Yes, it’s an invasion!
The Royal game has always been in. It’s an omnipresent religion influencing our lives in more than one way.
And odds are you have already noticed chess invasion into fashion territory too: yes, it’s all black and white this year. You need only to look at magazine covers (see below) having featured this growing 2013 fashion trend.
I want to thank Fashionising.com for what follows (after all, I’m far from being a fashion expert).
“Black and white patterns take over. From harlequin prints and graphic checks to bold retro stripes: there’s no question that black and white patterns are one of spring’s biggest obsessions. Go basic, nineties or mod, just as long as you keep it black, white, and chic all over.”
“What initially felt more like a blast from the past, once playful black and white patterns found their way back on the catwalks adorning a full spectrum of sexy and flirtatious 1960s silhouettes, eventually turned into quite the abstract geometric obsession. Before we knew it the fashion world had already surrendered to the graphic madness and now the black and white prints are being introduced as one of spring 2013′s most notable fashion trends. Which is far from being a bad thing given their means to evoke quite the iconic looks.”
“Just like when sticking to the plan results in the most favorable outcome, when it comes to the black and white patterns it is indicated to stick to a theme, to a style, to a vision.” (hey, this sounds like strategy advice!)
Okay, time to wrap it up, this is me in a photo from under the ground, in the subway. Just kidding… but the guy definitely must be a huge chess fan, like me!
How soccer explains the World
In UEFA Champions League 2013, two German teams, Bayern Munich and Borissia Dortmund, will face off for the European title (an equivalent of the Super Bowl over here in the States) at London Wembley stadium on May 25.
Two Spanish powerhouses, Real Madrid and Barcelona, that mostly make up the Spain’s national team, the current World champion, took a nasty beating from the Germans. Especially Barca, having in its ranks Lionel Messi, for many, the best soccer player ever, was humiliated with 4:0 in Munich and 0:3(!) on home turf.
So what’s the secret of Germany’s success in soccer, and not only soccer? A game is just a game, but victories in sports tend also to be viewed as a test for the health and strength of nations.
Defeated badly twice in recent history, Germany rose from ashes and is now Europe’s strongest economy. It demonstrated brilliant results, even against the current global crisis, showing strength and resilience no one could rival.
Somehow, it looks that Germany cracked the code of how to compete and win. But, little is known about the Germany model. What is its secret? It must be some sort of remarkably effective strategy.
The Germany model
The company is the heart of economic strategy and social integration. The German system works because it is founded on a dense network of many competitive companies. In Game theory parlance, each company is a player that adds a certain value to the game, thus increasing the total pay-off for Germany.
“The Mittelstand, the true center of the German economy, means middle sized companies: employing between 250 and 5000 people and making turnovers from €50 million to €1.5 billion. These companies have been in the hands of their founding families for several generations; they pursue financial accumulation goals, which make them extremely strong, which in turn helps them withstand the dangers of capitalism by way of innovation, investment and export. This helps them maintain a financial structure that protects them from economic shocks. Germany undertakes a long term growth strategy, demonstrating indifference with regard to short term threats and uncertainties.”
“Unlike the AngloSaxon and French models in which, to a certain extent, economic performance is in conflict with social protection – it is one thing or another – the German economic model aims, in a false kind of paradox, not only to reconcile, but beyond that – to create a dynamic balance between competitiveness and the need for social protection.”
How chess explains the World
The above analysis has a striking resemblance to what was said in the last post about prophylaxis in chess.
The grand, leading principle, toward which every chess move dealing with strategy and positional play should converge, is the absolute importance of building up a strong and stable structure on the board, designed to keep you secure and unharmed against the hostile forces (showing activity, or as Nimzovich put it, “the obsession of amateurs to be forever doing something,” either attacking or defending, as well as Steinitz’ positional elements and the accumulation of small advantages theory are of a lesser significance for the highest-level strategic thinking).
You should spread out your men in an ordered arrangement (=piece coordination, “the main principle throughout,” Capablanca) based on their individual abilities and roles to ensure security and achieve team’s strategic objectives. Only this may give you freedom to launch possible attack from the position of strength at the right time and place.
Now compare the above with Nimzovich’s My System:
“Positional moves are in general neither attacking nor defensive ones, but rather moves designed to give our position security in the wider sense, and to this end it is necessary for our pieces to establish contact with the enemy’s (and our own) strategically important points.”
“The contact established between the strong point and “the overprotector” can only be of advantage for both parties. The strong point because the prophylactic induced by such a process affords it the greatest imaginable security against possible attack; to the overprotector, since the point serves him as a source of energy, from which he may continually draw fresh strength.”
What “attacking, or forever doing something” is for Nimzovich is “stimulating economic activity” in Alain Fabre’s article. And they both agree that stability, or standing firm, is the backbone of any successful long-term strategy.
What is Nimzovich’s “Law of overprotection” if not giving your position firmness and stability? — to help it become immune and indifferent to threats posed by phony tactics of blowers of bubbles.
© 2013 Momir Radovic
1. Franklin Foer, How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization, Harper Perennial, 2004.
2. The New York Times, One More Field Where the Continent Trails Germany.
3. ”The country has come roaring out of the global financial crisis, boasting one of the strongest economies in the West and seemingly poised for years of rising exports ahead.” Is Germany Turning Into the Strong, Silent Type? The Wall Street Journal.
4. ”This formula is a major guarantee for the protection of jobs, notably in times of crisis. The workers have know-how which is built up within the company. Dismissing them simply in response to an economic downturn comprises a major risk for the company that might witness the disappearance of this precious know-how.” Alain Fabre, Robert Schuman Fondation (The French think tank on Europe),The German Economic Model: a strategy for Europe?
5. My System: Winning Chess Strategies, 21st Century Edition, Hays Publishing, 1991, p. 104.
6. Ibid., p. 153.
How to survive in the violent world of chess
Only force rules. Force is the first law of Nature.1
Whatever the meaning of life and purpose of our existence may be, we know that we are to struggle throughout our lives against various forces. The only thing in life that matters is to win, win ugly if need be, but win. Success is the sole earthly judge, so some may use force and aggression against you to claim that win.
There is also “struggle on even terms between two brains called chess”2 where both sides attack and defend. They’re taking aggressive and violent actions against each other with use of force their men possess. To survive in all these battles of life requires, as well, forceful efforts to get free of restraint and resist attack.
Using force and counter-force is just two faces of the same coin. They are, like attack and defense, dual partners.
To survive, to stay invincible, you need to resist force, parry attack. In fact, this requires more outstanding qualities than attack itself, and seems to be a more vital and trickier part of the equation.
“Invincibility lies in the defense, the possibility of victory in the attack.” — Sun Tzu, around 500 BC
So, what you first and foremost need is to protect yourself.3 It’s a fundamental requirement to sustaining life and seeing any possibility of victory. And how you can protect yourself? By wearing armor, built as an intricate structure of your chessmen and their interconnections. Actually, the word strategy originally meant constructing a strong structure able to resist force (like a building, or setting up your men on the battlefield).
Chess, and struggle in general, are therefore vitally concerned with building up and maintaining a formidable position. If its strength is still inadequate, one needs to improve it. If it is adequate, one may afford mounting attack. The way you act is dependent on the strength of your chess fortress. And, as you can see, attack and defense are just subordinate to the health of your position which shouldn’t offer “soft spots” or holes in the armor for the enemy to target.
But the question is, what can dramatically increase overall health of your position? Prevention! That is the highest law of strategy: seeing through, predicting and forestalling enemy’s plans. This is the best way of preventing the enemy from attempting to weaken and possibly destroy your fortifications. Your position should stay stable, firm and unharmed.
The key word here is stable (verb establish). It comes from Latin stabilis, standing firm.4
You should thus stay steadfast and maintain an unyielding and unwavering position, not becoming weaker despite all difficulties and pressure. Again, what can best make your position unshakable? Anticipating the enemy plans. Then using Prophylaxis. Which usually gives you enough time to reinforce holes in your armor to prevent whatever harmful is coming your way!
However, make no mistake, this doesn’t mean you play a defensive style. On the contrary, all this makes solid ground for tactical, attacking opportunities at some later point. Tactics doesn’t come out of thin air!
* * *
In the game below, Black threatened to occupy an open file which would be advantageous and improve the strength of his position overall. White held him back by a preventive queen move to stay unharmed by the threat and keep his position strong – he eventually won.
© 2013 iPlayoo!
1. Four fundamental forces rule the universe: gravity, the electromagnetic force and then two that act in and around the atomic nucleus, known as strong and weak.
2. Dr Emanuel Lasker, Struggle, New York 1907
3. Protect, a. to cover or shield from exposure, injury, damage, or destruction; to defend; 2. to maintain the status or integrity.
4. The overly inclusive Indo-European root is sta (=to stand). Greek στάση, stási̱, Latin stare, English stand, German, stehen, Swedish stå, Spanish estar, Russian, stoyat, Serbo-Croatian stayati, Sanskrit vitiSThAte (sthA)
In some languages stand and its derivatives have also the meaning to be, to stay, to remain; for example, in Spanish, estar=be, in Serbo-Croatian, opstati=survive.
5. Mark Dvoretsky, Strategic Play (School of Chess Excellence, book 3) Edition Olms, 2002
Warning! Evil is upon you in every chess game. It is borne out by the power your opponent’s men possess and use to inflict it on your King and his troops. If you, the Strategist, are not up to the challenge, if you are not fighting these forces of evil in time, your position may quickly disintegrate, ruining your entire game in no time.
To be able to successfully resist the evil, you need to get inside the opponent’s head to reveal his real intentions. Once uncovered, you must cleanse the seeds of evil before they spout. In fact, you should be sort of a prophet, one foreseeing future events. This is the best way to prevent the negative coming your way. Be alert and shun the dangers of evil on the board as soon as you may recognize them. Stay away from their corroding effects produced by their protagonist – the guy sitting across from you!
In one word, we call it Prevention. And remember, it is the highest law of (chess) strategy, or any conflict for that matter, as devised by Sun Tzu some 2500 years ago. Nimzovich also claimed that the famous Steinitz’ Laws of Strategy were subordinate to the Prophylaxis.
But don’t be fooled by thinking that chess prophylaxis is associated with cautious, defensive style of play. Even in positions where your attack may be in full swing, you may want to make a single preventive move to nip his counterplay in the bud, once and for all (usually, it’s the shortest route to victory in such situations).
Nimzovich has shown some great examples of prevention in his books. Here are some more I’ve prepared for you today. They might be helpful to sharpen your sense of warding off the chess evil.
1) In the first example, Black just played e6-e5. His intentions were easy to see, he wanted to make a central push d5-d4. How could White possibly neutralize the threat?
2) Black played 17…Rac8. Can you see Black’s plan and how to prevent it?
Look at the position after 21.Ne3 as well. At that point, Black himself had to put restraint on White’s plans.
3) In the last example Qf1-f2 was White’s last move. Why did he do that? In all conflict situations we can adequately react only if we saw through the opponent’s intentions. So what is White up to? Once we possibly figured it out, the move search might begin.
Kill unwanted weeds before they get started and keep them away all chess season long!
© 2013 iPlayoo!
During a chess game you should withstand all kind of adversity from your opponent. Your men should be holding up if you want to win. For this you need to employ them in a harmonious way so as to build up a strong, resilient and flexible position. It should be “healthy” and free from weaknesses the opponent may use as possible targets against you.
Chess is not all about attack and defense. It is also building a solid position to make sure your piece set-up and movements are guarded from the opponent’s actions while preparing for the right moment to unleash striking power. Not only tactical clashes, chess should also be very much about positional moves, preventive moves, waiting moves, maneuvering — generally, all kind of moves calculated to put your house in order.
As Nimzovich1 put it, “it is necessary for your pieces to establish contact with the enemy’s strategically important points or key strategic points of your own.” Only sound positional play will possibly create ground for a successful tactical outcome later.
Remember the 9 Principles of Warfare, as explained by J.F.C. Fuller? One of them was Endurance, or your chessmen’s resistance to pressure. This is measured by your ability to see direct threats, but also to anticipate things undesirable from the strategic point of view which will enhance your strategic eye on how best to avoid, overcome, or negate them. The Strategist in you should always think in terms of paralyzing the enemy. Either by reducing the opponent’s possibilities of resistance, or by forestalling his aggressive intentions. According to Nimzovich, the well known idea of the accumulation of small advantages, brought to us by Steinitz, is only of secondary significance to prophylaxis, or prevention, that is, all those measures designed to preserve health of your position and hold off the spread of harmful effects of ongoing enemy actions.
Here is some more observations from Nimzovich1, “Positional moves are in general neither threatening nor defensive ones, but rather moves designed to give our position security in the wider sense.”
“Neither the attack nor defense is a matter properly pertaining to positional play, which is instead an energetic and systematic application of prophylactic measures. What is important above all else is to blunt the edge (italics mine) of certain possibilities which in a positional sense would be undesirable.”
We should be constantly “concerned with the warding off of an evil, which has really never been understood as one, yet which can, and in general does, have a most disturbing effect on our game.”
Lack of prevention in chess reminds me of modern medicine that most of time only deals with consequences of a disease that has already progressed, instead of preventing it by smart strategic moves like healthy diet, active life, etc. Needless to say, it is far more advisable to avoid disease than to have to apply controls and do firefighting after disease has broken out. Well, your efforts to put the fire out may come too late then.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, –Benjamin Franklin
Again, the key concept and the main principle of strategy is prevention and holding your opponent back. As Sun Tzu put it some twenty five centuries ago, the highest form of generalship is to stall the enemy’s plans.
Masters do it all the time. For example, here’s an assessment Mikhail Botvinnik made about his opponent David Bronstein at the time they played their match for the World Chess Championship in 1951, ”In general, he is very cautious. When danger is approaching, he shows inexhaustible energy and haste to ward off the attack and divert the opponent.”2
Destroy the very seeds of evil, before they shall have had time to germinate.
All the above discussion finds its support in language. If we look at the meaning of the words3 prevent, restrict, restrain, control, dominate, you can see they all share one meaning, to choke adversary’s actions and movements which then should guarantee domination.
Prevent3 means to keep from happening. Originally, it comes from Latin praevenire, to come before, anticipate, forestall.
Restrict3 comes from Latin restringere, re+ stringere, to bind tightly, draw tight, press together (so as not to let move); the noun is string, or rope. Of the same origin and meaning is strain, as in restrain.
You clearly see that all these words are synonyms. The key message is that if you want to be in the commanding seat you need to foresee and suppress freedom of movement and stop possible actions of the opposing side before they grow too dangerous – this will put you in control.
By the way, control is made up from two words, contra (against, opposite), and rotulus (roll of rota, or wheel). Going from its Latin origin even further into the past , you can find its Proto Indo-European language roots in the verb ret, meaning run, or roll. To control thus originally meant to deprive the other side of movement, bind tightly, hold in check.
* * *
You should learn to recognize the seeds of strategic evil before they ever begin to take root. You must cut off the bad seeds and make sure they are eliminated before they can spread their disease and ruin your game.
Alas, this aspect of the game is greatly neglected when we teach and learn chess. Yet, it should be vital part of the chess player’s thought.
1. Aron Nimzowitsch, My System, 21st Century Edition, Hays Publishing, 1991.
2. Brotvinnik – Bronstein Moscow 1951: Match for the World Chess Championship, ”64″ Publishing, Moscow 2001, p.12
3. Prevent, a. to keep from happening or existing b. to hold or keep back, hinder, stop
Restrict, keep or confine within bounds
Restrain, a1. Hold back or keep in check; control a2. Prevent b. Deprive of freedom and liberty c. Limit or restrict
Control, a. Exercise the dominating influence over something b. Hold in restraint or check
Hold in check, to keep something/somebody under control, usually to stop them becoming too large or too powerful
Dominate, a. Control by superior power b. Exert a supreme influence on or over somebody/something c. Enjoy a commanding or controlling position
Why is chess thinking process failing?
To err is human. Even the best-trained and talented mess up sometimes. The reason is that their brain efficiency comes from the use of automatic shortcuts. They can save time while making decisions in complex situations, but at the same time they create opening for errors.
Below are the remaining four mistakes Ilyin-Zhenevsky described in his Psichology of Chess Mistakes article in the 1929 Shakhmatny Listok #19 (translation by Alex Spektrowski; Part I is here).
The author worked back through his thought process to find the source of errors made. For each error described, you can think of potential ways to make it less likely for the error to happen to you. This may improve your thinking pattern by eliminating faulty steps in it.
5. Dangers of success
We often see cases when a player achieves a considerable positional or material advantage, but then starts playing carelessly and ultimately can’t turn advantage into victory. In my game against Emanuel Lasker, played at 1925 Moscow international tournament, I got this position after White’s 13th move:
Instead of exchanging Queens, Lasker suddenly played 1… Qxa2 2. Ra1 Qxb2 3. Rfb1 Qxb1+ 4. Rxb1, giving away his Queen for Rook, Bishop and pawn. To tell the truth, I still don’t understand this combination and I think that after this sacrifice, Black has all chances to lose. But over the board, I just thought that Lasker made a mistake. Other players thought the same. This excited me. Can you believe it – yesterday I won against Capablanca, today I’m winning against Lasker! Nothing can stop me now! And so I started to play quite hastily. I was also somewhat short on time though. 4… Rfd8 5. c4 Ne8 6. f4 a6 7. Kh1 Nc7 8. Qe3 Rb8 9. Rd1 Nb4 10. Qc3 a5 11. Ra1 b6 12. Qe3. This was followed by 12… e5, and Lasker won the exchange, and soon after that, he won the game. My last move was, of course, a blunder, but my position was already poor even without it. That’s the price of excitement over success.
6. Chasing for beauty
This type of defeat is similar to the previous one. Sometimes a chess player, having achieved positional advantage, gets excited and fails to convert it. There are lots of examples available. In my game against Ya. D. Danyushevsky (White), played in 1920 at the USSR Championship, I got this position after Black’s 24th move:
White is clearly better. He has two Bishops and an opportunity to create a strong passed pawn in the center. Finally, his King is much more safer than the Black’s. A simple 1. d5 gave him good chances for a win. Meanwhile, Danyushevsky saw a pretty mating combination and played 1. Qe7+ Rf7 2. Qe5 Kg6 3. d5 (threatening a spectacular Queen sacrifice: 4. Qxf5+ Kxf5 5. Bd3+ Ne4 6. Bxe4#). But Black easily refutes this threat: 3… cxd5 4. cxd5 Re8 5. Qd4 (White has to exchange Queens, and this isn’t in his favour) 5… Qxd4 6. Rxd4 Rc7, and Black eventually won.
7. Sudden check
So many games were lost because of a sudden check! That’s a real scourge of the combination! Psychologically, it’s similar to my first two examples. The position on the board complicates calculation. But from the very first moves some lines get opened, others get closed, and pieces often get an opportunity for a sudden attack. It’s very hard to calculate all that over the board.
In the fifth game of my match against M. G. Klyatskin (Black) in 1922 I got this position after Black’s 22nd move:
I already had a Knight for two pawns and a good position. Naturally, I wanted to win quickly. And I came up with this “pretty” combination: 1. exf6 Bxf6 2. Ne5 (attacking both Queen and Bf5) 2… Qe6 (if 2… Bxe5, then Black lost both his bishops and weakened the d5 pawn) 3. Ba3. Everything is forced and works smoothly. Here, I was under impression Black was also going to lose an exchange. 3… Rf7 4. Qb5 (almost all black pieces are en prise!) 4… Bxe5 5. Bxd5 (and suddenly!..) 5… Qg6+. The simplest thing to do was to abandon hope to win the exchange, accept the loss of my Knight and play 6. Bg2, but I made a rash decision 6. Kh1, which was followed by 6… Be4+ 7. Bxe4 Qxe4+ 8. Kg1 Qe3+, and I resigned due to impending mate. If we look at the position two moves before the check, it becomes very clear why I missed it. Bf6 barred the road to g6 for the Queen, and my King was covered by Bg2. The check had become possible only because both Bishops left their respective squares.
8. Idea mixture
Sometimes it’s possible to have two game plans in one position. In this case, the worst possible thing is trying to advance both plans at once. The ideas mix, and both plans ultimately fail. In the fourth game of my match against N. D. Grigoriev (Black), played in 1919, after Black’s 22nd move I got this position:
Here, I had two game plans. First, use the poor position of the Rook and play 1. Bf1 Ra4 2. Qe2, threatening 3. Qb5, or 2. Bd3, threatening both Bc2 and Qe2. In this case, the Black’s pieces on the queenside find themselves in an unenviable situation. Another plan was to exploit weakness of the d5 pawn with 1. f4 g6 2. g4! and then a5. But the planes mixed in my head, and I played 1. h3. A very poor move: the Bishop can’t go to g4 anyway due to Bxd5. 1… b5 2. f4. Losing a valuable tempo, I chose the second plan, but now it’s too late. 2… b4 3. axb4 axb4 4. Bf1. And that’s the first plan, or, more accurately, a feeble parody of it. 4… bxc3 5. Bxc4 Qxc4 6. bxc3 Bxh3, and several moves later I’ve had to resign.
That was my last example. Some may think that my names for types of chess mistakes seem too bizarre or far-fetched. It may be so. My goal was not to solve the problem, but rather to demonstrate that it exists, not to classify, but to demonstrate the possibility of it. The solution of this problem may require many years of work. But there’s no doubt that it can be eventually solved.
Shakhmatny Listok #19, 1929
There is no mistake-proof mental procedure for playing good chess, or any other human activity for that matter. And long established habits of thinking are hard to break. Yet, if we want to improve our performance and reduce the number of errors, we should try to identify and eliminate the steps in our thought process that cause errors.
By understanding how we make mistakes, we can avoid their pitfalls.