Strategic planning in chess

Every winning strategy requires “shaping the enemy.” This preparation of the battlefield uses primarily two methods:

(1) attacking the enemy’s strategy, and

(2) occupying and holding main strategic positions,

both brought up to the attention of strategists for the first time by Sun Tzu back in around 500 BC.

We have covered (1) before. Today we may bring to the fore the subject of strategic points. In the essence, you should capture and hold strategic strongholds, or else your victory will be more costly! As long as you are able to seize and maintain critical lines and points on the strategic pathways (usually in the middle of the battlefield) the enemy cannot come over and use his force effectively against you.

Strategic management of strongholds

Attacking a stronghold (The Stronghold is a strategy board game by the Polish designer Ignacy Trzewiczek)

Struggle for strongholds

Now it may be interesting for us to see how one of the leading Hypermoderns Richard Reti discussed strong strategic points. Before Hypermoderns, both warring sides would traditionally create strongholds in the center either by 1.e4 e5, or 1.d4 d5.

With this, in fact, the strategy in general terms becomes clear right from the move one. The pawn set-up actually offers both sides marks or targets for the attack. With 1.e4 e5, for example, White will further his plan with an assault against e5, the Black’s central stronghold. White wants its dissolution so as to open central lines and break through into the Black’s camp. For that he may consider a plan with either d4, or f4 to undermine the Black’s fortification in the center.

“The opening is the hardest part of the game: for it is very difficult at that point to get to know what is really going on,” Reti, Modern Ideas in Chess.

Against the usual defense 1…d5 (or 1…e5) it is much easier for White to find a correct pawn play and development for his pieces.

“White, who before Black clarifying his central pawn formation, can conceive but a vague plan to seize in the centre the largest possible amount of terrain, is, after 1.d4 d5 immediately in a position to conceive a plan in greater detail and is afforded thereby a much easier attacking game,” Modern Ideas in Chess.

Hypermodern method

The Hypermoderns introduced quite a different approach to the game with regard to how to manage strong strategic points in the center: they typically didn’t occupy free central points early in the game. They would give the freedom of it to the other side. Once, the central formation has become clear, they would start attacking the opponent’s strong points to make them loose. As a matter of fact, they knew “what was going on” (it’s all about the strongholds), which was not necessarily true for the opposition used to managing the traditional central formations. The Hypermoderns presented them with a difficult task: to figure out what’s going on in the opening. With a lot of room for failure, of course.

Now I would like to share with you a game Reti himself played against Gruenfeld in Baden-Baden in 1925. What is of great interest to us here is Reti’s instructive commentary revealing his way of thinking about strongholds and their treatment in a new hypermodern way (translated from Mazukevich’s Richard Reti, Olimpia Press, Moscow 2005, as published in Chess in 1925 – to the best of my knowledge this commentary is appearing for the first time in English).

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