# Center control illusions?

• #1

I've been reading about opening principles, variations on themes and ideas, and how they are applied in practice.  One very common principle is the idea of center control during the opening.  I wanted to discuss this because in practice, it seems like an illusion to me.  The basic argument goes as follows:

- At the beginning of the game you don't know which side you'll end up fighting on (king side, queen side, or center)

- No matter what side the fight ends up on you're likely to pass through the center

- By controlling the center you ensure you're able to quickly adapt to whatever happens

I have two significant problems with this argument.  In practice, it doesn't seem to do what is implied by the argument, meaning, first, the different sides tend both to fight for the center and frequently (not always, but frequently) end up somewhat locked there, making the center a tough area to pass through for both sides.  Second, even if you control the center there is a tendency for your own pawns to get in the way in the center creating the aforementioned problem.

Now, I've also seen quite a few high level games where they don't really pursue the center initially, and I've read modern theory suggests this might not be so necessary, that you can claim the center later.

Any thoughts?  And I'd love to hear the reasons and examples as opposed to just opinions.

• #2

You can claim the center early, and that is what many people do, like me, for instance. however, you do not have to claim the center in the opening, and many openings go for one of the sides. if you are strong on one side of the board, you will be able to stomp out the opposition on the other side if you have a good, flexible plan. I feel safer going for the middle in the opening, but many strong chess players do not initially. I think that you can control the board better from the center, but you can also get attacked more easily, as there are more open sides (just like checkers). again, I feel more comfortable with the center under control, but you can always take it. also, why not make the opponents king sweat and attack him from one of the sides as he is castled?

P.S. I still agree with the control the center strategy!!

• #3

The center is of course very important and in those closed positions that you quote there is where you have to attack on sides. If you don't control OR occupy the center you usually go in disadvantage. Maybe the theory that you are quoting is the hypermodern one: it just means that you don't have to control occupy the center with pawns, but you can just control it.

this is a very common example, if you have other difficulties post the master game you quoted.

• #4

1.Occupying the center limits your opponent's space and hinders the communication of his pieces. Advantages like these lead to attacking chances.

2. However, occupying the center creates targets for your opponent, targets for him to attack.

The first point was understood by the earliest chess players. The second point only really came to prominence in the first part of the twentieth century as chess masters began to refine their ideas of defensive and positional chess.

You speak of "controlling" the center -- control of anything in chess, be it a square, or the center or a file, or a diagonal, -- control is always good... but how to control is the question. Does the center need to be occupied with pawns? Earlier masters said yes, surely, if possible, and by no means ALLOW the center to occupied without contest, you might as well resign. But, in the 1910s and 20 and 30s came along some guys who said if you fianchetto a bishop and place your pieces properly from the outset, then the enemy's center pawns are nothing to fear, they are in fact liabilities for they must be defended.

The 'hypermoderns' of the 20s and 30s did not win their most radical case: placing pawns in the center is an outright error. But they did convince the chess world that the old dogma was wrong. Early occupation of the center wasn't the only way to win a game. Openings which take a more indirect approach to control of the center could and did work.

• #5
JG27Pyth wrote:

1.Occupying the center limits your opponent's space and hinders the communication of his pieces. Advantages like these lead to attacking chances.

2. However, occupying the center creates targets for your opponent, targets for him to attack.

The first point was understood by the earliest chess players. The second point only really came to prominence in the first part of the twentieth century as chess masters began to refine their ideas of defensive and positional chess.

You speak of "controlling" the center -- control of anything in chess, be it a square, or the center or a file, or a diagonal, -- control is always good... but how to control is the question. Does the center need to be occupied with pawns? Earlier masters said yes, surely, if possible, and by no means ALLOW the center to occupied without contest, you might as well resign. But, in the 1910s and 20 and 30s came along some guys who said if you fianchetto a bishop and place your pieces properly from the outset, then the enemy's center pawns are nothing to fear, they are in fact liabilities for they must be defended.

The 'hypermoderns' of the 20s and 30s did not win their most radical case: placing pawns in the center is an outright error. But they did convince the chess world that the old dogma was wrong. Early occupation of the center wasn't the only way to win a game. Openings which take a more indirect approach to control of the center could and did work.

Rashidarvioreyhan, I guess you have to clarify whether by "control" you include the "control the centre with pieces from afar" option. If you don't, then JG27Pyth's answer (quoted for truth above) pretty much sums up the response to that: You don't have to occupy the centre with pawns if you control it with pieces at a distance instead (and I believe this addresses your statement about "even if you control the center there is a tendency for your own pawns to get in the way"). However, if you have already included that option in your definition of "control", then I'd say I have to disagree with you about the importance of controlling the centre. You pointed out that the centre often becomes locked down by both sides fighting for control of it - but that's kind of the whole point. Imagine what would happen if you don't even try to fight for control of the centre - your opponent would gain total control of it and have much more space to work with for attacking opportunities.

However there are systems such as the Hippopotamus which cede space to the opponent in exchange for a very solid setup...still, even the Hippo goes for control of the centre to some extent what with the double fianchetto, as well as the knights and central pawns which provide heavy pressure on the two central squares nearer to your pieces. So I'd think that any decent opening system must focus on centre control at least to a moderate extent; whether it be by actually occupying the centre or attacking it from a distance.

• #6

I appreciate the comments, thank you.  Yes, I was referring more to the idea of center control via pawns.  I've played a number of games lately where, during our discussions afterwards people have said to me "you should always move up one of the two center pawns (as opposed to say Nc3 or Nf3, or b3 - Bb2, etc.)  I think this is a mistake, not that center pawns can't work, there are lots of examples of it working very well, but that clinging to this notion as a principle of chess we should gain in our openings seems misguided.

There are lots of examples of games like this.  There are also many cases where people trying to control the center by advancing pawns over-extend themselves and end up imbalanced or exposed.

• #7

the fischer game featured the"hedgehog set up, i's a hypermodern strategy wich takes pawn on a6, b6, d6 and e6 with open c file( opposed for white, but it's mainly a black setup). In this setup black seems very passive but it has a very solid position.

• #8

The center is double edged, and there are many different ways to control it: with two pawns, one pawn and an open file (think as white having an uncontested d4 pawn in the center with open e file), or a flank pawn and fianchettoed bishops. It depends on the specifics of a position on whether a full pawn center is superior or the one without the center is superior. A lot of times the pawn center can be advanced and open everything up, or cramp the pieces, or follow with expansion on one of the wings, but it's possible for a center to also have no dynamic potential where the pieces are all tied up to it. In that case it's the one without the center (who often has nothing to defend) who will be doing all the fancy stuff like advancing on the wing. It will be the side who has the center whose pieces are truly restricted in that case. And if the center is forced to advance unfavorably, some central squares may fall into the opponent's control.

• #9

Your argument suggests that control of the center means occupying the center squares.  I think one can also control the center by being in a position to attack it.  Chess has evolved over the centuries.  As such, some of the suggested rules have evolved with the game.  Novices like me tend to seek to control the center (by occupation or threats to attack it).  However, as I observe the true masters play, they tend to chuck most of those rules out the window.  I have been going into the "Games" room and observing some speed chess games.  They move so fast, I hardly can tell what they are doing.  They finish a game in 1, 2, or 3 minutes.  I need 30 minutes to play a decent game.  I suggest that as we all gain better skills, we will opt for the strategy and tactics that brings us the most success.

• #10

I believe that moving your pawns in the center at the opening marks the beginning of the fight for the center. Usually the center pawns either end up being traded off or locked in place. If they are traded off it becomes an open game and you want to have your bishops. In a closed game you want to use your knights because they can easily jump over pieces and find good outposts. In general it is best to keep the tension in the center because it gives you more options.

• #11

You don't have to occupy the centre to control it.

Anyways, the centre is important because it is the base from where you launch an attack.

• #12

Before you occupy the center with pieces, you have to control it with pawns. This is because pawns are worth less than pieces. But nothing is worth even less than a pawn, so to consistenly prepare to occupy the centre, the best starting move is 1.a3 occupying the centre with nothing. Logical chess! I read this in  a grandmasterbook btw.

• #13

I think more often the problem is the actual method of controling the center and not so much how effective it is. Some people tend to believe having more peices in the center means to control it... this is incorrect for obvious reasons (more accessible targets). Some tend to think having more attacking peices in the center is controling but if you're opponent is blockading those peices then it's not truly controling either. When I think of controling I think of being able to slice a hole in the base of the opponents structure. While at the same time having options to play on either side of the wing. Basically if you make a move and your opponent has to re-structure his base due to your progress then you are in control. But If you are simply stacking peices in the center and niether side is actually breaking through then it's not controling at all. Like any game it depends on the position to determine what option truly gives you control.

It is possible to control the center with peieces attacking from the wing.

• #14

3 year old topic revived twice but.

It is indeed because it gives greater chance for your pieces to communicate effectively and to operate more easily on both sides of the board.  Try playing a game without moving through the square of d2, e2, d3, e3.  That's why central space is important to claim.

No really, play some games where don't move the center pawns and get a structure with c3 b4 and f3 g4 and note how you feel about the positions.

That's why the center is important.  Everything is related back to mobility.

• #15

Although a lot of times it does get tempting to suddenly start pushing on the wings, like with h4-h5 in a maroczy bind type position. We know it must be wrong deep down (with exceptions perhaps), but can't see the refutation of it. I think generally the problem with pushing on the flanks, rejecting central play even if central play is feasible in the position, is that, even if you justify it by putting your pieces toward that area, like putting a rook on the g file, a queen on g3, the problem is if it runs into a dead end your pieces will have a tough time shuffling back to the queenside if threats emerge over there. My general rule is that if it takes three or four moves to make a threat on the flank, and if that one threat can be parried easily, it's too slow and inefficient.

With central pieces, this wouldn't be a problem -- you make a little threat on the kingside, he defends, but you still have the flexibility to shift to the other wing if necessary. Essentially with central pieces you are trying to control both flanks at the same time by being able to quickly send pieces there if the need arises.

Sometimes of course a flank move can influence the center, in which case it's not really a flank attack. For example, pushing b2-b4-b5 to kick a knight away from c6 can sometimes help your central control, since the knight on c6 often controls some good squares.

• #16

I am very new to chess almost an year. As a new player it is often confusing and our aim and objectives will be derailed by the forcing moves of our opponents especially in 10 15 mins games.

Lately since I have learned some of the opponing middle game and end game gave me more understanding of the chess game.

However, there was always defeciency of tactics that hindered taking advantage of the weakness of my enemeis

As I started playing a game with full attention from the begening to the end, I have good control of the game and easily started spoting the weakness and the streangth of my opponents.

It is a holistic game and we need to be a real alrounder and consistent to destroy the opponent( Step by step)

• #17

Push your pawns to the center in the first opportunity if you like quick attacks and skirmishes type game (specially from white side).

Keep your pawns back and open the minors (bishes and knights) first if you like to play an "advancing pieces" style global attack type game.

I learned that after losing some 40 games.

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