.

Okay, okay! This is hard to see and harder to fully calculate, so your logical (though perhaps not the very best) choice makes complete sense.


Boomstick said: “I expected 20…Nxf6.”

Quite right, 20…Nxf6 had to be played. Then 21.Qc2 Qe8 22.f4! Nbd5 23.f5 Bd6! 24.fxe6 Qxe6 25.Qf5 Qxf5 26.Nxf5 Rfd8 leaves Black with the better structure and (though it’s by no means the end of the world) all the chances.

21.Nh5 Rf8??

Boomstick said: “Simply leaving the Rook and losing the Exchange maybe is not so bad for Black - he might have enough compensation with the queenside pawns.”

Often an Exchange sacrifice can nullify the opponent’s attacking chances and leave the defender with some positional perks and a safe position for the material loss. However, in this case Black doesn’t get enough because White continues to have pressure against the enemy King and the e6-pawn: 21…Bd6 22.Nxf6+ Qxf6 23.f4 Nd5 24.Qg4 with a very double-edged position that seems to be quite good for White. A sample is 24…Nxf4 25.Bxf4 Qxf4 26.Qxe6+ Kh8 27.Qg6 Qxh2+ 28.Kf1 Nf8 29.Qg2 and though Black still has some compensation, it’s not enough.

Black’s best defense was 21…Rf7! 22.Bg6 Rf8 when white’s better, but it’s a hard position for both sides to play.















A quick sample of the kind of thing that might occur: 23.Bd2 Nf6 24.Nf4 Qxd4 25.Nxe6 Qxb2 26.Nxf8 Bxf8 with serious compensation for the Exchange.

22.Qc2 Nf6?

Black had to try 22…Rf5 23.Ng3 g6 24.Bxh6 Nf8 25.Nxf5 exf5 26.Qd2 Nd5 when he has some nice pieces, but an Exchange and a pawn is just too much.

After 22...Nf6 White finished off the game in a nice manner. We'll offer the final moves in problem form so you can share in Boomstick's triumph:
















* Never play an opponent who is wielding a boomstick!

* If you don't know what the position is begging for, you won't be able to find a move/plan that caters to that critical need.

* A "nice looking" move isn't necessarily a good move.

* Just because you see an opponent's trick doesn't mean it's really a trick!

* The best reaction to an attack on the wing is a counterattack in the center.



  • 5 years ago


    hey guys in the first puzzle whats white's mvoe if black plays 21...Nxf6 I only found a draw after 22.Qg6+ ?

  • 5 years ago


    This is interesting :D

  • 5 years ago


    If simplysquare22 is being sarcastic with his question he is right on and gets it. If he is serious, he's in big trouble now but hopefully he'll learn.

  • 5 years ago


    Amazingly written Very good article too! Thanks for the post. :)
  • 5 years ago


    Nice to see the underdog pull off the win.  Nice analysis senor Silman, you may just have a future in this chess thing.

  • 5 years ago


    I don't know. If we know the position's agenda then we're through, right? Thats hard for the patzer. This position is not so hard (as said, it "begs" for the battery) but how do we know where to begin in less trivial examples where the imbalances are hard to point out? I guess there is no solution other than to keep looking and learning from your own games and examples.

    This one sort of reminds me of QGDs, Slavs (which this is) and Frenches. I recall from Euwe and Meiden (my first book - yellow - which my dad used to read and I did in turn) in "Chess master vs chess amateur) where he sacs the B on h7 with Ng5 and Qh5 to follow. There was no Nf6 there either.

  • 5 years ago


    im agree of im slim of analysing tactic

    the position of Bishop in squar d3 and the bishop in d2 is like the position in carokhan judit pulgar vs adams in 1992 but here we are in meran and we know that The b5 move is probable in many structure like sicilien  we can see valejiopons vs kasparov 1/2 ( and valejio 1e4 c5 2 Ne2 (here the main line is Nf3 but valejio kbow that he can transpose in B93 ) and we see valejio in 2011 playing in bilbao master with nakamura hikaru and ivanchuk and when for example we play a chess we are in position we are not in opening. analysing position after 10 move is like analising the meran or the reti opening after ten move .

    in bilbao nakamura chooses play reti opening and many feminin grand master like pogonina is just see what new in chess.

    in our day we know all the grand master and his tactic

    and we know how nakamura play this why nakamura finished 3er place before anand in bilbao 2011.

    in our day anand is in some tactic he want to chage systéme playing and other grandmaster want to rich podium like Gm Giri for germany.

    and all this are a strong player.

    when we see topalov for exmple is the more quite and solide in tactic and he dont participate in bilbao because he preparate his progressing.

    gm carlsen is in the top and some defet gm hammer norvege also pogonina has a loose with hammer in sicilian because pogonina is not strong in sicilina she talk many taim about here won but she dont talk about the powerful game diong with hammer.

    this why evry gm should know wat's his weaknes .

    the Gm maim vachier lagrave a stron grand master this why i see.

    so progressing in chess is not very easy in 1990 in tunisia slim bouaziz unknowin gandmater win vishy anand with antisicilien why not spoke for this game

    because this is unknowin and know slim is unknoing.

  • 5 years ago


    im silman i'm agree with you of analyse the meran opening.

    you this article is the best for me after the heavy pices of natalia pogonina

    thank you.

  • 5 years ago


    Nice movie reference to help teach us the intricacies of chess!  I know I learned something - watch out for the broomstick!

  • 5 years ago


    This is my boom stick!

  • 5 years ago


    Okay, lets come up with some catchy Bruce Campbell Army of Darkness lines!  I got some:   "That was just pillow talk baby.""Give me some sugar, baby!"  oh and my favorite one, "Don't do it, its a trick!"  Dang I gotta go buy that movie again...

  • 5 years ago


    When silman refrencce the game of Wells in the annotation presented form that gamw what  is it about blacks positon that makes him better usuallly when masters say a pos. is better I can get an idea why but in that position I'm not quite sure at all even after looking at the imbalances ?

  • 5 years ago


    Bruce Campbell rocks! Burn Notice FTW!

  • 5 years ago


    A complex, interesting game with clear and educational thoughts by both the player and the master. Hard to find such clear instruction about the middle-game. I, for one, am glad you're back Mr. Silman. One of these days I'll actually get to reading your book, when the pesky job thing lets me. (I already bought it, though, so what do you care.)

  • 5 years ago


    Thank you for your reply Mr. Silman, I do have your book, "The amateur's mind", I am just building my way up to it.  Currently going through your recommended book list from your article, "creating a study program."  From what I understand, "The amateur's mind" does cover topic of position.  

  • 5 years ago


    Very nice and I "Highly" recommend your book(How To Reassess Your Chess 4th ed.-by J.Silman).

  • 5 years ago



  • 5 years ago



  • 5 years ago

    IM Silman

    Simplysquare22 asked: "So how do we know what the position is "begging" for in our own games??"

    The note to white's 15th move will give you a clue: a verbal breakdown of the position's imbalances will usually point you in the right direction. 

    My book (all 658 oversized pages), How to Reassess Your Chess 4th Edition, is all about this very topic (imbalances - how to recognize them and make use of them).

  • 5 years ago


    So how do we know what the position is "begging" for in our own games??

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