Lead in Development

Lead in Development

WGM Natalia_Pogonina
29 | Opening Theory

One of the main opening principles is “develop your pieces asap and castle.” The better your forces are mobilized, the higher the chances of launching a successful attack. One should remember that the person with a significant lead in development should exploit it right away, or the opponent will complete his development and get counter-play. When having a minor lead in development, going all-out might be risky, since there is a high chance that your opponent will be able to defend with precise play. In the opening there are two main types of development advantages:

  1. Your opponent hasn’t castled
  2. He has developed fewer pieces

Let’s talk about these two situations. King safety is a crucial factor for overall success. The king is the chief piece, but it is rather clumsy and vulnerable. The more pieces are participating in the game, the more worried the king is. This is especially common for the opening and middlegame. A king that got stuck in the center is often a major problem for other pieces, preventing them from interacting properly. One of the classical ways of converting a lead in development is not allowing your opponent’s king to castle, and then attacking it. Myriad such games have been played, especially in the previous centuries. On the one hand, you should keep in mind that one often has to sacrifice material to prevent one’s opponent from castling. On the other hand, this fact itself doesn’t guarantee a win, so one should be careful. There are certain positions where the exposed king is feeling ok in the center even when many pieces are on the board.

A different case is when both players have castled, but your opponent’s pieces are relatively undeveloped. For example, when his kingside is developed (including 0-0), while the queenside is untouched. Depending on the features of the position, one can either start attacking the king or weak spots right away, or try to hinder your opponent’s development first and only then proceed with the attack. The first scenario is obvious, while the second needs to be discussed.

To hinder pieces’ development, one should either block the good squares on which they could have developed, or tie them to their initial spots. One of the means of blocking pieces is the “nail” – a pawn placed on the 6th or 7th rank (3rd and 2nd for Black), where it limits pieces’ activity and separates the flanks. Such pawns can be extremely useful in terms of launching an attack on the opponent’s position.

Now let’s review a recent game of mine played in the Aeroflot tournament against the #1 player of Jordan, IM Sami Khader.


After evaluating the position, I understood that if I keep playing the “normal” way, my opponent won’t have any problems whatsoever. I decided to apply the “nail” approach and create a pawn on e6 to hinder Black’s development. Eventually Black collapsed under the burden of the multiple variations that arose. However, my technique in converting the position was far from perfect. At some point Black had a chance to equalize, but did not take advantage of it (probably due to being tired).

Those interested in further material on the topic of development could have a look at this video series.

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