Anand-Gelfand & What is a Critical Position?

IM Trendle

In my latest blog post ( I talked about how to get the most out of using things like's Tactics Trainer, using a method based around the idea of Forcing Moves. I promised that I would do another blog about how this relates to actual games of chess so here goes!

The absolute key to being able to use the ideas I outlined is to know when to use them. During a game you have a limited amount of time and it is simple not possible/practical to try and calculate everything on every move. When then should we calculate? The answer is in critical positions. The basic definition of a critical position is one where the choice of move you make will have a major impact upon the result of the game, there may be one winning move or one move that keeps you in the game. So far, so simple. But how can we recognise a critical position? Well, there is no one way to do it so here are a few suggestions!

1. A position with lots of forcing moves (checks/captures etc. see previous blog). This makes sense, if there are a lot of forcing moves then there's a good chance one is quite good! It also means there are a lot of tactics around.

2. One or both of the kings are vulnerable (perhaps one move away from castling on an open file).

3. One side has a large lead in development (perhaps for sacrificed material).

4. There is a key pawn break in the (perhaps a ...d5 break in a Sicilian) which needs to be analysed.

There are a lot of other possibilities, advanced pawns, misplaced pieces, Kings castled on opposite sides and so on. I'm sure you can thing of some others (if you want you can suggest some in the comments below). Anyway, the point is that all of these things can help you identify a critical position and then you can attempt to calculate the best move (perhaps using my rules about forcing rules although there are certainly other ways)!

Anyway, I've probably whaffled on for too long so I'm going to show you what I mean with the help of the recent Anand-Gelfand match. The first example is taken from game 8, a critical turning point in the match (Gelfand had just won in game 7).

Ok, I hope you'll agree that was fairly critical. Now let's check out the position they reached in game 10, again Anand is playing with White.

Well, let me know if you have any thoughts/questions about critical positions in the comments below and I'll do my best to respond.