The Power of Positional Chess, Pt. 3

  • IM Silman
  • | May 21, 2013

phpYy6k1L.pngIn my last article I discussed “fetish chess moves.” I consider a move to be a fetish if it’s out of the ordinary, has serious positional clout, and gives the person who played it such deep pleasure that his reaction can almost be called orgasmic. One of my favorite fetish moves is, in all honesty, not that rare. I’m referring to the time honored “step back boogie” Knight retreat. The idea is to take a Knight that’s not doing much of anything and – starting with a retreat to the back rank – maneuvering it to a far superior home.

This might sound pedestrian, but what makes the step back boogie a fetish is the overwhelming, raw emotion it elicits in the person playing it.

The following example, played by the extremely strong IM Cyrus Lakdawala (who also happens to be one of the finest chess writers in the world – check out his highly instructive “Move by Move” series from Everyman Chess), puts the emotional intensity of the move in perfect perspective.

B. Baker (2339) – Cyrus Lakdawala (2568), [C02] Gambito 545, 2011

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Bd7 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.Na3 cxd4 7.cxd4 Ne7 8.Be2 Nbc6 9.O-O Rc8 10.b3 Nb4 11.Bb2 Ng6 12.g3 Be7 13.h4 

White has just played his pawn to h4, threatening to kick the g6-Knight all over creation. Black ignores his opponent.
13…O-O 14.h5 Nh8

Mr. Lakdawala’s comment here (given to me especially for this column) was, “Oh, the bliss! Look Jeremy, ...Nh8!!”

The retreat to h8 was forced, but what makes it stand out is that Black allowed it. Why? Because he knew that it would fit perfectly into Black’s plans to attack White’s center – he’ll follow with …f7-f6 and …Nf7 when the Knight is chewing on e5 (a key square in the French Defense).

What makes this a fetish isn't the bizarre appearance of the horse on h8, but rather Black’s ecstatic reaction to getting to play it. Oddly, he’s not alone. In most cases such a Knight retreat creates that same euphoric bliss in the person lucky enough to pull a Knight back to the fence, only to have it rush forward and show its true worth.

15.Qd2 f6 16.Rfe1 Nf7 17.Bd1 fxe5 18.Nxe5

18...Nxe5 19.Rxe5

19.dxe5 fails to 19…Rxf2!

19...Bd6 20.Re3 

How do I know about that special kind of rush/joy that comes with a proper step back boogie maneuver? Because I've tossed out many versions of it myself, and if I had to choose between the excitement of stuffing some world-class cheesecake into my mouth (I have the plain Carnegie Deli cheesecake shipped to my house in Los Angeles from New York at least once a year) or doing a frenetic victory dance after a successful step back boogie Knight sortie, I’d go with the Knight maneuver every time. Wait a second...that cheesecake is to die for. Knight move or cheesecake? Arrgghh… let’s call it a draw.
Here's an example from my praxis:
Here’s another example:
Rest assured that it’s not just us non-grandmasters that do this. Even legendary World Champions have gone down that Knight-boogie road: 


  • 3 years ago


    Thanks for the reply and the comments!

  • 3 years ago

    IM Silman

    jesperrr asked why 33.Nxe5 (instead of Karpov's 33.Rd1) isn't accepted by the program as a correct move.

    Mr. jesperrr,

    Two things:

    1) When creating a puzzle, the program only accepts one move as correct. Thus, even if your move was as good as Karpov's 33.Rd1 (and it's not), it would still be listed as incorrect. There's nothing I can do about this.

    2) When looking for a move in analysis or a real game, you need to look beyond what you want your opponent to play and search for his best response. Thus after your 33.Nxe5 it's true that Black can't take on e5: 33...fxe5?? 34.Rxf8 Kxf8 34.Bh6+, 1-0. However, Black wouldn't fall for this. Instead, 33.Nxe5 Qc7! 34.Qxc6 Qxe5+ 35.Bf4 Qe8 36.Qxa6 Qxe4 would lead to a position where White is a pawn up and should win, though it will take quite a while to do so.

    Compare that with Karpov's 33.Rd1!, which wins very quickly and is a much stronger move than 33.Nxe5. BTW, I've added these variations to the puzzle notes. Thanks for pointing out this interesting variation.

  • 3 years ago



    Karpov v Spassky game,

    33. Nxe5... The puzzle showed that as incorrect. Why? If black eats fxe5 then white can eat the black rook... 

  • 3 years ago


    thnx silman for showing that the knight moves..retreating to good squares are essential positional moves..

  • 3 years ago


    This article reminds me of that song "One step forward, two steps back."

  • 3 years ago


    mate in 3








    my personal favorite, could add some knights


  • 3 years ago


    as the song says: "Yes Sir, I can Boogie but I need a certain song",

    in chess you need a certain situation to make your boogie..

    Lovely post, Joker..

  • 3 years ago

    FM MikeKlein

    In his latest video, GM Kaidanov shows another instructive example of reverse knight moves!

  • 3 years ago


    To cimatar: yes I was about that variation too but after 25. .....Rxf2 Is white fine with 26. Qb5, other move is loosing ;)

  • 3 years ago


    Just for the fun of it this nice little, probably unsound variation:)¨

  • 3 years ago


    This article is great. You just showed us some cool positional plays and I would like to use my newly acquired ideas from your positional articles. I'm looking forward to see a part 10 of this article. Thank you Smile

  • 3 years ago


    Great subtext.

  • 3 years ago


    This entire page is funny; I'm going to go eat a hamburger now. 

  • 3 years ago


    Mr. Silman, you are awesome. I love your commentary and your articles. Everything you write is worth reading. 

  • 3 years ago

    IM Silman

    @ ErikKnutson, who asked for "more commentary on more than one game."

    All the puzzles have commentary that can be accessed by going to the bottom right of the puzzle, clicking on SOLUTION, then clicking on MOVE LIST. The commentary will then be visible.

  • 3 years ago


    Very nice. Perhaps a little more commentary - on more than one game? None the less, there is nothing more powerful than taking a few steps (at times) back before moving forward again.

  • 3 years ago


    Come on BM! Get over it and play your games!

  • 3 years ago


    Nice article. And personally, I don't see anything wrong with the use of "orgasmic" and "fetish".  Playful use of words is a writer's prerogative.  Savor the meat, don't mind the sidings if you wish.

    Thank you, Mr. Silman for a very informative article.  I rarely read articles in the internet (for lack of time), but this one caught my attention.

    I enjoyed the puzzles, too.

  • 3 years ago

    NM BMcC333

  • 3 years ago


    A five year old tells his three year old brother: "I found a condom in the back yard" and the three year old asks back: "what is a back yard?".

    People do not be so hard on Mr Silman for he might get pissed off and write even worse things!! :P

    Nice article by the way! :)

    Ps. Remember, "condom" is a good word for every child to learn, as soon as possible.

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