You won’t always get favorable positions in chess, so it makes a lot of sense to learn how to get the best out of every position.
The stronger you are at positional play in chess the longer you can defend and the harder you make it for your opponent, the more likely he will make a mistake.
A good positional chess strategy against common pawn structures is an essential weapon in your chess arsenal.
Here is WGM Ekaterina Atalik showing you how to deal with hanging pawns with a little help from Fischer and Spassky.
There is no denying the importance of improving your tactical skills.
Unless your opponent blunders, you are likely to win the game with chess tactics.
What you must learn is how to reach favorable positions in chess where you can win with tactics.
How do you play in quiet positions when there is no direct contact between the pieces or exchanges available?
Can you find a good move in positions where there are no checks, captures, or threats?
Fortunately, there is a golden rule you can follow in these positions:
Improve your worst-placed piece.
Outposts Create Favorable Positions in Chess
It is vital to learn the middlegame strategies and positions that arise from your chosen opening.
Taking the time to also understand the endgame positions resulting from an opening helps you go from being a good to a strong player.
For example, many openings lead to an isolated queen’s pawn for both colors.
For White, this can arise from the Panov variation of the Caro-Kann Defense, and Black can find himself with an isolated queen’s pawn in the French Defense Exchange variation.
Often in the middlegame, the square in front of the isolated queen’s pawn is more important than winning the pawn itself.
This prevents a player from removing the weakness by sacrificing the pawn with d5 or …d4.
Freeing up pieces tied to defending the pawn can provide enough or even greater compensation for the sacrificed pawn.
Knowing how to play chess endgames where your opponent has an isolated pawn will help you learn there is no need to rush to win the pawn.
In fact, if you have studied the endgames, your middlegame plan can be as simple as exchanging all the other pieces.
The d5 Hole in the Sicilian Defense
In the Sicilian Defense Classical Variation against 6.Be2 Black can play 6…e5.
The following position is reached after the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 d6 5.Nc3 Nf6 6.Be2 e5
The most apparent outpost for White is the d5-square.
Black must know what he is doing, or a knight on this square will become very powerful.
A standard strategy after you identify a weak square is to exchange the pieces that can cover it.
In the position above, White will try to exchange the Black’s light-squared bishop and knights.
Although bishops are regarded as slightly more valuable than knights, White is happy to exchange his bishop for the knight on f6.
Judit Polgar made perfect use of this strategy in her game against former World Champion Vishy Anand.
In this position, Judit played c3, which opens a path for the knight to reach d5.
Look at how Judit used the knight’s ability to take different routes to the same destination.
There was simply no way for Anand to block all these pathways.
Of course, knowing how to reach these positions from the opening is vital, and that’s why it pays to include game study in your chess training.
Here is how Judit got this position against Anand.
Polgar, Judit (2670) – Anand, Viswanathan (2770), 1-0, 2017.12.19
Pawn Advances Can Create Bad Positions in Chess
In chess, one of the main characteristics of an outpost is that it can’t be attacked by a pawn.
That is why before you make a change in the pawn structure, you must always consider the resulting position in your chess games.
Pawn breaks and pawn structures are vital elements of positional play in chess.
The pawn is the only piece in chess that can’t move backward, so any weakness behind it must be guarded by pieces.
Hasty pawn advances often create outposts for your opponent to use against you.
Guliev could have kept the advantage in his game against Jan Timman if he’d played Qc2 or Rgf2, but he played f4 and lost the edge.
Timman immediately took aim at the newly created weakness on e4 by playing …Nd6, and in a few moves, he increased his advantage.
When you have placed all your pieces on their best squares, it is time to look for tactical opportunities to win material or launch a winning attack.
Tactics are the perfect way to conclude your game after you’ve played a perfect positional chess strategy.
Once you have a material advantage, you can simplify to a winning endgame. This is what Timman did to defeat Guliev.
Guliev, Sarhan (2425) – Timman, Jan H (2630), 0-1, 2018.04.20
Outposts might not lead directly to winning positions in chess, but they will always make your knights more powerful.
Especially if the outpost is on your opponent’s side of the board.
Taking action to defend against your opponent’s threats is always your most important task.
After preventing his plans, improving your pieces will always ensure you get better positions in your chess games.
Even when you find yourself in challenging positions in your chess games, improving your pieces will help you defend better or allow you to counter-attack.
Better placed pieces are a vital part of positional play in chess and will always make your position better.
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