Positional Player vs. Tactical Player

Positional Player vs. Tactical Player

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I am going to do something a bit different. I am going to look at the games of the most prolific (and nicest), chess writer in the world: IM Cyrus Lakdawala. Of course, Fred Reinfeld, who died in 1964, wrote more than 100 chess books. That will be very hard to beat (Cyrus is just finishing his 41st book). Reinfeld also wrote non-chess books, approximately 260 in all!

For me, it would be impossible to teach lots of students, play in tournaments (Cyrus won the National Open, the American Open, and he won the California championship six times), and write several books a year at the same time. Yet, he’s made the impossible into reality.

Cyrus LakdawalaCyrus Lakdawala. Photo by Chris Roberts

Cyrus was born in Mumbai. He grew up in Montreal, and has lived in San Diego for more than 40 years. Now 58 years old, he goes to the weekly Gambito Saturday tournament (G/45 with a five-second time delay), wins many of them, and continues to write books (in athlete jargon, with the ghost of Reinfeld on his back, “Will he go ALL, THE, WAY?!”).

Though Cyrus is addicted to the Gambito, he recently said: “This tournament is turning into a nightmare, since it is infested with gifted juniors who are all 50 to 100 points underrated at this quick time control. Last week I played only a single adult in four games!”

Looking over his games, I noted that Cyrus (rated around 2500 to 2560) played Dionisio Aldama (who ranges around 2500 to 2600) a lot. But when I realized that he played him around 100 times, I couldn’t believe it (I don’t think I played anyone more than 10 times in serious games!). Though Cyrus is 10 years older than Aldama (who is 48), they are the two strongest players in the Gambito. But what really interested me is style: Lakdawala is superior in openings, is a powerful positional player, but has trouble with terrifying time pressure. Aldama is completely different, with the dynamic Mexican player showing off amazing attacking and tactical skills. When they are paired in the Gambito, expect bombs to fall all over the chessboard!

chess bomb

Our first game is from the San Diego Rapid (same time control as the Gambito). It has a bit of everything:

Cyrus trying to refute Black’s system right away. Black plays an opening improvement. Cyrus decides to keep the game in calm waters. Incredible calculations. An early pawn sacrifice by Aldama to make his pieces as active as possible. Cyrus refuses the pawn offer and tries to put on Black’s breaks. Aldama’s pieces start to surround White’s king. Aldama is making one great move after another. Cyrus falters! Cyrus falters!!! Aldama penetrates White’s kingside which forces Cyrus’ king to run for its life. Time pressure starts to drown them. Blunders appear from both men. Black misses a forced mate! Panic is in the eyes of both gladiators, and… well… check out this insane game!

The game notes for this game are by Lakdawala from his book, Modern Defense: Move by Move.

Well, that was exciting, but let’s be serious; Cyrus was outplayed there and the only thing that saved him was mutual time pressure.

The next game is similar to the first, in that Cyrus quietly placed his pieces on good squares and Aldama insisted to ignite the board with tactical fire; this time it didn’t work!


(kindly given to me by Cyrus)


Cyrus’ quiet, logical play is hard to beat. However, Aldama’s dynamic skills often break through too. Here’s a good example:

Notes for the other games are by Cyrus unless you see “JS."


Here’s another victory for Aldama:

The battle of attacking players vs. positional players often creates exciting games. However, don’t get trapped in the thought that you should be one or the other. Yes, you can have a stylistic preference, but all the big guns can do everything well. That means an attacker might realize that tactics aren't what’s needed, and instead switch into positional mode.

Our last game demonstrates this. Cyrus goes after Aldama with everything he has (no positional stuff here!), while the talented attacker is cowering in the hope of defending himself!

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