Strategy of 'My System', Lesson 2

Strategy of 'My System', Lesson 2

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We're learning chess strategy from the classic My System by Aaron Nimzowitsch. I'm your guide, likesforests. Grab a cold one, pull up a chair, and enjoy. :)

§1.4 An exchange followed by a gain of tempo

Imagine you're running a race against a friend. Her cell phone rings and she stops to answer it, but you continue running. Chances are you'll win. In the beginning of a game of chess both sides race to develop pieces and control the center. In this lesson we'll focus on using the exchange as a weapon to force our opponents to waste time.

I. Marshall Defense

After 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nf6 we reach the position above. 3.cxd5! Black must recapture or he's down a pawn, but 3...Nxd5 allows 4.e4! Nf6 5.Nc3. White's winning the race! He's brought out two pawns and a knight. Black's only brought out a knight.


You gain time when you exchange if your opponent recaptures with a piece, then you make a useful move, which chases his piece to a square no better than its original square.


All that applies above. Clearly, 4...Nb6 wouldn't be much different. We can also say that in the final position White achieved three useful moves: Nc3, d4, e4. Black apparently achieved only one: Nf6. In chess lingo we say that White's ahead by (3-1)=2 tempi (half-moves).

3...Qxd5 4.Nc3 Qa5 5.Nf3 (press the "Move List" button) is more interesting. Nimzowitsch says White gains a tempo... he's implying that the queen is no better on a5 than on d8!?

Question: Is Nimzowitsch correct?

The queen on a5 is double-edged. She exerts more influence over the center, but she is also more vulnerable to attack (Bd2, Nc4, b4). There are masters on both sides of the issue. In any case, if there is a difference, it's very small, so Nimzowitsch is correct.

II. A delay changes nothing.

After 5.fxe5! the Black queen is forced to move onto the e5 square, where White can gain time attacking it. But 5...Qxe5+ is check... does that change anything? No! White blocks with 6.Be2 Nc6 and then follows through on attacking the enemy queen with 7.Nf3 Qd6 8.O-O. White gained a tempo from the exchange, despite the delaying check ...Qxe5+.

III. 'My System' in Practice: Failure!

5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.e4?! I was happy to apply a My System concept in a real game, but afterwards I discovered Black could have refuted my plan with an accurate move.

Question: Do you see it?

After ...Nf6?! or ...Nb6?! White's gained time. ...Nxc3 is stronger because White will have to get in d4 to prove that the free pawn move b2-c3 was useful. But the killer move is ...Nf4! On f4 the knight immediately threatens Nd3+, winning the bishop pair and after 5.d3 Bg4! White can't even kick the knight with 6.g3? due to 6...Nd4!, winning a piece.

Black's knight ended up on a square better than its original square.

IV. 'My System' in Practice: Success!

Karpov's play is an excellent demonstration of all the strategic concepts we've discussed. He gains a superior position strategically, then finishes off his opponent tactically.

Extra Credit - The following are a couple instructive examples of how to win after gaining a lead in development:

I welcome criticism and even praise if you feel it's deserved. Lesson 3 will be out next Friday... if you haven't already, Add me as a Friend to enjoy it hot off the press!

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I love endings and helping others learn to play. I placed 5th in my section at the World Open, won a recent U1600 with a perfect score, and aim to one day be a chess master. :)