Space, Negativity, and Dreams

  • IM Silman
  • | Jun 13, 2012


mixiz said: “I think this is the key position. I think white must win this, having in mind that the opponent won’t play actively since he willingly came so far, and is obviously happy with the bishop on e4. What plan should I follow? What I tried in the game didn’t work. Maybe g4, without exchanging on e4, forcing him to play ...g6, and then transferring my knight to e3? And apart of that, how do I learn to ignore the e4-bishop (and pieces in similar situations), since it is just annoying, not threatening anything?

Where do I begin? Let’s start with your desire to ignore his e4-Bishop. The best way to master that technique is to watch a married women in action. Many ladies, when faced with a husband that does something moronic (like drive his mower into the swimming pool), will give them the silent treatment and ignore them in such a perfect manner that, for all intents and purposes, the man no longer exists. And I must admit that the parallels here are uncanny: you find the e4-Bishop to be annoying – the wife finds the man annoying. You want to ignore the Bishop – she wants to ignore the idiot guy. Since it’s clear that women are the true masters of this technique, you need to ask them and not me.

You also state that White has to be winning. Why? And why do you think Black is willing to sit around and do nothing? No, no, I don’t think White is winning at all (white’s better, but not winning). The fact is that black’s e4-Bishop is a very nice piece and is, indeed, annoying.

There are cases where you ignore a seemingly far advanced enemy piece that looks good, but those situations are based on the advanced “pretty” piece being in a position where it’s not helping the rest of its army succeed with whatever plan the other pieces are trying to fulfill. Chess is a team effort – if an enemy piece isn’t complementing the correct plan, then shun it and allow it to live out its life alone in the hinterlands. However, in the position in question, it’s clear that the e4-Bishop is a serious piece.

To find a logical plan for White, you have to answer a basic question: Why do you think White is winning? What does he have that makes his position so luscious? To me, the answer has to be SPACE. Let’s break things down:

* White has more central and queenside space.

* The center is completely closed, which means both sides need to use pawn breaks to gain wing space and to open files so the Rooks can get into the battle.

* White’s possible breaks are a2-a4-a5, or c4-c5, or g2-g4. 

* Black’s breaks are …a7-a6, …c7-c6, or …g7-g5. Of course, some of these breaks will take preparation, and others can be done at any time.

Black actually has a very solid position, so it won’t be easy to drag him down. Nonetheless, if space is what White has, then he needs to use it. Thus the most logical move for White is 16.c5, grabbing even more space!

After 16.c5 c6 17.a4 the tension grows to a fever pitch. One possible follow up is 17…Rc8 18.Be3 Nd8 19.Rfc1 Qe8 when we have a fascinating queenside battle: White is the master of space and is trying to create some sort of attackable target in the enemy camp, while Black is overprotecting c6 and is ready for anything White can throw his way.

For example: 20.Rc3 Nd7 21.Rac1 Rc7 (21…Rab8!?) and Black is flexibly poised for either …Rb8 or …Rac8, and 22.cxb6? (Something like 22.Qf1 [intending 23.Be2] 22…Bxd3 23.Qxd3 leaves White with all the chances, though after 23…Rac8 the siege will continue) 22…axb6 23.bxc6 Nb8 gives White absolutely nothing since c6 is doomed and a4 is also under attack.



Non_Compos_Mentis said: “I anticipated this position when I castled on move eleven.  Although ugly, 
it actually didn’t look too bad or dangerous. I even thought I might
 be able to at some point move my king to the seventh rank and get a
 rook on the h-file.

Though black’s lack of fear about this pawn structure is right on, I was bothered by two things:

1) It’s NOT ugly. Black enjoys a tight pawn structure without weaknesses, and has absolutely no problems in this position. Calling it “ugly” tells me that he (and many others) feel that any doubled pawn is ugly. Unfortunately, many doubled pawns are extremely useful, so if you train yourself to equate “double pawn = ugliness” then you will prevent yourself from ever understanding them, and from ever using them properly. Words have power, be careful how you use them!

2) During a game, maintaining a modicum of reality is always useful. If your clock is ticking away and you’re dreaming of 50 supermodels throwing gold at your feet, that tells me you have serious concentration issues. In the present position, for Black to think he might dance his King over to e7, play …Rh8, and then mate White is not as far removed from the supermodel dream as one might think – both are preposterous. First off, even if black’s Rook teleported to the h-file, where’s the mate? Second, it hints that Black doesn’t understand his basic plans for this kind of common position: It’s all about pressuring d4 (Rook on the d-file, NOT the h-file), and then smashing the center with …c6-c5 or, in some cases, …e6-e5 (black’s later play verified this since he failed to make either of these thematic breaks). In this latter scenario, the doubled g-pawn is a godsend since after …e6-e5 the f5-square, which would be a nice place for the g3-Knight to leap to if the pawn were undoubled and stood on h7, is now untouchable thanks to the pawn being on g6.

~ Lessons ~

* Unless you’re Walter Mitty (young people should google the name), you should do your best to retain your concentration during a game. Fantasies have no place in the middle of chess battle.

* Negative words might sound innocent, but they can easily affect you. If you label something ugly, your subconscious mind will do its utmost to make you avoid the ugliness. This might also translate into you never fully appreciating the many virtues of whatever the ugly thing (in this case doubled pawns) might be.

* The imbalances dictates the plans for both sides.

* You don’t just come up with a plan because you want to do it, you come up with a plan because the position wants you to do it!

* A closed center means wing play, with pawn breaks usually being the way to increase space in a sector and open files for your Rooks.


If you want me to look over your game, send it to

I need your name (real or handle), your OPPONENT’S name (real or handle), both player's ratings, where the game was played, and date. If you don’t give me this information, I won’t use your game! BTW: I’ve noticed that many people are reluctant to give me their opponent’s name. This is very strange! Showing the names of both players is the way chess games are presented in databases, books, magazines… everywhere! Permission from the opponent isn’t necessary. If permission was necessary, everyone who ever lost a game wouldn’t allow their name to be on it!


  • 4 years ago


    Great article!

  • 4 years ago


    I enjoyed it a lot.

  • 4 years ago

    IM Silman

    Mr. Malachi worries that I'll become less "silmany" and more like other commentators. I worry about that too! The problem is that, on, I have to somehow please a large amount of people with very different tastes. Thus I changed the format... but not in quite the way people think I did. Perhaps it's now becoming clear that I will do a bit of everything, with each article being different than the last. Thus some are just puzzles (though they will always feature prose that instructs), some have me doing the old style, and some have a mix of both. This should keep everyone on their toes, and give something for everyone (as much as that's possible).

    BTW: This article is one of those "a bit of both." It has a nice mix of rich instruction, humor, interesting examples, and a touch of insanity.

  • 4 years ago


    Thanks Mr. Silman. Great article. I'm still working on capitalizing on the strengths of my positions such as space. I'll often notice that an opponent will "offer" an advantage, like trap their own bishops behind pawns or move their knights to weaker positions, yet I still struggle with finding the best way to punish them for these mistakes.

  • 4 years ago

    FM Malachi1971

    IM Silman,

    You are my favorite chess columnist anywhere.  There are certainly some chess writers who produce quality instructional material, but none who do it in such an entertaining way.  Vivid writing and humor help ideas to become memorable and stick in the brain.  I am writing a repertoire book, and I find myself thinking that I want to be less like the other writers and more like Silman.  I also prefer for you, Silman, to be as Silmany as possible, and I am finding you to be less Silmany and more like the other guys in your new format.  A full game is a compelling narrative, especially with the running commentary you provide.  You establish a rapport with the annotator and thus the reader.  Your emotional reactions to the commentary and moves guide us to better chess understanding and intuition.

    Anyway, thank you and I hope this is useful.


  • 4 years ago


    Mr silman thank you so much for showing one of my games in a previous article of yours and for your book htryc 4th edition its simply amazing! I instantly saw c4-c5  in the first game thanks to you! I'm finaly looking at every game with a completly different mindset i highly recomend the book how to reasess your chess 4th edition!

  • 4 years ago


    Looking over diagrams 97 (p. 122) and 98 (p. 123) from the book just a bit ago made me realize there is an extra bishop for white, too, and it must have been on purpose because the tactic didn't work without the extra pieces.

    @Nachtwulf:  He does specify the first 10 - 15 moves, but I do see your point.  Both of them, but I think I did say that I know chess is mirrored and what works for white can work for black if the colors are reversed.  I'm looking through Polgar's 5334 chess problems, and they're almost all white to move.  There are some black to move problems, but so far I'm still on the white (I'm close to 500).

  • 4 years ago


    @blitz aces. It's albout understanding the position in the opening. What squares your pawn structure is on, and knowing what peices are most active hear's an example.

  • 4 years ago


    I loved the Walt reference :P

  • 4 years ago


    Oh, and I really appreciate this article's format (they seem to be changing every day of the week, but variety is always appreciated!) because this kind of thing is often difficult to grasp, and the article explains how to evaluate the given positions very clearly and concisely. Thanks!

  • 4 years ago


    I've often observed white being the primary focus in chess books as well. I think the reason is that black simply seeks equality, while white strives to maintain a first-turn advantage; the moment equality is reached, the game can be seen from either perspective in the same manner. Thus, learning about strategic concepts from white's perspective will give you the same skills you'll need when you play black. The trick is to first equalize, which isn't usually a problem at our level of chess (at higher levels, that's what intensive opening-preparation is for). 

    I think what he meant by tactical vision and "guessing" several moves ahead is mainly applicable for the middlegame and onwards because in the opening, many choices are often equally valid, and many move choices are purely personal preference. (That said, you can still test a little bit of your opening knowledge by starting the process early.) Basically, you first evaluate the position, and observe the imbalances of each side. Then, look for possible plans for each side (both long-term and short-term) determined by the position. Finally, try to "guess" how each player follows through with such plans with specific moves. I personally find the process quite difficult, but it's a good learning experience.

    Btw, I don't intend to put words in Mr. Silman's mouth, but am just trying to answer your questions the best I can, in case he's busy writing new articles, books, and so on. Wink

  • 4 years ago


    I doubt you actually will read this, but I'm reading The Complete Book of Chess Strategy right now and I'm enjoying it so far and plan to look into more of your books.  I've found some errors, like Qxsomething when there is nothing on the square for her to take.  Something I thought was strange was diagrams 97 (p. 122) and 98 (p. 123).  I don't know if these are supposed to be different, but they're both about the same decoy, except diagram 98 suddenly has an extra black bishop on c8.  Of course, with a page count of 360, some typos are likely to be over looked.

    My only complaint about the book is how focused it is on white.  Almost everything I've read so far is from white's point of view and makes black look like the sucker of chess.  I know it's easy to swap the colors, but if I had never played chess before reading this, I'd never want to play black, even though in reality I tend to enjoy black more.  A good example of your focus on white is your section on Kingside Focal-Points, which only talks about h7, g7, f7, and g6, but never h2, g2, f2, and g3.

    Under tactical vision you talk about covering up the first 10 - 15 moves of one player and using the opponent's moves.  I wish you talked a little more about that.  Are we supposed to guess the move based on what the opponent played?  If one were to look at a game of Fischer vs. Spassky, should they check the first move of the covered side to see if they use a king side or queen's side opening, or maybe C4, or should someone figure that out by what the opponent plays?  Well, with Fischer as white, you can bet it'd be e4.

  • 4 years ago


    excellent article,  the title is particularly awesome :) like the story of my chess life, haha. trah

  • 4 years ago


    Good article, I'm always affraid of open h file, but in this case it's pretty safe.

  • 4 years ago


    alexlaw...that is why it is necessary to study master+ level games, I prefer to try to use the games of individuals rated above 2300, and if I can find some games against amateurs then that is even better...

  • 4 years ago


    i have a question, how do u know when to break and control certain squares like i have heard of people trading off bishops for knights because they want black to have less control over white squares (or dark ones) but why?

  • 4 years ago


    Yes,  ones  we  have  the  technique,  MENTAL MANIGMENT  will  be  a  power  tool.  Thanks  for  reminding  Me,  and  now  I'm  going  to  get  a  "generator".

  • 4 years ago


    You mentioned concentration issues.  Any tips on improving that aspect of the game?

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