Mastery: Strategy

Master Your Technique

Master Your Technique

This module contains rich and thoroughly analyzed lessons. The majority of these lessons focus on complex middlegame positions, the art of transition from the middlegame to the ending, and on endings themselves. This course is aimed at all players from the intermediate level to masters. The lessons feature an average length of 10 moves.

  • Tal - Uhlmann

    A curious incident occurred in this game played in Havana, Cuba in 1963. Mikhail Tal, who had just lost the World Championship Crown in 1961, played the White pieces against Wolfgang Uhlmann, a living legend from then East Germany. Uhlmann played a double question mark blunder that should have lost the game immediately, but Tal failed to take notice of the bluff's refutation as well. Here you have a rare chance to improve on the play of the wizard from Riga.

    • 6 challenges
  • Playing with Fire

    This position occurred in a game in Linares between two strong Spanish Grandmasters, Magem, playing with the White pieces, and San Segundo, playing with the Black pieces. This problem features a number of pins and aims to make you familiar with the tactics surrounding them.

    • 3 challenges
  • The Sozin Trap

    The position shown can be reached via a variety of move orders and comes from a variation called the Sozin Attack against the Sicilian Defense. One likely move order is 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Bc4 e6 7.Bb3 Be7 8.0-0 a6 9.f4 0-0 10.f5?? Once a formidable weapon in the hands of Bobby Fischer, the Sozin is still employed frequently in today's tournament play. White has a variety of plans to choose from, usually involving either e4-e5 or f4-f5. It is has been established, however, that either pawn push needs to be well prepared. White's last move, 10.f5??, is a rather common mistake among inexperienced players and should be substituted by 10.Kh1 or 10.Be3. For those of you who are familiar with this motif, please bear with me. I was shocked myself when a player rated above 2500 USCF and above 2400 FIDE fell into this trap recently in one of my games. I therefore felt the urge to share this motif with the many of you who might play on either side of this variation in the future.

    • 5 challenges
  • Loose Strings

    This position arose out of a Slav Exchange Variation in the game Petrosian - Sveshnikov, USSR Championship 1976. The opening moves were 1.Nf3 d5 2.d4 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.cxd5 cxd5 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Bf4 Bf5 (6...a6!? is a popular alternative nowadays.) 7.e3 e6 8.Bb5 Nd7 9.Qa4 Rc8 10.0-0 a6? (10...Qb6!? is better.) 11.Bxc6 Rxc6 12.Rfc1 Be7 13.Ne2 Bd3 14.Rxc6 bxc6 (maybe 14...Bb5 improves) 15.Nc1 Bb5 16.Qc2 c5.

    • 9 challenges
  • Precipitous Edge

    This position occurred in the game De San Mateo - Shchekachev. The internationally little known Russian grandmaster Andrei Shchekachev has managed to misplace White's pieces on the queenside and has achieved a large space advantage by advancing his pawns skillfully.

    • 8 challenges
  • The Base of a Pawn Chain

    The base of a pawn chain is the pawn on whose support all other pawns rest. Once the base falls, a pawn chain often collapses. In this position, taken from the game Barcza-Soos, Varna Olympiad 1962, the respective pawn bases on the queenside are the White pawn on a2 and the Black pawn on b6. While the a2-pawn only protects one pawn, Black's base on b6 has to support two pawns, a noteworthy distinction.

    • 11 challenges
  • Deceptive Activity

    Endings with bishops of the same color can be some of the most dynamic endings. In particular, one wants to avoid placing one's pawns on the same color as the bishop. Here Black thought he had solved the problem by placing the bishop outside the restrictive pawn chain. Is that true?

    • 10 challenges
  • Persistent Space Advantage

    The following position occurred in the 1996 Olympiad in Armenia between Illescas Cordoba, playing for Spain, against Mohr from Slovenia. The opening was a King's Indian Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.c4 Bg7 4.Nc3 0-0 5.e4 d6 6.Be2 e5 7.0-0 exd4 8.Nxd4 Nc6 9.Be3 Re8 10.f3 Nd7 11.Qd2 Nde5 12.Rad1 Nxd4 13.Bxd4 Be6).

    • 14 challenges
  • Rapid Counterplay

    This position occurred in a recent game at the 1997 Northern California State Championship. Isaac Margulis, playing with the White pieces, had just captured a Black pawn on h6 with his queen. This gave myself, playing with the Black pieces, enough time to start active counterplay.

    • 6 challenges
  • Sicilian Endgame Advantage

    It is often said that Sicilian endgames tend to favor Black if White has not achieved any structural binds. Here Black's bishop pair and the strong pawn center give Black reasons to be optimistic.

    • 13 challenges
  • Patience pays off

    The following position occurred in a fifth round game of the 1996 North American Open in Las Vegas between myself, playing the White pieces, and GM Larry Christiansen, playing the Black pieces. Black's attempts to create an imbalance and some winning chances backfired after White had chosen a calm setup in the opening.

    • 10 challenges
  • Helpless Queens

    The following position arose in the game Grabarczyk-Matlak, played in Poland in 1995. Black has obvious compensation for the material deficit, but is it enough to win? In the game, Black could not find anything better than a three- fold repetition.

    • 7 challenges
  • Kupreichik - Lobron

    The position in this game occurred at the 1996 Chess Olympiad in Armenia. Grandmaster Viktor Kupreichik from Belorussia, playing the White pieces, is known for his unconventional, active approach. German Grandmaster Eric Lobron is also tactically gifted and a great speed player.

    • 6 challenges
  • Hernandez-Wolski

    The following game was played at the 14th annual Sands Regency Western States Open in Reno, Nevada. In a previous game against me, Rodolfo Hernandez had tried to crack my Sicilian Defense, but this time he hoped to outmaneuver me in an English Opening. After 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3, Hernandez was actually playing a Sicilian with the White pieces! It is often possible to play a Black defense with an extra tempo with the White pieces.

    • 13 challenges
  • Jansa-Shirov

    Alexej Shirov is a young, talented tactician who thrives when many pieces are hanging loose on the board. Like the great Mikhail Tal, to whom he is often compared, he is a native of Latvia. Recently Shirov, who has been living in Spain with his Argentine wife and young child for a few years, obtained Spanish citizenship.

    • 13 challenges
  • Queen and Knight versus King and Queen

    This problem originated as a possible side variation from the game Jansa-Shirov, European Team Championship 1996. With the White knight stranded on b7, Black can focus his attention on the White king.

    • 5 challenges
  • Abandoned king

    This position occurred in the 1996 Olympiad in Armenia. Playing with the Black pieces, Vesselin Topalov from Bulgaria was able to get to the abandoned White king.

    • 9 challenges
  • Crowded Corner

    This position occurred in a game during the 1993 Southern California Closed Championship between IM David Strauss, playing the White pieces, and myself. This problem illustrates the fact that with opposite-colored bishops on the board, one literally plays with an extra piece during an attack as the opposing bishop is unable to defend against the attack. Here White's dark-squared bishop on g1 cannot protect against the attack on the light squares and is merely a spectator.

    • 5 challenges
  • Wheeler-Wolski: Pawn Majorities on Different Sides

    Both sides will obtain a four versus two pawn advantage on one side of the board. This problem will illustrate how White takes advantage of faulty play by Black.

    • 13 challenges
  • Pawn Avalanche

    This position arose in a game from the 1996 British championship in Nottingham, England. J. Merriman, playing the White pieces, chose the Four Pawns Attack against the King's Indian Defense, but after a slow plan in the middlegame, his opponent, J. Rudd, was able to sacrifice a piece under favorable circumstances. In this problem, Black can achieve a winning position only with sterling play.

    • 12 challenges
  • Outside Passed Pawn

    Black has just converted his active piece play into a much superior rook and pawn ending. However, a somewhat ironic saying states that all rook endings are drawn.

    • 11 challenges
  • Zielinska-Hunt

    This position was reached in a game of the World Championship for girls under the age of eighteen. Held in Spain in 1996, this tournament brings together the most promising young players from around the globe. The championship features a total of ten sections broken down by age and gender. Marta Zielinska from Poland, playing the White pieces and Harriet Hunt from England, playing the Black pieces, were two of the medal candidates. Now try to find the way to break through to the Black king.

    • 6 challenges
  • Awkward defensive pieces

    This position occurred in the game Wolski- Duckworth in the 1993 Southern California State Championship. This game featured the top two finishers of the tournament. While I ended up missing the win in this game, I won my other six games.

    • 5 challenges
  • Thorn in King's Eye

    This position occurred in the game Topalov- Ivanchuk in the strong 1996 Las Palmas tournament. Though material is even, Black's king position is quite constrained due to the strong f6-pawn. But this pawn can quickly become weak in an ending if White does not succeed in the attack against the king. This position is quite complex, and in the actual game Topalov missed the best line and wound up losing. Try to do better than him!

    • 9 challenges
  • Withstanding The Pressure

    This position could have occurred in a variation of the game Illescas Cordoba-Mohr from the 1996 Olympiad in Armenia. White last played b2-b3?!, attacking the Black bishop. As we already saw in another problem, White could have obtained a winning advantage with Rd1-c1 instead. Now it is your goal to survive White's attack.

    • 12 challenges
  • The best Defense is Offense

    This position occurred in the game Yusupov- Kasparov, Novgorod 1995. PCA World Champion Gary Kasparov just advanced his pawn to b4 in order to pressure White's queenside. In this problem you will be in the enviable position of defending the White pieces with the right mixture of defending and counterattacking moves.

    • 13 challenges
  • Kasparov's Touch

    This position occurred in the final stages of the game Yusupov-Kasparov, Novgorod 1995. After Yusupov had missed a way to draw this game by starting a counterattack against Black's king (covered in another problem), he was forced into playing defense against the PCA World Champion. While he might have survived against most players, Kasparov now illustrates some concepts of dynamic compensation for his two pawn deficit.

    • 11 challenges
  • Space advantage vs. bishop pair

    This position occurred in the game A. Yermolinsky - P.Blatny, Groningen 1996 [after the opening moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.c4 c6 4.Nc3 e6 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bxf6 Qxf6 7.Qc2 Qd8 8.e4 dxe4 9.Qxe4!? Nd7 (9...Bb4!?) 10.Bd3 Nf6?! (10...Bb4!?) 11.Qe2 Be7 12.0-0-0 Qa5 13.Kb1 0-0.] We are interested in understanding the merits of White's space advantage vs. Black's bishop pair.

    • 16 challenges
  • Dautov - Timoshchenko (1)

    This problem is taken from the 1996 chess Olympiad in Armenia. There 114 teams competed for the three medals. The 14-round tournament saw the favorite Russian team win by a large margin whereas the silver and bronze medals were hotly contested. In the end, the Ukraine came in clear second while the U.S team won the bronze on tiebreaks over a strong English team. This game was played in the fifth round in the match between Germany and Slovakia. Grandmaster Rustem Dautov, playing the White pieces, is of Russian origin and played for the first time for his new country (Germany). Grandmaster Gennadi Timoshchenko, formerly from the Ukraine, was the coach of Garry Kasparov and also played under a new (Slovakian) flag.

    • 9 challenges
  • Dautov - Timoshchenko (2)

    In another challenge, we saw how White could have won this game in the quickest and most efficient fashion. Here I want to present the actual finish of the game. It is not too difficult, but it is both instructive and entertaining.

    • 7 challenges
  • Countercheck

    This position did not arise in an actual game, but rather from my first efforts at composing a problem.

    • 5 challenges
  • Active Pieces in a Rook Ending

    Rook endings are some of the hardest endings in chess. This is because there are so many different themes and concepts to master. One can also not rely on material considerations alone. Often rook endings are drawn with an extra pawn, but easily won with even material. The activity of the respective rooks and kings is usually the most determining factor. Here we will see how White converts a positional advantage.

    • 24 challenges
  • The Open File

    In this ending position, taken from the game Ree-Cornelis, Siegen Olympiad 1970, White has the far more active pieces, but Black has no unprotected weaknesses. We are interested in keeping Black constrained while also creating a weakness such as an isolated pawn.

    • 10 challenges
  • Gelfand-Kramnik, European Team Championship

    Vladimir Kramnik of Russia (age 22) has been the frontrunner among a group of young strong players that aim to challenge the perennial World Champions Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov before the end of the century. Here we see a masterpiece typical of Kramnik's dynamic style from a recent game against Boris Gelfand, the strongest player from Belorussia.

    • 7 challenges
  • Lightning Surprise

    This position occurred in the game Minasian- Hertneck during a friendly match between the national teams of Armenia and Germany in 1996.

    • 7 challenges
  • The Last Champion of the Soviet Union

    Artashes Minasian was the last champion of the Soviet Union in 1991 before it dissolved into its many republics. His style is very creative and based on a lot of tactics. This position arose in a game against Yari Shulman from Belorussia at the 1996 Olympiad in Erevan, Armenia. Playing before his home crowd, Minasian had a chance to use one of his favorite openings with the Black pieces, the Benoni Defense.

    • 10 challenges
  • The king's weak side

    This position occurred in the Northern California Championship between myself, playing the White pieces, and Richard Lobo, playing the Black pieces. Before this game we were tied for first place. I knew White was winning at this point, but I took my time trying to figure out how to get to Black's king.

    • 9 challenges
  • Minor Pieces vs. Rooks

    This position occurred in the game Glek-Hall during the strong 1996 Vienna Open. Both sides are counting on the strength of their pins, but who can break the pin easier?

    • 10 challenges
  • Miraculous Turn

    The following position arose in a speed chess game played with my wife, Gina Sanchez! Playing the Black pieces, and having had the worse position for a long time, I noticed that this position had incredible potential to be a problem position. Rather than blitzing out more moves, I began to analyze the position, and now, getting back to it almost half a year later, I have hopefully worked out all the important details.

    • 7 challenges
  • Rook vs. Bishop

    This endgame position occurred in A. Onichuk - J. Timman, Groningen Invitational 1996. After Timman had survived some critical moments earlier in the middlegame, he has reached this winning position. But to convert an exchange, one often has to play very accurately, i.e. use the full potential of the rook, and obtain the better king position.

    • 8 challenges
  • Queenside Pawn Majority

    One of the most common pawn majorities is a three on two queenside pawn majority (e.g. in a French Defense where Black trades the d5-pawn on e4 and the c5-pawn on d4). While Black also has a pawn majority on the kingside (four on three), it is often more dangerous to have a pawn majority on the queenside. Why is that? The kings usually are far away from the queenside. Here Black's king would need to walk a long way to help in the defense against a White queenside pawn majority. On the other hand, White's king would already be in the perfect place to stop the kingside pawn majority (e.g. a passed e-pawn). If one succeeds in creating a passed pawn on the queenside, this outside pawn can often be used to distract the defending pieces from the other side of the board.

    • 18 challenges
  • Georgiev-Topalov

    Vesselin Topalov from Bulgaria was the shooting star of 1996. He has won or tied for first in the prestigious tournaments of Amsterdam, Dos Hermanos, Novgorod, and Vienna and is currently ranked fourth in the world. In this game, played in Elenite, Bulgaria in 1995, Topalov was Black against Kiril Georgiev, who has been Bulgaria's top player before Topalov's rise.

    • 7 challenges
  • Synchronistic Gallop

    Endgames often reveal one's true understanding about chess. Since there are so few pieces on the board, it becomes increasingly important to use one's pieces in the most versatile and accurate manner. The player who can maneuver his pieces more elegantly is often rewarded with surprising finishes. This position arose in Ribli-Lobron, 1996/97 German Bundesliga. We will now witness how Lobron used his superior piece placement to secure his team, Empor Berlin, a tie in the match with newcomer Passau.

    • 15 challenges
  • A Heroic Knight

    Endings with imbalanced material often feature surprising twists and turns. Here Black should easily win with the extra three pawns, but his last move ...Nc4-d2? gives White a chance to fight back.

    • 6 challenges
  • The English Attack

    The English Attack is one of the most aggressive systems against the Sicilian Defense. White castles queenside and usually tries to attack the Black king by pushing the g-pawn to g6 to undermine the e6 and f7 squares. Often White needs to sacrifice a piece to keep the attack alive and keep the Black king in the center. The board position was reached in a game of mine in a San Francisco Bay area tournament held over Thanksgiving weekend 1996. The opening moves were 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.f3 e6 7.Be3 b5 8.Qd2 Bb7 9.g4 h6 10.0-0-0 Qc7?! (10...Nbd7 is more common and safer) 11.h4 d5 12.Bh3 e5.

    • 15 challenges
  • Crippling Pin

    Even without queens on the board, a king can become subject to mate threats. This position could have occurred in the game Glek-Hall, Vienna 1996. With accurate play, White will obtain a decisive advantage.

    • 9 challenges
  • Central Breakthrough

    This position occurred in the game Becerra- Spangenberg, Matanzas 1994. White has pressure on Black's center, but Black is trying to eliminate the bothersome knight.

    • 8 challenges
  • Becerra-Spangenberg, Matanzas 1994 - Variation

    This position could have occurred in the game Becerra-Spangenberg, Matanzas 1994. Black just refused to accept White's knight sacrifice on d6, and instead played ...Rf7-d7. Now White has to find the way through a maze of complications.

    • 12 challenges
  • Dynamic Compensation

    Some of the hardest positions to assess and understand in chess arise from imbalanced positions. This complicated position occurred in the 1997 Northern California Closed Championship. Burt Izumikawa, who ended up in first place, played White and had a small material edge, but his king could get into danger. I played the Black pieces and felt that I had to continue very accurately to obtain compensation for the sacrificed pawn.

    • 19 challenges
  • Surprising Turn

    This position could have occurred in the game Izumikawa-Wolski in the 1997 Northern California State Championship if Black had last played ...Bd6! and White would have responded with 0-0. Why would that have been risky for White?

    • 15 challenges
  • Converting Positional Advantages

    When one has a positional advantage of some kind, it is often necessary to be familiar with all sorts of tactical means to realize it. Tactical possibilities usually do not arise unless your opponent has made some positional concessions.

    • 7 challenges
  • Transition to the Endgame

    This position occurred in the game Botvinnik- Boleslavski, 1941. A White knight has just captured a Black bishop on d7 forcing a Black rook to recapture. In this challenge, we are mainly interested in transforming White's central pressure into a winning endgame. Note that in most endgames White's extra pawn on the queenside would be much more dangerous than Black's extra pawn on the kingside.

    • 8 challenges
Lessons
What is Chess.com?