The central strategic principle of the game (of life) is to try putting constant restraint on your opposition, be it an enemy army, your business competition, or the guy sitting at the other side of the table (see a post on this). After all, we all possess that hard-wired compulsion to survive and triumph.

Restriction, restriction, restriction!

When their troops are confined to staying in place, their mobility and maneuverability will greatly suffer. They are vulnerable as their options to somehow break free are poor and limited. Most of time, they become an easy prey, especially if another theater of operations opens up.

These are not Kotov and Ragozin from our game, just to make sure

Now, look at the above painting of an anonymous author. Can you tell the guy being in a deep trouble? The player who is winning? Of course, it is obvious. Your unconscious brain takes in the total situation in a split of a second (and is able to grasp the situation on the board in about pretty much the same amount of time – if trained properly).

The player on the right may have just followed the principle we are going to talk about today!

To demonstrate it, we will take a look at a game played at the 1949 XVII USSR championship. We are going to see a concrete approach on how to restrict the enemy and deprive them of an active play. GM Kotov gives us a classic example of how to impose a tight restriction on the other army and then make a striking gain.

Aleksander Kotov – Viacheslav Ragozin

17th USSR ch, Moscow, 1949

Queen Gambit Declined: Exchange Variation

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c6 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Qc2 Nbd7 7.Bg5 Be7 8.e3 O-O 9.Bd3 Re8 10.O-O Nf8 11.Rab1 Be6 12.b4 Rc8 13.Na4 Ne4 14.Bxe7 Rxe7 15.Nc5 Nxc5 16.Qxc5 b6 17.Qc2 Qd6 18.Rfc1 g6 19.Rb3 Nd7 20.h3 Nb8 21.a3 Bd7 22.Rc3 Be8

Kotov - Ragozin, USSR ch, Moscow, 1949

This is a very instructive position. When facing any situation in real-life, or on the board, the first question is always, “What am I looking at? What kind of problem is this?”

So, what do you think is the most characteristic feature of the position?

Can you see where most of power lines are concentrated? What is the focal point of this fierce battle?

The trained eye will immediately notice it is c6-post where the weak Pawn is under heavy artillery fire from the White cannons piled up along the c-file. The Black troops are all tied down. Especially the ones on the last rank look miserable. Bad and inefficient in view of their low mobility and a taxing  job of defending the c6, the game’s most important strategic point. But they somehow continue to hold out in their last “stronghold”, the c6.

There’s also the Queen-Bishop battery eying along the white diagonal toward the Black King (who wold expect that g6-pawn will soon show a serious weakness in the game?)

Unfortunately, there is no counter attack for Black in sight.

While Black’s defense on the Queen’s wing is still barely holding up, what is the White to do to take advantage of his superior position?

Well, he is using the major strategic principle of warfare: when your opponent is tied down on one side, hit them on the other flank.

So 23. h4! a6 The Black is trying to create some counter chances on a-file. First, he clears up a7 for his Rook.

24. h5 Ra7 But position of Ra7 will become the motive of an interesting combination we will see. Better was 24…Kg7

25. hxg6 hxg6 26.Ne5 a5 This leads to a swift defeat. With a passive defense Black could have fought a continuing battle, but it is hard to believe that he would be able to defend the weakened Queen side, while a dangerous initiative on the other side was looming (for example, Ne5, f2-f4 etc.)

27. b5! The beginning of a beautiful combination. On the natural 27…c5 would follow: 28.dc!! Qxe5 (28…bc 29.Rxc5) 29.cb Rxc3 30.ba!! Rxc2 31.Rxc2!

Three Black pieces cannot stop the brave Pawn from queening!

A rare position! The White Pawn took the d4xc5xb6xa7 route, and is about to get promoted, while three enemy troops cannot stop it!

27. …Rac7 Very often your opponent doesn’t give you a chance to make beautiful combinations, by simply choosing to give out some material (here a Pawn). However, in this game there is nothing to be disappointed about as another delicious combination will provide for a pure mental delight.

28. bxc6 Kg7 28…Nxc6 is not an option as White plays 29.Bb5. “The defensive power of a pinned piece is only imaginary” (Aaron Nimzovich) 

29. Qb1! Keeping control of the g6, with ensuing complications in mind.

29. …Nxc6 30.Qxb6 Rb8 31.Qxb8! The final attack on the Black King!

31. …Nxb8 32.Rxc7 Qxa3 33.Bxg6 Nc6 Looks like it is now White to find himself in an uncomfortable position: a few of his pieces are under attack. However, the logical path of Kotov’s winning thought gives no mercy

34. R1xc6! Bxc6 35.Rxf7+ Kh6 Also loses 35…Kh8 36.Bh7 with a mating Ng6 to follow

36. f4! Qxe3+ 37.Kh2 There is no defense against 38.Rh7 mate

Rh7 mate is inevitable

37. …Qxe5 38.fxe5 Resigns

A beautiful game!

To see how the above strategic concept is really universal, read a paragraph, Martin Blumenson wrote on the European theater of operations in WWII. This will show us the same principle in action, now in a real war:

“Montgomery had tied down the strength of Panzer Group West, which still guarded the vital approaches to Falaise. Whether General Montgomery had visualized it so, or whether he was aware of the historical example, the breakout in Normandy from a larger perspective resembled in the essentials of maneuver the operation in Sicily of less than a year earlier. There, too, Montgomery’s forces had tied down the enemy while Patton’s U.S. troops carried the main assault and made the striking gain.”

So remember, Tie Them Down Here, Then Hit Them Someplace Else!

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