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Do You Have the Will to Win?

Winning isn’t always about talent and skills. Winning is an attitude. Everyday you see people with less skill and talent being successful. They’ve tapped into a place that pushes them past their competition. It’s the will to win.

“Chess is a test of wills”

The essence of any conflict is confrontation between two opposing wills, as in the above quote by the great Paul Keres. Or as Fischer put it: “Chess is war over the board. The object is to crush the opponent’s mind.”

Chess is a duel of wills

Duel, by Aleksey Kulakov

It is like two wrestlers locked up in a hold, each using force and counterforce trying to throw the other. It’s a dynamic interplay, a process of continuous mutual adaptation, of give and take, move and countermove. This is true for warfare, chess as a no-blood-spilled representation of it, sport or business competition, interpersonal or international relations.

The fundamental purpose of warfare is the destruction of the opponent’s strength, and, even more importantly, his will to fight. The objective in any conflict is to impose your will on your competitor. While you try to impose your will on them, they resist you and seek to impose their will on you.


Seen as a clash between two opposing wills, chess may appear a simple game. In fact it is extremely difficult because of the countless factors involved. These factors taken together may be called friction.

Friction may be imposed by enemy action in the current situation on the board. For example, as in effective enemy fire, or some obstacles in the way the opponent put up his defenses that you have to overcome.

Friction may also be mental, or self-induced, caused by such factors as lack of a clearly defined goal, an indecision over a course of action, lack of confidence or other psychological factors.

While striving yourself to overcome the effects of friction, you must attempt at the same time to raise your enemy’s friction to a level that weakens his ability to fight.

That’s Dr. Lasker’s Law of Struggle: follow linea minoris resistentiae. You should always take action that puts up the stiffest resistance to the competitor, while looking for the line of least resistance for your team.

Juliusz Studnicki (1906 Kniażyce - 1978 Warszawa) GRA W SZACHY BISKUPA Z DIABŁEM

Bishop playing chess with the devil, by Juliusz Studnicki

Now the question is how you should impose your will on them in an environment where friction abounds? Through organized application of force (or mere threats of using force). In chess it’s threat-of-attack—attack—capture sequence. In war it’s use of all those means of annihilation of enemy and his assets.

Since your goal is not merely the cumulative attrition of enemy strength, you must have some larger scheme for how to gain some distinct advantage and ultimately achieve victory. Before anything else you must establish what you want to accomplish, why and how. Without the concept, the necessary unity of effort is inconceivable.

Shaping the opponent

Before you engage and clash with the opponent you have to prepare the battlefield. Basically, all actions in warfare are based upon either taking the initiative or reacting in response to the opponent. By taking initiative you dictate the terms of the conflict. You must seize the advantage through initiative and offense and force the enemy to meet you on your terms at the time and place of your choosing. To master the enemy in this manner is what Sun Tzu means by “shaping.”

“Skilled in war bring the enemy to the field of battle and are not brought there by him.” — Sun Tzu

You must identify those critical enemy vulnerabilities that will lead most directly to undermining his strength. Having done this, you can then begin to act so as to shape the battle operations to your advantage in both time and space. Ideally, when the moment of engagement arrives, the issue will have already been resolved. Through your influencing of the events leading up to the encounter, you have shaped the conditions of war that the result is just a matter of course. You have shaped the action decisively to your advantage. Remember, the events are won before the battle starts.

In one word we call this strategy.

War over the board to crush the enemy will

Another duel (I’m afraid I was unable to identify the author)

The universal aspects of shaping the opponent and wearing him down are:

  1. Aggressiveness. Through gaining and maintaining initiative you impose your will on the enemy [1].
  2. Fighting the enemy’s strategy. You should frustrate his plans and intents and create as much friction as possible to weaken his capabilities to win over you.
  3. Holding strategic positions. If you are able to occupy and hold critical lines and points on the strategic roads the enemy cannot come and use his force against you effectively.

Shaping activities may leave the enemy vulnerable to attack, facilitate maneuver of your forces, and dictate the time and place for decisive battle. Examples include channeling enemy movement in a desired direction, blocking or delaying enemy reinforcements so that you can fight a fragmented enemy force, etc.

“Now, an army may be likened to water, for just as flowing water avoids the heights and hastens to the lowlands, so an army should avoid strength and strike weakness.” — Sun Tzu

As water shapes its flow in accordance with the ground, so an army manages its victory constantly modifying the strategy and tactics in accordance with the situation of the enemy.

Never ever take the eye off your rival!

* * *

Here is a game (Rubinstein-Hirschbein, Lodz, 1927) from my guest post on NM Will Stuart’s showing the principle in action.

1. Here’s what the current #1 in tennis has to say about it: “We know each other well and I know I have to be focused when playing him. I must not let him impose his game on me as he wants to take the control to dominate the court. I have to be aggressive.” — Novak Djokovic on Roger Federer in his interview before their French Open semi-final (from Serbo-Croatian, Blic, June 7, 2012)


What Annihilates Men?

Chess: Passion, fight, or seeking power for domination?

H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds

The passion for playing chess is one of the most unaccountable in the world. It slaps the theory of natural selection in the face. It is the most absorbing of occupations, the least satisfying of desires, an aimless excrescence upon life. It annihilates a man. You have, let us say, a promising politician, a rising artist, that you wish to destroy. Dagger or bomb are archaic, clumsy, and unreliable–but teach him, inoculate him with chess! It is well, perhaps, that the right way of teaching chess is so little known, that consequently in most cases the plot fails in the performance, the dagger turns aside. Else we should all be chess-players–there would be none left to do the business of the world. Our statesmen would sit with pocket boards while the country went to the devil, our army would bury itself in chequered contemplation, our bread-winners would forget their wives in seeking after impossible mates. The whole world would be disorganised. I can fancy this abominable hypnotism so wrought into the constitution of men that the cabmen would go trying to drive their horses in Knights’ moves up and down Charing Cross Road. And now and again a suicide would come to hand with the pathetic inscription pinned to his chest: “I checked with my Queen too soon. I cannot bear the thought of it.” There is no remorse like the remorse of chess.

It is a curse upon a man. There is no happiness in chess–Mr. St. George Mivart, who can find happiness in the strangest places, would be at a loss to demonstrate it upon the chess-board. The mild delight of a pretty mate is the least unhappy phase of it. But, generally, you find afterwards that you ought to have mated two moves before, or at the time that an unforeseen reply takes your Queen. No chess-player sleeps well. After the painful strategy of the day one fights one’s battles over again. You see with more than daylight clearness that it was the Rook you should have moved, and not the Knight. No! it is impossible! no common sinner innocent of chess knows these lower deeps of remorse. Vast desert boards lie for the chess-player beyond the gates of horn. Stalwart Rooks ram headlong at one, Knights hop sidelong, one’s Pawns are all tied, and a mate hangs threatening and never descends. And once chess has been begun in the proper way, it is flesh of your flesh, bone of your bone; you are sold, and the bargain is sealed, and the evil spirit hath entered in.

Jules Verne and Hugo Gernsback, and H.G. Wells have all been referred to as “The Father of Science Fiction”.

The War of the Worlds

The proper outlet for the craving is the playing of games, and there is a class of men–shadowy, unhappy, unreal-looking men–who gather in coffee-houses, and play with a desire that dieth not, and a fire that is not quenched…

Excerpt from Concerning Chess,” by H. G. Wells (in Certain Personal Matters, London, T. Fisher Unwin, p.140)

Power to dominate

Playing on the Big Chessboard of the World. Science fiction?

H. G. Wells (1866-1946), English author, futurist, essayist, historian, socialist, and teacher.

He is now best known for his work in the science fiction genre (novels The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, The First Men in the Moon and The Island of Dr. Moreau). Together with Jules Verne and Hugo Gernsback, Wells has been referred to as “The Father of Science Fiction”.

“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe,” H. G. Wells once said. But others said, Wells was quite the fascist and insane powermonger.

Wells was also a wargamer and chess player. In this amusing little tongue-in-cheek essay (written in 1898), Wells expresses both the joy and horror found in succumbing to the siren call of the Royal Game.

* * *

“By some ardent enthusiasts Chess has been elevated into a science or an art. It is neither; but its principal characteristic seems to be – what human nature mostly delights in – a fight.” — Dr. Emanuel Lasker

Or perhaps power to dominate?

Man Who Beat World Champion by Winning First Three of 4-game Blitz Match

The victim was Dr. Alexander Alekhine.

The victor could boast, as recently as the year 2010, that he also humiliated the great Capablanca in a tournament game by sacking queen!

The list of victims went on, including names of Dr. Lasker, Euwe, Botvinnik, Smyslov…

Who is this guy anyway?

He is…

The last Chess Mohican

Andor Lilienthal (Moscow, 1911), the last of the original 27 chess grandmasters, died two years ago this May. He was 99.

His parents moved to Hungary when he was two. He had the distinction of having met every single world chess champion from Emanuel Lasker to Viswanathan Anand (with the sole exception of Wilhelm Steinitz). Lilienthal played 10 and beat 6 of them.

Schach war mein Leben

Lilienthal grew up in poverty. After finishing the 5th grade, he gave up school and started to learn tailoring. Luckily, for him and us, he then discovered chess

Beginnings: Coffee house chess in Paris

Lilienthal learned to play at 13, a relatively late start, and never had any formal training. Instead, he honed his natural talent  leading the bohemian and precarious life of a professional, playing in the coffeehouses of Western Europe in the 1930s. [3]

Coffeehouses were natural haunts for many of the best players. In his books, “Life for Chess,” Fiskultura and Sport, Moscow, 1969, and “Chess Was My Life,” Budapest, 1985, Lilienthal described encounters in 1929 with Capablanca, in the Café Central in Vienna, and with Dr. Lasker at the Café König in Berlin in October 1929.

But he spent most of time in Paris back then. At the Café de la Régence, once the epicenter of chess in Europe, he regularly played with players like Savielly Tartakower (whom Lilienthal later named as his first teacher), Kostić and Znosko-Borovsky, but also people better known in other fields, like Bernstein. An attorney by profession, he once advised Lilienthal, “You should look for an occupation for living, since it’s as hard to earn money with chess in Paris as it is anywhere else.” Lilienthal also played the artist Marcel Duchamp, and the composer Sergei Prokofiev, both of Master strength.

At the Régence he also met Alekhine who once stopped by and was told there was a 19-year old who was beating everyone in blitz. Alekhine approached Lilienthal and offered to play four games (5-minute blitz). To everybody’s surprise, Lilienthal won the first three. In his biography, Lilienthal wrote that Alekhine demanded that they play four more games but declined, saying that he wanted to retain the result as a pleasant memory.

Somehow after that time Lilienthal began playing in tournaments. He quickly established a reputation as an aggressive and dangerous player. His games were lauded for their elegance and he left many fantastic games with his attractive chess style (we will show some of them with the commentary from his “Life for Chess” book in future posts).

Russian edition of the chess book

"Life for Chess," Russian edition (1969)

Lilienthal's Hundred best games

There are three more Lilienthal's books published in Hungarian (1985), German (1988) and English (2001)

Lilienthal’s absolute moment of glory was to come in his clash against the near-invincible former world champion José Raul Capablanca at Hastings 1933-34. Capablanca, a virtuoso of the chessboard, was capable of going for years on end without losing a single game.

Lilienthal, however, remained glacially unimpressed by his formidable opponent’s reputation and delivered a death blow to the mighty Cuban in a sparkling game featuring a sublime queen sacrifice. [1] (When Bobby Fischer noticed Lilienthal in the audience at his 1992 return match against Boris Spassky in Yugoslavia, Fischer greeted him, “Pawn e5 takes f6!”)

Back to the USSR

Lilienthal stayed in Russia after he played in the Moscow Tournament in 1935. He worked as a chess trainer to the trade unions and became a Soviet citizen in 1939.

He gave large simultaneous exhibitions. In 1935 in the Moscow Gorky Park, he tied the then world record, held by Frank Marshall (Montreal, 1922) by playing 155 players simultaneously. Lilienthal writes: “The play had already progressed considerably, when it began to rain. Within seconds 150 large black umbrellas were stretched over the chessboards. Finally I also got an umbrella, which a young man held over me. He accompanied me from board to board for about 5 to 6 hours. This helpful boy was Yuri Averbakh.” Averbakh also was one of the 12 players who won against Lilienthal. [5] Interestinlgy, today GM Averbakh (b. 1922) holds the title of doyen, the senior member among world’s GM elite.

Lilienthal was not a professional in the modern sense. Looking at his games we had the impression that an interesting position or a game meant more to him than a win (of course for the modern top players a win is the only thing that matters). Maybe this attitude prevented Lilienthal from achieving even better results. [2]

He won (+8-0=11) the 12th USSR Championship in 1940 (his best tournament result), together with Bondarevsky, leaving behind Smyslov, Keres, Boleslavsky and Botvinnik.

From 1951 to 1960, Lilienthal trained Petrosian, who became the ninth world champion in 1963. He also acted as Smyslov’s coach during his world championship matches with Botvinnik in 1954, 1957 and 1958.

Lilienthal moved back to Hungary in 1976. He was a much loved and highly respected member of the global chess community. His chess wisdom and experience were admired for their depth and insights. His good nature and a great sense of humor made him a subject of many chess anecdotes and legends.

* * *

We will see some anecdotes from his Russian book in upcoming posts.


1. Andor Lilienthal: Chess grandmaster, by Raymond Keene (

2. Andor Lilienthal – The last Chess Romantic, by Gregory Serper (

3. Andor Lilienthal, a Chess Grandmaster, Dies at 99 (NewYork Times)

4. Andor Arnoldovich Lilienthal, 1911 – 2010 (

5. Andor Lilienthal and His Contribution to the History of Modern Chess (

The Secret of Initiative in Chess and Sports

Chess is a clash of interests between two independent and irreconcilable wills. Each will is trying to impose itself on the other and win the chess war.

So how do you impose your will on the opponent in any competitive situation?

Through initiative.

Chess and football share the same attacking principles

Offensive formations and lines of attack

Offensively toward the aim

Offensive action is the most effective and decisive way to achieve a defined goal. Selection and  maintenance of a single, unambiguous objective is one of the master warfare principles. It’s the centerpiece of any successful action on the chessboard, or elsewhere. Offense is a practical way to seize and hold  the initiative and gain some advantage for it.

All actions on the chessboard are based on either taking the initiative or reacting in response to the opponent. The two cannot exist separately. The same goes with a related pair: attack and defense. One party to a conflict must take initiative, or attack. The other one must respond, or defend. Without that there would be no conflict.

Tactical nature of the initiative

Where does the initiative come from? It comes from active piece play, superiority of force, or lead in development, for example. It’s generated by an idea coming from the specifics of the position with the objective to gain some advantage out of it. It “looks for some general goals, such as gaining control of maneuvering space, maintaining the tension, keeping the opponent busy and reserving plenty of attacking options for oneself,” Euwe & Kramer, The Middlegame. Over time it should bring some concrete results and get you a more specific material or positional advantage for it: an open line, better pawn formation, or ultimately, a direct mate attack.

Using suprise, decisiveness and aggressiveness to achieve and retain the initiative in sports

Lines of offense. Samuel Bak, Directions

In practical terms all manifestations of initiative are coming in the form of threats. “The initiative is the capacity to make threats,” Capablanca. Creating threats and use of various tactical methods are surest means of seizing and maintaining initiative and harvesting any advantage that comes with it. Strike first and then keep striking. That’s the first principle of tactics: don’t let them breathe when you’re chipping away at them.

But initiative objectives are strategic

By using initiative the skillful player, while maintaining the freedom action for his pieces, ties up the opponent in such a way that he cannot strike back. It forces the other side to play on the defensive, rather than make moves constructive to his own plan.  As you know, that’s the first principle of strategy: defeat the enemy’s plans, kill their strategy, oppose their intentions. To do so, the holder of the initiative chooses the continuation of the least resistance as the target for his efforts (or linea minoris resistentiae, as Lasker wrote in his Chess Manual), giving his opponent the least possible number of responses and chances for counterplay. Tie them down!

Initiative vs attack

Initiative is the most valuable intangible dynamic advantage in an undecided phase of the game. It’s governed by general principles, as described above, in positions where balance has not been upset and there is no definite target of attack yet. For that reason it usually requires much time on the clock.

Over time, if successfully followed up, it can grow and turn into a full-scale attack. At that point you need less time to think. The number of possible lines becomes more restricted as dictated by the nature and direction of the attack.

Attack is a broader concept including longterm initiative, elements of positional maneuvering and quite often a decisive winning combination.

* * *

Next time you take a look at an actual game to see how initiative develops and evolves into a full-fledged attack. Also about why the initiative exhausts itself and cannot sustain indefinitely as well as about counterattack as the supreme form of defense.

How to Make Your (Chess)men a Winning Team?

– What makes people, chessmen thrive?

– Why some teams win more than others?

The answer: the power of cooperation. A great team play. An effective coordination between team members.

What is the coordination, or harmony between pieces anyway?

Dominique Digeon, Alekim Bogolgabov

Is success all about relationships?

The quality of your life is the quality of your connections with other people, your family members, friends, coworkers.

No major goal in the game (of life) can be achieved by an individual on their own. Even the Queen (of England) can’t do that. As in warfare, team sports, business environment, or chess, a coordinated action of the group members is required.

For example, “it is a common military practice to “divide and conquer.” Say that you are outnumbered and “outgunned” by an opponent that is a coalition of different groups. Attack them when they are working together in harmony, and you may well be defeated. But if you can get them to split up, either by forcefully separating them by various strategies and tactics, or by getting them to fight amongst themselves, your chances of winning are much greater. Just look at military history and you can see how effectively this works”. [1] This is Sun Tzu’s second strategic approach to how to defeat the enemy (“to prevent the junction of the enemy forces”, as he put it).

Synergy (Greek for “working together”) demonstrates that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

The value added by the system as a whole, beyond that contributed independently by the parts, is primarily created by the relationship among the parts; that is, how they are interconnected. In essence, a system constitutes a set of interrelated components working together with a common objective: fulfilling some designated need. [2]

So it seems it’s all about pulling together. Cooperation. Combined action. Group value.

Basically, team members should do the following to deliver an outstanding performance:

  • Support each other,
  • Keep lines of communication open at all times,
  • Follow the set strategic objectives by carrying out subordinate day-to-day (or move-to-move) operations in their designated roles (it’s the biggie!).

Ilija Penušliski, Capa said it was a draw!

Piece cooperation and harmony in chess

Say you are a great chess tactician and you’ve come up with the best plan possible for the position before you. But how do you put everything in place?

Let’s see what the great Capa has to say about it: “… the main thing is the coordination of pieces, and this is where most players are weak. Many try to attack with one piece here and another piece there without any concerted action, and later they wonder what is wrong with their game.

You must coordinate the action of your pieces, and this is a main principle that runs throughout.” [3]

Another brain box of chess, Dr Lasker points out that there is cooperation and interaction between any two chess values, and this interaction has a certain typical character which always manifests itself whenever two values come into cooperation. The result of the cooperation

  • in attacking positions is to strengthen each element of the group;
  • in positions of defense, to protect each other;
  • in positions of balance, to complement each other.

The stronger cooperation is always a position of greater mobility than the weaker cooperation would allow. By cooperation you aim to keep your position plastic, alive; by lack of cooperation you take the life out of the position.

The main idea is to increase the range of possible plans to follow, without specifying too early which road you would prefer to travel. Flexibility. Adaptability. Elasticity. [4]

Here lies the connection with strategy. Only a combined action of pieces will allow them to achieve the common goal – your strategic plan. And as we know the main principle of strategy is to put the break on them, while achieving freedom (“greater mobility”) for yourself.

The coordination between pieces constitutes the main dynamic force of any strategic plan or a combination in chess. The value of each piece increases as it serves a role in fulfilling the set strategic/tactical objectives.

Hierarchy of things in chess: Strategy -> Tactics -> Coordination of pieces -> Basic board contacts

Both Dr. Lasker and Capablanca haven’t provided an explicit explanation what this cooperation is consisting of actually. Some easy explanation for the rest of us. In fact, it’s hardly possible to explain it in the language of reason. As we know, the logic is inferior to our unconscious power brain.

Yet this is exactly the area in which expert chess players excel. Scientific research shows they are faster than chess novices in identifying chess objects and their functional relations.

So it’s time for us to try (“Try not. Do or do not. There is no try”,  I hear Yoda, in The Empire Strikes Back, mutter here) to uncover and get familiar with different kind of relations, or contacts between pieces.

Next time we will give a break-down analysis of all basic contacts that may arise on the board. They are the foundation upon which the piece harmony rests. And that would be an easy task.

Unfortunately, as we go bottom-up to define the coordination of pieces, things become more and more elusive. We seek harmony all the time, the beautiful, the ideal, but their traces are still escaping us.

After all, there can be only one Capablanca! Only the blessed know “the law by which their pieces are in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger” (Sun Tzu’s definition of harmony in warfare, rephrased).

* * *

[2] Benjamin Blanchard, System Engineering Management, John Wiley, 2004
[3] J. R. Capablanca, My Chess Career, Dover publications, 1966
[4] Emanuel Lasker, Manual of Chess, Dover, 1960


Comments and suggestions welcome.

I give a 30-minute free consultation on how to get started in chess most effectively to get your game on the fast track. Forget about a boring and confusing 30-page introduction with all those rules on how pieces move, en-passant, 50-move draw, threefold repetition etc. every chess book starts with.

Let’s go right away to the heart and core of the whole chess thing…

You may contact me at iPlayooChess(at)gmail(dot)com

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