The Power of Positional Chess (Part 2)

The Power of Positional Chess (Part 2)

| 37 | Strategy

php5m4lc3.pngI’m going to come clean here. It’s time to let the cat out of the bag and admit to something strange and weird. It concerns my chess, and it’s about a particular chess move. No, I’m not going to wax poetic about a favorite opening or favorite move in some opening line. And no, I’m not going to point out a particular attacking scheme or a favorite endgame scenario. These things are a dime a dozen. I’m going to admit to having a lifelong affair with the move Qb1 for White. There, I said it! What a relief! I’ve finally come out of the chess closet. The guilt is literally melting away. And yes, it’s true! Qb1 and I have been close for many, many decades.

Not wanting to be alone in the “fetish move” category (I imagined people whispering as I walked by, “There goes that creepy chess dude that loves Qb1!”), I called up a couple of my IM friends and asked if they had a fetish move too, but no, none of them seem to be as unhinged as I am. IM Jack Peters admitted that when he was a kid he loved to play Be3 and Qc1, taking aim at the enemy King. But I view that as a pedestrian attacking setup (crass and lacking any subtlety), not a true fetish move at all. IM Anthony Saidy told me he loved (as White) Na8, but he only played it once in his life, so that makes it a favorite move, not a fetish.

My first contact with Qb1 occurred way back in 1972 vs. the very strong, highly venerated Mexican master, Jose Mondragon.

Silman – Jose Mondragon, [C75] La Mesa vs. Mexico Match 1972

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 d6 5.0-0 Bd7 6.c3 Nge7 7.d4 Ng6 8.Be3 Be7 9.Nbd2 0-0 10.Bc2 Kh8 11.d5 Nb8 12.Qb1! 

I was in awe over this move. In fact, I felt a deep rush of pleasure when I gently slid the Queen to b1. What’s the idea? White’s plan is to push his c-pawn to c5 and overrun black’s queenside. Thus I envisioned c3-c4 followed by b2-b4 and c4-c5. I felt the Queen would be in a good position to help with the queenside festivities. But the other point of Qb1 concerns black’s plan: he will most likely try and seek kingside counterplay by …f7-f5. Thus 12.Qb1 hinders the advance of black’s f-pawn while simultaneously adding to white’s chances on the opposite wing. 


12…a5, holding back white’s b2-b4 advance for a while, is probably better. But black’s desire to get in his …f5 advance is understandable.

13.c4 c6??

A serious mistake. Possible was 13…a5 but then 14.b3 (not 14.a3 a4) 14…Na6 15.a3 followed by b3-b4 favors White. He could have also continued with his planned …f5: 13…f5 14.exf5 Bxf5 but after 15.Bxf5 (15.Ne4 is probably even stronger) 15…Rxf5 (15…Qxf5 16.Qxf5 Rxf5 17.Ne4 favors White since without the Queens black’s kingside dreams are just that – dreams) 16.b4 (Note that 16.Ne4?? loses to 16…Rxf3! 17.gxf3 Nh4 and White can resign!) 16…a5 17.a3 the position is quite pleasant for White thanks to his access to the e4-square and his queenside space advantage.

It’s puzzle time! How should White deal with black’s 13…c6? 

Okay, I lost that game. But it certainly wasn’t the fault of 12.Qb1. After this game I fell in love with the Qb1 idea. I used it as often as possible – at times it showed its dynamic positional stripes and at other times it helped me ward off difficult situations (positional defense!).

Silman – John Nunn, [B08] London 1978

1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.Be2 0-0 6.0-0 Nbd7 7.Re1 e5 8.dxe5 dxe5 9.Bc4 Qe7 10.Be3 c6 11.Nd2 b5 12.Bf1 Nc5 13.f3 Rd8 14.b4 Ne6 

I played the opening like an idiot and was already a bit worse. It was clearly time to batten down the hatches!

Silman – N. Carlin, [D37] San Jose 1982

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bf4 0-0 6.e3 c5 7.dxc5 Bxc5 8.Qc2 Nc6 9.Rd1 Qa5 10.a3 Re8 11.Nd2 e5 12.Bg5 Nd4

Black has just played his Knight from c6 to d4, offering a piece sacrifice so that his better developed army can get to white’s uncastled King. Is White in trouble? How would you handle this position?

Though I played Qb1 many times in my career, it wasn’t enough. I needed to walk on the wild side more often than Qb1 allowed, so I also embraced another, very similar, fetish move, Qc1. Some of you may say, “But didn’t IM Peters say that was his favorite, and didn’t you say it wasn’t a fetish move at all?”

Yes, yes, I did say those things. But where Peter’s point behind Qc1 was pure attack (backing up his dark-squared Bishop so he could challenge an enemy kingside fianchetto with Bh6), my Qc1 was firmly based on deep positional considerations. My opponent in the next game is a strong English International Master:

Silman – David Strauss, [B08] Phoenix 1975

1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.h3 0-0 6.Be3 c6 7.a4 a5 8.Be2 Na6

Black thinks that he is gaining a nice square on b4 for his Knight, but there’s more going on here than meets the eye.

9.0-0 Nb4 10.Qd2 Qc7 11.Rad1 Re8 

A short puzzle: White to play in true positional fetish fashion.


* Maneuvering a Knight so that it hits weakened enemy squares.

* Taking time to get other pieces (in this case the Queen) out of the way of the Knight’s path.

* Gaining space by advancing one’s pawns. In the Mondragon game we saw White gain queenside space by c3-c4 intending an eventual c4-c5. Black wanted to gain kingside space by …f7-f5. In the Strauss game White gained central and kingside space by e4-e5 followed by f2-f4. 

* At times one’s position gets a bit dicey. Don’t panic. Instead, calmly fix all the leaks and, more often than not, your position will suddenly be healthy and happy.

* If you know what the opponent should do, you have a better chance of stopping it. If you have no idea what he should do, it will blindside you and beat you down. A look at the pawn structure (as shown in the Mondragon game) will usually show you what both sides should do.

* It’s okay (and fun!) to have a favorite (fetish) move, as long as it has a firm positional foundation behind it!

More from IM Silman
The Downs And Ups Of GM Elmars Zemgalis (Silman's Last Article)

The Downs And Ups Of GM Elmars Zemgalis (Silman's Last Article)

How To Build Winning Chess Positions

How To Build Winning Chess Positions