When you play a game of chess it is like designing something or constructing a mechanism of some kind by which you win or lose. –Marcel Duchamp.

We saw before that chess masters build up their position by setting up pieces harmoniously. An efficient deployment of the resources will bring stability to the position; on one hand, its strength will oppose external, disruptive forces; on the other hand, positional advantages will likely be accumulating (most effectively by using “small tactics”, the building blocks of strategy) to the critical point when it becomes decisive and so called “big tactics” possible to settle the matters.

Juta Policja (b 1965) et Mareks Gureckis (b 1974)Alpha & Omega

Alpha & Omega, chess art by Juta Policja and Mareks Gureckis

This process of constructing the position (=strategy) resembles producing the finest design — you are sort of a talented designer when playing good chess.

While you read the following definition of design you will realize that it fits perfectly the process going on on the chessboard during the game:

Design, the creation of a plan for the construction of an object or a system, intended to accomplish goals, in a particular environment, using a set of basic components, satisfying a set of requirements, subject to constraints.

In other words, designing your game is designing relationships, planning for arranging pieces (“a main principle throughout,” Capablanca) in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose.

Yet, great design is art, a mysterious gift from the gods, not science, something you can study and learn. If every designer understood more about the math of attraction, all design, from houses and cars to chess, could both look good and be good for you. Only one is Capablanca.

Beauty in chess

Designing always requires two components: the functional and aesthetic dimensions of the design object and design process. As a (chess) architect, you arrive at a solution that is not only safe, sustainable and operational, but also delightful and beautiful.

Nature is not just functional. It is also unquestionably beautiful. Every human being possesses an innate sense of beauty. Beauty literally moves us. Our innate sense of good and bad and our innate sense of beauty are inseparably tied to each other.

While we are taking a break from Bronstein’s interview, here is his view on the beautiful in chess. He had a keen sense of beauty and once said that:

Even those who don’t understand chess can tell whether the player’s position is good or bad. How could that be possible? Very simple, it’s about how pleasing to the eye the chess pieces on the board are really set up. — David Bronstein

Here are a couple of positions to put your sense of beauty to the test. Can you tell which side is winning just by looking at the positions, letting your senses decide which side has a more aesthetically attractive piece set up.



Capablanca – Marshall


after 26…Ng8


Smyslov – Bronstein


after 27…Rae8


Spassky – Bronstein


after 15…Nf8


Botvinnik – Tal


after 21.Ra1


Euwe – Flohr


after 21…Qa5


Gligoric – Smyslov


after 41…Kh7

In all positions, the side looking more attractive to the eye reached the critical point where tactics may be used to launch a decisive attack, where great design, its beauty and functionality all shine together as one sparkling light. A place where magic works.

#1 “White’s pieces are all beautifully posted, while Black’s forces have wretchedly small scope. Nevertheless, Black’s position gives an appearance of defensive solidity which is rudely dispelled by the following fine move,” (Fred Reinfeld, The Immortal Games of Capablanca):
27.Qf3! Bxf5 28.gxf5 Rd6 29.Qh5 Ra7 30.Qg6 Nfh6 31.Rxh6 gxh6 32.Bxh6+ Ke7 33.Qg7+ Ke8 34.Qxg8+ Kd7 35.Qh7+ Qe7 36.Bf8 Qxh7 37.Rxh7+ Ke8 38.Rxa7 Kxf8 39.Kf3 1-0

#2 In the game Bronstein actually played 27…f4. “Having written the winning move 27…Rae8 down on my scoresheet, and with my hand already reaching for the rook, I changed my mind at the last moment, and spent the rest of the game regretting this lost opportunity,” Bronstein, Zurich 1953.

#3 16.Nxf7! exf1=Q+ 17.Rxf1 Bf5 18.Qxf5 Qd7 19.Qf4 Bf6 20.N3e5 Qe7 21.Bb3 Bxe5 22.Nxe5+ Kh7 23.Qe4+ 1-0. This game was used for the chess scene in the 1963 James Bond movie From Russia with Love.

#4 In this position Tal played 21…Nf4 in his characteristic style and won at move 46

#5 22.Rc5! Qxa2 23.Rh5! winning at move 39.

#6 The last move by Black placed White in zugzwang 42.Rc1 [42.Kh2 Rxf3 43.Qxf3 Bxe4, or 42.Qe1 Qf6 and White cannot defend his c3 and f3 pawns, or 42.Rd2 Bxe4 43.Rxd3 cxd3] 42…Qf6 43.Be1 Qf4 0-1

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