Going Tactically-Positional, or Positionally-Tactical?

Our intention with Test Your Positional Skills Tactically! puzzle published here every Sunday is to increase and sharpen your strategic understanding from the games of the Greats. To make this a pleasurable experience for you, we asked them to use some tactics for you, some good tactics! But not some slashing and smashing tactics to get the opponent out of the saddle and onto the ground! Instead, the Masters will show you how they use little tactics, how they make seemingly trivial changes in the position to build it up and make it strong to the point where big tactics may be available – if you can see it!

Masters blend together the tactical and positional all the time. It is not like in chess books, let’s practice some tactics from this one, then some positional stuff from that one. No, it shouldn’t work that way, strategy and tactics always go hand in hand, you don’t find them in separate boxes.

Victor Bregeda (Taganrog, 1963), Somewhere in time

The above picture, Somewhere in time, shows that at certain points in our life (or a game of chess), we have the opportunity to come out of the cave; we can review our creation and make choices about our path in the future. There always exists another path, that stays in the light without going back to the cave.

In this game, somewhere in time (the round one of the famous 1953 Zurich tournament), Black (Keres) played out the opening very well and his two promising central pawns looked very aggressive. Yet, Keres didn’t see some little tactics to improve the position, while White (Petrosian) did see some, which helped him neutralize the game which eventually ended in a draw.

Nov 10, 2013 Puzzle

White just played 14.Nc2-e1 and, evidently, was going to d3 to impose blockade à la Nimzo. Can you see any little tactics for Black to bring him not just one, but three positional advantages all at once?

As Victor Bregeda shows us in the above Somewhere in time picture, you need to find another path, that stays in the light without going back to the darkness (the move wasn’t seen in the actual game, instead, Keres played …Qe6 attacking the c4-pawn).

Here is David Bronstein with his enlightened and ever fresh commentary1.

“The most important point in this position is unquestionably d4: it marks the intersection of the lines of force from the black bishop to the white king and from the black rook to the white queen; also, if the black knight could get to d4, it would take away four squares from the white queen and strengthen the pin on the night on f3. White’s next and quite obvious move will reduce the value of this communication nexus to a minimum, if not to zero. The blockaded d-pawn will frustrate both the bishop on c5 and the rook on a8 with its aspirations to d8.”

“The nexus could could have been cleared for the price of a pawn.”



To sum up, for the small price the small tactics would have brought Black three positional pluses: (1) opening the line for the c5-bishop, (2) opening the d-file for the rook, (3) vacating the d4-square for the knight. Not a bad deal at all, “which would have given Black a very promising game,” concluded Bronstein. Instead, Keres played differently (14…Qe6) which allowed his opponent to make use of some little tactics himself! But that’s something we will leave for our Nov 17 puzzle.

Nov 17, 2013 Puzzle

Petrosian-Keres Zurich 1953

White is under pressure and it seems that Black stands a little better.

What kinds of defensive resources for White could you find here? White succeeded in blocking the aggressive central pawns, but how White can effectively neutralize Black’s domination in space, coupled with the threat to the c4-pawn, while the white f3-knight is unpleasantly pinned, which is reducing his influence on e5?

The aged Fritz 6 of my ChessBase Light 2009 evaluates the position as slightly favorable for Black and is suggesting moves like 16.Qa4, 16.Qb3 and 16.Rc1 all defending the c4-pawn.

This is a great example of how chess engines lag behind humans in strategic understanding of the position; they are tactical monsters, but when it comes to strategy and grasping the positional core in apparently quite positions, they are still markedly inferior to how humans think and approach problem solving – it is not all about calculation and logic. It’s about the intangibles, baby! strategic insight, intuitive thinking, imagination, creative approach, all of which is still out of grasp for the cheap chips – and will remain so for good…


16. h2-h3!

“Black cannot capture the h-pawn, since 17.Bxh3 Qxh3 18.Ndxe5 Nxe5 19.Nxe5 would have deprived him of either the castling privilege or his d-pawn; and retreating to h5 would have permitted 17.Nxd4!” Bronstein makes the comment in [1].

16…Bxf3 17.Qxf3 Qxc4 18. Rfc1 Qe6

What positional pluses has White obtained with our beloved little tactics?  For the market price of 1P(awn), White traded the black g4-bishop for his knight, activated his queen and gained the c-file control (by the way, Fritz is still totally clueless about what’s going on here: it suggests now 19.Rc2, 19.a3 or 19.Qh5 claiming Black is clearly better with ∓1.03 value; the game continuation will show you how that’s wrong — don’t believe everything what the cheap-chip morons are telling you!).

What should White do now?

And it is actually our Nov 24 puzzle!

Nov 24, 2013 Puzzle

Petrosian-Keres 1953

Here we are going to see another kind of little tactics. It is also positional in nature, but it is not forcing as it doesn’t pose any direct threats. Yet, it gets its energy from tactics and it needs tactical justification to make it playable.


Here’s Bronstein, “A pretty final stroke, based on combinative motifs, to the defensive system White has devised.”

“If Black exchanged queens and continues with …f7-f6, he will lose: 19…Qxf5 20.exf5 f6 21.Rxc6! bxc6 22.Bxc6+ Kf7 23.Bd5+! followed by the capture of the a8-rook.”

“If, after exchanging queens, Black defends the e-pawn with his bishop instead, then White has a positional advantage.”

“And if 19…Qd6, then 20.f4 g6 21.fxe5, or 20.Rc5 are strong.”

19…Bd6 20.Qxe6+ fxe6 21.a3 Kd7 22.Bf1 a4 23.Ne1 Ra5 24.Rc2 Rc8 25.Rac1 Na7 26.Rxc8 Nxc8 27.Bc4 Be7

The position is now a clear draw, White’s knight returns to d3, leaving black no place to penetrate. There followed:

28.Nd3 Nd6 29.f3 Nxc4 30.Rxc4 Bd6 31.Kf2 Ra6 32.Ke2 g5 33.Kd1 Ra8 34.Ke2 h5 35.Rc1 Rh8 36.Rh1 h4 37.g4 b5 38.Rc1 Rb8 39.Kd1 Rb6 40.Rc2 Rb8 41.Rc1 Ra8 1/2-1/2

© 2013 Momir Radović

1. David Bronstein, Zurich International Chess Tournament, 1953 (Dover Chess)

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