For today’s article, I decided to put a different concept of chess under the microscope – weak squares. In my recent posts and videos, I’ve focused a lot on poor pawn structures and lack of space, and while instructive, doesn’t really encapsulate all of the natural elements of positional chess.
Weak squares, as defined by Grandmaster Iossif Dorfman in his book, The Method in Chess, are squares that can no longer be defended by a pawn, and can be attacked by the opponent’s pieces. Generally, these squares become great outposts, and can dictate the result of the game. For my first few examples, I would like to demonstrate how careless pawn moves can result in completely worse positions.
1) Weak Squares Resulting from Blunders
bahamapapa – leika(me) (Internet Chess Club, G/30)
My opponent has played an early f4-f5 out of the Four Pawns Attack, but already you can probably identify all of the dark squared weaknesses this move creates. My knight now springs to life on e5, and White’s attack comes to a halt.
13…Ne5 14. Be2? White doesn’t really sense the trouble in this position. I do not want the pair of bishops, as my knight from e5 is far superior to the scope of the f3 bishop. 14…b5 15. Qc2 Qb6 Now that I’ve acquired the e5 outpost, I need to create more play on White’s weak dark squares 16. Kh1 Rae8
My knight from e5 not only controls a lot of squares, but also acts as a blockade to White’s backwards e4 pawn. By playing …Ra8-e8, I can move the knight away from e5 at any moment and put great pressure on White’s pawn.
17. Bg5 h6 18. Bxf6 Bxf6 19. Nd1 White is lost for ideas and the position is completely lost. 19…c4
When you have a significant static advantage, you are in no rush to cover the point. Here this move gives me control of more dark squares, which are even more weak without White’s dark squared bishop.
20. Nf2? Qe3-+ I identified the second weak square here, and was easily able to convert the game. I don’t like the Four Pawns Attack for White, but my opponent had a tenable position before giving me the outpost on e5, after which he was lost for ideas and fell apart.
In this next game, I was on the losing side, and the one mistake I made in the opening cost me from start to finish – let’s check it out:
Grenias–Steincamp (Baltimore Open, 2015)
A seemingly harmless move as I gain space on the queenside. My opponent here realizes that with this move, I have seriously committed an error by weakening the c6 square. White needs to limit my ability to gain space while simultaneously controlling the c-file.
13.Rc1! Immediately asking me to defend against discovered tactics along the c-file. Nc5 14.Bd4 Qc8 Still not realizing my disadvantage, I simplify into a much worse ending. 15.Re1 Bh3 16.e4!
Dvoretsky would be proud! Realizing that the light bishops were coming off the board, White takes the time to gain central dominance and put his pawns on light squares. Now if I take on g2, I trade off White’s bad bishop, losing tempi as my opponent gains space. Even though my side of the board becomes less cramped, I lose a critical defender of the c6 square.
16…Bxg2 17.Kxg2 Qb7 I have lost a lot of tempi with this …Bh3 maneuver and have no play to show for it. 18.f3 Nxb3 19.Qxb3 Nd7 20.Bxg7 Kxg7 21.Nb5
White’s master plan begins, as from b5, the knight will move to d4, controlling the c6 square. With my inferior position, all I can do is sit and watch.
21…Rfc8 22.Nd4 Rxc1 23.Rxc1 Rc8 24.Rc6 +-
After taking all of the necessary precautions, White punishes 12… b6 12 moves later. White went on to convert this endgame on move 71, as the control of the c-file and flexibility of the knight proved too much for my defenses.
2) Identifying Weak Squares
At the higher levels, players are generally more conscientious of creating such weaknesses, but that doesn’t mean that weak squares don’t exist. In the first game I’d like to show, I was paired against a young opponent and had played a fairly respectable game, but my opponent sealed my fate when he identified the weak squares in my position.
Miyasaka – Steincamp (Cherry Blossom Classic, 2015)
After having outplayed me for the last 5-7 moves, my opponent needs one last shot to push for a result. The endgame is complicated, but how can White limit my play?
33.Bb5! The idea is to reroute the bishop to c6, keeping my rooks from becoming active. 33…Rb8 34.Bc6 Rb6? The real mistake. The best option was for me to play 34… b6 and open the position. While I have an isolated e-pawn, the endgame is closer to a draw than a win. Either way, by moving the bishop to c6, White obtains something to play for, thus increasing his wining chances. 35.b5! No second chances! Now …e7-e6 doesn’t work because White can capture with the d5 pawn and bring the rook. By letting my opponent secure this outpost, I quickly found that I had nothing to play for, and resigned a little over 10 moves later. 35…Kf8 36.Rb4 a6 37.a4 a5 38.Rh4 Kg7 39.Rf4 Ng8 40.h4 Rb8 41.g4 Nh6 42.Rfe4 Kf8 43.Kg3 Rb6 44.R4e2 Ng8 45.Kf4 Nf6 46.Kf3 Rb8 47.h5 1-0
A nice win from my opponent, where he managed to demonstrate superior endgame knowledge over the board. This next weak square earned the winner $38,000 at the recent Millionaire Chess Open:
Yang – Mandizha (U2400 Millionaire Chess 2, 2015)
In this position, International Master Kaiqi Yang has White in the U2400 Millionaire Chess Final. He and his opponent, IM Farai Mandizha have drawn their past three games, leading to this blitz match. How did White make the most of this objectively (+0.17 according Stockfish) equal position?
26. Nf1! Superb idea! Regardless of the computer’s assessment of the position, the game just became a lot more complicated for Black. From f1, the knight will reroute to e3 then d5, taking advantage of Black’s inability to control any light squares, while blockading the d6 pawn. Mandizha is limited in his possibilities, as the Sicilian Najdorf line he prepared did not go as planned. He has a bad bishop on e7, which is blocked by the central pawns. in just a few moves, Yang proves that his knight is much better than Black’s bishop. 26… Bd8 27. Ne3 Bb6 28. Nd5 Bc5
29. f6!! And now White has all of the winning chances. Black erred immediately in the game but if black plays 29… gxf6, White can play 30. Rf3!+-, with the idea of taking on f6 with the rook. This idea is the “Principle of Two Weaknesses” as White will seek ways to put pressure on both f7 and d6 while improving his position. The knight is still untouchable and its not clear how Black escapes the bind. 29…g6? Tired, Mandizha makes the game losing move. 30. Ne7 And White only needed a few more moves to win the $38,000 prize.
3) Creating and Securing Weak Squares
Some openings just don’t create enough weak squares. This is where positional play becomes dynamic; finding forcing moves to create weak squares is another way to generate an advantage. Here’s a game I played online:
leika (me)-jondrich (Internet Chess Club, G/15)
This position looks balanced and destined for equality. Black hopes that by trading down on the queenside, he can liquidate the position into a drawn minor piece ending.
This dynamic thrust serves three purposes: 1) trade off Black’s best piece (the b7 bishop) 2) Limit Black’s dark squared bishop’s scope, and most importantly 3) force the f6 knight away so I can place my knight on e4 at the right moment.
25…Ne8 26. Kf2 Ba5 27. Ba3 b4?
White now holds an advantage. Black has blocked in his bishop while taking away an entry square for the c6 knight. In this position, I just have to secure the d4 square and mount a knight on e4, and I can play for a win.
28. Bc1 Bb6 29. Be3 My bishop can’t do too much, but this move puts pressure on c5 while covering the d4 square. 29…a5 30. a4 Locking down the queenside. If Black makes the mistake of taking en passant on a3, I will recapture and the c3 square become accessible for my e2 knight. 30…Nc7 31. g4
Black has no ability to generate counterplay, so now my plan comes to life. Ne2-g3-e4 is coming up.
31…Ba8 32. Ng3 Nd4 33. Bxd4 Bxg2 34. Kxg2 cxd4 35. Ne1
The massive trades have significantly increased my winning chances. The passed d-pawn is more of a liability than a strength, and my knights are headed to d3 and e4. Just like the last game, Black really suffers from not having the right colored bishop.
35…f6 36. Nd3 Na6 37. Ne4 Kf7 38. Kf3
Now that I have completed my plan, it’s time to convert my position to the win. Still using the weak light squares, my goal is to move my knight away from e4 for my king. The king is a crucial attacker in the endgame, don’t be afraid to use him!
38…Kg6 39. Nd6 Bc7 40. c5
With this move, Black’s minor pieces are extremely limited, and now by creating a second weak square on d6, the win is easy for White. Who would have seen this position from the beginning of the endgame?
While its important to identify weak squares and put your pieces on them, its also important to keep that outpost, or trade them for better ones. I had a cute maneuver in my round 3 win at the World Open this past year:
Steincamp-Williams (World Open, 2015)
Believe it or not, the critical outpost here is the knight on a5! Attacking the b7 pawn, White hopes that Black plays b7-b6, creating the weak c6 square that we’ve already demonstrated twice. It is also not in Black’s best interest to trade away the d8 bishop since it will weaken the c7 square while the a5 pawn will act as a clamp, keeping the b7 pawn at bay. …Bd7-b5 is annoying since if I take, b7 is protected by the queen and the pawn on b5 actually immobilizes my knight, covering the c4 square.
26.Bh3! Black cannot surrender control of the e6 square, so he must return his bishop to d7. 26…Bd7 27.Bg2!
With this move, Black cannot repeat the idea of …Bd7-b5 without facing a3-a4. Before Black could trade off bishops on f1, giving him some more coordination, but now my opponent must make the concession of taking on a5. I quickly get a strong position.
27…Bxa5 28.bxa5 Qd8 29.Rc7 Bc8
Black is completely immobilized and out of ideas, as my grip on the position is extremely powerful.
30.a4 Opening the a3 square for my bishop to attack d6. 30…Ne7 31.Ba3 Bf5 32.e4 Bc8+-
I’ve achieved a significant advantage, and went on to win later in the endgame (admittedly after misplaying the position a little).
In all of these games, the position went from seemingly equal to dead lost because of one weak square. Use these squares to make pieces active and blockade weak pawns, and you will see significant returns in your gameplay!
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