Mastery: Strategy

Strategic Errors

Strategic Errors

Strategic errors are played at every level of the game. However, in the amateur ranks, strategic mistakes are a dime a dozen. Nevertheless, just because a move might be strategically dubious doesn't mean that it will be punished. This course will help you become more aware of strategic errors, and will help you strive to milk every drop of juicy goodness from your opponent's mistaken concept.

  • Strategic Meltdown in the Opening

    This lesson shows us how strategic errors can appear early in the opening, and will, more often than not, immediately give you a clear signal as to what you should try and achieve if you wish to take advantage of your opponent's overzealous move(s). Keep in mind that many strategic mistakes are actually greedy moves that strive to give a player more than his position should offer. Nevertheless, if you can't figure out what's wrong with his plan it might overwhelm you in both a psychological and practical sense: psychological in that if you buy into his false vision you'll end up accepting that things have somehow gone wrong, and practical since one you accept that things are going downhill, your moves will allow the position to do just that!

    • 4 challenges
  • A Quick Fix

    At times we find ourselves in a poor position. Playing it is depressing, so if we can lash out it makes us feel like we have a bit of self determination, and it also gives us an emotional lift. But, more often than not, this kind of reaction makes a bad situation even worse. This lesson explores such a case, and shows why you have to avoid emotional reactions during a game (save the emotion for afterwards).

    • 5 challenges
  • To Grab Space or Not to Grab Space?

    Every chess player hears about space. But when should one take it? Should one be afraid of the opponent taking it? Is the acquisition of space always worthwhile? If not, what could possibly make it bad? These kinds of questions fill the minds of most chess fans. They are well acquainted with the concept of space, but really understanding it is a different thing altogether. Here we'll take a look at a common structure that features a common way to grab a significant amount of space on the wing. In this case some rules (which I'll give as the lesson progresses) will make a structure that might have once been a question mark, quite easy to understand.

    • 3 challenges
  • Logical Doesn't Mean It's Right

    At times a move that seems so right can turn out to be quite wrong. At other times a move might make positional concessions while making certain gains at the same time. Then the pros and cons have to be carefully examined and weighed against each other before an educated opinion can be reached. This lesson explores just such a case.

    • 3 challenges
  • Giving Up The Bs

    Everyone knows about the supposed power of the two Bishops. However, in the non-professional realms I view the battle between Bishops and Knights to be an even one: both pieces have their virtues, but Knights are tricky and, as is well known, often very strong in closed positions. In this example we see one side give his opponent the two Bishops, thinking that he can close the position and make the extra B inferior to his Knight. But, will this turn out to be wisdom or folly?

    • 4 challenges
  • Taking Aim at a Target

    Decades ago, I coined the term "target consciousness." This alludes to my insistence of training a student's mind to always be on the lookout for the creation and destruction of attackable points. Thus, if you refuse to give your opponent attackable targets, while insisting on creating them in the enemy camp, you'll find that your rating will soar far above its present level.

    • 4 challenges
  • Balancing Imbalances

    Our present lesson makes use of the game N.MacLeod - W.Pollock, New York 1889. The position in question comes about after a very odd opening: 1.e4 e5 2.c3 d5 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.Bb5 f6 5.Qa4 Ne7 6.0-0 dxe4 7.Qxe4 Bf5 8.Bxc6+ bxc6 9.Qa4. There are many imbalances here, and one side made a huge strategic mistake at some point. Can you spot the mistake? Can you read all the position's imbalances? And finally, how can Black make use of what he has?

    • 3 challenges
  • Don't Ignore Endgame Strategy!

    Many players think that the memorization of a bunch of key positions will make you a good endgame player. Well, it certainly doesn't hurt, but most endgames, like all other phases of the game, come down to an appreciation of the strategic nuances of the position.

    • 4 challenges
  • To "B" or Not to "B"

    There are many basic rules, and most people know some or even all of them. However, knowing the rules and knowing when to implement them can be two different things. This lesson shows a basic rule being ignored. It might seem like it's no big deal, but things don't turn out quite as Black had hoped. Can you guess what the rule in question might be?

    • 4 challenges
  • Pawn Tension is Your Friend

    Most amateurs dread tension, envisioning it as a Sword of Damocles hanging over their head. However, tension can serve you well if you have faith in it: 1) It tortures your opponent as much as it tortures you! 2) It's confusing since there are so many things going on. And, as we know, confusion breeds errors. 3) If you are the only one that can safely (or advantageously) break the tension, then let it linger and torment the guy on the other side of the table. Such tension really is your friend!

    • 3 challenges
  • True "Weakness" is More Than Just a Name

    Everyone knows about "weak pawns." There are isolated pawns, backward pawns, doubled pawns, etc. etc. And, in every case, a so-called "weak" pawn is only weak not because of its name, but because the opponent can successfully attack it. If it can't be attacked, then (for all intents and purposes) it's not weak.

    • 3 challenges
  • Appearances Can Be Deceptive

    At times a player feels pretty good about himself. He's learned the basics, gained a reasonable understanding of strategy, and also thoroughly absorbed most of the positional ABCs. Then, as if to spoil the party, a position appears that spits in the face of all his hard earned knowledge. This lesson is one such example, and we once again have to agree that appearances can be deceptive in life and in chess.

    • 4 challenges
  • Rotting Pawns That Refuse to Die

    In chess, there are ugly pawns and then -- especially in this example -- there are really, really ugly pawns. However, though visually nauseating, ugliness alone won't lose a game and, at times, even pawns that appear ready to rot and fall off the board might prove far hardier than one would suspect.

    • 3 challenges
  • From Frying Pan to Fire

    The fact is, if you enjoy a safe King, you can play on for ages, no matter how sad your position might be. But if -- on top of the positional horrors you're facing -- your King is also facing a barrage of heavy artillery, then you are most likely looking at the chess equivalent of the End of Days.

    • 4 challenges
  • Don't Be An Opening Robot

    Here's a typical opening scenario that has led more than one player to ruin: You know a line pretty well and confidently dash it out. However, your opponent plays something you haven't seen before (in this case a passive looking response) which appears to be completely innocuous. Showing disdain for his "bad play", you quickly continue with the prescribed setup, only to discover that, though this setup is quite effective in the main line, it falls on its face against your opponent's odd handling. Similar things happen in middlegames: You reach a position that you feel you understand quite deeply, only to realize that you missed a nuance which is only present because of a "slight" change in the formation you were familiar with. In general, these kinds of tactical and strategic errors are based on a hubristic "I already know it all" mentality.

    • 5 challenges
  • The Center Rules the Wings

    There is a drug in chess that most players are already addicted to. It creates depression, confusion, and lack of self-esteem, yet the countless addicts never know why things are so bad for them so often! The drug in question? An unstoppable compulsion to always play on the wings. At times they will choose openings that allow them to "correctly" take that course. And at other times they will simply make a madman's rush to a wing because they think -- for reasons that are hard to grasp -- that this is the only way to win a game. And so it happens again and again: the strong player, knowing full well what wonders the center bestows, rolls their opponent's up over and over right down the middle. And afterwards, the poor, bewildered wing addict can't quite grasp why he lost.

    • 4 challenges
  • Demand More Than Wiggle-room

    There is one particular thing that most titled players covet that isn't given the same high esteem by amateurs: space. IMs and GMs are very much aware that a serious advantage is space can easily lead to a resounding (and often effortless) victory. Our present example features a significant spatial plus, but other imbalances are also at play. See if you can spot the ones that exist, and the ones that might soon be created.

    • 4 challenges
  • Space vs. Mr. Dither

    This lesson is yet another warning about the perils of ignoring an opponent's space advantage. In general, if an opponent has more space, you should trade some pieces off (giving you more room to move about in), create your own spatial plus in another sector of the board, or use pawns to break open lines so your pieces can penetrate, or weak squares or pawns are created. The one thing you should NOT do is dither about and moves your pieces aimlessly here and there until, to your horror, you realize your completely bound up and helpless.

    • 3 challenges
  • Self Inflicted Wounds

    In general, I feel most strategic mistakes/blunders are caused by focusing so hard on other issues that you forget all about "unimportant" things like holes or weak pawns. Two of those "other issues" are defense (you become so worried about something that you make matters far worse) and attack (You want to make an aggressive move and show your opponent what you're made of. So you lash you, and end up hitting yourself in the face.).

    • 4 challenges
  • Ganging Up On Targets

    Many an opponent, unable to resist the compulsion to embrace the aggressive caveman impulse, will rush their pieces down the board in a berserker frenzy, completely oblivious to the weaknesses they are leaving behind in their wake. However, though Mr. Caveman's play is technically bad, it will only be punished if you notice these targets and bring pressure to bear on them. In this lesson, we see a case of the mini-caveman. Black wants to attack, but White is far too strong a player to be swayed by such tactics. In the blink of an eye, aggression has turned to pathetic defense, and the caveman finds that he can't do anything but cower as White positionally carves him up.

    • 4 challenges
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