According to U.S. Army Doctrine for Joint Planning Operations, CoG is “those characteristics, capabilities, or localities from which a military force derives its freedom of action, physical strength, or will to fight.” (Now, chess people, just replace a military force with a chess force, okay?)

US military doctrine is using the CoG concept that is developed by Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz. “Out of the characteristics [of the conflict] a certain center of gravity develops, the hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends. That is the point against which all our energies should be directed.”

Chess students defining the concept of the center are like blind men describing an elephant. They know the center is huge one, but they describe it according to their own understanding. “The center [of gravity] is too important a concept to guess at,” Colonel Dale C. Eikmeier, U.S. Army, assures us. It’s OK Colonel, we’ll take a look at it and revisit the chess center again in this post (only I’m not quite sure should we report back to him?)

The center in the traditional chess doctrine

Under a common definition in the chess doctrine, centralized pieces are: (1) more active and having greater fighting value (=activity), and (2) can be quickly transferred to either of the flanks (=mobility), which makes the center the most important place on the whole chessboard.

True, but once again we look at one of critical concepts in chess too simplistically.

Stronghold, by Samuel Bak (see how the enemy is drowning after failing against our stronghold constructed in the right of the picture? and this Bak guy is so helpful for us to see chess concepts! after seeing this picture you’ll never ever forget how strong points are vital for your battles)

As we know, every complex system consists of:

  1. Parts
  2. Interrelations
  3. Goal, or purpose

In very much the same way as we start teaching chess with a focus on individual piece movements, we make another similar mistake by looking at the center in terms of individual parts only. We are ignoring (2) and (3) above, conveying an amputated view of chess reality.

Let’s try to come up with a better view by using what we’ve already covered in this blog: strategy, attack and defense, piece harmony — we need them all to bring forward a more adequate definition of the role of the center.

Act from the position of strength!

Let’s start with Sun Tzu:

“One attacks when his strength is abundant. One defends when his strength is inadequate.”

To possibly accomplish the goal of the game and win, it is clear from above that we need to act from the position of strength.

How do we achieve this? By building up a strong structure in the center of the battlefield. We want a source of power from which our chess forces derive physical strength and freedom of action to act. We want to establish a source of power that will provide strategic focus and order (think coordination of troops) for our army. The center gives our fighting forces unity and cohesion.

How is the strength, or structure we are talking about built up? It is done by constructing a strong point in the center. For White it is either e4 or d4. Black may oppose it by a similar strong post at d5, which should be well protected, say, with this set-up: pawns at e6 and c6, Nf6 and Qd8, as in Queen’s gambit, so it can’t be easily destroyed. And all this should be part of the strategy implemented.

(By the way, have you noticed that strength, structure, construct, strong, destroy, and strategy all derive from the same Indo-european root? — Latin structura, past participle of the verb struere, meaning pile up, heap up, build! — it’s all about building up strength!)

And this strength in the center is not about locality only. All forces, from the opening till deep in the middle game, are directed toward the center where a great deal of power is concentrated. Additionally, forces should achieve effective coordination (think d5, c6, e6, Nf6, Qd8 set up) during the battle for the center. So CoG is about locality, and concentration of power, and coordination of troops!

All this is in sync with Nimtzovich’s overprotection concept where we should systematically overprotect our own strategically important strong points from which our entire position receives energy and vitality.

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To recap, CoG, or Center of Gravity, is a chess source of strength, power and resistance. It creates a critical capability (superiority, usually in the middle board, in terms of space,  maneuverability, power, and piece harmony) that allows the player to act effectively and accomplish the aim.

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Next time more about the center from the perspective of strategy and its main principles and how attack and defense fit in.

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