“It is an old reflection that life is a struggle. The riddles of the cosmos can therefore be solved in one way only – by investigating the laws and principles which determine the course and the outcome of struggles.”

“What is struggle and victory? Do they obey laws that reason can comprehend and formulate? What are these laws? That is the problem!” — Dr. Emanuel Lasker, The Struggle, 1907

Strategy games: chess is one of wargames

Ready, chess art by Samuel Bak

So what is the principle? First, we will try in plain English. Then, in chess terms.

The main principle of (chess) strategy

All actions in (chess) struggle are based upon either taking the initiative or reacting in response to the opponent. No matter which side you are currently on, the main principle governing the struggle should be this:

Don’t fight your enemy. Fight their strategy.” –Sun Tzu, The Art of War, around 500 B.C.

Or put “more chessly” in these words: “You have to fight not so much with your opponent’s individual moves as with his ideas and plans. Discerning your opponent’s intentions makes it far easier to conduct the upcoming fight successfully.” — Isaac Lipnitsky, Questions of modern chess theory, 1956.

You cannot solely focus on your plan (if you don’t have one, it’s called woodpushing). You must adapt yourself to react to the other player’s strategy and game plan at all times. Any struggle (war, sports, business) has a complex interwoven nature of opposing strategies. You need to do your utmost to frustrate your opponent’s intentions while ensuring the fulfillment of your own plan giving greater freedom of action to your army.

Understand the other player’s strategy, and then adjust your own to take advantage of the weaknesses you perceive in their designs, or react to threats they are setting up for you.

The path of least resistance

You should always have an aim of negating (blocking or counterattacking) the enemy’s intentions. Pursuit of your own aim should be always combined with restricting their objectives.

You choose continuations that should be diminishing their resistance, looking for the line of least resistance. That’s Dr. Lasker’s Law of Struggle: linea minoris resistentiae (obviously, you should put up the stiffest resistance to their aggressive intentions and put the brake on them from the onset).

Martial art in the Flying kick dragon movie

Bruce Lee and Kareem Abdul Jabbar in the Flying kick dragon movie showing the principle of least resistance workings

The path of least resistance is physics phenomenon that unites all animate and inanimate systems and their design. It is always taken by objects moving through a system. Examples include: river basin design; pedestrian movement, speeds and patterns; global circulation and climate; movements of chess pieces; martial arts kicks and movement patterns, etc.

Chess game showing clearly the workings of the strategy #1 principle

Let’s examine how all works in an actual game of chess.We’ll see how both sides in the conflict start implementing their plans. It will take only one moment, one move that Black neglects to pay attention to White’s designs. And it is over.

Commentary by Lipnitsky from his legendary book (State medical publishing of Ukrainian SSR, Kiev 1956). “It is something of a legend, yet enigmatic and inexplicable,” Anatoly Karpov, in the foreword of the English version published by Quality chess in 2008.

Stahlberg-Filip, Helsinki 1952 (after 8.Rc1)

8…c4! Black lays the foundation of his own plan that consists in organizing a Q-side offensive with the aid of his pawn majority there.

9.Nd2! White opposes his opponent’s intentions with a plan of his own – a pawn offensive on the K-side. With his last move he accomplishes two things:

(a) he frees the way for his f-pawn, and

(b) by making a threat against the d5-pawn he draws the black bishop to e6, which will later enable the f-pawn advance with tempo.

9…Be6 10.e3 O-O 11.Be2 Nc6 12.O-O a6

In line with his plan, Black is preparing the b7-b5 advance.

Stahlberg-Filip, Helsinki 1952 (after 12…a6)

However, after 13.f4! Ne7 14.g4! it turns out the White’s plan is more dangerous. Black shifts entirely to defense, but his defensive maneuvers come too late.

14…Nh7 15.f5 This is where 9…Be6 came in handy for White

15…Bc8 16.e4! Ng5 17.Bxg5 hxg5 18.e5 and White has an easily won position.

Stahlberg-Filip, Helsinki 1952 (after 18.e5)

The game has shown  us how:

a) Black was slow to give due attention to the White’s plan that was developing more quickly and therefore was more dangerous,

b) Black didn’t take timely measures to fight his opponent’s plan, which led to his defeat.

This wouldn’t have happened to Black if:

1) he had seen the possible White’s plan with f2-f4 in good time, rather than when that plan had already been put in motion;

2) he had considered by looking into concrete variations how much more dangerous White’s plan was than his own; and on making certain on this,

3) he had immediately undertaken prophylactic measures on the K-side, so as to oppose the execution of White’s plan before it was too late.

Next time we will see what Black should have done if he had followed the universal strategy law.

* * *

Keep your eyes open in order to discover the other competitor’s strategy.

If you don’t see it, how you will be able to fight it?

Further references:

Steve Golderg’s book review on ChessCafe.com

PDF excerpt of Questions of modern chess theory

Boards don’t hit back, from The way of least resistance martial arts blog maintained by Dejan Djurdjevic

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