The art of chessmen arrangement

Capablanca was the first player to truly show us the beauty of piece cooperation. “His pieces always worked together in friendly harmony,” Botvinnik.

It was all so natural for him. The question is, can we come up with some sort of rational explanation of how he has done it? (that would help us better understand, teach and play chess).

Well, honestly, not really.

art of Sergey Essaian

Chaotic or harmonious forces? art by Sergey Essaian

Nonetheless, let’s try to get down to some basics that we may share from art of warfare. This can shed some light on the question posed above, where harmony may be coming from? 1

We know chess battles are fought in space and time by smart use of power possessed by pieces. We also know that individual pieces can’t do much of job (we saw that before). It’s all about cooperation, how pieces interact and what roles they play for the common good. 2

Distribution of force

Chess is a complex system composed of chessmen, like a living organism with various parts. Struggling for survival, it must stay flexible, constantly adapting to adversity in the environment. While guarding and staying safe, it is eyeing up for any possible attacking opportunities, by seeking out weak points in the enemy’s armor (see the Boxing Analogy).

In chess, for waging war, we build up a dynamic structure, an organism, by grouping our forces. By allocating, distributing and organizing elements of combat power harmoniously, we can achieve decisive effect on the opponent.

Like in military operations, it’s about army composition, combat units use their battle formations to accomplish battle missions. It’s about distribution of force, where and how we will position and arrange our forces.

Concentration of force

We don’t poke at the adversary with open fingers though. We should hit with a closed fist.

An army should always be so distributed that its parts can aid each other and combine to produce the maximum possible concentration of force. That’s the point where we focus the most effort (at the same time, the minimum force necessary is used elsewhere – economy of force).

art of Sergey Essaian

Where to focus, what direction to take? art by Sergey Essaian

Effective concentration can only be obtained when the opposing forces are dispersed; and usually, in order to ensure this, our forces must be widely distributed. Thus, by an outward paradox, true concentration is the result of calculated dispersion (an example of chess duality).

So the correct sequence is, our dispersion, their dispersion, our concentration, and each is a sequel.

Direction of force

How we arrange our troops (distribution of force) and where we put the most effort (concentration of force) will be still chaotic without purpose, or direction of force. We should never forget what is the overall aim. Which objectives must be met to achieve the aim?

Whatever the aim, the principle we use in chess and warfare is this, our strength against their weakness.

Thus, the three elements of force are combined to help us pursue the ever-evading harmony. It’s the domain of strategy. We should allocate, integrate and direct our forces to form a persistent structure so everything “hangs together.”

This enables us to act successfully from the position of strength. Strength, strong, structure, construct, destroy, strategy, they all come from the same root, Latin structura, p.p. of struere, with the meaning build uppile up, heap up!

Strategy prevents chaos among our forces and brings about order and harmony!

Yet, the 32-piece puzzle solved so convincingly by Capablanca, still remains there for the rest of us…

© 2013 iPlayoo!


1. The elements of force presented here are part of JFC Fuller’s principles of war. For discussion, I’ve used the classic work on military strategy written by Liddell Hart, Strategy: The Indirect Approach.

2. “The result of cooperation, in attacking positions is to strengthen each element of the group; in positions of defense, to protect each other; in positions of balance, to complement each other,” Dr. Lasker, Manual of chess.

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