I constantly see amateurs raving about how tactics is 99% of chess. However, if that was actually the case then chess wouldn’t be the amazing game that it is. A true fan of the game sees beauty in opening theory, in subtle positional play, in barn-burning attacks, reading about chess history, in endgames, in tactical explosions, and in a hardcore strategic beat-down.
As a lover of chess you get to look at chess as an art form, learn about times long, long ago, and marvel at the raw understanding and imagination that our top players constantly demonstrate in their own games. As a player, you should be trying to learn as much as you can about every phase of the game – the rush one gets from a positional plan gone right is at least as good as the delight one feels when you get to toss a combination on the board.
The real message here is: If you only have eyes for tactics, you’re missing out on something very, very special.
This week’s puzzles will keep you on your toes since some are tactical, some positional, and some endgame (just like real life chess is). Many are very difficult and I don’t expect you to solve them (the puzzles are an instructive device, not an ego device). The real instruction in this article is in trying your best to figure the puzzles out and then reading the hidden prose (and looking at the hidden variations).
[All of these puzzles offer invisible prose and/or variations. After you try and solve the puzzle, click SOLUTION followed by MOVE LIST so you can all the hidden goodies.]
Who is helped most by the existence of opposite-colored bishops?
The right move can only be found if you understand what Black intends to do. In other words, chess isn’t just about what you want to do, it’s also about what your opponent wants to do.
McDonnell, a fantastic attacking player, was probably the second best player in the world at that time, but he wasn’t in De Labourdonnais’ class (since De Labourdonnais could do everything well). However, when McDonnell got a promising attacking position, he was unstoppable!
Okay, I’ve never been a fan of Staunton, but that doesn’t stop me from appreciating his finer moments.
Alekhine was one of the greatest attacking players of all time, but everyone of every style has to know how to play endgames. There are no exceptions!
Burn was, in general, a quiet positional player. However, among chess professionals there’s no such thing as someone who doesn’t attack like a starving lion if they get the chance to do so!
Everyone has heard of the great Adolf Anderssen, who was one of the finest attacking players of all time. However, Marmaduke Wyvill is less well known. A very strong amateur player, he came in second (behind Anderssen) in the only tournament he competed in (ahead of powerhouses like Szen, Horwitz, and Staunton!). He was later immortalized when a gigantic comic strip dog was named after him.
Annotators (and Anderssen himself) made it clear that 34...Rc2 35.Rxc2 Qxd4+ 36.Kg3 Qe3+ 37.Nf3 would have lost to 37...g5!. Indeed, the position in the puzzle looks terrifying, but is White really dead?
Your puzzle-mission, if you choose to accept it, is to stand tall and proud and survive Black’s onslaught! [This article will self-destruct in 10 seconds.]
Too many amateurs think that tactics are all you need to win a game. They don’t realize that tactics often come from strategic domination which, when the time is right, calls for tactics to help with the breakthrough. In other words, positional mastery is the “batter” that creates the tactical “cake.”
In this puzzle the game was a classic closed center situation where each side fought to garner space on the wings — White went for the kingside since his central pawn chain gives him space there, and Black went for the queenside since his structure begs for a breakthrough in that sector. Gaining positional advantages was key for both players, in this case space and roads for the rooks (penetration points). Unfortunately for Black, White’s kingside plusses turn out to be more important than Black’s queenside stuff.
The creator of the Maroczy Bind was an incredibly strong player, while his opponent wasn’t in the same league. Nevertheless, if you’re not paying attention, even a small dog can give you a painful bite.
The great Rubinstein’s games are “must-study material.” Aside from being a master of positional chess, he was also one of the world’s finest endgame players. The puzzle in the endgame would have been a piece of cake for someone like Akiba!
Okay, okay! I love using old games, but since Magnus is the “hot thing” nowadays (he just won the Sinquefield Cup and will soon play Anand for the World Championship), I decided to use a couple of Carlsen examples.
When games end quickly and decisively one usually thinks it must have been due to an attack or some tactic(s). But did you know that many quick games occur by simple positional mastery? See if you can play like the legendary Nimzowitsch. He made 14 perfect moves in a row, and I would expect anyone with a rating of 2300 on up to do the same here. This should be a great test of where you really stand on the rating ladder. If you can’t solve it, it means your positional understanding needs a tweak or two. Fortunately positional skills are fairly easy to acquire!
White is strategically lost
Old-timers like me remember Smyslov as a chess god. The guy could do it all — attack, positional mastery, and sublime technique. In his day, the only player who could hold even with him was Botvinnik!
Magnus Carlsen, like any great player, has mastered every phase of the game. Here he shows his positional side.
RELATED STUDY MATERIAL
- Read IM Bryan Smith's article Attack and Defense with Opposite-Colored Bishops;
- Watch GM Dejan Bojkov's video Member Analysis: King's Flank Attack!;
- Watch IM David Pruess's video Amazing Games for Beginners: Rubinstein's Endgame!;
- Check out IM Jeremy Silman's Chess Mentor Roots of Positional Understanding.