Actions in any competitive situation (chess game, war, business competition) more or less reflect the constant imperative to seize and maintain the initiative. Through perpetual use of threats your opposition will lose freedom of action and be unable to constructively develop their strategy.

Chess Initiative is a dangerous weapon

Initiative and offensive play will make your opponent feel as if playing a four-arm monster

With your active moves, as forcing as possible, you want to forestall their plans, apply constant pressure to set them difficult problems to solve (give your opponent the chance to make mistakes!) and force them to switch to the defensive. And psychologically, it’s no fun when you are on the passive side of the confrontation just reacting on the offensive.

Better results in chess and sports with constant initiative

Kotov-Boleslavsky, Moscow USSR-ch 1945 (after 6…Nbd7)

In this position White exerted an unfortunate initiative with the idea to weaken the Black’s king side.

7. Bh6?

The further course of the game showed that White hadn’t correctly evaluated the position. He lost the precious time in the opening, lagged in development and soon was forced to switch to the defensive (typically, inappropriate initiative from one side leads to seizing the initiative by the other side in the conflict).

The text doesn’t do the intended purpose of weakening the Black’s king side. Instead, dark squares in the White’s camp actually become vulnerable with Black taking the initiative.

7. …Bxh6 8.Qxh6 c5! 9.c3 Qb6! 10.Qd2

Black stepped on the initiative on the queen side targeting black-square complex, insufficiently protected after exchange of dark-square bishops, forcing the white far-away queen to return to rescue. With consistent play Black gained positional advantage by increasing coordination of his pieces with d4 and b2 as focal points. As a result, the Black’s initiative took hold transforming soon into a full-fledged attack (10…cxd4 11.cxd4 e5 12.Na3 d5 13.dxe5 Nxe5 14.Bb5+ Kf8 15.exd5 Kg7 16.Ne2 a6 17.Bc4 Re8 18.Rd1 Bh3 19.Kf1 Nxf3 20.Qf4 Ng4 21.Qxf3 Ne3+ 22.Ke1 Bxg2 23.Qf2 Bxh1 24.Rd3 Qb4+ 25.Rd2 Rac8 26.Bb3 Bxd5 27.Bxd5 Nxd5 28.Qd4+ Qxd4 29.Rxd4 Nf6 0-1)

Schach und Humor

Special kind of initiative to reach a peace deal. “I ask you for the last time: draw?”

We saw how White (7.Bh6?) and Black (8…c5! and 9…Qb6!) exerted the initiative. But as the former died soon, the latter strengthened into a long-term initiative coupled with a ferocious attack that followed. Like a counterpunch in boxing, the response to the initiative often has as its objective seizing the initiative from the opponent. The initiative and response, attack and defense, they are two sides of the same coin. The transition from one to the other is fluid and continuous.

Culminating point

By its nature, the initiative ends sooner or later. The offense can’t sustain itself  indefinitely. It grows weaker as it advances in the face of resistance which is a major factor in the dissipating of strength. It is losses in troops (piece exchange normally diminishes the vigor of the attack), or their temporary lack of coordination, inability to effectively control the occupied territory with weak strategic points created in the rearguard, or physical and mental strength and preparedness that contribute to the fact that initiative and offense become weaker and weaker over time. Eventually, the culminating point is reached where the offensive side can no longer sustain its campaign and the defense automatically takes over.

Dividend yield on initiative

Before this happens and the initiative disappears, as Capablanca noted, the offensive side must obtain some tangible material or positional advantage in its place. With this advantage at hand, the initiative should be relinquished under such favorable conditions so that the side having possessed initiative before, will, in turn, be able to withstand the adversary’s thrust. And hope that through the superiority of power, or some positional advantage accumulated, will once more resume the initiative and, eventually, win the victory.

Further reading:

– Excellent article on initiative by WGM Natalia Pogonina

Exeter chess club

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