Mastery: Strategy

Silman's Lessons in Strategy (1)

Silman's Lessons in Strategy (1)

Lessons in Strategy (1) - IM Jeremy Silman This module contains instructive positional challenges. Some are very long, and experts and masters (USCF or Elo ratings above 2000) will not find many of these to be easy. A novice or intermediate level player (USCF or Elo ratings below 2000) will find these challenges quite difficult, but they will learn a bit more with each attempt, all the way until they reach master or higher.

  • Botvinnik-Sorokin, USSR 1931

    Former World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik (playing White) was the first great master of the scientific aspects of chess. Preparing his openings in great depth, he studied the types of endgames that could come from them. Botvinnik also spent a considerable amount of time on the typical middlegame positions that could also arise from his opening choices. This problem shows why he was considered to be such a great strategist.

    • 23 challenges
  • Tarrasch-Schlechter, Leipzig 1894

    The German Grandmaster Siegbert Tarrasch (playing White) was a master of the positional vise. He loved to grab so much territory that his opponents often choked to death in the folds of their own position. White has a clear advantage in territory and instructively follows the usual rules given to positions of this type. These are: (1) The side with more space should avoid exchanges; (2) The side with more space should restrict the mobility of the opposing forces; (3) The side with more space should systematically increase the space advantage after he has taken precautions against possible counterplay.

    • 21 challenges
  • A variation from Tarrasch-Schlechter, Leipzig 1894

    German Grandmaster Siegbert Tarrasch (White) was playing a perfect game, but it only takes one little mistake to turn gold into mud. In this game Tarrasch made his one big error but Black did not notice his opportunity! Here we will look at what Schlechter could have done.

    • 5 challenges
  • Silman-Minev, Portland 1984

    An isolated d-pawn usually gives its owner open files for Rooks and active minor pieces. The formula to beat such a pawn is to: 1) Take control of the square directly in front of the pawn - 2) Trade all the minor pieces - 3) Keep a Queen and one Rook each; 4) Double or triple your heavy pieces on the pawn (keeping a Rook in front of the pawn so it cannot move) and, with the help of a pawn lever (e3-e4) take advantage of the pin you have created and win it. Black, an experienced International Master and several times national champion of his native Bulgaria, was well aware of these White goals but he was also aware of a counter-plan that could nullify White's advantage.

    • 8 challenges
  • Fischer-Gadia, Mar del Plata 1960

    Former World Champion Robert Fischer (playing White) used to play this system against the Sicilian all the time: he would bring his light-squared Bishop out to c4 and then to the safety of b3; next he would advance his f-pawn to f5 and force Black to weaken his control of d5. The great Bobby would then grab hold of that square and never let go. He won countless games in this fashion.

    • 12 challenges
  • Petrosian-Najdorf, Bled 1961

    The late Armenian Grandmaster (and former World Champion) Tigran Petrosian (playing White) had a safety-first style that led to very few losses. Hard of hearing, he wore a hearing aid that often proved very useful to him: if noise erupted during a game he would simply press a button and play in perfect silence. In this game we see Petrosian effortlessly overrun the position of one of the strongest Grandmasters of his day.

    • 9 challenges
  • Sample of minor piece battle

    It may not look like it, but this is a highly critical position! Whose minor piece will prove superior: the Black Knight or the White Bishop?

    • 4 challenges
  • Botvinnik-Kan, Leningrad 1939

    White has a bad Bishop on d5 that is superior to its counterpart on c8. Why is that? Why is a bad Bishop (a Bishop that is blocked by its own center pawns) superior to a so-called good Bishop (a Bishop whose center pawns don't block it)? The confusion comes from semantics: in truth, a bad Bishop can be an active Bishop. If you have a bad Bishop, you must do one of three things: 1) Get your pawns off the color of your Bishop; 2) Trade it for a piece of equal or superior value; 3) Get it outside the pawn chain. In this case White has followed rule #3 and gotten his Bishop outside the pawn chain. On d5 it has found an active, well defended post where it blocks the enemy rook on d8 and eyes both sides of the board.

    • 15 challenges
  • Cvetkov-Smyslov, Moscow 1947

    The position appears to be nothing more than a boring draw, but former World Champion (at the time of this game he had not yet won the title) Vassily Smyslov (playing Black) does his utmost to test the defensive skills of his opponent.

    • 34 challenges
  • Norwegian Amateurs-Nimzovich, Oslo 1921

    White has a majority of pawns on the kingside, Black has a pawn majority on the queenside. The struggle will center around activating these majorities and finding a good home for each players respective Knight. Aaron Nimzovich (playing Black) was a Latvian-born Grandmaster who created revolutionary strategies that are now known and used by players of all strengths. Very nervous and emotional, Nimzovich once stood up after a defeat and loudly exclaimed, "Why must I lose to this idiot?" Needless to say, he wasn't the most well loved of players.

    • 7 challenges
  • Variation from move three of Norwegian Amateurs- Nimzovich, Oslo 1921

    Both sides are engaged in a major battle over the f5-square. To succeed in this battle requires keen judgment and a lot of willpower. The first side to flinch will hand the advantage to the opponent.

    • 2 challenges
  • Smyslov-Rudakovsky, Moscow 1945

    Born in March of 1921, former World Champion (and amateur opera singer) Vassily Smyslov competed in the World Championship cycle into his 60s! In the present example, Smyslov enjoys a spatial plus on the kingside and chances to play against Black's weakened square on d5 and weak backward pawn on d6. Black has his advantages too, of course. The half-open c-file gives him pressure against c2 and White's pawn on e4 is in need of constant defense.

    • 18 challenges
  • Botvinnik-Flohr, Moscow 1936

    Czechoslovakian Grandmaster Salo Flohr (playing Black) was one of the best players in the world during his peak in the 1930's. Here he runs into Mikhail Botvinnik, a man who held the World Championship, but for the briefest of interruptions, from 1948 to 1963.

    • 10 challenges
  • O'Kelly-Najdorf, Dubrovnik 1950

    Grandmaster Miguel Najdorf (playing Black) has a famous line in the Sicilian named after him and was one of a handful of players responsible for enhancing the theory of the King's Indian Defense in its infancy. A true chess fanatic, Najdorf loves talking about the game as much as he does playing it. Between moves he can usually be found floating among players of virtually any strength frantically asking: "How do I stand? Do you think I'm doing all right?"

    • 12 challenges
  • Position from Nimzo-Indian, Huebner Variation

    Our position comes about after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 c5 5.Bd3 Nc6 6.Nf3 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 d6 8.0-0 e5 9.Nd2. This system for Black (starting with 6...Bxc3+) was invented by the German Grandmaster Robert Huebner but it only became popular when Robert Fischer used it as Black to defeat Boris Spassky in their 1972 World Championship Match. Extremely positional in nature, Black gives up the two Bishops but counts on the inflexibility of the doubled White pawns and the closed center to make his Knights more valuable. This shows us how simple strategic concepts (superior minor piece, superior pawn structure, space, etc.) are created right in the opening to sow the seeds of eventual victory many moves down the pike.

    • 10 challenges
  • Smyslov-Botvinnik, Moscow 1948

    Endless tournament meetings and three long matches for the World Championship have seen Smyslov and Botvinnik playing a lot of chess together! In this game Botvinnik (playing Black) gets his way when Smyslov's planned edge in pawn structure proves to be less important than Botvinnik's two Bishops.

    • 11 challenges
  • Longren-Silman, Santa Barbara 1989

    Your author loves to make use of a minor piece battle as much as he loves to write about it! Here I have the two Bishops and enormous pressure along the a8-h1 diagonal. My opponent, National Master William Longren, has his advantages as well. His Knight is well placed on the e4-square (which blocks the light-squared diagonal) and his pawn on d4 blocks the Black Rooks and the Black Bishop on g7.

    • 17 challenges
  • Ogaard-Flesch, Oslo 1974

    GM Janos Flesch (playing Black) was one of the finest blindfold players in the world. He died very suddenly when he was hit by a car while crossing a road during a tournament in England in the early 1980's. This position is from a Nimzo-Indian Defense. White's hanging pawns on c4 and d4 can turn into targets at times but they can also be big space gainers. Here they prevent the Black Knights from finding central posts by controlling the b5, c5, d5, and e5 squares.

    • 13 challenges
  • Frankle-Silman, San Francisco 1982

    National Master Jonathan Frankle (playing White) is an attacking gambit-player who is not at home in quiet, positional battles. Here Black notes that the White Knights don't have any central support points. This tiny fact sets in motion a long-range plan devoted to giving Black a superior minor piece.

    • 11 challenges
  • Capablanca-Milner Barry, Margate 1936

    The late Jose Capablanca is considered to be one of the great chess geniuses. His instant sight of the board and phenomenal understanding of chess strategy made winning this position an easy task for him. His opponent, Sir Stuart Milner-Barry, was Knighted by the Queen of England for his World War II services. Milner-Barry was on the team of cryptographers that broke the German Enigma code.

    • 6 challenges
  • Silman-Wolski, Los Angeles 1989

    This position comes about from an old analysis by Smyslov, who assessed it as approximately even. Here I show that this assessment is incorrect. White's Bishop is more active than the Black Knight and this tiny fact enables me to fish for other types of advantages.

    • 9 challenges
  • A Study in Simplicity

    White is in a must win tournament situation, but the scarcity of material appears to make a victory for either side seem unlikely. This problem shows that the smallest advantage is often enough to cause the opponent great pain.

    • 8 challenges
  • Kupchik-Capablanca, Lake Hopatcong 1926

    Capablanca (playing Black) was famous for his defensive skills; few players were ever able to successfully attack him. Here Black's advantage on the queenside is not going away but White will try to generate kingside counterplay by Rg1 and g2-g4. Though most people would accept that the game is going to be a race on both sides of the board, Capablanca decides to first kill all of White's kingside hopes and only then pursue his own goals on the opposite wing.

    • 10 challenges
  • Silman-Barkan, U.S. Open 1981

    White would normally extend the spatial queenside plus with b4, a4, and b5. Black hopes to create his own play in the center with ...Bf8 and ...e6-e5.

    • 10 challenges
  • Silman-C. Lakdawala, Los Angeles 1989

    Senior Master Cyrus Lakdawala (playing Black) is a fine positional player who lives in San Diego. Here he gets pushed off the board, though, because he fails to realize that a space advantage is not enough to win by itself; you also have to be able to create attackable targets and you must have a way to penetrate into the opponent's position.

    • 9 challenges
  • Scheichel-Adorjan, Hungary 1981

    A common middlegame scenario has arisen from the Grunfeld Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5). White has a gigantic pawn center and hopes to turn this into a stable space advantage or a rabid kingside attack. Black is hoping to show that White's pawn center, far from being strong, is actually a target. Note that in his efforts to prove this, Black has placed most of his pieces in positions that attack d4: ...Nc6, ...Rd8, ...Pc5, ...Bg7. Andras Adorjan (playing Black) was once a World Championship contender. An expert on opening theory, he has done a lot to enrich the Grunfeld Defense. Now he no longer plays as much as he used to, preferring to sit back and listen to old Bee Gees' albums and teach chess to his many promising students.

    • 8 challenges
  • Botvinnik-Yudovich, USSR Championship 1933

    White has a lead in development, a big pawn center and more space. Black can capture White's pawn on e4 and gain control of the d5-square, but this will leave him with an isolated pawn on e6 and a vulnerable King (the pawn on g6 is only defended by the King).

    • 7 challenges
  • A boring but typical position

    This position is constantly reached in junior events when both sides mindlessly pursue their development. Don't get me wrong; nobody has made an error yet, but a little imagination is needed if one wants to win a chess game.

    • 2 challenges
  • Janowsky-Nimzovich, St. Petersburg 1914

    A casual look at this position will tell us that White should stand better: he has two Bishops, a full, well protected center, more territory, and chances to expand on the kingside with a later f2-f4 advance. Now that we have finished with our first glance at the position, it's time to make a more serious commitment. It's time to look beyond the smoke-clouds and see what we are really getting into. First, let's address the White Bishop pair. The d3-Bishop is serving a useful function guarding e4 and c4 but it's anything but active. Of course, the Black Knights can't lay claim to greatness either since they have no advanced support points to jump on. As for White's ability to play for a kingside attack by f2-f4; well, that is something that Black must take very seriously, since if White achieves this goal then he will have a marked advantage. So we are at a crossroads; White wants to increase his space advantage and keep the Black pieces contained. Black wants to somehow find a way to prevent f2-f4 and create a support point for his Knights. David Janowsky (playing White) was a fine attacking player who would do anything to acquire the two Bishops. In fact, he had such a love of these pieces that two Bishops became known as the Two Jans!

    • 6 challenges
  • Botvinnik-Reshevsky, World Championship1948

    Samuel Reshevsky (playing Black) was a true child prodigy, playing at master strength at nine years of age. A superb tactician and in possession of almost flawless technique, he was clearly one of the world's top five players in his prime and he virtually ruled U.S. chess until Fischer hit the scene. In this game, Reshevsky shows no less a player than Botvinnik that a careful kingside defense mixed with action against White's weak pawn on c4 can lead to decisive results.

    • 6 challenges
  • Fischer-Spassky, Return Match 1992

    The great Robert Fischer (playing White) is no stranger to anyone who calls him or herself a chess player. Having dominated world chess in his prime, Bobby beat Spassky in 1972 for the World Championship. Then he quit chess and disappeared from sight. Suddenly he popped up in 1992 and played a return match with Spassky, once again winning decisively.

    • 4 challenges
  • Exploiting an Open File

    White has complete control of the c-file and his pawn chain (the pawns on g2-f3-e4-d5) points to the queenside, indicating that White should seek play on that side of the board (because that is where White's space advantage lies). This idea of playing on the side of the board where your pawns point has become known as the Silman pawn pointing theory. It should only be used in positions with closed or semi-closed centers because open positions call for piece play rather than pawn play.

    • 3 challenges
  • Silman-Filguth, San Francisco 1977

    Black has active pieces, but is also stuck with an isolated d-pawn. White is aware that the way to beat such a pawn is to trade off all the minor pieces and then double or triple on the d- file against the d5-pawn. Thus: Black will strive for active minor pieces and White will try to trade them off (making sure that he retains a Queen and a Rook).

    • 6 challenges
  • Vesely-Pachman, Prague 1951

    This position was once thought to be much better for White. After all, he has the superior pawn structure and a mobile pawn majority on the kingside. The present game overturned this assessment and, once the antidote became known, everybody more or less gave up on the White position. Ludek Pachman (playing Black) is a Czech player who became famous for his knowledge of the openings. It looked like things were going well for him until he was arrested by the Russians when they invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968. He suffered serious head injuries while imprisoned; the Russians saying that he had repeatedly hit his own head against the wall. Needless to say, his own story was a little different and once again showed the many human rights violations the Russians perpetrated during those years.

    • 8 challenges
  • Gligoric-Szabo, Helsinki 1952

    The advantages of both sides are rather clearly portrayed: White has two connected passed pawns on the queenside while Black enjoys a majority of pawns in the center. Whose pawns will prove stronger? Is it just a race of pawns or are there other strategies involved? These are the questions that must be answered if either side is to prove successful. Svetozar Gligoric (playing White) was the top Yugoslav Grandmaster for many decades. In the 1960's he was one of a handful of non- Soviet players (along with Fischer, Portisch, and Larsen) who could consider themselves real World Championship candidates. Laszlo Szabo is one of the greatest players to ever come out of Hungary. Mainly an attacking player, here we see that his understanding of positional chess was also at a high level.

    • 7 challenges
  • Spassky-Petrosian, Moscow (World Championship) 1969

    In the present position Spassky enjoys a passed d-pawn. Black hopes that his queenside majority and his threats against White's a-pawn will compensate him while White wants to prove that his unblocked passer is the major force on the board.

    • 8 challenges
  • Unzicker-Donner, Goteborg 1955

    Jan Donner (playing Black) was one of Holland's finest Grandmasters. Though he was successful in several strong tournaments, his many losses are the games that remain in this author's mind. He was particularly brutalized by the world's best players, who beat him time and again. His chess career came to an end in 1983 when he suffered a major stroke. Strangely enough, it was in this final phase of his life that he achieved his greatest success: winning the prestigious Henriette Roland Holst literary prize for his book "Written After My Death". Donner died in 1988. Wolfgang Unzicker is a strong German Grandmaster who made his living as a judge in an administrative court. In this game he shows the proper way to handle a passed pawn.

    • 8 challenges
  • Nimzovich-Rosselli, Baden Baden 1925

    White has the two Bishops but Black has a large pawn center. Nimzovich (playing White) was a deep strategist who always looked far beyond the outward appearance of any position. Here he realizes that Black's center will be a weakness if he can double Rosselli's c-pawns and force the d-pawn to advance to d4, thereby weakening the c4-square. Of course, the question that must be answered is: "How can this be accomplished?"

    • 7 challenges
  • Karpov-Browne, San Antonio 1972

    A fairly boring English opening has begun (1.c4 c5 2.b3 Nf6 3.Bb2 g6). White has a powerful fianchettoed Bishop while Black enjoys a solid position devoid of weaknesses. What method of development would highlight the power of this fianchettoed Bishop, and can White really expect to make any sort of immediate impact on the Black position? Anatoly Karpov (playing White) is a former World Champion acknowledged as one of the finest players in the history of the game. His opponent, Walter Browne, was U.S. Chess Champion no less than six times and also excels at scrabble, poker, and backgammon.

    • 6 challenges
  • Mitchel-Nimzovich, Bern 1931

    The great Aaron Nimzovich (playing Black) shows that you must always strive to make your minor piece superior to the opponent's. Here he attempts to make his Knight stronger than the White Bishop even though the position is wide open. Interestingly, the position is becoming simplified and Nimzovich, by far the stronger player, is getting a little worried that he won't be able to win the game. If Queens get traded the resulting endgame will favor White (if only by a bit) because the Bishop in an open position usually turns out to be more valuable than a Knight. This means that Black should avoid the trade of Queens like the plague!

    • 7 challenges
  • Silman-Shapiro, Philadelphia 1990

    White has more queenside space while Black enjoys more territory on the kingside. However, the real points of interest in this position rest on d5 and d6. There we have weaknesses that White would love to take advantage of.

    • 6 challenges
  • Concept based on Eddy-Silman, Anchorage 1993

    Black has a tough choice to make: should he trade his bad Bishop for White's good one and enter a King and pawn endgame, or should he retain the Bishops?

    • 16 challenges
  • Remlinger-Silman, San Francisco 1987

    White is two pawns down but his pieces are more active than their Black counterparts and his threats of Bxh6, Qb3, and Nxd4 guarantee that he will recover at least one of the little guys. Further, the opposite colored Bishops add to White's attacking chances since one can attack what the other is unable to defend (it's all genetics). On the other side of the fence we see a Black player who wants to find a way to get his pieces to good squares and halt the White initiative. Larry Remlinger (playing White) was a child prodigy who gave up the game in his teens and took on a more traditional life of going to college and getting a job. During his late 40's, though, he decided to see if his chess talent had survived the years. Giving up his job, he began to study full-time and soon acquired the International Master title. Now he is running after the Grandmaster title and demonstrating that it is never too late to do anything, if you are willing to work hard to accomplish your goal.

    • 7 challenges
  • Pupols-Silman, Portland 1985

    Viktors Pupols (playing White) is a virtual legend in the Pacific Northwest. Possessing a trench-warfare style, Uncle Vic, as he is affectionately called, has an impressive list of victories against some of the finest players in the U.S. In this game, Pupols has just played e2-e4 so that he can follow up with exf5, thereby gaining control of either the d5-square (if Black recaptures with his pawn) or the e4-square (if some piece manages to take back on f5). Why does he want control of these squares? Because his Knights need advanced support points if they hope to be successful against the Black Bishops.

    • 5 challenges
  • Sipaila-Silman, Reno 1993

    Black has a clear lead in development and his pieces are far more active than their White counterparts. How can Black increase the pressure and create threats that will keep White on the defensive?

    • 7 challenges
  • Possible Variation from Sipaila-Silman, Reno 1993

    Black has a big lead in development and the White Queen is attacked. If Black doesn't wish to exchange Queens then he must find a good place for his own King's better half.

    • 3 challenges
  • Silman-Petranovic, Long Beach 1989

    Both sides are castled on opposite sides which usually means that both Kings will come under some sort of attack. Indeed, whoever manages to open lines leading to the opponent's King first will probably win the game.

    • 12 challenges
  • Abramson-Computer, California 1991

    The side that is behind in development should rush to catch up. The side that is ahead in development should rush to rip open the position so that the superior army can run screaming into the hostile camp.

    • 5 challenges
  • Karpov-Kasparov, World Championship Match 1990

    Karpov (playing White) and Kasparov have played over 160 tournament and match games against each other. As the years pass these two players seem to despise each other more and more. Karpov, who once possessed a rather sleazy reputation, is now the hero to Kasparov's black hat. In this game we see Karpov's skill in quiet positions. He thrashes his hated opponent in fine style by demonstrating two rules: 1) the importance of controlling the only open file; 2) how a passed pawn reaches its full strength in a Queen endgame.

    • 5 challenges
  • Fischer-Gheorghiu, Buenos Aires 1970

    Former World Champion Robert Fischer (playing White) had the uncanny ability to beat the world's finest players in a simple, seemingly effortless manner. Here we see Fischer with an advantage in space and more active pieces. However, Black (Romanian Grandmaster Florin Gheorghiu) doesn't appear to have any real weaknesses and it is not clear how White can cash in these plusses for something of a lasting nature.

    • 7 challenges
  • Alekhine-Nimzovich, San Remo 1930

    During the years 1928 to 1932, Alexander Alekhine (who was World Champion at that time and went on to become the only player to die with the title) was just about unbeatable. He thrashed everyone so badly that one Grandmaster remarked, "He treats us all like children". Here Alekhine (playing White) gives a lesson on the virtues of dominating an open file.

    • 6 challenges
  • Silman-MacFarland, Reno 1991

    Black has just captured a Knight on e5 with his Bishop. The big decision for White is: how should he recapture on e5?

    • 11 challenges
  • Cramling-Yrjola, Gausdal 1984

    This is a common opening position where White has a slight edge due to her two Bishops. How can Black neutralize this advantage?

    • 4 challenges
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