Mr. Raymundo Armagnac
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Basic Chess
One step at the time.
middlegame planning

  by Georgi Orlov


Planning ahead is a very important part of the playing process. One of the great players of the last century, Mikhail Chigorin, once said: “Even a poor plan is better than no plan at all.”

The right plan can save a poor position, while the wrong plan can break a good one. How should a player make a plan, what kind of process is involved?


There are several steps in the making of a plan: 1) Detailed assessment of the current situation on the board. This is the most difficult task; 2) Identifying and defining your own goals as well as your opponent’s goals; 3) Creation of a plan.


Let’s take a look at each of these steps.




There are several factors that must be included in this.


A) Safety of Kings, first your own, second, your opponent’s.

B) Misplaced pieces and pawns, unprotected pieces and pawns, smothered pieces.

C) Pawn structure.

D) Activity of the pieces.

E) Open files & diagonals.

F) Central outposts.


A) THE SAFETY OF THE KINGS (first your own, second, your opponent’s)


Is your King safe?

 a) Is the pawn structure around it sufficient against possible attacks?

 b) Are there enough pieces to protect it in case of some sacrifice that may draw it out?

 c) Is the back rank covered?


If the answer to any of these questions is NO, than serious consideration must be given to prophylactics.


The same checking procedure should be applied to your opponent’s King. It is important to be aggressive in the game. If you think that the opponent’s King is less safe than yours, then you should make use of this factor by attacking.


Tal - Unknown, simultaneous exhibition



While evaluating this situation, the great Mikhail Tal noticed that the situation with Black’s King deserves special attention – particularly, there is no Rook to protect the back rank. Another important point was a lack of protection for Black’s Queen. In case of the obvious 1.Rxh1 Nh5 2.f4 Nc4 Black would be in a good shape. It is always important to look for unusual moves!


1.gxf6! Rxd1 2.Nxd1!


Now the Queen on a5 is under attack and so is the Bishop on g7.


2...Qxd2 3.fxg7!!


An amazing combination, Black resigned.




These things need immediate attention. Carefully check the status of all your pieces and pawns. Anything that needs to be defended must be taken care of first. Do the same against your opponent’s pieces and pawns – see if you can immediately take anything or attack anything. Always look for targets. Any piece that is not protected or poorly protected must be targeted for attack. Tactical considerations in many positions overrule positional factors! Let’s take a look at the following game.


R. Fischer - S. Reshevsky



What should White do here? Both Kings are safe, and the pawn structure is undefined. The e5-pawn is attacked. White’s pieces are clearly more active, both Bishops have active diagonals, White seems to have more control in the center. Another obvious factor is lack of space for the Black pieces. Smothered pieces make ideal targets. Should White play 9.f4 protecting the pawn? NO!




Bobby noticed that in case of Nd4-e6 only the f7-pawn can take the Knight, the d7-pawn is pinned!




White wins the Queen after 9...Rxf7 10.Ne6.




A great move. Due to the pinned d7-pawn, Black’s Queen has no moves. The only way Black can save his Queen is by taking the brave Knight with the King, but 10...Kxe6 meets 11.Qd5+ Kf5 12.g4+! Kxg4 13.Rg1+ and Black gets checkmated.


10...dxe6 11.Qxd8 and White eventually won.


As we can see, immediate tactical considerations are often more important than anything else.




Pawn structure always plays an important part in determining a plan – even more so in the case of fixed pawn chains (c4, d5, e4 vs. c7, d6, e5, or f7, e6, d5 vs. d4, e5). Most of the time the base of the chain should be attacked (in practice it’s the middle of the chain, since the bottom can’t be reached). In positions with other types of pawn structure a player should look for weak pawns that can be attacked. In certain cases the pawn structure defines the attacking plan, like the kingside pawn storms in the Dragon Variation. In case of the opponent’s attack on the wing, serious consideration must be given to counter offensive in the center. Such a central counterattack may be even stronger if opponent’s King is still uncastled. Let’s take a look at the following position.


Van der Wiel - Kasparov, Moscow 1982



Shortly after the opening, White started some action on the kingside. Here Kasparov had a dilemma. Should Black continue his development with, say 14...Na6, or play 14...Bf8 first, opening the e-file? White’s King is obviously unsafe. The pawn structure in the center is stable, there is no way to undermine it. On further consideration, Kasparov concluded that 14...Bf8 would not be enough because he needs other pieces to help with his attack. Therefore he played...




This blocks the light-squared Bishop, but opens the important d8-h4 diagonal, which will allow the dark-squared Bishop to come out to h4 or g5.


15.Ng3 Bg5 16.Kf2


The first concession, White lost his right to castle.




The Knight comes closer to his opponent’s King and eyes the g4-, f3- and d3-squares. White tries to bring his own pieces out.


17.Bb5 Bd7 18.Bxd7 Nbxd7 19.Nef5


Van der Wiel tries to counterattack on the kingside.




The success of an attack often depends on whether the opponent’s position can be penetrated. Black makes d3 an outpost and in case the Knight gets there, the Rook on e8 will play an important role too.




White offers an Exchange, hoping to slow his opponent’s attack down.


20...Nd3+ 21.Kg2 Bxc1 22.Rxc1 g6!


Perhaps White had hoped for 22...Nxc1 23.Qxc1 Re2+ 24.Kg3, with threats to g7, but the Knight on d3 is worth more than the Rook on c1.


Now 23.Nh6+ Kf8 24.Ng3 Qg5! is very unpleasant and 23.Nxd6 meets 23...Qb6 24.Nxe8 Qxf2+ 25.Kh3 gxh5! and Black wins. White resigned




It’s important that your pieces cooperate with each other. Avoid placing your pieces in the corners of the board, unless they have a specific reason to be there or are on their way to another – hopefully more central – location. Try to play with the whole army instead of single pieces. In most cases pieces should be place in center of the board, where they can attack more squares than in the corner. Always look for ways to bring more pieces into the action. Activity is very often more important than material.




Open files and diagonals are the highways, or communication channels, of the chess game. Take control of open files and diagonals if you can. If your opponent controls them, try to wrestle them back. The player that controls communication channels controls the battle. Remember, Rooks belong on an open file, Bishop belongs on an open diagonal!


The following game illustrates the importance of piece activity and open files and diagonals.


Petrosian - Spassky, Moscow1966



Both Kings appear to be somewhat unsafe. Black’s pieces seem to be active – particularly threatening is the light-squared Bishop on h3. If Black’s Knight was to leave e5, it would significantly compromise his position in a view of White’s control of a1-h8-diagonal. White must activate his pieces in order to succeed in this game.




Petrosian sacrifices the Exchange! The Queen’s Rook is now brought into play and the g2-square is protected, renewing the threat to the Knight on e5. Of course, 21.fxe5?? Qg5+ had to be avoided.


21...Bxf1 22.Rxf1 Ng6 23.Bg4!


The Bishop is brought into action and the threat of 24.Be6+ is terribly unpleasant.


23...Nxf4 24.Rxf4!


One more Exchange is sacrificed in order to eliminate the defender of e6.


24...Rxf4 25.Be6+ Rf7 26.Ne4!


The e4-Knight controls g5 and f6 from here. It’s very important to have more pieces closer to the opponent’s King for the attack to be successful.




An attempt to counterattack, since Ne3-f5 and Qb2-g7 mate was coming.


27.Nxd6 Raa7 28.Bxf7+ Rxf7


It looks like Black has almost bailed out. White’s next move dispels the illusion.




Black resigned in a view of 29...Kxh8 30.Nxf7+ and 31.Nxg5.




The squares d4-d5-e4-e5 are in the heart of the chess board. In some cases a Knight or a Bishop placed there is worth more than a Rook. Frequently, a powerful outpost provides great support for a minor piece, turning it into a mighty attacking force.


Razuvaev - Bagirov, Russia, 1982



White’s Knight on e5 is beautifully placed. It’s worth more that the opponent’s Rook on d8. The Knight attacks the g6, f7 and d7 squares and GM Razuvaev masterfully uses his advantage to build a decisive attack.




A move made possible by the Knight’s position on e5. This is much better than 27.Rg2, since from g6 the Rook can get to h6, attacking h7.


27...Nce6 28.Rdg1 Rf8 29.Rh6


The threat of Ne5-g6+ forces the King to move. Here 29...Rf6? loses to 30.Qh4!


29...Kg8 30.Bb3


One more piece is employed in the attack, tying up the d-Rook to defense of the d5-pawn.


30...Rd6 31.Qg2


The d5-pawn is under attack once again.




Black’s Rook on d6 has to protect d5, while it also has to watch out for the Knight on e6 – a classical case of overload.


32.Bxd5! Rxd5 33.Rxe6! Qf8


It seems that large losses have been avoided. No!


34.Re8!! Rxe8 35.Qxd5+


Now 35...Kh8 36.Nf7+ Kg8 37.Nd6+ Kh8 38.Nxe8 wins more material, therefore, Black resigned.


Not every situation can be solved tactically, of course, but any positional situation will eventually become tactical. In the following game White executed a great positional plan and topped it off with a nice attack.


Smyslov - Denker, USSR vs. USA Match 1946



Both sides have safe Kings, although Black’s is a bit more open. White has full control of the d5-square and the pawn on d6 is obviously weak. What should White do here? His plan should involve some kind of attack against d6, but first he has to make sure that his opponent has no counterplay. While White’s g2-Bishop has a good diagonal, it does very little there. Black’s light-squared Bishop guards the important d5-square and can also be used for defending the g6-pawn. Therefore, White must first exchange light-squared Bishops, getting even more control over d5 and eliminating a defender of the opponent’s King.


25.Bd5! Kh7 26.Bxe6 Qxe6 27.Rd3


Now the d5-square is completely under White’s control and he can safely triple his heavy pieces on the d-file.


27...Rc7 28.Red1 Rf7


Perhaps Black hopes to double his Rooks along the f-file, but White can easily defend f2 with Nc3-e4.


29.Ne4! Bf8 30.Rd5


In such positions it pays to be slow. Also b3-b4 and c4-c5 is possible at some point.


30...Qg4 31.R1d3!


An important move. If 31.Nxd6, then 31...Bxd6 32.Rxd6 Qxd1+ 33.Rxd1 Rxd1+ 34.Kg2 e4! 35.Qxe4 Rd2 36.Qe3 Rxa2 and Black is still in the game.


31...Be7 32.Nxd6 Bxd6 33.Rxd6 Rdf8 34.Qxe5!


In case of 34.Rd2 e4! Black can still put up some resistance.


35...Rxf2 36.Rd7+ R8f7 37.Rxf7+ Rxf7 38.Re8! Rg7 39.Qe8 g5 40.Qh8+ Kg6 41.Rd6+ Kf7 42.Qxh6, White has two extra pawns and he won few moves later.




After looking at all of the above-mentioned factors, think about what you want to do and check it against what you can realistically accomplish. Define your goal for the next 5-6 moves. Anything that takes more than that is probably not worth doing. The longer it takes, the easier it is to defend against it. After defining your plan, check your opponent’s intentions. Most plans fail because they don’t take into the account actions of the other side.




After goals are defined, make a plan, then pick moves that lead to accomplishment of your goal. It’s important to pick the right move order.


Whatever plan you choose, always check for possible tactics before proceeding further. Tactics rule the game of chess! Calculate your play as many moves ahead as you can. Always ask yourself: “If I am able to execute my plan, what will happen then? Will I achieve a material or positional advantage?” If the answer is no, make another plan!


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