Twentieth-Century planning

Some time ago, we looked at this one:


[Event "rooks on ranks and files"][Site "-, Leipzig"][Date "1894.??.??"][Round "?"]

  [White "Tarrasch"][Black "von Scheve"][Result "1-0"]

  1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 Be7 5.Bf4 c6 6.e3 Nbd7 7.h3 Ne4

  Tarrasch: "The decisive error. After the exchange of Knights, Black's capturing Pawn becomes weak, and needs protection by ...f5. It is then attacked by f3, forcing Black to exchange and open up the Knight file for White. Thereupon there ensues a combined attack of White's Queen, both Rooks and the Queen Bishop against the Knight Pawn (the keystone of the Castled position) an attack which is irresistible."

  He adds modestly: "I know of no game in all the chess literature in which it is possible to conceive of so detailed a plan, leading almost to mate, and in which the remaining 20 moves lead up to a catastrophe."




8.Nxe4 dxe4 9.Nd2 Bb4 10.a3 Bxd2+ 11.Qxd2 O-O 12.Qc2 f5 13.Bd6 Re8 14.O-O-O Nf6 15.Be5 Bd7 16.f3 exf3 17.gxf3 b5 18.Rg1 Rf8 19.Rd2 Rf7 20.Rdg2 a5

  The prediction fulfilled.



21.Qf2 Ne8 22.Rg5 Qe7 23.Qh4 Nf6 24.Qh6 Ra7 25.Bd6 Qxd6 26.Rxg7+ Kf8 27.Rxh7+ Ke7 28.Rxf7+ Kxf7 29.Rg7+ Kf8 30.Qxf6+ 1-0


This is an unusually clear example. But do you have to go through all this planning stuff? You do if you want to get better results. Of course, you have been planning for ages - all that stuff about K-side pawn storms, Knight outposts and Bad bishops was all basic planning. But you do need to do it.

Unplanned chess

[Event "?"][Site "Zurich"][Date "1953.??.??"][Round "?"]

  [White "Petrosjan"][Black "Euwe"][Result "1-0"]

  1. Nf3 Nf6 2. g3 d5 3. Bg2 Bf5 4. d3 e6 5. Nbd2 h6 6. O-O Bc5 7. Qe1 O-O 8. e4 BRONSTEIN comments:

'Black's last few moves seem rather inconsequential to me. By move ten Black should not only have formed a plan, but should be sticking to it as well.'



KOTOV adds: '...the pawn exchange was illogical. He should have retreated the bishop to h7, maintaining the tension in the centre. If, however, he had decided to exchange pawns in this way which was a possible line, he should have followed it up by getting rid of his bishop by exchanging it for the White N at e4.'

  The B got stuck on h7, and the other pieces couldn't get going. Eventually White's better pieces supported a general advance which won a pawn and the game.

  8...dxe4 9. Nxe4 Nxe4 10. dxe4 Bh7 DIAGRAM



We now have a classic 'offside piece' position.

11. b4 Be7   12. Bb2 Na6 13. a3 c6 14. Rd1 Qc8 15. c4 Nc7 16. Qc3 Bf6 17. Ne5 Rd8 18. Bf3 Ne8 19. Rxd8 Qxd8 20. Rd1 Qc7 21. c5 a5 22. Bg2 axb4 23. axb4 Rd8 24. Rxd8 Qxd8 25. Qc2 Nc7 26. Bf1 Nb5 27. f4 Kf8 28. Kf2 Bxe5 29. Bxe5 f6 30. Bb2 Ke7 31. Bc4  


31...Bg6 32. Ke3 Bf7 33. g4 Qc7 34. e5 Qd8 35. exf6+ gxf6 36. h4 Nc7 37. Qc3 Nd5+ 38. Bxd5 Qxd5 39. Qxf6+ Ke8 40. Qh8+ Kd7 41. Qg7 Ke8 42. Bf6 Qb3+ 43. Bc3 Qd1 44. Qh8+ Kd7 45. Qb8 Qc1+ 46. Bd2 Qg1+ 47. Kd3 Qf1+ 48. Kc2 Qa6 49. h5 Qa2+ 50. Kd3 Qb1+ 51. Ke2 Qe4+ 52. Kf2 Qd4+ 53. Be3 Qxb4 54. Qf8 Qb2+ 55. Kg3 Qf6 56. Qd6+ Kc8 57. Bd4 Qd8 58. Qxd8+ Kxd8 59. Bg7 Kc7 60. Bxh6 b6 61. cxb6+ Kxb6 62. Kh4 1-0 [For this and other games below from the Zurich 1953 tournament, Kotov and I are relying on Bronstein's great book.]

  Here is another example of a good plan, played against a player who didn't have much of a plan:


[Event "?"][Site "ussr ch'p SF"][Date "1939.??.??"][Round "?"]

  [White "Sokolsky"][Black "Botvinnik"][Result "0-1"]

1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 d5 3.d4 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.e3 O-O 6.Be2 e6 7.O-O b6 8.cxd5 exd5 9.b3 Bb7 10.Bb2 Nbd7 11.Qc2



"It gradually becomes clear that White has no plan and merely concerns himself with developing his pieces. You might hve been able to play that fifty years ago, but nowadays, when every master makes a plan after the first six to eight moves of the game, there is no better way of getting into a cramped and passive position than thinking of development alone." - BOTVINNIK

11...a6 12.Rac1 Rc8 13.Rfd1 Qe7 14.Qb1 Rfd8 15.Bf1 c5 16.dxc5

"Yet another positional error. It is not possible to exploit the hanging pawns at c5 and d5 with a large number of minor pieces on the board by attacking them from the back line! Meanwhile White parts with his last strong point in the centre - the strong point at d4. This brings Black's Bb7 to life, and the tempo of the game speeds up" - BOTVINNIK

  Black expoits his extra space with a vigorous attack on the K-side. He cleverly realises he needs the Bg7 to pressurise e3, so fearlessly gives up the long diagonal a1-h8 to White.

16...bxc5 17.Ne2 Bh6 18.Ba3 Ng4 DIAGRAM

  White's natural moves have let him drift into a passive position.

19.Qd3 (19.Nc3 Bxe3) 19...Nde5 20.Nxe5 Qxe5 21.Ng3 Qf6 22.Nh1 d4 23.Qe2 Ne5 24.exd4 cxd4 25.Rxc8 Bxc8 26.Re1 d3




  White's position has continued to slide while Black has been getting more menacing... Time for the final push:

26... d3 27.Qd1 Bg4 28.Qa1 d2 29.Rxe5 d1=Q 30.Re8+ Rxe8 31.Qxf6 Be2 And Black won easily ...0-1



One more example - losing a better game by playing without a plan.


[Event "?"][Site "Zurich IZT"][Date "1953.??.??"][Round "?"]

  [White "Gligoric, S."][Black "Kotov, A."][Result "0-1"]

  1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.g3 e5 7.Nde2 Be6 8.Bg2 b5 9.O-O Nbd7 10.a4 b4 11.Nd5 Nxd5 12.exd5 Bg4 13.Bd2 a5 14.c3 bxc3 15.Bxc3 Qb6 16.h3 Bh5 17.Kh2 Be7 18.f4 DIAGRAM



"White has a plus. Sometimes 'natural' moves suffice, but against able and determined defence the attack may need to be pursued along a tightrope of only moves. 18 g4! first then f4 would have been more incisive, if more risky." BRONSTEIN

  18...Bxe2 19.Qxe2 Bf6 20.Qc4 O-O 21.Qc6 Rfd8 22.Rae1 Qb8 DIAGRAM

"Backing up for a running jump... the initiative has passed to Black." BRONSTEIN



23.Rb1 Ra7 24.Qc4 Rc8 25.Qe4 Qb3 (threats ...Rc4 and ...exf4/...Bxc3) 26.fxe5 Bxe5 27.Qf5 Rf8 28.Qf2 DIAGRAM

"It is because of such one-move threats that all of White's advantage has evaporated." BRONSTEIN

  28...Raa8 29.Qf5 Qxa4 30.Rf4 Bxf4 31.gxf4 g6 32.Qg5 Rae8 33.Rg1 Re2 34.Kh1 Qc2 35.Qg4 Nc5 36.Qh4 Ne4 37.Bd4 Nf2+ 38.Kh2 Ne4 39.f5 Qd3 40.fxg6 fxg6 41.Bb6 0-1 (41...Nd2)



Kotov has been much exercised by this notion of planning, and in his books gives lots of examples of planless play being punished. You can often see glorious examples of well-planned play - like in the old master games of Tarrasch and Steinitz, where a plan conceived early in the game was carried out to perfection and gradually overwhelmed the opponent. Tarrasch and Steinitz also showed how to form a plan - where to find weak points, and how to attack at the weakest point. I'll discuss this in more detail below, but first another word from Kotov and Bronstein on planning in general. Kotov describes reading over a game of Romanovsky's against Vilner, which made a powerful impression on the young Kotov - here, a plan, which Romanovsky stuck to over 5 hours, eventually resulted in victory. ROMANOVSKY commented on his own game:

" 'The last and main conclusion to be drawn and the main one is as follows. In every game we ought to have a single basic plan, and by carrying out this plan we ought to get a prolonged initiative. The initiative so gained will tend to increase until it reaches the stage where it is sufficient to force a win.' ...

"My own reaction" says KOTOV, "was immense admiration. Everything foreseen and planned from the first move to the last... I tried to start playing in a planned fashion... but I got precisely nowhere! I would envisage a long siege of my opponent's pawn at a6 but was distracted by threats on the f-file... My games still consisted of isolated episodes which I feverishly tried to knit together into a harmonious whole...

"It was only much later ... that the question of a single plan became clear to me... In the Vilner game it was a struggle between unequal sides. When, however, you meet a strong inventive opponent and he counters every one of your intentions not only by defensive but also by counter-attacking measures, then it is far from simple to carry out a single plan...

"... I finally concluded: 'A single plan is the sum total of strategic operations which follow each other in turn and which each carry out an independent idea that arises logically from the demands of a given position'. ...

The definition given above is supported by the following quotation from Bronstein: 'Due to Tarrasch * an idea grew up that is still prevalent nowadays, the idea that there are the so-called logical games in which one side carries out a logical plan from beginning to end rather like a theorem in geometry. I do not think that there are such games between opponents of the same strength and the annotator who gives that impressions is often the winner of the game who makes out that what happened is what he wanted to happen' "

  Znosko-Borovsky says much the same thing in his How Not To Play Chess lecture. So, in the examples I gave above (and more below), read and believe when I say you need a plan, but remember that real chess is likely to be more messy and less smooth. Unless you are playing an opponent who hasn't got a clue you will have to keep chopping and changing plans to cope with the changing situation on the board. That's life...

Modern chess planning

This century has not produced any great new theorists like Steinitz or Nimzovitch, rather an approach to chess which takes no theory for granted. Novel play in the opening has become increasingly sophisticated, and players will defend the most dreadful-looking pawn structures if they get some sort of activity for it. Chess has become more concrete, more dynamic, and more difficult. Let's have a look at a couple of examples:



This position, arising after 1 e4, c6; 2 d4, d5; 3 Nc3, dxe4; 4 Nxe4, Nf6; 5 Nxf6, exf6 (now we more often play 5...gxf6); 6 Bc4, Bd6; 7 Qe2, Be7; 8 Nf3, O-O; 9 O-O, was well-known to players and theorists of the 19th century. Lasker, for example, comments:

"White's plan consists in realising his pawn superiority on the Queen's side while remaining passive on the King's side. Black, on the other had will attampt to force his opponent to advance one of his pawns on the King's wing, in order to start play against White's King's side with his pawns."


  Lasker has in mind moves for White such as c4 and d5 to create a passed pawn, and for Black ...Bg4, ...Bd6, ...f5 and ...Qh5. In fact play went 9 ...Bd6; 10 Re1, Bg4; 11 Qe4! Bh5; 12 Nh4, Nd7; 13 Qf5. Steinitz and Lasker would undoubtedly have criticised White's crude and 'unjustified' attack. What's going on? Ragozin, a strong and experienced Soviet master, must have been aware of Lasker's views, and of the theories of Steiniz, so why is he playing on the 'wrong' side? He has made in fact a much more dynamic and concrete assessment of the position which notes, not just the Q-side majority, but also: the awkwardly placed bishops, missing Nf6, the compromised f-pawns and White's development and control of space. Given time, Black could no doubt disentangle his pieces. Ragozin gives him no time at all.

13...Nb6; 14 Qxh5, Nxc4; 15 Bh6!! Qd7 (can you find the win after 15...gxh6?); 16 b3, Nb6; 17 Nf5, Kh8; 18 Re4, Bxh2+ 19 Kh1 and Black resigned.

  This is the real contribution of the 20th century to chess theory, in which SOVIET players have been dominant. Players look beyond the geometry of pawn formations and have moved to a more flexible and more dynamic style of play. There are no new general principles, because modern players do not believe in general principles. Players like BRONSTEIN and BOLESLAVSKY turned established ideas on their heads in the 1950s, championing Black's dynamic chances in the King's Indian and Sicilian.

  There is another good example of modern planning from Bronstein's superb book on the 1953 Candidates tournament The Chess Struggle in Practice.



In this line of the King's Indian, an opening he and Boleslavsky more or less re-invented, White has a significant space advantage, and Black has a 'backward' d-pawn on an open file, although he has covered the outpost on d5. Black has some good pieces: the Bg7 and Nc5 are well-placed, and the Bc8 and Re8 also have some potential.
Bronstein comments:

"I think now is the time to acquaint the reader with the mysteries of the Black d-pawn in the King's Indian. Even though it is situated on an open file and therefore always exposed to attack, it is not a very easy nut to crack. The simplest method for White is apparently to retreat the Knight from d4, but d4 is precisely where the Knight needs to be: its jobs are to supervise b5, c6, e6, and f5 and to buffer the influence of the Bg7. Only after White has taken steps against possible Black attacks (...a3, ...Be6, ...f5) can his Knight leave the centre, but during that time Black can regroup to cause worries elsewhere.

"So the weakness of the d-pawn proves to be imaginary. Contemporary methods of play in the opening recognise the illusory weakness of such pawns. But it was exactly this 'eternal' weakness of the Pd6 that led to the King's Inidan being regarded as dubious.

  The most dramatic recent example of this is Evgeny Sveshnikov's cherished variation of the Sicilian, sometimes known as the Pelikan: 1 e4, c5; 2 Nf3, Nc6; 3 d4, cxd4; 4 Nxe4, Nf6; 5 Nc3, e5; 6 Nb5, d6; 7 Bg5, a6; 8 Bxf6, gxf6; 9 Na3, f5!? Black will use the extra central pawns and piece activity to stop White getting a proper hold on the weaknesses on ...d6 and ...f6/...h6.

Zinn-Sveshnikov, Decin 1974: 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e5 6. Ndb5 d6 DIAGRAM



Black has an obvious hole on d5; White sets out, in textbook fashion, to occupy it. 7. Bg5 a6 8. Na3 b5 9. Bxf6 gxf6 10. Nd5 Mission accomplished! DIAGRAM



But at what cost? The outpost stands unsupported by any other White pieces, and the Na3 is at present a bit lost. Black's pawns are very muddled but control a lot of key squares (c4,d4 and f4). The muddling also gives Black the open g-file.

  Let's see how things unfold

10... f5 11. Bd3 Be6 12. Qh5 Bg7 13. O-O f4 14. c3 O-O 15. Nc2 f5 DIAGRAM



The muddled pawns dominate the centre and the King's side, while White's pieces are still looking for a decent plan. Black now attacks down the open g-file. 16. Ncb4 Nxb4 17. Nxb4 d5 18. exd5 Bd7 19. Bc2 Be8 20. Qe2 Kh8 21. Rad1 Qh4 22. f3 Rf6 23. Qe1 Qg5 24. Qxe5 Bd7 25. Qe7 Rg8 26. Qxd7 Rf7 0-1 DIAGRAM



Games like this may make the classically-trained chessplayer despair, but they have added a richness and excitement to our understanding of the game.
" Their point of view can be summarized as follows: what had for generations been accepted as a weakness, such as a hole or an isolated pawn, was not weak unless or until the opponent began to attack it; a much smaller hostile weakness which could be attacked first was in fact a greater weakness. Thus the dynamic approach brought about a radical adjustment in the views on weakness and strenght. It was no longer possible to measure one's weakness against those of one's opponent by the old method, but it was necessary to assess also the potentialities and speeds of the relative attacks. This called for a new degree of acute positional judgement, and in this was the Russian school has specially trained itself."
-- Dynamic Chess by R.N. Coles; I am grateful to Ariel Quinatana for supplying this quote.


Kotov: Think like a Grandmaster &

Plan like a Grandmaster

  Bronstein: The Chess Struggle in Practice

  Botvinnik: 100 Selected Games

  Euwe and Kramer: The Middle Game, Volumes I and II

Chess Quotes

Chess players
"Who is your opponent tonight?"
"Tonight I am playing against the Black pieces"
— A. RUBINSTEIN (via ilias kastanas)