Mastering Squares, Part 6

Mastering Squares, Part 6

| 13 | Strategy

In our study of squares we’ve looked mainly at amateur games and how a “tiny” thing like a square is often ignored, while tactics, threats and attacks are always part of the amateur’s mind.

This brings up an interesting question: Do grandmasters and international masters consider squares to be as important as tactics, threats, and attack? Moreover, do weak squares appear in professional chess games that often, or is it an occasional aberration?

To answer this, I took a look at a couple recent events and noticed that dominating a complex of squares, or claiming a weak square, is a constant in professional chess.

In fact, you can see the best players in the world addressing the problem of squares right in the opening, all through the middlegame, and in endgames too!

In our first example (from a blitz tournament in Zurich), White sacrifices material to lay claim to a host of dark squares. 

Next up is something a bit more esoteric. Take a look at the opening in the following hot-off-the-presses Nakamura game:

What in the world does this move do? I’ve posed this question to many amateurs over the years, and quite a few say that Black is starting a kingside attack. Uhhh... no. That’s not it at all.

Believe it or not, 7...h5 is all about the d5-square! The logic goes something like this: Bg5, hoping to chop the f6-knight (which is the main defender of d5) isn’t effective since Black replies with …Nbd7 when Bxf6 can be met by ...Nxf6. Thus, a knight will still be proudly standing on f6, which means White didn’t achieve his goal of dominating d5.

However, White can play (thanks to 6.h3) g2-g4-g5 kicking the knight away (while also gaining kingside space). In a nutshell, 7...h5 prevents g2-g4 which in turn allows Black to retain a Knight on f6, thereby keeping a watchful eye on the d5-hole.

Nakamura in Zurich last week.

Nakamura (after lots of complications) went on to win this game. Many of you probably saw that game since it was posted on

But did you know that the same idea was seen in an earlier game between these two? Let’s take a look:

Here we go again! Black prevents g2-g4, thereby keeping a solid defensive grasp on the d5-hole. Also take note of the backward pawn on d6. It is a potential weakness, but it’s very hard for White’s minor pieces to attack it since “approach squares” like b5 (White’s Nb5 is rejected!) and c5 (White’s Bc5 is rejected!) are untouchable.

Of course, the d6-pawn isn’t just a weakness. It’s also a potential dynamic force!

Here’s an example of the “revenge of the d6-pawn”:

Back to our 2013 Nakamura game!


  • Every time you think of pushing a pawn, make sure you don’t leave square weaknesses behind! With practice, that kind of thinking will eventually be automatic.

  • Sometimes holes or backward pawns (or any number of other things) sit quietly between the lines of fate. If they are ignored, they will usually become weaknesses. But if you know how to use them, they might turn out to be pillars of strength (as in the game where Black pushed his d6-pawn to d5).

  • When we talk about squares, it can be one square or a whole complex of squares. Since the chessboard is made up of squares, you’ll be facing square-related problems or decisions in every game you play!


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