My Favorite Classic Games, Part 5

My Favorite Classic Games, Part 5

| 19 | Strategy

This series is all about the classic games that, as a young teen (15 years of age), affected me in a profound manner. In general, they were positional games since, for a kid that grew up on attacking chess and combinations (12 to 14 years of age), strategic considerations were left behind and, as a result, were alien.

Thus, when I was finished studying games by Anderssen, Morphy, Spielmann, Marshall, Alekhine and Tal, I decided to check out less extreme players and broaden my chess horizons.

The games I will share might or might not be masterpieces; the criterion for this series is that they taught me an extremely important lesson(s) that made me well rounded and much stronger. I’m hoping that these games will teach you the same lessons, thereby improving your positional understanding and helping you become a better player.

This week we’ll look at a situation that I call THE ROAD TO NOWHERE. We all know that rooks need open files or they will sit around and brood in boredom. But the fact is they need more than that.

Penetration on an open file has to lead somewhere…it has to do something. But, just like a country drive on a smooth dirt road can take you to a dead end, the same can be said for a file.

White Rook _1311651 by Christopher Irwin

Here’s a very simple example:

White enjoys more space on the queenside (thanks to the a5-pawn), center (the d5-pawn) and the kingside (the mass of pawns converging on Black’s king!). Also note that Black’s pieces are completely stymied by White’s pawn structure: The c7-knight can only move to a8 since a jump to b5 or e6 would be quite unfortunate.

Black’s e8-knight is even worse off and doesn’t even have a legal move. The d7-bishop is sitting around hoping that something interesting will come up, and the Black queen appears to be on vacation. However, Black owns the only open file, so at least his rooks are pulling their weight. Or are they?

A really wonderful example of “the road to nowhere” is the following game between Karpov and Ulf Andersson. I was 16 or 17 when I first saw it, and it not only added to my understanding of the wonders of space (which we’ll discuss in another article) but also made me think long and hard about a dead-end file.

A true masterpiece! But... let’s return to the position after 31.Bc3. The b-file is dead, the a5-pawn is under pressure, and placing the knight on b4 blocks Black’s own rooks.

What can Black do? In part 4 of this series, I addressed a similar situation: If you’ve been dominated positionally, you can’t wait around to die. You need to find a way to get counterplay. It might ultimately lose, but it’s better than falling to the ground and begging for divine intervention!

So, how can Black create some form of dynamics? How can he fight?


  • Rooks need open files, but make sure the open file will take you somewhere.
  • Depriving all entry points to an enemy rook on an open file is often an excellent strategy. 
  • One open file into your camp can often be contained, but two open files can prove to be a bit much.
  • If you’re getting killed positionally, you have to accept that you’ve lost that war and search for a dynamic concept that destabilizes the board or gives you something to use.


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