Pillars of Soviet Chess

Pillars of Soviet Chess

Sep 7, 2013, 6:21 AM |

Introductory Quotation

Søren Kierkegaard in 1843: Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.

In Cuba

Capablanca's idea was that the endgame phase should be learned first.  Give a player an understanding of where the game is headed, and his early actions can be geared toward a beneficial outcome.  In my own experience, I have found knowledge of the endgame useful.  Whether it be to pick out an opponent's errors as I scrape for a draw, or to press home an advantage, the ability to handle an endgame allows me to score many half and whole points.  

Which endings should you learn?  Some types of endings may be too esoteric, such as pawn endings.  Take a practical approach.  Learn the endings which are likely to occur, such as rook endings.  Lucena winning positions and Philidor drawing techniques make a good place to start.

Note: The position depicted next to this blog entry was composed in 1777 by Philidor himself.  The situation very much depends upon who has the move.  White to play wins with Ke6.  Black to play draws with ...Rb4.

School is in Session

The Soviets borrowed Capablanca's idea.  In the Soviet Union, young chess players were taught the game in reverse, endgame first.  This could be called a pillar of Soviet Chess philosophy.

Another pillar of Soviet Chess was the idea: "A weakness which cannot be attacked is not actually a weakness."  Dynamic considerations override structural defects.  The initiative is to be sought as often as possible.  This approach is expressed most markedly in the concept of the Boleslavsky Hole.  In the Classical Sicilian, Black can accept a weak square on d5.


Isaac Boleslavsky's invention is strong for Black.  In fact, the Boleslavsky Hole idea also appears in the Sveshnikov Sicilian.  Isaac Boleslavsky deserves a digression here.  The foundations of the King's Indian were laid by Boleslavsky's work.  Thus, two major groundbreaking openings, the Sveshnikov Sicilian and the King's Indian, are rooted in his Laboratory.

The Pillars Stand

Acceptance of the Boleslavsky Hole in certain situations allows Black to play dynamically.  Pawn structure problems can be disregarded in favor of piece play.  A shining example of Black playing with structural weaknesses is Anand's game in the 1992 exhibition match versus Ivanchuk.


Anand's play was revolutionary in the year 1992, which is shocking because 1992 is relatively late for the introduction of new ideas in chess.

Closing Quotation

Mikhail Botvinnik: "Before Boleslavsky, we did not understand the King's Indian."

I would like to add: After Boleslavsky, we did not understand ourselves.