Chess Positional Ideas. Explained.

Guess what, nobody is a positional chess player. But everybody is a chess player nonetheless. Yes, we do peg one into the tactical or positional chess category but come to think about, can any tactic arise irrespective of a position? Of course not.

Tactical or positional chess depends upon on the move you make.

Tactical or Positional Chess?

To put it in right words, while no player is a positional or a tactical player, the game certainly undulates between positional and tactical phases. I think Reti said it best, “The scheme of a game is played on positional lines; the decision of it, as a rule, is effected by combinations.”

What it means is, tactical play is when there’s some ‘action’ needs to happen. Positional play is when the possibility of a future action needs to be created in a calculated and deliberate manner. Tactical play is active in nature. Positional play is passive in nature.

While you probably know about the different forms of tactics━double attack, pawns breakthrough, blockade, decoying, discovered attack, x-ray attack, passed pawn, interception, deflection, pin and so on━we are going to focus on a few positional ideas in this article. (We will discuss tactics in a later article.)

Regarding chess positional play, I would not harp on the same factor such as control the center, don’t move the same chess piece twice, develop your pieces, castle early, et cetera. (Well, at least not in the same way as most other chess articles do.)

Let’s talk about a few new ideas, shall we?

Let’s talk about 3 important rules of positional chess, viz. BNE factor, pawn awareness and control of the center.

BNE stands for Blockade, Neutralize and Exchange. In chess, you can only block an opponent’s piece or neutralize it or capture it. Whether you defend the square it hits upon or attack its own square, every move you make must serve any of these 3 motives. 

If your move does not have a ‘purpose’, it is not a good move. I always say that a badly calculated move is much better than an uncalculated one. Because your calculation shows that you are looking for a particular motive. 

Always remember, chess is a battle of motives. Your aim to penetrate your opponent’s wall of defense and siege his king…no matter what.

Pawn Formation In Positional Chess

Pawns are pretty interesting. Why? It is the lowest in chess piece value and thus, any square it holds can rationally be taken only by another pawn. However, if the square was held by any other piece, any chess piece could come and try to control it. 

Moreover, a passed pawn gets promoted to any piece of your choice. So, pawns have a unique value of their own.

But, playing the chess pawn game can be tricky. Why? Because once you move it forward, you cannot take it backward. 

So, the pawn structure that you aim for is permanent at that moment and you can only improve upon it but cannot undo it.

Whether it is a backward pawn, double pawns or pawn chains, when it comes to pawn formations, you have to calculate every move you make. Whether you want to control the white squares with your pawns and the black squares with your pieces, or sacrifice that bishop to pass that wicked pawn up the board, every pawn move counts.

Hypermodern Center Control Theory In Chess

Okay, you have already heard about controlling the center with your pawns and pieces at the beginning of the game but that is classical theory with a major flaw━who controls your center once your pawns and pieces are exchanged?

Therein comes the hypermodern chess opening theory

What it tells is, control the center with your pieces (like the Reti opening, the King’s Indian attack, the Pirc, et cetera) and move your pawns as required by the progressive game. It goes against the classical theory but modern chess players use this theory all the time.

Now, by bringing this theory up as a chess positional idea, I am not saying that you should ditch the traditional opening theory for this one but yes, if need be, please be open to position your pieces in the hyper-modern way.

But, chess is not meant to be as complex as it is made out to be. Chess is common sense, based on 100% logic. Prepare a list of valid candidate moves after evaluating the position and then, choose the one with the best winning potential. 

Now, it is easy when there is scope for action.

But, it becomes hard when there isn’t any.

…during the positional phase of the game.

You can focus on the above 3 mentioned positional ideas but to make it even easier for you, I would give you only ONE rule to remember. 

When playing positional chess, keep this one principle in mind.

Principle of Worst Piece in Chess

The concept is very simple: find the worst piece in your camp and move it to a better location! This simple rule is called after many chess players, because we often find it in their books and articles.

As the great Adolf Anderssen said: “Move that one of your pieces, which is in the worst plight, unless you can satisfy yourself that you can derive immediate advantage by an attack.”

GM Adrian Mikhalchishin calls it Makogonov’s rule and quotes the famous Soviet player and coach: “In positions where no other important matters need to be considered, one should identify one’s worst-placed piece and bring it to a more active square.”

Botvinnik called it “Fischer’s rule”. Although the 11th World Champion did not say it outright anywhere, his game epitomized the rule.

The popular Russian chess coach Mark Dvoretsky called it “the principle of the worst piece”. (I am calling it by that name, too.)

In his book, “How Life Imitates Chess,” Kasparov calls it “Tarrasch’s dictum,” and gives an example from the business world. 

The legendary General Electric CEO Jack Welch was probably inspired by the chess players when he picked out the worst performing departments and threatened them to shut them down if they did not start performing. (A little drastic but maybe it worked.)

Let’s look at two games below to see how this chess principle might be applied in real-life situations.

GM Bareev brings Rook on a1 square into a semi-open file. And you know, how the game progressed after that.

In the next game, look how GM Kovalenko uses this method in the 14th move and the 21st move.

Grandmaster play is pretty simple, right? All you have to do is apply this positional idea at every move of the game (at least, during the chess positional phase).

But always remember one thing, striving for a position that allows for favorable tactics. After all, “No matter how much theory progresses, how radically styles change, chess play is inconceivable without tactics.” True words by Samuel Reshevsky.

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