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Thinking systems of world champions

Thinking Systems before Steinitz

It is said that chess in the name of Sanskrit word Chaturang (Chatur Ang means four
arms (of controller Queen or Minister) - Rooks, Bishops, Knights, and Pawns depicting
the Army (Elephants), Navy (ships) or Oont (Camels) in Deserts, Air Force (Horse) and
cavalry (pawns)) was invented in India. And it is also said that the king Ravana
(remember Lord Rama story) used to play this game with his queen Mandodari. But
then Chess would have been invented in Sri Lanka (unless Mandodari who invented this
game to keep her husband busy would have been Indian or the game was invented in
India and then reached Lanka from here). Hey! my Indian friends would beat me up and
many historians even say that Lanka claimed to be Ravana's kingdom was in India at
that time (though I don't think so). So, let us assume that chess was invented in India
and flourished in Persia & Arab countries then entertained Europe, got settled in Russia,
romanced with US and then returned back to India (with World Champion Anand) &
China as well. Overall, it is a true international game.

From thinking point of view, chess in olden times was played for recreation & passing
good time and not as a tournament. So, the thought process was slow movements. And
if a combination emerged somewhere that was the main source of amusement.
Entertainment value in chess was proportional (and still it is) to the deepness & number
of combinations played in a game. Also, in old times if a small army used to beat a big
army, it was appreciated. Same happened in chess too. If you could win after sacrifices
and less material, people especially beautiful ladies in audiences were ready to kiss you
(I dream so).

Hence, combinations and sacrifices were order of the day in chess before Steinitz. The
most brilliant player before Steinitz was Paul Morphy from America. His key to success

- Bring out your forces quickly, effectively and economically. The concept of tempi was
best utilized by Morphy in beating the opponents who were even better in combinations
than him.
- Attack and play accurately especially in open games

Steinitz System

Mr. Wilhelm Steinitz, the first world champion is considered the father of positional
chess. In simple terms, we can understand his chess thinking systems like this:

Thinking Before Steinitz: Lead in development leads to winning combinations & fierce
attacks which lead to material advantages and win. Blitz games are still won in this style
at low levels.

Steinitz thinking: Lead/ equality in development shall lead to accumulation of small

positional advantages which lead to combinations & fierce attacks leading to material
advantage and win.

Thus, Steinitz led the game of chess away from gambling. He could nip the opponent's
combinations in the bud itself through his grand plan of accumulation of small
advantages, attacked fiercely after gaining sufficient positional lead and kept on winning
leaving combinational magicians gasping and spectators bedazzled. This was the birth
of competitive play in chess tournaments and concrete planning in chess.

The basis of Steinitz's thinking system was that superior position of our pieces are hard
to maintain for long but the superior position and structure of our pawns lasts till end.
So, focus in the opening to middle phase shall also be on pawns and pawn structures
and not only on pieces alone.

But, what small advantages Steinitz was telling to accumulate.:

1. Keeping connected pawns with us (strong position for us)
2. Creating backward pawns in opponent's wing (medium weakness for opponent)
3. Creating doubled pawns in opponent's wing (Serious weakness for opponent
especially isolated doubled pawns)
4. Isolation of opponent's hostile pawns (Medium weakness for opponent)
5. Keeping our majority of queen side pawns to create remote passed pawn advantage
in the end (Philidor focused on the king-side pawns but Steinitz on queen-side pawns
6. Weakening of the phalanx of hostile pawns especially in the vicinity of the opponent's
7. Creation of secure advanced posts and posting pieces there
8. Domination of open lines
9. Play in the centre
10. Assault with a queen-side pawn-chain to cramp the enemy (Philidor talked about
king-side pawn chains only)
11. Keep the Bishop Pair advantage with you and devoid your opponent from this
advantage if possible (exchange his one bishop with your knight)
12. Avoiding all such weaknesses in our camp (unless serious material loss is
threatened) and create these positional strengths for us.

Steinitz's Theory of Balance of Positions and the Principle of Attack: Steinitz says that if
advantages held by one chess player are compensated by the advantages held by his
opponent, then the position is balanced and one shall not attack in these positions.
Balanced positions with best play from both sides will again and again lead to balanced

Only, after balance of positions has been disturbed (by a weak move or bad play by
opponent), a chess player gets an uncompensated advantage and he shall attack to
Where to attack: Steinitz compares the position of opponent to a chain of many links
and the attacker must attack the points where the opponent's chain is weakest and must
break the opponent's chain. So, follow the path of least resistance in attack. Commonly,
the weakest point has always been found to be the opponent's f pawn (f7 & f2 pawns).

Steinitz's Theory of Economy and the Principle of Defence: On the flip side of advantage
and attack, Steinitz says that if a player is at a disadvantage, he must defend with the
principle of economy. The principle of economy says that grade your weaknesses and
improve the worst weakness first and proceed in that order till balance or advantage is
achieved. Stability of a position is gauged by its least stable point and so a player must
attempt to achieve at every point the same degree of stability.

Lasker System

Mr. Emanuel Lasker, the second World Champion analyzed the Steinitz's principles,
appreciated them a lot but also found certain weaknesses. Steinitz did not say what to
do in balanced positions. Shall we just wait for a weak move by opponent (again shifting
to gambling). Lasker found the answer as "Piece Coordination".

The theory of Piece Cooperation: Pieces shall be coordinated in all the three positions.
Though it looks similar but in fact, piece coordination in these 3 conditions is quite
different :

1. Attacking Positions: Cooperation shall be achieved to strengthen each element of the

group. Here, pieces shall attack the same square (normally weak square) and if more
pieces are able to accumulate and focus the same square, it may result in material gain
after exchanges.

2. Defending Positions: Here, pieces shall safeguard each other.

In the above two cases, as a compromise of focus/ defence, the pieces will not be able
to cover the squares left by other pieces.

3. Balanced Positions: Pieces shall complement each other. Here, pieces cover more
and more squares as they need not focus on the same point or safeguard each other.
Good Bishop pair is best example in such cases.

Impact of Distance in piece coordination: Usually it is thought that pieces at a distance

cannot cooperate but Lasker pointed out that even distant pieces can cooperate. For
example, in the end game, passed pawns on a and h files can cooperate and one can
draw opponent's king towards it so that other one can get promoted to queen (principle
of two weaknesses).

The theory of local imbalance in balanced positions: Lasker pointed out another fault in
Steinitz's theory of balanced positions. There are very few perfectly balanced positions.
Other positions are locally imbalanced even if overall balanced. So, the players can
attack at different points even if the position is overall balanced often leading to fierce
struggles. For example, White may have advantage in queen-side and Black in the king-

The Principle of Justice: Lasker says that in balanced positions, one shall follow the
principle of justice. Here, he talks management. Suppose, you are a CEO of a company.
Would you afford, some one working day and night and other one sleeping. Or a highly
paid one working less and lowly paid working hard. Justice has to be there on chess
board as well. Pieces shall act as per their capability and made to contribute fully.
However, if a piece can contribute more in the end, it can be kept behind initially and
other less or equally capable pieces may be given a chance (so the famous Lasker
instruction - Develop knights before bishops).

The Principle of Proportion: Lasker writes that though Steinitz would have thought
about this theory but he could not put it in words. During attack in imbalanced positions,
the advantage which an attacker shall expect shall be in proportion to the positional
advantage he has before the attack starts. Attack is the means of converting positional
or dynamic advantages to material or permanent advantages. In a similar way, the
defender can estimate his losses as well. Many attacks and defences have failed due to
over-rated expectations or fears. Positional sacrifices shall also follow this principle of

Psychology in Chess: Kasparov in his book "My Great Predecessors" says Lasker was
master of preparations. He used to adjust his style of play as per his opponent. The
psychological advantages he had in most of the games he played due to his perfectly
balanced and varied style was the root cause of his longest reign as World Champion.
Nimzowitsch System

While Steinitz and Lasker used positional chess as a platform to launch combinational
attacks (both were excellent combinational players too), Aron Nimzowitsch showed that
entire games can be won with positional play itself. His book "My System" is still a
positional player's bible. Nimzowitsch collected all the elements of positional chess,
brought his own innovations and gave it a shape of complete system of playing a new
kind of chess which has later been adopted by many players including former World
Champion Vladimir Kramnik. The elements proposed by Nimzowitsch can be found in
almost all chess players' games at IM or GM levels. Moreover, positional chess has
been the main weapon in the hands of many GMs to beat or hold advanced computer
software which are too good in finding combinations.

So, what were Nimzowitsch's main innovations:

1. Centre Control with Pieces: Nimzowitsch suggested that centre must be controlled
with one's pieces (where they will be most effective) rather than pawns. Any adventures
by the opponents on sidelines (king or queen side) can be punished with centre control
itself. Further, centre control helps in sudden switch of the attacks from one side to the

2. Prophylaxis: One shall understand and prevent opponent's plans.

3. Blockade: Nimzowitsch suggested that passed pawns must be stopped and Knights
are the best pieces to block the progress of passed pawns. "First restrain, then blockade
and finally destroy" was the call by Nimzowitsch.

4. Fianchetto & Horrwitz Bishops: Nimzowitsch suggested that bishops are most
effective at diagonals. So, fianchetto development of bishops (bringing them on g2 or
g7) has a lasting effect on the game. Also, Horrwitz bishops (bishops on adjacent
diagonals) are very useful in attacking the opponent king and also supporting our pawn
advancements while stopping opponent's pawn.

5. Open Files and Outposts: Open files are the files either having no pawns or rooks/
queen ahead of pawns. These are useful for rooks & queens. Semi-open files have only
one pawn on them. Outposts are the squares mainly in the opponent's camp where our
pieces cannot be attacked with pawns. Nimzowitsch stresses a lot on open files and
creation of outposts where pieces (especially knights) shall be posted to have maximum

6. Invasion of Seventh/ Eighth Rank with Rooks and/or Queen: Nimzowitsch found out
that once our rooks (alone, in pair or with queen) invade opponent's seventh/ eighth
ranks, there are very high chances of win or at least a draw. So, this must be a goal of
our strategy.

7. Over-protection: Applicable in some positions are his ideas of overprotection that we

shall protect our important squares or pieces with more pieces than required so that we
shall not loose them in cases of eventuality.

8. Attack on the pawn chain: One shall attack the base of a pawn chain. However,
defender can shift the base as well. In some cases, pawn chain is also attacked from
front (i.e. by black f pawn in French advanced variation).

These elements created a complete system which can be followed to win a game. In
this way, Nimzowitsch could show that goal of positional play is not just to create
combinations or material gain alone but we can achieve mating positions also through
positional maneuvering. In some games. Nimzowitsch could restrain his opponents in
the begining 17-18 moves itself to the level that whatever move opponent was making,
one or more pieces were lost by him.

Positional (Strategic) and combinational (Tactical) chess: Here it is important for us to

understand the difference between the two. In management terms, strategy means a
long term plan while tactics means day to day success. Therefore, Positional or
Strategic chess means putting our pieces on the squares where they will have lasting
effect while combinational or tactical chess means executing a short term idea which
results in instant success. A combination is a set of forced moves which results in a
mate, material gain or significant positional gain. Mostly, if exchange of pieces is
involved in a set of moves, it is called combinational. But if maneuvering is being done
without exchanging pieces, it is positional.

Another difference arises that chess consists of two elements, board and pieces. When
we play for control of the board and its squares, it is strategic or positional chess and
when we play for gain of the material or pieces (including pawns) it is combinational or
tactical chess. The player who controls more squares especially on the enemy side can
cramp the enemy and then create tactical combinations. But in the process, if he looses
significant material, then he may loose square control as well (less pieces will not be
able to control more squares).

One more difference arises from the fact of local imbalances. Tactical combinations
arise locally in a limited area of the board (especially mating combinations). But
Positional chess is often played across the board. However, tactical combinations also
occur across the board many a times (and they are the most difficult to guess and so
most successful) but their effect is mostly local (focused at some points).

So, an important difference emerges that positional chess stresses on control of more
and more squares while combinational chess stresses on focusing at weak squares of
the opponent and gaining material advantage through exchanges. But those weak
squares in the opponent position are created through positional chess mostly.

The system of win emerging from this discussion is good opening (lead in development),
then creation of weaknesses through positional play, attack through combinational play,
material or positional gain, planning for endgame with positional play again and then
mate or forcing opponent to resign.

Also, it is said that open games or openings are tactical (possibilities of exchanges are
more) while closed games or openings are positional (possibilities of silent maneuvering
are more) but many open games have been found to be a lot positional.

Chess thinking looks like propagation of light where positional play (magnetic field) gives
birth to combinations (electric field) which in-turn gives birth to more positional gains
(magnetism) and so on. This idea was best utilized by Capablanka (next section).

Capablanca System: A Top Down approach

Nimzowitsch devised a full system to positionally beat an opponent. The system was
based on middle-game plans. Most of the players of that time were looking for an
advantage in opening to middle game phases. Steinitz, Lasker and Nimzowitsch
systems were popular with them.

But Capablanca revised the Morphy approach in a new format. He was a master of
endgames. So, equality or even limited inferiority in opening to middle games phases
could not deter Capablanca. He took the games to endgames and won there. Most of
the Capablanca games were planned keeping end game positional advantages in view.

Another, attribute Capa had was very long combinational calculations. If a combination
is too long it is more strategic than tactical as it can take a game from opening to
endgame. Capa was a master of strategic combinations.

One of Capablanca's strategies can be described like this:

1. Play common balanced openings like Queens gambit declined or Ruy Lopez where
serious disadvantage shall not be there. Equality is OK.

2. Control the center with pawns (Unlike Nimzowitsch who said to control with pieces,
here Capa followed Steinitz).

3. Exchange opponent's one bishop with your bishop, one knight with your knight, rooks
& queens with your rooks & queen and one knight with your bishop (Here Capa differed
with Steinitz and most chess thinkers).

4. In this way, bring the game to endgame where you have one knight and opponent
one bishop.

5. Keep more and more (especially central) pawns on the board. As far as possible
opponent's pawns shall be fixed on the same color squares as of his bishop. Pawn
structure shall be made rigid. This will restrict bishop's movements and make it bad.

6. Now utilize your knight which will jump over the pawns and take one or two.

7. Centralize king and win the game supporting pawns to queen.

8. If queens are on the board, its better as queen and knight complement each other
better than queen and bishop. Then plan to mate the opponent's king.

Alekhine System: A middle-up-down system

While Capablanca was the master of endgames, Alekhine was a genius of opening to
middle-game phase especially middle-game complications. While it is easy to say about
an endgame expert that he is a real master of endgames, it is not that easy to say that
about the endgame expertise of a middle-game expert as he wins before endgame
arrives, rarely playing an equal or inferior endgame.Capablanca, in his book claims
Alekhine to be a weak endgame player but this statement might have come out of
personal rivalry. But one thing is sure that a combination of Capblanca and Alekhine can
be a deadly one even for a present player. If someone plays opening to middle-game
phase like Alekhine and also plans his endgame like Capa, he can even beat strongest
software today (my personal guess).

But is it possible? Are the Capablanca system and Alekhine system compatible with
each other? Will the opening to endgame advantage approach of Capablanca not
interfere with middle-game strong attack approach of Alekhine? We will now break their
approaches in elements and analyze this aspect.

While all the previous champions claimed that positional advantage can result in strong
combinations, this aspect is most clearly visible in Alekhine's games. But then why
Alekhine is claimed to be a combinational attacking player rather than a positional
genius. It may be because Alekhine made adjustments in the positional principles of that
time soothing to his attacking style.

Kasparov calls Alekhine "the pioneer of universal style of play". According to Kasparov's
theory about Alekhine's success, chess has 3 components:

1. Material: Quite obvious

2. Time: More complicated but understandable like gain of tempo, passed pawn
advance or attack on the king
3. Quality of Position: The least obvious strategic factor consisting of:
i) Pawn Structure
ii) Strong & Weak Squares
iii) Active & Passive pieces
iv) Two Bishops
v) Bad King
Only a master understands these factors fully. Alekhine linked these 3 factors
intuitively in his play. He showed that sacrifice of material which was strictly regulated by
the Steinitz school, is perfectly OK depending on position.

Euwe System: Tactical Accuracy & Precision

It is said that Mr. Max Euwe rarely played an inaccurate combination and rarely left an
inaccurate combination by his opponent unpunished. He was a mathematician by
education and that could have brought accurate analysis skills in him.

In the history of chess, Euwe completed the most difficult task. It was almost impossible
to defeat Alekhine in a match seeing the form Alekhine had at that time. So, to achieve
that task, Euwe studied almost everything about chess available at that time. Euwe read
and explained in his books most of the varied aspects of chess a player needs to know.
But it is difficult to say which ideas were Euwe's own and which were compiled from
other sources. If Nimzowotsch compiled all the positional aspects of chess in his books,
Euwe covered all the middle game aspects (positional and tactical both) in his books.
The style of Euwe's explanations are crystal clear. Euwe's book "Planning & Judgement
in Chess" can be considered as a text book of middle-game in chess. Similarly, "Chess
Master vs Chess Amature" and "The Road to chess Mastery" cover all the aspects of
chess especially opening and middle games through 25 fully annotated games in each

General Strategy of a King Side attack: Though it can be found in many books now but
Euwe writes this strategy in clear terms (With a warning: check tactical possibilities well
before applying this strategy):
1. To start a King side attack, first check two points:
(i) You have control over the centre, or
(ii) The centre is stable so that opponent cannot start serious action in the centre

2. Get as many pieces as possible available for immediate play.

3. Open as many lines (files & diagonals both) as possible.
4. The pieces shall be brought in favourable positions one by one with tempo keeping in
view that opponent shall not get time to take essential defensive measures on his King
5. Sacrifices also can be made to bring the right pieces on key squares.
6. Strip the opponent king from all protection making exchanges and sacrifices if
7. Threat must be optimally utilized both on board and psychologically to bring both on-
board and time troubles for the opponent.

Botvinnik System: Opening Innovations & Objective Analysis

Though Euwe understood openings very well and planned his middle & end games as
per them, it was Botvinnik who started the era of opening innovations and thus the
Russian School of chess which dominated the chess world so long after him. Botvinnik
did not believe in short term opening traps but his lines were developed to take the
game in new directions where Botvinnik's knowledge was far ahead of his
contemporaries. It was unfortunate that a World Championship match between Alekhine
and Botvinnik never happened due to early death of Alekhine. Even World
Championship match did not happened between Euwe and Botvinnik also because
Euwe got involved in other assignments. But chess world could enjoy Tal-Botvinnik
matches twice and also Botvinnik-Smyslov and Petrosian-Botvinnik matches. The key
points behind Botvinnik's long rein were logical objectivity & continuous innovations in
opening lines.

Reflections of the Botvinnik approach of taking the game towards your own analyzed
territory can not only be seen in present day GM games but in computer software
games as well. Many new engines analyze some not well established opening lines very
well and then are able to beat well established engines in a game or two.

Major opening line innovations by Botvinnik:

A. Botvinnik System in English Opening:

For White: 1. c4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. e4
Botvinnik System reversed for Black: 1. c4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. e3 e5
or 1. c4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. Nf3 e5

B. Botvinnik variation in the Semi-Slav defence in the Queens Gambit Declined:

Botvinnik Variation - 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Nf3 c6 5. Bg5 dxc4 6. e4
Botvinnik System - 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Nf3 c6 5. Bg5 dxc4 6. e4 b5
7. e5 h6 8. Bh4 g5 9. Nxg5

C. Botvinnik/ Kasparov System in the exchange variation of the Queens Gambit

D. Panov-Botvinnik attack for white in the Caro-Kann defence
E. Various approaches for black in the Caro-Kann defence
G. Winawer Variation in the French Defence.

Middle-game innovations by Botvinnik:

Creation and Utilization of Space advantage: Botvinnik in most of his games, created
and used space advantage fairly well. His approach was letter used by Kasparov also.

Flank attacks: While centre control was the theme of Nimzowitsch system according to
which, flank attacks shall be started only after centre is closed, Botvinnik showed that
flank attacks can be started in open centre also and flank attacks can be used to control
the centre as well.

Lipnitskty System: Raising Questions on chess assumptions

Mr. Isaac Lipnitsky of Ukraine is unknown to most of us. He was a brilliant player but
could live only 36 years due to severe illness. The system developed by him through his
superbook (as it is called) "Questions of Modern Chess Theory" brought the game of
chess from Nimzowitch era to a new one. He raised questions on almost all the
assumptions in positional chess principles and could establish the conditions for the
success of these principles. For example, he demonstrated that even after gaining a
strong centre, players have lost games as their opponents attacked the centre
vigorously as it happens in Alekhine Defence and in many other openings. Thus gaining
a strong centre is not sufficient in itself but we have to strengthen it further and use it to
launch attacks on the opponent. Similarly, we can attack opponent's centre and win the
game without holding a strong centre ourselves.

Smyslov System: The strengths & limitations of chess pieces

Mr. Vasily Smyslov had a perfect understanding of the strengths & limitations of different
chess pieces. His game was based on creating simple but uneven positions favourable
to his pieces.

Smyslov System can be understood as a combination of Botvinnik and Capablanca


Opening Innovations: Like Botvinnik, Smyslov developed many opening systems.

Simplified Middle-game: Here, Smyslov differed from Botvinnik. While Botvinnik

believed in taking the game away from opponent in opening to middle-game phase,
Smyslov depended more on his endgame expertise. So, Smyslov kept midddlegame
simple (like Capablanca).

Perfect Endgame: It comes out that all the players who learnt chess from their father
were excellent in endgame (Capablanca, Smyslov, Karpov). Smyslov is known as a
perfect endgame player. His wins came out mostly from his endgame expertise.

Example Game 1: Smyslov beats Botvinnik in their World Championship Match with
positionaly accuracy

Example Game 2: Smyslov punishes small positional mistake by Korchnoi of advancing

his b pawn too ahead and wins the game with his endgame accuracy

Tal System: A system of accurate attack

Tal has been the most aggressive and attacking player till date. He developed a system
of attack which could rip through the defences of most of the champions of that time
including Botvinnik (in their first World Championship match).

The elements of Tal System of attack are as follows (step by step):

1. Keep the opponent king in the centre and yours away from centre (till endgame)
2. Achieve breakthrough in the centre
3. Increase the assault ratio (through initiatives)
4. Open Invasion Trajectories (files & diagonals)
5. Open your lines of communication and cut those of opponents.
6. Maintain Outposts
7. Eliminate defenders of opponent king

8. Take your pieces near opponent's king
9. Destroy the opponent king's fort.

Now a bit more details about these elements:

Element 1- King in the Centre: Tal says "As long as my opponent has not yet castled, on
each move, I seek a pretext for an offensive. Even when I realize that the (opponent)
king is not in danger".

Element 2 - Breakthrough in the Centre: In practical play, domination of one player in

the centre completely rules out activity by the other. An advantage in the centre almost
always allows an attack to be obtained, either in the centre itself or on one of the flanks,
depending on the concrete features of the position. With a mobile pawn centre, the
strength of attack grows greatly after a breakthrough in the centre, which usually
achieves several aims like -
* opening of lines along which rooks and bishops at our queenside can instantly join the
attack (whose scope is often limited by the centre pawns),
*vacating of the central square via which a knight can join the attack or a rook can
switch ranks or
*disruption of the coordination of the enemy pieces.
Thus, a breakthrough in the centre is always start of an attack which may be swift or
explosive or can grow by degrees. Voluntarily conceding the opponent a mobile pawn
centre or only a single pawn in the centre which is capable of advancing is too

Element 3 - The Assault ratio: The player with a lead in development is obliged to
attack, or risk losing this advantage. A successful attack on the king (in the centre or
castled) is guaranteed only when an especially strong piece grouping can be created in
the attack zone, when the power of such an assault exceeds for certain the defensive

Thus assault ratio (a new term coined by Tal) can be explained mathematically as:
Assault ratio = Total power of our pieces in the opponent's king zone/ The power of
opponent's defending pieces near his king

Another new term in chess introduced by Tal is "Launching". This term has been taken
from Canadian Ice-Hockey where a player passes the puck not to a team member but
close to the opponent's goal in the hope that one of his team-mates will get to it first and
will be able to shoot it at the opponent's goal. In chess also, a piece may be moved
close to the opponent's king without any concrete aim but with a hope that future
developments will utilize it and plan further game as per this piece.

Launching had a surprise effect on many opponents of Tal. This was one way of
gradually increasing the assault ratio.

Element 4 - Invasion Trajectories: A key idea in Tal system is the "Invasion Trajectories"
which are the diagonals, ranks and files which are initially blocked by pawn barriers of
both sides and increasing the mobility of pieces is main problem for both players. To get
clear trajectories for his pieces, a player has to battle, sacrifice pawns and pieces or
make positional concessions. A related term is "holes in the fortress walls". Like an
attack along a weak diagonal, a whole complex of weak squares in the vicinity of the
opponent's king can be attacked depending on different pawn formations near the
opponent's king. There is a single attacking mechanism in such cases - establish your
pieces on the unprotected squares which from close range pursue the opponent's king
completely destroying its protection.

Element 5 - Lines of Communication: Communication lines are files and diagonals.

Success of our attack depends on how our pieces behave on these lines of
communication and can we cut these lines of our opponent's pieces.

Tal introduces a concept of "Barrier". Barrier can be material or non material through
which a whole group of pieces is unable to pass. Barrier is a communication line under
close-range fire and the creation of one is a basis for future success. A term related to
barrier is "Interference". While barrier is positional in nature, interference is a purely
tactical blow aiming to cut-off the opponent's forces from the defence of some key
points. Another key idea is "Obstruction" or "Obstructive Sacrifice". This is a barricade
which can be erected in the path of enemy forces. Obstruction is achieved normally
through a pawn sacrifice which disrupts the quiet course of the game.

Element 6 - Outposts: An outpost is defined as "a well defended fortification in an

advanced position". A piece on the outpost (usually a knight) in the heart of the
opponent's position beyond the demarcation line cramps the opponent's forces, hinders
the maneuvers by opponent aimed to bring his pieces to the main part of the battlefield
and controls various key squares. It is outpost which helps in increasing our assault

Element 7 - Eliminate opponent king's defenders: An important task in any attack is to

eliminate those defenders that stand in your way to the opponent's king, even if a
considerable price has to be paid. Out of many ways, the most convenient way of doing
this for the attacking side is to force its exchange.

Element 8 - Reach the Royal Court: The royal court is the two extremes at either end of
the board, first and second ranks or seventh and eight ranks. An invasion of the
opponent king's residence is a highly effective means of attack and most suitable pieces
for doing this are rooks and queen. There are two aims of doing this - either to give back
rank mate or to drive the opponent king out of his residence into the open field to bring it
under the fire of other pieces. Nimzowitsch also stressed on this point in his "My
System" that seventh rank must be captured with rooks and queen. Thus from both
positional and tactical points of view, invasion of seventh rank with rooks and queen is a
good achievement.

Element 9 - Destroy the Fortress Walls: The pawn ranks f7/g7/h7 (in king-side castling
cases) or a7/b7/c7/d7 (in queen-side castling cases) is the wall behind which the black
king seeks shelter until an attack destroys these fortress walls. The pawns are most
solidly placed on their initial squares in which case, the attacker must spend much more
time on the concentration of the forces.

A rapid attack is possible from a far against a pawn that has advanced to h6 or a6. The
pawn at h7 in king-side castled cases is most often a weak one and target of attack to
draw the king out with classic bishop sacrifices and then mating with knight and queen
combinations. Also, double bishop sacrifices on h7 and g7 bare the black king

Sacrifices on g7 are effective when the pawn rank has been disturbed and heavy
artillery like rooks or queen is available on the g file. But unlike the h7 sacrifices, a
precise calculation is not possible for g7 sacrifices.

Though Tal System has later been modified by Fischer, Kasparov, Topalov and Anand
for Standard Chess tournaments but this system is still the best bet for a chess player to
win blitz chess (3 0, 5 0 or 20 5) tournaments.

Example Game 1: Attacking Opponent's King in the Centre: Tal beats Larsen in
Alekhine Defence (Please click mouse on the first move and then either arrow key on
keyboard or mouse click on next moves to see game on the board. Enjoy and comment

Example Game 2: Breakthrough in the Centre: Tal creates an active pawn centre with a
pawn sacrifice and beats Spassky with Nimzo-Indian Defence

Example Game 3: Assault Ratio and Launching: Tal beats Averbakh with Ruy Lopez by
launching a knight and increasing assault ratio

Petrosian System: The White Square Strategy

Mr. Tigran Petrosian developed a system of chess thinking which is most difficult to
understand. Not only me but Botvinnik too felt like this. Petrosian took the positional
chess to extreme heights.

Along with Nimzowitsch principles (mainly prophylaxis - preventing opponent's offensive

capabilities), Petrosian developed his own strategy where all his pieces were kept on
white squares and controlled the black squares from there. Petrosian kept a lot of pawns
on board and exchanged his bishop (usually white bishop or both bishops) with
opponent's knights quite often. After this, his knights used to rule the black squares. This
strategy was very useful for white against Kings Indian defence and in english opening.

Petrosian was called "Iron Tigran" because of his consistent ability to avoid defeat. As
Black, he preferred to play closed openings in Sicilian Defence, Najdorf variation and
French Defence. As white player, he often played the English opening.

Exchange Sacrifice (Giving rook for opponent's bishop or knight) just for the sake of
quality of position: Kasparov, who later induced this idea in his own games describes
Petrosian's style in these words:

" Petrosian introduced the exchange sacrifice for the sake of 'quality of position', where
the time factor, which is so important in the play of Alekhine and Tal, plays hardly any
role. Even today, very few players can operate confidently at the board with such
abstract concepts. Before Petrosian no one had studied this. By sacrificing the
exchange 'just like that', for certain long term advantages, in positions with disrupted
material balance, he discovered latent resources that few were capable of seeing and
properly evaluating."

Petrosian's Opening Innovations:

1. Petrosian System for White against King's Indian Defence:

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Nf3 O-O 6. Be2 e5 7. d5 (closing the centre

early in the game). White plays Bg5.

2. Petrosian System for White against Queen's Indian Defence:

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.a3 (preventing Bb4). This system was later used by
Kasparov to defeat several grandmasters.

3. Petrosian System for White against Grunfeld Defence:

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Bg5

4. Petrosian System for Black in French Defence:

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 Qd7

5. Petrosian - Smyslov variation for Black in Caro-Kann Defence:

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nd7

Example Game 1: Petrosian beats Spassky's Torre Attack (Please click mouse on the
first move and then either arrow key on keyboard or mouse click on next moves to see
game on the board. Enjoy and comment !)

Example Game 2: Petrosian beats Spassky's Kings Indian Defence

Example Game 3: Petrosian beats Suetin's Kings Indian Defence with his Deep
Prophylaxis method

Spassky System: A colorful universal style with sharp attacking play

Mr. Boris Spassky has been called a universal player by Gary Kasparov in his book "My
Great Predecessors - Part III (Petrosian & Spassky)". This is because he played all
types of chess - attacking, defensive, tactical, positional equally well as the situation
demanded. Spassky also used gambits, exchange sacrifices etc. frequently and thus he
comes closer to the group of Tal, Alekhine and Chigorin more than that of Botvinnik,
Petrosian etc.

Elements of Spassky System:

1. A Strong Mobile Centre and Free Development

2. Direct attack on the opponent's King

3. Subtle Manoeuvers

4. Defending Inferior Positions (like isolani in Tarrash Defence)

5. Good Endgame Technique

Spassky's Opening Innovations:

1. King's Gambit: Applying this opening at the top levels was in itself a revolution.
Spassky has a record of 16 wins (including those against Fischer, Bronstein and
Karpov), no losses and a few draws with Kings Gambit opening.

2. Revival of the Marshal Attack for black in Ruy Lopez: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6
4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.c3 d5

3. Development of Leningrad variation for white in the Nimzo-Indian Defence: 1.d4 Nf6
2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Bg5

4. Spassky variation for black in the Nimzo-Indian

5. Closed variation for white in the Sicilian defence: 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3

6. Spassky line for black in Kings Indian Attack: 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 b5!?

7. Spassky variation for black in Grunfeld Defence: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4.cxd5
Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Bc4 0-0 8.Ne2 c5

Example Game 1: Spassky beats Bronstein with Kings Gambit

Example Game 2: Great Bobby Fischer falls to Spassky's Kings Gambit

Reshevsky System: An unexplored positional system

Mr. Samuel Reshevsky developed a positional system of chess thinking which can be
considered the most unexplored till date. He used to win games as effortlessly as
legendary Capablanca. Unfortunately due to second world war and other problems,
Reshevsky could not become a World Champion but his games are worthy of declaring
him an equivalent.

Reshevsky's style is best described in his own words:

"I am essentially a positional player, although I can conduct an assault with precision
and vigor, when the opportunity arises. My style lies between that of Tal and Petrosian.
It is neither over-aggressive nor too passive. My strength consists of a fighting spirit, a
great desire to win, and a stubborn defense whenever in trouble. I rarely become
discouraged in an inferior situation, and I fear no one."

"By playing slowly during the early phases of a game, I am able to grasp the basic
requirements of each position. Then, despite being in time pressure, I have no difficulty
in finding the best continuation. Incidentally, it is an odd fact that more often than not it is
my opponent who gets the jitters when I am compelled to make these hurried moves."

In the words of none other than Bobby Fischer:

"He (Reshevsky) is like a machine calculating every variation and has to find every
move over the board by a process of elimination. He can see more variations in a
shorter period of time than most players who ever lived. Occasionally, in fact, he comes
up with new moves - spontaneous ideas he has fabricated from no knowledge."

Elements of the Reshevsky System: Though Reshevsky adopted most of the thoughts
about positional chess from Nimzowitsch and Steinitz, he stressed on a combination of
positional and tactical chess to achieve the major aim of winning a chess game. While
Steintz and Nimzowitsch derived a lot of pleasure from demonstrating the triumph of
their newly found principles of positional chess over tactical combinations, Reshevsky
states that chess is inherently positional but tactics is a way to get those positions.
Though attack can be launched from strong positions, but how to get those strong
positions was the focus of Reshevsky's studies.

Following are the main elements in the Reshevsky system:

1. Weak Pawns: Reshevsky states that when you threat your opponent of a strong
attack through your pieces, your opponent moves his pawns just to stop your pieces
from conquering the key squares and while doing this, weak pawns are created in the
opponent's camp. Then you can form a strategy of conquering these weak pawns or
forcing your opponent's pieces to get tied in safeguarding these weak pawns. This lets
your pieces take control of the board and win the game. Thus, lead in development
enables us to create threats of conquering the key squares in opponent's side which
forces him to move pawns leading to weak pawns which tie the opponent's pieces
leaving us an open field to control and launch attack on the king.

Types of Weak pawns: Reshevsky identifies four types of weak pawns:

i) Isolated Pawns: These pawns are isolated from their fellow pawns and are vulnerable
to get captured. Pieces are required to safeguard these pawns and thus the pieces can
not work at their full strength or can not attack.

ii) Doubled Pawns: Doubled pawns are not always a weakness. But in the middle to
endgame transitions, doubled pawns can not be used to create passed pawns and thus
become a weakness.

iii) Too Advanced Pawn: A pawn that is too advanced looses its defence and becomes
vulnerable to capture. Though pawn advancement leads to space advantage in opening
or middle-game but too far advanced pawn gets into trouble.

iv) Retarded Pawn: A pawn that is left backward is also a weakness. Such pawns do not
create any threats, get blocked and captured in the endgame. Thus a balanced pawn
advancement is required.

2. Passed Pawns: As per Reshevsky, there are several decisions to be take up

regarding passed pawns (the pawns which have got no pawns to stop them from
moving ahead and promoting to queen). These are:

i) Is outside passed pawn (usually queen side pawn if opponent has castled king side),
more useful than kingside or central passed pawn: Usually true but depends on the
position of the pieces also.

ii) Shall we blockade opponent's passed pawn or create our own: Takes hell lots of

iii) Passed Pawn in the Middlegame: If somehow, we can get a passed pawn in the
middlegame, then nothing like it. The entire game further focuses on to preserve and
advance it (for the side who has got it) or to restrain and capture it (for the opponent).
Even if that particular pawn is lost, it usually gives an advantage in some other terms.

iv) Get your rook behind your passed pawn: If you have got a passed pawn, get your
rook behind it. Or if your opponent has got a passed pawn, somehow prevent his rook
from getting behind his passed pawn.

v) Pieces vs Pawns: When to sacrifice a piece to get passed pawns? Usually in the
endgame if opponent's pieces are away from the passed pawns we are able to get. A
piece sac in this situation enables us to advance our passed pawns till opponent's
pieces reach near them and thus we can win the game.

Example Game 1: Reshevsky beats Capablanca in his own territory (Queen's Gambit

Fischer System: A Burning Desire to Win

In an era, when chess was settled to a level that most of the low rated chess players felt
lucky to escape with a draw against a much higher rated opponent assuming that win
cannot be achieved in equal positions, there emerged another great american genius
(after Paul Morphy) named Bobby Fischer who treated draw as a loss, whosoever be
the opponent. Such was his will to win that in our view even if god would have been an
opponent on the other side of the board (which was in fact a case in his real life), god
would have wished a win for his worthy opponent who fought vigorously against all odds
both on and off the board.

Even today, the prodigies like Magnus Carlsen, Anish Giri, Aronian, Anand etc. have
continued the chess legacy of Fischer by surprising the chess world by discovering new
resources yet unearthed, time to time. The style of Fischer's chess can be understood
from the fact that while the legendary Tal in his book "The Life & Games of Tal"
demonstrates that it was opponent's mistake not to choose a particular move (under
time pressure or the complexity of situation) which could have drawn the game or could
even have resulted in a defeat for Tal, Fischer demonstrates in his book that after a
certain move by Fischer, whatever move the opponent would have made, it would have
resulted in a win for Fischer. Fischer left nothing to chance in chess. His quest for chess
perfection is still motivating chess players to analyse more and more.

Fischer's Opening Innovations:

1. Fischer Variation in the Ruy Lopez Exchange: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6
dxc6 5.0-0 (For White)
2. Fischer Line in tackling Sicilian: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 (or
e6) 6.Bc4 (For White)

3. Fisher Line in the Nimzo Indian Defence: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 b6 5.Ne2
Ba6 (For Black)
4. Poisoned Pawn Variation of the Sicilian Najdorf: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4
Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qb6 (For Black)
5. Fischer Defence to the Kings Gambit: 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 d6 (For Black)
6. Kings Indian Defence: Fischer was an expert in this defence. His games must be
studied by any player willing to learn this defence along with Gligoric and Kasparov
7. Grunfeld and Neo-Grunfeld Defences: These were also exceptionally handled by

8. Sicilian Najdorf: This was also Fischer's favourite defence.

Fischer's Endgame Innovations:

1. Fischer Endgame: The endgames with Rook, Bishop and pawns against Rook, Knight
and Pawns are called Fischer Endgames due to his countless wins in these endgames.

Karpov System: A Complete Chess Accounting

Karpov developed a system of complete chess accounting which enabled him to remain
undefeated at the topmost levels for years and years.While Fischer tried to find the
winning move (and avoid any drawish move) at each stage and lost some games in
order to win, Karpov created a much more objective system of ensuring a win or
escaping with a draw on every move. Hence Karpov system is more objective and

Elements of the Karpov System:

A. Seven Timeless Reference Points:

1. Material Relationship between the forces: Calculation of material strength is the

starting point for evaluation of any chess position. If the material position is equal,
accent gets shifted to other six reference points. However, if the material equality is
destroyed, then under stable equal conditions, the side having an advantage must win.
To win, the player having advantage shall perform systematic exchanges reducing the
number of active pieces and shall make his material superiority more and more
noticeable and dominant. The goal of player in advantage shall be to take the position to
one of the theoretical endgame positions which he can handle more confidently. Karpov
is a follower of Philidor here "the ability to play the end of the game is the ability to play".
The weaker or defending side (the side in material loss) usually strives to organize
tactical complications in such situations, to take the struggle into irrational positions in
which the opponent's material superiority looses its significance.

2. Presence of direct threats: Three questions shall be asked constantly during the
evaluation of any chess position:
(i) What is threatening me?
(ii) What else can my opponent do?
(iii) What else can I do?
Result of such evaluation can be - better, equal or worse position. You can't play good
chess without constant, concentrated attention during the game.

3. Position of the kings and their safety:This is quite often the most important reference
point of evaluation of a chess position. A successful attack on the opponent's king
mostly wipes out many of the opponent's pluses in a chess position and leads to the
biggest material losses of all kinds. With same side castling, the main method of
destroying the opponent's position is to exploit a weakness in his pawn cover. But in the
cases of opposite side castling, the number of attacking methods increases significantly.
Typical plan of attack in opposite side castling is - "Pawn Storm" the goal of which is to
destroy the pawns covering the opponent's king and to open lines for a decisive attack
by the pieces. When we have our advanced pawns in front of the opponent's king, the
lines of attack can be opened much more easily.

4. Possession of open lines: Important lines are files, ranks and diagonals. Control over
these lines have significant influence over evaluation of a chess position and if other
points are equal leads to a better game.There are four strategic plans based on fighting
for different types of open lines:

(i) Breakthrough in the Centre: This helps in mobilizing your forces fast to any part of the

(ii) Breakthrough between the Centre and the Flank: This plan works on the c and b

(iii) Attack on the Edge of the board: The queen rook file (a file) is the farthest from king
in short castled positions. Opening of the outside a file diverts opponent's forces from
his king side towards queen side and provides an opportunity of opening his king side.
This often leads to outside passed pawn too which plays a significant role in pawn

(iv) Dangerous Diagonals: Entire opening systems (like King's Indian, Sicilian Dragon
etc. for black's dark squared bishop and Reti and English Openings etc. for White's light
squared bishop) have been created in which right from the first move, battle is focused
on opening and controlling the long diagonals on which the bishops can display their
strength. Quite large sacrifices are sometimes made to control the long diagonals. Many
times a player gives up his rook in exchange of opponent's bishop to gain control over
long diagonal.

5. Pawn structure, weak and strong squares: The position of pawns has always directly
or indirectly influenced the choice of plans, actions of both sides and finally the result in
chess. Pawn structure created in the opening to a large extent determines the course of
the game. One of the most popular pawn structures is the Carlsbad structure which
arises in Queen's Gambit declined (1.d4 d5, 2.c4 e6, 3.Nc3 Nf6, 4.Bg5 c6, 5.e3 Nbd7,
6.cxd), Grunfeld Defence (1.d4 Nf6, 2.c4 g6, 3.Nc3 d5, 4.Nf3 Bg7, 5.Bg5 Ne4, 6.cxd
Nxg5, 7.Nxg5 e6, 8.Nf3 exd), Nimzo-Indian Defence (1.d4 Nf6, 2.c4 e6, 3.Nc3 Bb4,
4.Qc2 d5, 5.cxd exd) and with colors reversed in Caro-Kann defence (1.e4 c6, 2.d4 d5,
3.exd cxd, 4.Bd3 Nc6, 5.c3).
In the Carlsbad pawn structure, white has at his disposal pawn minority attack or a
break in the centre with e3-e4 and also king side attack.
Black's defence usually depends on the course of action taken by white and consist of
counter attack with pawns or pieces on the king side, positional methods like creation of
a defensive line including b7-b5 or piece control over the c4 and b5 squares and also
undermining of the centre or a counterattack on a queen side castled position. .

6. The Center and Space: There are five basic types of pawn positions in the centre and
there are fairly precise plans of attacking and defensive play for each of these positions:

(i) Closed Center with Fixed Pawn Chains: These arise after the Ruy Lopez, the French
Defence or the Kings Indian Defence openings. The game moves to the flanks. Attacks
take place on the side with open lines or where superiority of forces can be created in
the shortest time. In the cases of Opposite side castling, the attack always occurs on the
side where opponent's king is located. Plan of Attack: Flank attack with a pawn storm to
clear a path for attacking pieces.
Plans of Defence: 1. Counter attack on the other side. 2. Put obstacles on the way of
opponent's pawn attack.

(ii) Static Center with Central Pawns fixed in pairs: Characteristics are a manoeuvring
battle for the central squares and switching of the attacks to the flank at an appropriate
moment. We need to keep in mind that a peaceful center is a necessary condition for
flank attacks on the opponent king. Hence, the plan of action is - 1. Obtain the initiative
with a peaceful center. 2. Look for an active play on the flanks.

(iii) Dynamic Center where final position of the pawns is not yet fixed: These arise after
half open openings and Sicilian Defence games. These can transpose to any of the
other four pawn positions. Thus we need to keep a careful eye on the center and to
forsee upcoming changes. In fact, we shall convert this position to a position which
suites our playing style or the playing situation (we want sure-shot win or draw is also
acceptable). We need to be cautious towards opponent's flank attacks too.

(iv) Mobile Center where any of the central pawns can move: This is a feature of Evans
Gambit, Alekhine's Defence, the Grunfeld Defence and some other openings. The main
method to handle a mobile center is to blockade it. An attack on a central pawn forces it
to advance after which it should be blockaded and the weakened squares in front of the
pawn shall be occupied with our pieces.

(v) Open Center where there are no pawns in the center: These arise after the Ruy
Lopez, the King's Gambit, the Slav Defence and the Queen's Gambit Accepted.
Absence of central pawns in this type of center takes the game to sharp active tactical
piece play. Action plan is to take possession of central lines and important central
Plan of Attack: 1. Achieve a superiority in the center. 2. Create weaknesses in your
opponent's camp. 3. Make a coordinated piece attack on the side or center where
opponent is weak.
Plan of Defence: 1. Defend the weak squares. 2. Offer piece protection to the flank
under attack.

7. Development and the position of pieces: As per Karpov, the most important law of
chess is - Restricting the mobility of our opponent's pieces and increasing the
domination of your own pieces. There are seven methods for restricting your opponent's
piece mobility:

(i) Make opponent's piece occupied with the defence of another piece or an important
(ii) Make your opponent's piece tied down with covering a valuable piece or an important
(iii) Make two or more of the opponent's pieces or important squares simultaneously
under threat.
(iv) Make your opponent move a piece unfavorably when the moved piece destroys an
established connection (blocks another piece's line of action or takes an essential
square away from it).
(v) Make the square(s) to which an opponent's piece can move attacked by your pieces.
(vi) Make the square where your opponent's piece can move blockaded or occupied with
your piece or opponent's piece.
(vii) Make the opponent's pieces' paths obstructed by your own or opponent's pieces.

B. Chess Accounting: This shall be performed in following stages:

1. Stage One: Compare Reference Points - After comparing the positions on the basis
of above seven reference points, a player can determine whether he is in advantage or
loss position. Selection of plan in stage two is dependent on this estimation of the

2. Stage Two: Choosing a Plan - A player shall choose an attacking or defensive plan
depending on the objective evaluation of the position in stage One.

(i) Better Position: If a player has got an advantage in development, he should try to
prevent his opponent from completing the mobilization of his (opponent's) forces. To
achieve this, the player in advantage shall choose as the opportunity arises, moves that
present concrete threats, forcing the opponent to waste time and energy deflecting the
threats. Often such moves are tactical blows to open the game and get to the
opponent's king more quickly.

(ii) Equal Position: In equal position, as a rule proceedings go peacefully. Unnecessary

aggressive actions might only ruin one's position. Usually a long period of positional or
tactical maneuvering starts, during which both sides try hard to avoid weaknesses in
their position and try to create weaknesses in the opponent's camp.

(iii) Worse Position: In worse position, the main task of a player is to slow down the
opponent's attack. The best method to slow down an attack is to simplify the position by
exchanging the opponent's attacking pieces. Once a player has slowed down the
opponent's attack, his next plan shall be to prepare a counter attack.

3. Stage 3: Strengths & weaknesses of chess pieces: Karpov also studied the limitations
of different chess pieces and developed methods to trap each one of them. A set of
such studies are available in the book mentioned below.

Kasparov System: An eternal quest for the Chess Truth

Now let us discuss the thinking system of one of the greatest players (sometimes called
the greatest) of Chess Sir Gary Kasparov. There are two strengths of Kasparov's
Thinking System. First is that he absorbed most of the chess thought developed before
him as beautifully expressed in his "My Great Predecessors" series of books. Second
strength is his concept of three elements in the game of chess - 1. Material, 2. Time and
3. Quality of Position. Kasparov many times traded material to gain time (faster reach
towards opponent's king/ valuable squares) or to improve the quality of position (making
all the pieces/ pawns effective even if they are of lower value than the opponent's higher
value ineffective pieces). There is an important difference between Karpov System and
Kasparov System. While Karpov System stresses more on endgame and says that
middlegame shall be converted into favourable or equal endgame as soon as possible,
Kasparov System gives equal emphasis to all the phases of chess game - Opening,
Middlegame and Endgame and transition phases. Kasparov says that yes Endgame is
very important but the goal of opening is to get a favourable middlegame and main fight
is in the middlegame whose goal is to get a favourable endgame. So, Kasparov System
prohibits Overdependence on endgame but stresses on equal importance to all phases
of a chess game.

1. Space Advantage: Gary Kasparov is the greatest exponent of Space advantage in

chess. He studied, innovated and applied many openings to achieve the space
advantage and was able to exploit it to the fullest.

2. White's Night on f5: Gary Kasparov as white liked to put his knight on f5 and put
everlasting pressure on the black's king.

3. Switching the sides: Kasparov stressed on controlling the centre and switching the
focus of attack from one side to the other swiftly (usually from Queenside to Kingside).

4. Complex Positions: Another feature of Kasparov's style of play was his expertise on
solving very complex chess positions (especially middlegame positions) quite
accurately. Most of his opponents were surprised by the winning solutions found by
Kasparov of the complex positions which they thought equal or even inferior.

5. Bringing the opponent out of his comfort zone: Kasparov stressed that opening
preparation or ability to solve complex positions shall make a chess player able to bring
his opponent out of his comfort zone either in the opening or in the middlegame (through
a calculated risky play).

Kramnik System: A System of Cool Positional Perfection

Mr. Vladimir Kramnik developed a system with extreme positional orientation. Current
World Champion Mr. Vishy Anand has once said that Kramnik never looses a game.
Kramnik's method of winning can be described as following:

1. First take each one of your piece at its positionally correct square so that it can exert
maximum pressure on the opponent position. Also keep looking if your opponent is not
getting any tactical advantage during this process. If so, handle the tactical nuiances
also keeping in mind the positional correctness. Keep patience.

2. Only when all your pieces have reached their positionally correct squares, launch
aggressive attacks on opponent weaknesses.

3. Follow prophylaxis by not allowing your opponent to take his/ her pieces to their
positionally effective squares. So determine the positionally correct squares not only for
your pieces but for your opponent's pieces too. Then bring your pieces to their
positionally effective squares and do not let your opponent do so for himself at the same
time. Chess is a continuous struggle of occupying best squares for your pieces and not
letting your opponent do the same. (Oh I heard armies follow the same principles while
fighting a war. So chess is similar to real battleground).

4. Long and Complex Positional Maneuvers: This is a key element in Kramnik System.
His positional maneuvers are often so long that his opponent gets confused that what is
Kramnik doing. The positional accuracy in Kramnik's games is just overwhelming.

Topalov System: Tactical Chess at its best

Vaselin Topalov, the FIDE world champion of 2005 tournament has a very attractive
style of tactical play. He is a known crowd pleaser. His thinking system can be described
1. Take the game to risky, unclear lines in the opening or in the middle game.
2. Use your superb tactical skills to come on top in the endgame.
3. Be prepared to use long endgames to win the game.
4. Take attacking initiatives, calculated risk and have computer like accuracy.

Using his system, Topalov on many occasions, has won so many games in a series in a
tournament that he gets accused of cheating but that is his natural ability.

Anand System: A Sherlock Holmes type deep but quick investigation at each

Vishwanathan Anand, the current chess world champion since year 2007 and who has
won FIDE world championship five times in years 2000, 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2012 has
a tactical style of play but adjusts to situation very quickly.

In one of the series by Sir Aurthur Conan Doyale, Sherlock holmes describes how he
reached a certain conclusion. He says that he links one evidence to other, gets an
obvious conclusion, then links this conclusion to another evidence, gets another
conclusion and doing this again and again reaches a completely un-obvious conclusion
described by many as a genius one.

Anand's System of chess thinking in my view matches a bit with Sherlock Homes style
of investigation. At each move he links one improvement to other and finds a series of
moves which will finally lead to success. So, his immediate moves or not obviously
devastating but a series of moves are finally winning.

In some way, Anand's system of play is similar to Capablanca but Anand has got very
strong in opening analysis too. Like Capa, Anand also makes chess very simple with his
very aggressive but solid style of play. Anand's preparation in openings has been his
forte. Another factor which has helped Anand is his intutive ability to calculate a deep
series of moves very quickly. So a certain sacrifice is looked as a mistake by opponent
as it has been played very quickly (especially when Anand has made several mistakes
too in the past) but has actually come out of deep calculation. So, these quick moves by
Anand are more dangerous than normal or moves coming out after long thinking.

Carlsen System: Versatile Openings, Deep Positional Play and Accurate


Magnus Carlsen, current World Champion (after winning the challenge to Vishy Anand
in Nov. 2013 for the throne of FIDE World Chess Champion) has a very deep positional
style of play with very accurate endgame ability. Also, Carlsen has experimented with so
many new openings at the topmost levels and taken the game to his analysis area and
won. Even the inferior positions coming out of not so strong openings have been
defended very well by Carlsen and won or drawn at the end.

As a young player, the first book read by Magnus Carlsen is said to be "Find The Plan"
by Bent Larsen. This book is an open ended chess thought book. It gives positions,
author gives his views and then tells reader to think more. Carlsen is said to have spent
hours with the positions in this book. May be this advise has prepared Carlsen to find a
win in the positions declared as dead drawn or even lost previously. Originality of
analysis and planning has been the main strength of Carlsen which has made him reach
and retain the top position in FIDE chess rating list at such young age.

Carlsen System of chess thinking can be described like this. Suppose you are playing at
club level at short time controls like Blitz or Bullet games. There will be ameture players
making so many tactical mistakes and you will keep winning game after game (If you
are stronger player). Then if you are playing at classical time control at state or national
level, then players will not make much tactical blunders but they will commit positional
mistakes and by exploiting their positional judgement errors you will win. But if you are
playing at International Levels (IM or GM level), then your opponents will not make any
obvious tactical or positional error and you will have to exploit very minute and
insignificant positional or tactical mistakes and win the game and at the same time you
will need to avoid any such opportunity for your opponent. And then if you are fighting
for the throne of World Championship, then your opponent is the World Champion
himself and to win it you will have to create opportunities for yourself through very long
well prepared positional maneuvers. Thats what Carlsen did recently in November 2013
and succeded. The decisive games were all thought to be drawn by experts world over
but Carlsen created a winning opportunity for himself by long maneuvers and exploiting
very small errors by the opponent.

It also looks that Carlsen has studied the play by software like Houdini or Rybka very
closely as it has been reported that his moves match with the first choice of these
software very closely (It has become Carlsen's natural ability to reach this level of
perfection). One more thing we could observe that Houdini and Rybka also take the
game to draw position against strong software and then through long maneuvers create
an opportunity to win for themselves. So, Carlsen has a similarity with these software in
this regard.

Smirnov System

Grand Master Igor Smirnov of Russia has developed a system of chess thinking based
mainly on activity of the chess pieces.

The System is quite practical and easy to apply in actual games:

Opening Phase:
1. Control the center with pawn moves first and then with knight moves.
2. Move your long range pieces like bishops and rooks as close in opponent area (as
close to control the squares near opponent's king as possible). In the opening phase,
only bishops need to be moved.
3. Castle king or queen side as per the particular situation and opening requirements.
4. Once the center pawns, knights and bishops get developed, connect your rooks by
moving your queen and then centralize your rooks by bringing to d or e or c or f files.
This step is mostly forgotten by amatures and must be taken care off.
5. Opening phase gets completed once all your pieces get developed and king
becomes safe.

The Grand Synthesis:

Let us first discuss current budding chess players' dilemma:

Strategic vs Tactical, Positional vs Combinational: This is the biggest confusion a

budding chess player has today. Many players are talented enough to make very good
and deep combinations but are thrashed by their coaches that they must play positional
chess. On the other hand, many players are slow maneuvering positional players but
are forced to make brilliant combinations by coaches. Though on higher levels (say
above 2000 FIDE), one has to be very good both positionally and combinationaly but
below that a new player especially a child must be allowed to enjoy his game in the best
style which he naturally likes.

Which phase to study most - Endgames, Middlegames or Openings: Most of the books
recommend that endgames shall be studied first because endgames teach you the
exact power of each piece or pawn and precision in your moves. Many endgame
situations emerge at some part of your board in the middlegame and opening phases
themselves and you can use your endgame knowledge to gain advantage at that part of
the board. For example, delivering check mate with a bishop and knight may not occur
actually in your game but the coordination which you learn by studying such ending
helps us in achieving bishop and knight coordination in the middle game phase too.
Though many argue that what is the benefit of studying endgame when a chess game
can end in opening itself and keep studying opening traps all their life. Though opening
traps are a good part to study but after knowing some traps, your job is to avoid falling
yourself into it but stressing too much on them may not get you too far especially at
60:30 or 90:30 time controls as your opponent comes prepare with all those traps and
may not fall into it and you situation may get spoiled positionally in getting that trap.
Hence, equal emphasis on all three phases and in-between transitions too can only help
one become a great player. Though starting with a mastery on endgames is an excellent
idea in a sense that an endgame expert is always confident of winning the game as any
chess game is finally going to enter the endgame.

Calculation at each move - Generation of candidate moves: Following system can be

applied on each move in chess:

Always watch closely, your opponent's last move or better set of moves made by him. In
this aspect chess is similar to cricket where a batsman has to always watch the bowling
hand of the bowler and bowler the batsman position.

1. Check for Mate & Attacking possibilities: Always check if you can mate your
opponent's king with your next move. If yes just mate him and you will win the game
whatever the situation be on the board.
If your next move or set of moves have no possibility of mating your opponent's king,
then check if your opponent is going to mate your king on next move or in a set of
moves and if yes find the escape plan or a precise plan to mate your opponent's king
before he does that.
Even if there are no mating possibilities, check for the attacking possibilities.

2. Check for combinations: At each move, check if your opponent has laid some
combinations for you. If yes, think how you can refute that. If no, think if you can put
some combination. Also, check if your combination does not affect you positionaly
much. Combinations can be checked as per following elements and their combinations:
(i) Discovery: My piece is shielding an opponent's piece from attack from another of my
pieces. Now if my shielding piece moves so that it attacks another opponent's piece,
then one of the two opponent's pieces is lost. And if my piece delivers a check after
moving then opponent's piece is surely lost and it is called discovered check.
(ii) Skewer: If two of your opponent's heavy pieces fall in the same range (side or
diagonal) of one of your pieces (Bishops or Rooks), opponent will have to loose one of
those pieces.
(iii) Fork: If your pawn, bishop or knight attacks two or more of your opponent's pieces in
different directions, it is called fork. Opponent will have to loose one piece in most
(iv) Back rank mates: If your opponent's king on first or last rank has no place to move
any rank above (due to pawns), he gets mated. Many combinations are based on this
(v) Pawn promotions: If one or more of your pawns reaches last rank, it gets promoted
to the piece you want and you gain massively.
(vi) Pawn breakthroughs: Through a jugglery of pawn moves, you can gt a passed pawn
and queen it.
(vii) Pawn storms: You may take a series of pawns ahead and create big problems for
your opponent's king.
(viii) Smothered Mate or attack: If your opponent's king, queen or any piece except
knight is surrounded by your opponent's pieces and there is no place to escape then if
your knight attacks it from a safe place (from where it can not be taken), you will be able
to mate your opponent or take that piece.

3. Perform a thorough positional analysis: A six step MOSCOW system (developed by

Michael Stean though not in this exact name) can be used to perform positional

(i) M - Minority Attack: Often it is said that if your opponent has got more pawns in one
side than you, he has all probability to create passed pawn and trouble for you. But
Minority attack is a clever technique through which you having less number of pawns
can create trouble for your opponent. Mastering this tool can help you a lot in real
games and leave your opponent with backward or isolated pawn.
(ii) O - Outposts: An outpost is a square in opponent area which cannot be attacked by
opponent pawns. A piece (mostly a knight but may be bishop or rook too) on a central
outpost applies significant pressure on the opponent and controls the game quite
efficiently in your favour. Pawn structures quite often generate outposts. If you have
more number of outposts than your opponent, you can control and win the game
provided you can occupy those outposts in time.
(iii) S - Space: Essence of chess is mobility of pieces. Hence, if you have got more
space in middle-game, your pieces can move more freely and can even help you in
switching attack from one side of the board to the other side and win the game. If your
opponent has got less space, it is your duty to restrict him further so that his pieces get
maximum difficulty in coming out.
(iv) C - Colors (White Color or Black Color strategy): Positional Chess quite often
depends on controlling the white squares or black squares in your opponent's camp
(mostly near opponent king) through your long range piece - bishop. Bishop in fact is the
most helpful piece in positional play. Many openings and middle-games are based on
this color strategy.
(v) O - Open files & diagonals: Open files help your rooks and queen to reach the
squares in your opponent camp (mostly near opponent king) faster and mate the
opponent. In fact, if your opponent king is at the first or last rank and your rooks or rook
and queen reach seventh rank (if you are white) or second rank (if you are black) than
your winning chances are quite high. Similarly, open diagonals help your bishops create
maximum damage to your opponent.
(vi) W - Weak Pawns: If you can create weak pawns in your opponent camp (isolated
pawn, backward pawn, doubled pawns, too advanced pawns, hanging pawns etc.) and
limit such weaknesses in your camp, your chances of winning the endgame are quite

4. Planning & Judgement: This is the most difficult part. Judging the opponent's plans
accurately (you must know your opponent's prospects more than him) and creating
counterplans. Also, Creating concrete plans for yourself and judging which one will be
most difficult to be countered by the opponent. Karpov's Seven reference points (MTK
OPSD) for chess accounting can be used to judge a position accurately:
1. Material relationship
2. Threats
3. King Positions
4. Open Lines
5. Pawn Structure
6. Space & Center
7. Development & mobility of pieces

Though it is a matter of personal taste but I found GM Moskolenko's five touchstones

very useful in planning in my recent tournament win. These touchstones are MDPKT:
1. Material
2. Development
3. Placement of Pawns and Pieces
4. King position
5. Time: This is not the time on chess clocks (though that is also one very important
factor) but the speed at which an attack can be organized. For example, in one
endgame I promoted my pawn to queen and my opponent also did the same on next
move (both of us were having one rook each but my opponent an extra pawn too) but
since my queen came into action first, it delivered mate with the help of my rook and
opponent could not get time (a move) to bring his queen in action and try to win or draw
the game.

At each move, we can plan next move keeping these five touchstones in mind. In fact,
Development goes into background after first ten moves or so (if you have developed
properly which is the main goal in the opening phase of chess game) and we need only
take four touchstones MPKT into account. Also, I found that with white pieces, you may
develop in 8 to 10 moves but with black pieces, full development takes a bit of more
moves (or time) say 12-15 moves.

5. Play the Endgame thoroughly: Prepare a set of key endgames and apply your
knowledge skillfully in the middle to endgame transitions and in endgame.

6. Creativity & Innovation: Whatever chess study we perform, we must understand that
in chess, we need to outwit our opponent at some point or the other. Hence, as the level
grows, our own creativity & innovation ability takes center stage and at GM or Super GM
levels, we have to devise and discover chess knowledge and concepts on our own. At
other levels also, our own winning moves do matter though we need to be through in
winning technic too.