Mastering Squares, Part 4

Mastering Squares, Part 4

| 23 | Strategy

In our first two installments of “Mastering Squares,” we looked at some extremely instructive positions from one of my students.

In the third installment, I stepped back and looked at square basics. Now that everyone is “on point” when it comes to what is and isn’t a weak square, I’ll continue with another example from that same student, who seems to feed me some really great stuff on this subject.

In this position (which is very comfortable for Black) there are lots of squares that deserve a close look: c6, c5, e5, e4, d5, f5, and even g4. Though I listed no fewer than seven squares, only two are true holes: e4 and c5, but e4 is in the center and thus more important.

Yet, the “true hole” on e4 isn’t a worry for White, and isn’t a priority for Black! And why in the world am I calling d5 a square when Black’s pawn is solidly on it? And finally, why did I even mention g4, which isn't weak at all?

At this point some of you will think, “Poor Silman, it seems that he’s enjoying his third bottle of absinthe while writing this gibberish.”

Okay, maybe the green fairy and I are indeed old friends, but others (who have faith in me) will realize that, where part three was mostly basic material, this is far more advanced. Yet, if you carefully read this article I think that everyone of every rating will walk away learning something.



A so-called “weak square” is only a problem if the opponent can make use of it. However, ...Ne4 isn’t possible due to Nxe4 when White would win a pawn, and Black isn’t able to (immediately) bring another piece to bear on e4.

I would be pleased with a student if he tried 11...Qc8 intending ...Qb7, since his heart would be in the right place. One point of 11...Qc8 is that 12.e4 isn’t particularly good since it hangs the f4-pawn to 12...Bxf4. So the following sequence might occur: 11...Qc8 12.g3 (defending f4 and intending e3-e4) 12...Qb7 (Actually, 12...c5 is a better move, but we will ignore this for the time being.) 13.Re1 and White once again threatens e3-e4. Black can’t prevent it since 13...Ne4 14.Nxe4 dxe4 15.Ng5 will leave White with an extra pawn.

Since the maneuver ...Qc8-b7 didn’t achieve the aim of claiming e4, there’s no reason to do it.


[Alert! Advanced Material!]

These squares probably won’t be any problem at all if Black plays ...c7-c5 at some point. But if he leaves the c-pawn on c7 (which, in the actual game, he did) then those squares might turn out to be liabilities in the future.

This is something masters would be well aware of, but most players don’t need to worry about this kind of “maybe in the future” gobbledygook.

But if you reach a situation like this, I do want you to look at your poor, ignored c7-pawn and think, “Why not turn that pawn into a warrior?”

And so 11...c5 (now or later) really should be a part of your overall plans. It gains space, gives Black use of a half-open file by ...Rc8, and in some instances it also changes the structure and allows Black to create a minority attack: 12.g3 cxd4 13.exd4 0-0 when Black will move his queen, play ...Rfc8, and eventually crack White’s queenside with ...b5-b4 (attacking White’s queenside majority of pawns with Black’s queenside minority of pawns -– hence the name, “Minority Attack”).


White wants to play Ne5 and then (since the f4-pawn is no longer attacked by Black’s bishop) e3-e4 will follow (gaining central space and giving the unfortunate c1-bishop a bit of room). The knight is very strong on e5, and if Black captures it, a recapture by the f4-pawn will gain central space and open up the f-file for White’s rook. If Black chases it away with ...f7-f6, the e6-pawn will become vulnerable.


Okay Silman, put the bottle down! There’s a pawn on d5. Enough is enough; you’re embarrassing yourself!

Sigh...there is so little trust in the world these days.

After White plays his e3-e4 advance, and after Black trades his d-pawn for White’s e-pawn, the d5-square is suddenly wide open and ready for a Black piece to claim it as a lovely, centralized home! Yes!

This will be demonstrated when we look at the actual game.



This is my favorite part of the game. It doesn’t take a genius to see that the e7-knight would be a happy camper if it could stay on the f5-square. However, f5 isn’t a hole since the knight can eventually be chased away by g2-g4. Hence the importance of the g4-square.

The solution? The creation of an artificial support point (artificial support points are extremely important and will be the subject of a future article)! This means that Black will somehow take control over g4, which then prevents White’s g2-g4 and, as a result, lets Black lay claim to f5 as a bona fide home for a horse. 

This will be demonstrated in the actual game.

Now that we’ve discussed all those squares, we can look at the actual game and see this stuff in action. But first I will add the following:

An international master and grandmaster will see all these things (and much more) in a nanosecond. This isn’t due to any kind of genius. It’s simply pattern recognition at work. But, the way you acquire that kind of pattern recognition is to read articles like this and look at a zillion positions where these things occur.

Time for the game. There is a lot of square stuff going on, so please read all the notes.

Square play is just a part of every game’s overall flow. In this game, there was a possible minority attack, White worrying about his bad bishop on c1 (meaning that ideas of creating a winning minor piece strategy by getting a powerful knight vs. a bad bishop come to mind), and central cracks by ...c7-c5.



  • A so-called “weak square” is only a problem if the opponent can make use of it.

  • Don’t threaten something if the opponent can easily stop it and, by doing so, carry on with the plan he wanted to use in the first place. Playing like that is “cross your fingers and hope” chess.

  • Square play is just a part of every game’s overall flow. Sometimes it’s a huge part, and sometimes it’s hiding behind the scenes.

  • The concept of an artificial support point is a very important one.


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