Focus Like a Laser Beam

Focus Like a Laser Beam

Jan 4, 2015, 9:57 AM |

I cannot tell you, my dear readers, how many times I’ve had this conversation with my younger students while we analyze their games:

“What did you try to accomplish with your last move?”


“Then why did you play it?”

“I don’t know!”

MissBoll, La Dame habillée en bleu

Sound familiar? That was GM Gregory Serper on No doubt, we all have experienced this. Now the question is why this cluelessness in chess is so common (and not only in chess to be sure).


“Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” –John F. Kennedy


Purpose should be the starting point of all achievement. The Center of Gravity idea is a way to reframe your thinking in chess to size things up and figure out what’s really going on in a situation.

Again, CoG is a big idea, and it’s not easy to get to the point where it is second nature. Still, any idea or purpose may be placed in the mind through right practice and repetition of thought.

As we saw last time in Part 3, IM Vladimir Vukovic has defined two important principles of CoG in chess: we must work hard on building up our position, and the CoG, once established, shouldn’t be ignored. It is our invested chess capital. It has to be maintained and our play should naturally flow from it as we act from the “position of strength.”

Sometimes even Grandmasters ignore this. Let’s see what happens when one makes aimless moves, ones that don’t contribute to establishing a CoG. Moreover, Black in the below game was unaware of his opponent’s CoG taking shape on the Q-side, so his queen found herself almost trapped.

The game we are looking at is Korchnoi-Balashov, played at the 1971 Moscow International tournament.

You will see how Black first of all didn’t go for creating a CoG on the K-side, which is typical approach in King’s Indian. Instead, he made few moves on the Q-side (6..c6, 7…Qa5, 9…cxd5) that only helped White (who normally takes action in KID there) strengthen his CoG. As a result the main issue became an unsafe position of the black Queen with her lines of retreat cut off – interestingly, Black seemed to miss what was coming! In addition, 13…Nh7 on the K-side didn’t contribute to something purposeful either. Too many unproductive “filler” moves which led to a swift defeat (it may look sort of like a consolation for the rest of us in seeing a GM make moves of no purpose like we do!).

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 e5 6.Nge2 c6 7.Bg5 Qa5

Black’s moves don’t seem to be part of a plan (all commentary belongs to Korchnoi from his My 55 Wins with White, Russian Chess House publishing, 2004).

8.Qd2 Nbd7 9.d5 cxd5 10.cxd5 h6

It is interesting to ask why so many people are playing King’s Indian. Most probably because it looks easy to explain to the student how to do it. Well, originally all black pieces line up on the king side. You just get them out first, then you castle. A few more moves in the center – and your position is now like Fischer’s, you don’t fear anybody! Both chess coaches and their students keep forgetting that Fischer not only had deep KID knowledge, but also possessed a rare talent of understanding chess. And that’s a gift from God, not every one of us is lucky to receive.

11.Be3 a6

Perhaps Black wants to start some play on the queen side? Black doesn’t seem to know (in contrast to me and you, my reader) that queen side is the battleground of active operations for the white pieces.

12.Ng3 h5 13.Bd3 Nh7

I’m not sure I can make any comments about this move. Apparently, I am not able to get through ideas of the young generation of GMs.

14.O-O O-O 15.a4!

This is not a defensive, nor prophylactic move. White is planning to start operations on the Q-side. The b2-b4 advance, followed by a4-a5 is threatened.

The black Queen may come into a dangerous situation. If she retreats, White will occupy the c-file and get, through c7, into the Black’s camp with his major pieces. A little better is 15…Qb4, for example: 16.Nb1! Qxd2 17.Nxd2 Nc5 18.Bc2 and with the threats b2-b4 and Nc4 Black’s position looks difficult.

We can draw the conclusion that Black’s moves c7-c6, c6xd5, Qd8-a5 only made White’s queen-side campaign easier to unfold!


The reader already knows what White planned to do, but Black doesn’t seem to have clue yet.

Momir Image 1 January 2015

16.b4! Qxb4 17.a5

The trap has just closed! In order to save his Queen, Black must give material concessions.

17…Bh6 18.Bxh6 Nb3?

Black should have played 18…Qd4+ 19.Kh1 Qxd3 20.Qxd3 Nxd3 21.Bxf8 Nxf8 but that would also leave White with just some technical difficulties to overcome.

19.Qb2Qd4+ 20.Rf2 Nxa1 21.Bxf8 h4 22.Nge2

After 22…Qxd3 23.Bxd6 Nc2 24.Nc1 Black loses a piece. 1-0

* * *

To wrap up our series on CoG, here is how you could study to sharpen this essential skill necessary for playing good chess:

(1)  As you saw the above, heavily annotated games from GM collections (you better put your books on openings aside for a little while!) are full of revealing insight on what should receive most of attention while you’re considering the next move.

(2)  GM Andy Soltis (in What It Takes to Become a Chess Master, Batsford 2012) gives another method for developing and refining your sense of what matters most. He suggests that you examine early middlegame positions from master games in books, magazines or databases. “Your aim is to figure out what are priorities for both sides. If a position in a game changes from unclear or even at move 15 to a plus-over-equals at move 20 or 25, try to figure out what changed. This will likely tell you what mattered most.”

(3)  Study your own games (“unfortunately for your ego, it’s usually your losses,” as Soltis put it). Try to understand what you didn’t when you played them. That may also help heighten your CoG sense.

* * *

We have come to the end of our four-part series. I hope it helped you grasp the important concept of so-called Center of Gravity. The ability to focus on the most important aspect of a situation separates the average from the great in all professions and disciplines.

Now you have a better idea how this works in chess.


Originally posted on on January 1, 2015 at