All winning efforts in chess warfare require domination, [1] that is, generation of superior combat power at a particular time and place, as defined by strategy. There are two opposing styles in warfare, but in fact, both, attrition and maneuver, [2] are always involved in some mix.

Domination by attrition

This style pursues victory through the cumulative destruction of the enemy’s forces by superior firepower. It is a direct approach that sees war as a straightforward test of strength and a matter of force ratios. Enemy concentrations are sought out as the most worthwhile targets.

Domination by maneuver

On the opposite end of the spectrum is this method which wants to avoid a direct head-on approach (which, we know, is targeting enemy concentrations and strengths), and apply our strength against selected enemy’s weakness in order to maximize advantage. Rather than pursuing the cumulative destruction of every component in the enemy arsenal, the goal is to restrict and incapacitate the enemy at his most vulnerable point, thus getting him out of balance. Enemy components may remain untouched but cannot make contribution and function as part of a cohesive whole. In this way, domination and a decisive local superiority may be achieved with a numerically inferior, but mobile force.

art by Jean Pierre Dupre

This piece is checked, restricted and trapped, “There is no such thing as liberty, you only change one sort of domination for another,” D. H. Lawrence (chess art by Jean Pierre Dupre)

Domination in chess

The term domination was introduced into chess literature by the famous French composer Henri Rinck. [3] In its essence, one warring side, controlling specific squares, attacks and captures an enemy piece, after which the opponent suffers other material losses and is defeated. This is an example of warfare by attrition: destroy and eliminate.

The term domination should be viewed more broadly though. Domination can be implemented in other ways too. For example, when an enemy piece, being restricted, is deprived of moves; or one can just make some important squares inaccessible to some pieces in order to prevent their involvement in the main events on the board. Restriction of the mobility of the opponent’s pieces and their exclusion from play is an important principle of chess strategy.

This method is applicable not only in endgames. Botvinnik described Karpov’s chess style as clever play for domination, in all stages of the game. [4]

Here is an example by Henri Rinck himself where the rook is captured as a result of the bishop being able to establish domination by pinning it. In general, the knight achieves domination over the rook more often, but here is how the bishop can do it.

Henri Rinck (1870-1952)

Deutsche Schachzeitung, 1912

Rinck's study from Deutsche Schachzeitung, 1912

White to play and win

1. Kd2 Rxc3 2. Kc1 Rb3 3. Rxd3 Rxd3 4. Kxc2 Rd6 (d8, a3) 5.Bc5 (h4) and the rook is trapped. Domination!

Now let’s see how the 11th World Chess Champion uses domination with the idea to disrupt the opponent’s piece coordination and cut the main body off from taking part in the main events. At the same time, he maintains domination having superior combat power in his attack on Black’s monarch.


US Championship 1963/64

Fischer-Benko, US Championship 1963/64

White to move (position after 18…exd4)

19. Rf6!! A bolt from the blue! commented Fischer in My 60 Memorable Games collection. Benko expected 19.e5 f5!

The knight is already under attack, now Fischer, by way of Alekhine’s block, offers his rook on f6. This paralyzes the entire black army and establishes domination and firepower superiority in the critical sector of the battlefield.

19. …Kg8 Forced as on 19…dxc3 (or 19…Bxf6) follows 20.e5 with mate.

20. e5 h6 21. Ne2 White is threatening 22.Rxd6 to which there’s no defense. If 21…Bxf6, then 22.Qxh6. And if 21…Nb5, then 22.Qf5.

* * *

All chess is struggle over power, superiority and domination, no matter how subtly it is disguised through delegation to our chessmen to achieve it for us.

Chess is a game of courteous aggression, –Julian Barnes



1. to dominate means:

a) to control by superior power; b) to exert a supreme influence on or over; c) to enjoy a commanding or controlling position.

From Latin dominus, master of a household.

2. Edward Luttwak, Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace

3. Ghenrikh Kasparyan, Domination in 2,545 Endgame Studies, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1980

4. Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual, Russell Enterprises, Milford, 1993

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