The Boa Constrictor

The Boa Constrictor‎

GM vbhat
49 | Strategy

How do you think when you get to a quiet position? Do you try and calculate a lot of variations, or do you try to make long-term plans? Normally, in the absence of a lot of tactics, these are the sorts of positions where strategic thinking trumps brute force calculation.

Normally, I must admit that I like to calculate variations. But every so often, this lesson gets through to me and I focus on thinking more strategically rather than in terms of concrete variations all the time.

The following game is from Benasque in July 2007, a tournament on the Spanish chess circuit. I had the white pieces against Nidjat Mamedov, a relatively young grandmaster from Azerbaijan. This game was especially interesting because I had played Mamedov in my previous tournament. In that game, I lost with the black pieces in a Ruy Lopez, so this time around, I was looking for some revenge. As usual, expand the move list to see the variations. Along the way, I'll ask some of the same questions I asked myself during this game.

Strategic Moment 1: How should White open files on the queenside once Black plays 14…b6? He can take immediately on c5, and hope for …bxc5 or try and probe some of the weakened queenside squares with Qa4.


Strategic Moment 2: How does White take advantage of the open b-file and weakened queenside squares after 18…a5? His rook doesn’t have any apparent entry squares while the obvious 19.Qc6 runs into 19…Ra6 and the Queen has to leave Black’s camp.


Strategic Moment 3: How does White increase his advantage after the exchange of queens? Does an exchange of rooks help White turn the screws? What pieces of his are not participating in the game thus far?


I'm pretty proud of this game, as it's a rather nice positional achievement by my standards. Besides some of the opening-specific and structure-specific plans, though, there is another lesson to be seen.

When the position isn't too complex (i.e., tactics aren't ruling the day), strategic planning should come to the forefront. I calculated some variations to back up my plans, but in this sort of quiet position, the variations followed from the strategy, not the other way around. Thus, instead of rushing with the immediate 15.bxc5 or 19.Qc6, I first figured out what I wanted to achieve and then how best to achieve those aims. Black wasn't able to effectively counter White's ideas and slowly got squeezed on the queenside.

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