How to Sell Dummy to Your Opponent
Strategy has the purpose of diminishing the possibility of opponent’s resistance. For this its true aim is not to seek an all-out battle but an advantageous strategic situation where your enemy is put out of balance.
How do we get the enemy out of balance?
As Sir Basil Liddell Hart, a military historian and war theorist put it, “the strategic dislocation is the result of an [army] move which upsets the enemy’s dispositions and, by compelling a sudden change of front, dislocates the distribution and organization of his forces.”
This is a guest post I wrote for NM Will Stewart and his OnlineChessLessons, to show how chess strongly reflects the art and logic of warfare, and in this case specifically, dislocation combined with elements of movement and surprise (published as Chess Strategy: Put Opponent on Horns of a Dilemma, on October 24).
It also gives an example of duality in chess and warfare. The dual partners here are the concentration of force and dispersion of force (we will get back to this again).
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The science of warfare tells you that you should set yourself and have a clearly defined objective during the conflict at all times and keep maintaining it for as long as it is relevant. A proven method of hitting the opponent hard in order to meet your objective is to concentrate your troops at the decisive place and time.
Concentration of force means that you hit the enemy with a closed fist; you don’t poke at him with open fingers.
Effective concentration can only be achieved when the opposing forces are dispersed. If your opponent is certain where you are going to strike, he has the best possible chance of guarding himself by regrouping his forces. That is why you should make your opponent uneasy by having alternative objectives to keep him guessing. This, in turn, will distract his forces and negatively affect their coordination and ability to meet your thrust at the place and time of your choice.
“Place the enemy on the horns of a dilemma.” – General Sherman 
As chess is mirroring warfare, the above approach is an important strategic method you should employ on the chess board too. At the same time, it is another way of shaping the opponent.
Today we are going to take a look at how this military stratagem may well translate into chess. Who can better show us the way than the former World champion Tolya Karpov. Here is his game against Svetozar Gligoric forty years ago (Karpov’s own great commentary from “My Best Games,” RHM Press 1978).
Anatoly KARPOV – Svetozar GLIGORIĆ
San Antonio 1972
It’s a complicated matter to find these kinds of moves! White has an obvious spatial advantage, and along with it certain positional pluses. To improve them, White must come up with a detailed plan to regroup his pieces. Here are my basic thoughts about the position:
- Black has only one clear weakness – the pawn on c5 – against which an attack should be quickly organize to reduce the mobility of my opponent’s pieces;
- the best square for the king is f3, where it avoids checks, gives additional support to the bishop on g4, and opens the g1-a7 diagonal for the bishop/queen battery and the second rank for rook maneuvers;
- White should fight for control of the h-file and develop an initiative on the king-side, but at the proper moment undertake operations on the opposite flank and switch the full weight of the struggle there, making use of his superior mobility.
42… Nb6 43. Rh2 Qe7?
Gligoric, determined to play for the file (44.Qh1 Qf8), doesn’t sense the danger on the queen-side. The a-pawn must be advanced rapidly. Now the white knight paralyzes the queen-side, and the game is swiftly brought to its logical conclusion
44. Nb3 Kc7 45. Kf3
The last finesse – the king frees teh second rank for his rooks. The pawn on c5 is also threatened.
45…Nd7 46. a3! bxa3 47. Ra2!
The last part of the plan outlined above. The rook has done its job on the h-file and can now leave for the a-file.
47…Rh4 48. Rxa3 Rgh8 49. Rb1
Forcing th erook to return to the queen-side in view of the threat of Na5.
49…Rb8 50. Qe1! Rxg4 51. Kxg4 Bc8 52. Qa5+ Black king resigns 1-0
We saw how Karpov first tied down Black to protecting the weak c5-pawn. That way the black forces were denied some mobility, and, at the same time, distracted as to how to parry White’s threats of taking control over the h-file. His true intentions of a queen-side campaign were meanwhile well masked. After clearing the second rank for his highly mobile troops, White gave a decisive blow.
Duality of objective (or even triplicity, as in the game: 1. the c5-pawn, 2. the h-file control, 3. the queen-side breakthrough) assured the essential elasticity and gave White the baffling and unnerving power of being able to “sell the dummy” to his opponent.
Gen. Sherman was selling the dummy, the great Pele was selling the dummy , Karpov was selling the dummy.
Why don’t you too try it in your games?
© 2012 iPlayooChess
1. In the post-Atlanta operations during the American Civil war, General Sherman’s army would deliberately take lines of advance to make Confederate forces uncertain of their objective. Was he going to Macon? Augusta? Savannah?
2. The great Pelé’s runaround move is a variant of the “selling the dummy” feint – letting the ball go around a defender then also circling the opponent, rather than following the straight path of a pass or loose ball. It is discussed in such books as Scientific Soccer of the Seventies by soccer historian Kenneth MacDonald