We know that the main strategic principle of warfare is to fight and stall enemy plans (as we’ve known from Sun Tzu since 6th c. BC, the very first post here). The most important business in chess is to guess the opponent’s threats, intentions and plans. We need to carefully watch out for consequences of every move they make. And before we respond with our next move, we need to grasp what the opponent has gained or is gaining with their last move. To think only about your plans and tactical strikes would be a huge mistake, characteristic of inexperienced players.

Paying attention to the opponent’s plans does not mean that you play defensively or reactively. It’s just that by standing against, or even stopping their plan in its tracks, your own plan, now unopposed, goes with even more force.

Chess Players, art by Louis Robert Carriere Belleuse (1848-1913)

Louis Robert Carriere Belleuse (1848-1913), Chess Players

How can we train our vigilance and attentiveness during the game to be able to see through the opponent’s plans? Of course, it’s not at all easy. Here’s what GM Georgy Lisitsyn said about it in his “Strategy and Tactics of Chess Experience”, Leningrad, 1952:

“First, in order to see the enemy threats (leaving for a moment their long-term plans aside), we need to master various tactical and strategic methods.

Secondly, we need to control our emotions. We should be patient and in no hurry (which can only be improved by determined practice and exercise).

Thirdly, we should learn to think about possibilities of the opponent’s active play first, and only then about what we would like to do.

The following method may be recommended to help develop a good habit. After each opponent’s move you should ask yourselves two questions:

1) what threats may be imminent in the current position (in order to see potential tactics and combinations),

2) what the opponent is aiming at (in order to see through their strategic plans).

Once you discovered the opponent’s intentions, you should take them into account as you’re making your plan. If necessary, you need to make corrections and modifications to it. Again, being involved with your own plans only and not considering the opponent’s is a serious mistake and may leads to harmful, and often catastrophic consequences.”

Chess masters not only immediately spot the enemy threats, but are also able to anticipate their intentions. The opponent’s plan uncovered, they start looking for a move which helps their plan of action come alive while fighting the enemy plan.

Let’s look at an example to demonstrate this.

Aleksander Tolush – Salo Flohr

18 USSR ch, Moscow, 1950

Caro Kann: Two Knights Variation

1. e4 c6 2. Nc3 d5 3. Nf3 Bg4 4. h3 Bxf3 5. Qxf3 e6 6. d4 Nf6 7. Bd3 Be7 8. e5 Nfd7 9. Qg3 Bf8 10. O-O Qb6 11. Be3 Qxb2 12. Ne2 Qb6 13. c4 Qa6 14. Nf4 dxc4 15. Be2 g6 16. h4 Be7 17. h5 Nf8 18. Rfc1 Nbd7 19. Bxc4 Qa5 20. Rab1 Nb6 21. Bb3 O-O-O

Tolush-Flohr, Moscow, 1950

In the game Tolush-Flohr White sacrificed a pawn in the opening for a better position. Black somehow finished mobilization, but his position is cramped and his pieces are poorly coordinated.

White plans to exploit the weakness of black pawns on the king side. How about Black? What should they do? Improving the position of his pieces, in particular two knights comes first to mind.  Should White do something against it? Definitely! At the same time, he wants to push his own plan. Tolush successfully solved the problem (the following commentary is his):

22. Qf3!

Doesn’t let Nb6 to d5, preparing the attack on Pf7 at the same time.

22. …Nfd7

Going down the exchange to prevent loss of f7-pawn. On 22…Rd7 may follow: 23.Nd3 Ba3 (23…Bd8 24.Nc5 Rc7 25.Ne4 Kb8 26.Nd6) 24.Qf6 (24.Rc2?! Nd5 25.Bd2 Qd8) Rg8 25.h6! Bxc1 26.Rxc1 Rd8 (the only defense against Qg7!) 27.Qxf7 Nfd7 (27…Rh8 28.Nc5 Nbd7 29.Bg5) 28.Bxe6 Kb8 29.Qxh7 and Black’s position is hopeless.

23.Ne2 Rhf8 24.Bh6 Nd5

After 24…Nd5


Up to now White played very well, but now they rush to simplify. 25.Nc3! was better

25. …Rxf8 26.Bxd5 Qxd5 27.Qxd5 exd5 28.hxg6 fxg6?

This now loses as White breaks on the king side before Black activates his pawns on the other side. After 28…hxg6 he win for White is not that simple.

29.Rb3 Nb6 30.Rh3 Rf7 31.f4 Nc4 32.Rd1 Bd8 33.g4 Bb6 34.Kh2 Kd7 35.Rf3 Ke6 36.Kg3 c5 37.f5+ gxf5 38.Nf4+ Ke7 39.Nxd5+ Kf8 40.e6 Rg7 41.Rxf5+ 1-0

Aleksander Tolush (1910-1969)

Aleksander Tolush (1910-1969)

Salomon Flohr (1908-1983)

Salomon Flohr (1908-1983)

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Remember, fight their active plans at all times, every move! It’s the most successful strategy ever. At the same time, it’s how you will improve your game. Guaranteed!

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