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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!

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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)


Universal Law of Conflict and Victory Clearly Explained

“It is an old reflection that life is a struggle. The riddles of the cosmos can therefore be solved in one way only – by investigating the laws and principles which determine the course and the outcome of struggles.”

“What is struggle and victory? Do they obey laws that reason can comprehend and formulate? What are these laws? That is the problem!” — Dr. Emanuel Lasker, The Struggle, 1907

Strategy games: chess is one of wargames

Ready, chess art by Samuel Bak

So what is the principle? First, we will try in plain English. Then, in chess terms.

The main principle of (chess) strategy

All actions in (chess) struggle are based upon either taking the initiative or reacting in response to the opponent. No matter which side you are currently on, the main principle governing the struggle should be this:

Don’t fight your enemy. Fight their strategy.” –Sun Tzu, The Art of War, around 500 B.C.

Or put “more chessly” in these words: “You have to fight not so much with your opponent’s individual moves as with his ideas and plans. Discerning your opponent’s intentions makes it far easier to conduct the upcoming fight successfully.” — Isaac Lipnitsky, Questions of modern chess theory, 1956.

You cannot solely focus on your plan (if you don’t have one, it’s called woodpushing). You must adapt yourself to react to the other player’s strategy and game plan at all times. Any struggle (war, sports, business) has a complex interwoven nature of opposing strategies. You need to do your utmost to frustrate your opponent’s intentions while ensuring the fulfillment of your own plan giving greater freedom of action to your army.

Understand the other player’s strategy, and then adjust your own to take advantage of the weaknesses you perceive in their designs, or react to threats they are setting up for you.

The path of least resistance

You should always have an aim of negating (blocking or counterattacking) the enemy’s intentions. Pursuit of your own aim should be always combined with restricting their objectives.

You choose continuations that should be diminishing their resistance, looking for the line of least resistance. That’s Dr. Lasker’s Law of Struggle: linea minoris resistentiae (obviously, you should put up the stiffest resistance to their aggressive intentions and put the brake on them from the onset).

Martial art in the Flying kick dragon movie

Bruce Lee and Kareem Abdul Jabbar in the Flying kick dragon movie showing the principle of least resistance workings

The path of least resistance is physics phenomenon that unites all animate and inanimate systems and their design. It is always taken by objects moving through a system. Examples include: river basin design; pedestrian movement, speeds and patterns; global circulation and climate; movements of chess pieces; martial arts kicks and movement patterns, etc.

Chess game showing clearly the workings of the strategy #1 principle

Let’s examine how all works in an actual game of chess.We’ll see how both sides in the conflict start implementing their plans. It will take only one moment, one move that Black neglects to pay attention to White’s designs. And it is over.

Commentary by Lipnitsky from his legendary book (State medical publishing of Ukrainian SSR, Kiev 1956). “It is something of a legend, yet enigmatic and inexplicable,” Anatoly Karpov, in the foreword of the English version published by Quality chess in 2008.

Stahlberg-Filip, Helsinki 1952 (after 8.Rc1)

8…c4! Black lays the foundation of his own plan that consists in organizing a Q-side offensive with the aid of his pawn majority there.

9.Nd2! White opposes his opponent’s intentions with a plan of his own – a pawn offensive on the K-side. With his last move he accomplishes two things:

(a) he frees the way for his f-pawn, and

(b) by making a threat against the d5-pawn he draws the black bishop to e6, which will later enable the f-pawn advance with tempo.

9…Be6 10.e3 O-O 11.Be2 Nc6 12.O-O a6

In line with his plan, Black is preparing the b7-b5 advance.

Stahlberg-Filip, Helsinki 1952 (after 12...a6)

However, after 13.f4! Ne7 14.g4! it turns out the White’s plan is more dangerous. Black shifts entirely to defense, but his defensive maneuvers come too late.

14…Nh7 15.f5 This is where 9…Be6 came in handy for White

15…Bc8 16.e4! Ng5 17.Bxg5 hxg5 18.e5 and White has an easily won position.

Stahlberg-Filip, Helsinki 1952 (after 18.e5)

The game has shown  us how:

a) Black was slow to give due attention to the White’s plan that was developing more quickly and therefore was more dangerous,

b) Black didn’t take timely measures to fight his opponent’s plan, which led to his defeat.

This wouldn’t have happened to Black if:

1) he had seen the possible White’s plan with f2-f4 in good time, rather than when that plan had already been put in motion;

2) he had considered by looking into concrete variations how much more dangerous White’s plan was than his own; and on making certain on this,

3) he had immediately undertaken prophylactic measures on the K-side, so as to oppose the execution of White’s plan before it was too late.

Next time we will see what Black should have done if he had followed the universal strategy law.

* * *

Keep your eyes open in order to discover the other competitor’s strategy.

If you don’t see it, how you will be able to fight it?

Further references:

Steve Golderg’s book review on

PDF excerpt of Questions of modern chess theory

Boards don’t hit back, from The way of least resistance martial arts blog maintained by Dejan Djurdjevic

Football and Chess: What They Have in Common?

Adam Wells is the author of Football & Chess: Tactics, Strategy, Beauty. In the book he discusses the commonalities between the two games making the connections in a comprehensive, interesting way.

Schach und Fußball

Chess and Football: Players battling in space and time building connections to break the opponent's defense down

Complex dynamic systems

Both games represent a complex system (as discussed here), a network of interconnections of players or pieces to fulfill a purpose.  What we’re trying to come up with is a possible conceptual framework that may offer us a better understanding of the behavior and success of a dynamic system consisting of interacting agents.

Any complex system has a certain organization or cohesive structure which helps create the optimal behavior and mobility in space and time where safety and survival are paramount. The point of strategy and strategic play in football and chess is gradual movement of the formation with the system’s safety always in mind. Mobility allows both chess pieces and soccer players to adjust their shape. In chess, the gradual movements, generally, take place toward the opponent’s back rank (pawns can’t go backwards). In football, it’s constant expansion and contraction of the shape relative to the flow of the game.

Our human point of view is that the aim of the game is to score a goal, or to deliver checkmate to the opposing king. Actually, the system has to possess a compact structure to withstand attacks in a hostile environment and survive. It has to take risks to attack and expand only to increase chances for survival (you can see that the most natural players like Capablanca and Karpov care about safety first, being aggressive to reasonable limits). As the venerable strategist Sun Tzu put it, “Invincibility (read survival) lies in the defense; the possibility of victory in the attack.”

Here are the links Adam Wells makes between the two past times on what he calls the technical elements (see The Heretic Coach blog). Try to put these elements into the context of the life of a complex system as discussed above:

Building connections

To be effective at both games you need to build connections between your pieces or your players. Both require supply lines that connect the front to the back and the left side to the right. And both are architectural games which in particular is reflected in the use of the word shape when we talk about the positioning of our players on the soccer field. Connections in chess can either be direct between the pieces where one pass can move directly to the spot of another (like passing to feet) or indirect where two or more pieces could each move to the same spot that none of them currently occupy  (like passing to space).

FIFA, the governing body of soccer, has 208 member countries, the most of any sport. The World Chess Federation (FIDE) with 159 nations is second

Almira Skripchenko, French WGM (and also a poker player) kicking the chess pieces, making a symbolic connection between soccer and chess


While shape is important, it is the movement of players within that shape that brings the shape to life and helps a soccer team maintain possession. The more options a player has, the more chance there are of keeping possession. Players that stand still limit their team’s chance of keeping possession. Chess pieces need space in order to be mobile or else they become static and unable to contribute.

Stretching and compressing

Shape and mobility allow both chess pieces and soccer players to adjust their shape. When attacking they stretch out side to side and end to end in order to create as much space to use as possible. When defending, they compress to the middle or to the area of greatest danger and in doing so shorten the distances between each other making defensive support faster and stronger.

Dominating the midfield

To control a game of chess, you need to control the middle of the board.  In soccer we often talk about games being won or lost in the midfield. Having control over the middle of the soccer field allows teammates around them to be played into the game. Subsequently, not having control of the midfield means less chance to build attacks. Wells says that soccer teams that are ‘breathing smoothly,’ that is expanding and contracting their shape relative to the flow of the game, are much nicer to watch play.

Build-up play

In chess you choose your opening. In soccer you choose your formation. This is the general organization common to both which begins to flesh out the strategy of that particular game. That is, do you take the game to your opponent or do you sit back, soak up the pressure and counter attack?  When you attack, will it be down the middle or down the flanks? Each organizational system will have its own strengths and weaknesses which begins to dictate the strategy.  This leads to the tactics needed for that particular game. In chess that is finding the right attacking combinations to capture pieces.  In soccer it is finding the right combinations to make a break through and score. The build-up process starts in conjunction with the strategic plan for the game. The goal is to bring as many pieces – or players – into the attack as possible in order to help sustain the momentum. In soccer, we can’t expect the strikers or forwards to do all the attacking on their own without midfield or even fullback support.

* * *

“At the most fundamental level, football and chess are games that involve using space effectively and getting the timing right to break down an opponent’s defense whilst preventing them from breaking down yours.” – Adam Wells

Occupy the Center. Is this a Protest? No, It’s a Strength Test for Your Chess Contest!

The concept of the Center of Gravity (CoG) developed by Carl von Clausewitz is a powerful war-fighting tool that can also be applied in chess.

It’s a practical method for determining a specific, most critical target in the opponent’s position to attack. Thus, CoG gives your war-campaign efforts more focus and increasing chances for a success.

The CoG is the source of power that creates a force, or a critical capability that allows an entity to act or accomplish a task or purpose.

Samuel Bak, Sheltering Myths, 1998. Finding the Center of Gravity: How strong was this center? Maybe too much, as it seemed to implode!

The CoG and the CoB

Essential to understanding the CoG are critical factors.

The critical capability generates force. In chess it is power to perform an action possessed by pieces .

Critical requirements are essential for a critical capability to be fully operative. The center of the board (CoB) is one such key requirement. For pieces stationed there have increased fighting potential in terms of superior activity and mobility. The center is a decisive point, an area of the chessboard that, when acted upon, allows the player to gain a marked advantage over the adversary to achieving success. Or it may be that opening of d-file is critical for success of your campaign.

Another CR is coordinated effort of pieces. They must establish a certain degree of unity and cohesion through mutual contacts. “It’s all about a teamwork, or division of labor, or as Tal’s trainer Koblenz put it, it’s a wonderformula in chess,” (want to thank to William van Zanten for his contribution on piece cooperation here and on LinkedIn.)

One can apply the CoG only where such interdependence exists (without it, you are facing just a horde of individual warriors easy to handle.) May I remind you that it’s imperative for you to coordinate the action of your troops, as this is “a main principle that runs throughout,” Capablanca.

How do you discover a CoG? Sun Tzu gives a hint, “Know the enemy and know yourself.” You as a commander-in-chief need to know how your and the opponent’s army operate and determine strengths and weaknesses on both sides. Using a holistic approach, you need to identify a critical vulnerability, a component vulnerable to attack or disruption. Focus your effort against the opponent’s CoG, while protecting your own. Finally you decide on the plan of action (attack, neutralization, or any operation that diverts, disrupts, delays, or destroys the enemy’s potential against your army.)

Basically, the CoG is always found where the mass and power are concentrated most densely.

The above clearly shows how the CoG is closely related to the CoB and the cooperative action of pieces.

Strategic importance of the CoB

To wrap up, let’s take a look at the strategic relationship between the critical capability, or power of pieces to act (attack, defense) and the center of the board as promised last time.

We saw then that in order to achieve strategic objectives you must act from the position of strength, to be able to attack. For that, you need to construct a solid structure in the middle of the board.

There are two main approaches here:

  1. Center occupation by pawns (or less often by pieces),
  2. Pressure toward the center from sidelines (without a direct confrontation, in a hypermodern fashion, sort of guerrilla war keeping the opponent’s center immobile, chipping away on it here and there)

By getting your troops out toward the center to build up a strong point, you do two important things strategy-wise:

1) in defensive terms, the center is a wall against the enemy attack — this supports the first principle of strategy laid down by Sun Tzu, which is to stall the enemy plans, to put the brake on them, to limit their options; if one side controls most of the important squares in the center, it will be increasingly difficult for the other side to develop their pieces to meaningful locations; domination of one player in the center almost always rules out activity by the other,

2) in attacking terms, the strong point creates preconditions for a future expansion and breakthrough in the center with an offensive at the moment when your troops has reached an optimal level of coordination; an advantage in the center almost always allows an attack to be obtained, whether in the center itself, or on one of the flanks; if that thrust goes through the middle, then the second most important principle of strategy may be seen in vivo – breaking the coordination of enemy forces, here by cutting them in two.

* * *

Center your efforts toward the Centers, the CoG and the CoB, for best results, guaranteed!

* * *

“Chess is a terrible game. If you have no center, your opponent has a freer position. If you do have a center, then you really have something to worry about!”  Dr. Tarrasch


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 rule etc., most chess books start 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

What is CoG in Chess Actually? Interestingly, US Military is Using the Same Concept Too

According to U.S. Army Doctrine for Joint Planning Operations, CoG is “those characteristics, capabilities, or localities from which a military force derives its freedom of action, physical strength, or will to fight.” (Now, chess people, just replace a military force with a chess force, okay?)

US military doctrine is using the CoG concept that is developed by Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz. “Out of the characteristics [of the conflict] a certain center of gravity develops, the hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends. That is the point against which all our energies should be directed.”

Chess students defining the concept of the center are like blind men describing an elephant. They know the center is huge one, but they describe it according to their own understanding. “The center [of gravity] is too important a concept to guess at,” Colonel Dale C. Eikmeier, U.S. Army, assures us. It’s OK Colonel, we’ll take a look at it and revisit the chess center again in this post (only I’m not quite sure should we report back to him?)

The center in the traditional chess doctrine

Under a common definition in the chess doctrine, centralized pieces are: (1) more active and having greater fighting value (=activity), and (2) can be quickly transferred to either of the flanks (=mobility), which makes the center the most important place on the whole chessboard.

True, but once again we look at one of critical concepts in chess too simplistically.

Stronghold, by Samuel Bak (see how the enemy is drowning after failing against our stronghold constructed in the right of the picture? and this Bak guy is so helpful for us to see chess concepts! after seeing this picture you'll never ever forget how strong points are vital for your battles)

As we know, every complex system consists of:

  1. Parts
  2. Interrelations
  3. Goal, or purpose

In very much the same way as we start teaching chess with a focus on individual piece movements, we make another similar mistake by looking at the center in terms of individual parts only. We are ignoring (2) and (3) above, conveying an amputated view of chess reality.

Let’s try to come up with a better view by using what we’ve already covered in this blog: strategy, attack and defense, piece harmony — we need them all to bring forward a more adequate definition of the role of the center.

Act from the position of strength!

Let’s start with Sun Tzu:

“One attacks when his strength is abundant. One defends when his strength is inadequate.”

To possibly accomplish the goal of the game and win, it is clear from above that we need to act from the position of strength.

How do we achieve this? By building up a strong structure in the center of the battlefield. We want a source of power from which our chess forces derive physical strength and freedom of action to act. We want to establish a source of power that will provide strategic focus and order (think coordination of troops) for our army. The center gives our fighting forces unity and cohesion.

How is the strength, or structure we are talking about built up? It is done by constructing a strong point in the center. For White it is either e4 or d4. Black may oppose it by a similar strong post at d5, which should be well protected, say, with this set-up: pawns at e6 and c6, Nf6 and Qd8, as in Queen’s gambit, so it can’t be easily destroyed. And all this should be part of the strategy implemented.

(By the way, have you noticed that strength, structure, construct, strong, destroy, and strategy all derive from the same Indo-european root? — Latin structura, past participle of the verb struere, meaning pile up, heap up, build! — it’s all about building up strength!)

And this strength in the center is not about locality only. All forces, from the opening till deep in the middle game, are directed toward the center where a great deal of power is concentrated. Additionally, forces should achieve effective coordination (think d5, c6, e6, Nf6, Qd8 set up) during the battle for the center. So CoG is about locality, and concentration of power, and coordination of troops!

All this is in sync with Nimtzovich’s overprotection concept where we should systematically overprotect our own strategically important strong points from which our entire position receives energy and vitality.

* * *

To recap, CoG, or Center of Gravity, is a chess source of strength, power and resistance. It creates a critical capability (superiority, usually in the middle board, in terms of space,  maneuverability, power, and piece harmony) that allows the player to act effectively and accomplish the aim.

* * *

Next time more about the center from the perspective of strategy and its main principles and how attack and defense fit in.


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 rule etc., most chess books start 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

What’s Superior, Attack or Defense?

Wherever there is a conflict, attack and defense are there. In chess, in warfare, in society, in jungle, in business, in sports… Attack and defense are like two sides of a coin.

The question now is, which one you think should be valued more? Which one do you prefer?

Attack and defense each have advantages and disadvantages. Like many questions revolving around two possible solutions, you may have to use one or the other in specific situations as the ultimate choice.

To answer this question we need to look at attack and defense in more detail and examine the human psychology that dictates certain behaviors that will eventually lead to one choice or the other.

Attack and defense on the chessboard. A deadly diagonal blow by White?

“Invincibility lies in the defense, the possibility of victory in the attack”, Sun Tzu.

One attacks when his strength is abundant. It is important to know where and when to attack and when to avoid battle. Knowing its strategy, the victorious army first realizes the conditions for victory, then seeks to engage in battle.

It’s completely different with the defender. One defends when his strength is inadequate. And should be ready to defend at all times to respond to enemy plans and intentions. This tells us that defense actually requires more outstanding qualities than attack itself, and seems to be a more vital and more difficult part of the battle.

Defense is a necessity, attack is an act of free will. You can usually stop attack and restore equilibrium. On the other hand, to give up on defense means to lose the battle, or perish. Defense has a passive purpose: preservation. Attack has a positive one: conquest.

An attacker has the initiative. Others will have to respond to his first move and so he can force an issue on others. For example, capturing a strategic position may force the other player to come in to defend it. As an attacker, you may force your enemy to make a move which might be quite beneficial in your grand strategy.

But attack has downsides too. When an aggressor goes on to attack, there are no more surprises left. The attack has happened and the defender can clearly see the attacker’s strategy, and respond accordingly. As the best strategy is to fight the enemy’s one, the defending side gains an advantage here as the first side in the conflict to have it uncovered.

If the defender can withstand the initial onslaught, the defender can turn the tables and exploit the aggressor’s weaknesses. Moreover, it requires more resources and energy to take land than to hold it. In short, the defender can counter attack.

Attack or defense? Which one is more important then?

In general, there is no right answer. It is with what you are most comfortable, depending on your psychological profile. Maybe you are Tal, maybe you are Petrosian. They both won the crown for the world championship. Do what comes naturally and learn to maximize your strengths.


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 rule etc., most chess books start 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

What is “Chess Pendulum”?

The main principle of strategy has been known (at least in written records) since VI century BC: Forestall the enemy’s plans, fight their own strategy, Sun Tzu, our venerable consultant on matters of strategy.

Then in the year 1645, a Japanese samurai warrior, Miyamoto Musashi, expressed the very same idea this way:

Whatever the enemy tries to bring about in the fight, you will see in advance and suppress it. When the opponent attempts to execute his (sword) move, frustrate it from the onset, make whatever the opponent is trying to accomplish of no use, and achieve the freedom with which to lead the opponent about.

He might have played Shogi, but all the chess strategists should now stand up and bow down to this man:

Miyamoto Musashi, The Master

Hey, those guys did know a thing or two about strategy, huh?

This principle has never ever failed in any conflict: war, business, sports, chess, you name it.

Any expectation, any intention by the opponent, any sign of activity that may develop into something harmful is to be disrupted at the root by all available tactical means (tactics are just building blocks of strategy).

Quite naturally, we should just follow this golden rule in chess, the game of strategy, right?

Yes, but not many of the rest of us do.

Why is it? Why we don’t start teaching this simple cardinal principle from the onset, so it becomes part of our chess instinct? The concept has already been known to the powerful subconscious brain (they also call it “primitive”, o sancta simplicitas! it’s much, much smarter than you ever thought it could be). Buried deeply inside your subconsciousness, acquired through past experiences from sports, war movies we watched without a blink – at least boys – it’s been just waiting there for you to activate it. For you to become a winner.

(I’m afraid, I must keep repeating this over and over again as this is the single most important thing that you will ever need in chess, business, or sports, and, for that matter, any other competition for a life time!!)


Okay, we know what’s the main principle. But what’s the “chess pendulum” anyway?

Actually, it’s one of many “small” strategies. We need to learn them too. FM Anatoly Terekhin has collected more than 120 (in Strategic Methods in Chess, Samara, 2005, ISBN 5-9900489-1-2, he presented nine of them).

In my latest post on grand scheme of hierarchy in chess few major strategies were mentioned in the strategic level (E).

One of them was weakening of the enemy position (E6). It’s a potent weapon with different flavors and today we’re going to demonstrate a method called “chess pendulum”. Chess what?

I’ve asked IM Ashot Nadanian, the second of the #3 in the world, GM Levon Aronian, to best translate Russian “маяатник” in this context for us. In my mother tongue (Serbo-Croatian, an old relative of Russian) there’s a similar verb with a meaning “to annoy someone”. But pendulum fits in perfectly.

At the same time we’ll take a quick look at another strategy: trading your “bad” pieces for the enemy “good” ones (E4). Also very, very important, another biggie (there’s hardly ever an equal trade in chess. One side or another almost always gains some advantage. If only we could learn how and when to do it, we all would be much better players. So train your subconscious brain engine to watch closely whenever an exchange happens in a GM game you may go over. Try to figure out why they went for it and what kind of advantage they may have gained. That way you will learn a lot).

* * *

Back to the pendulum. It’s a close relative of the “vanishing move” strategy, with the same goal – to weaken the opponent’s position. In a different form though:

The piece returns to the original square, giving over the right of move to the other side, but the position has changed favorably (in contrast with the vanishing move, all pieces may do the pendulum, not just Bishop).

To demonstrate, here’s a position two chess legends played almost hundred years ago (just en-passant, study primitive classics!):

Capablanca - Alekhin, St Petersburg 1913, after 11...Nb6

12. Ng5!

“Forcing the Black to play g7-g6, which will weaken his K-side and make holes for the White’s dark-squared Bishop”, Capablanca, My Chess Career.

12. …g6 13. Ngf3

Capablanca - Alekhin, after 13.Ngf3

The pendulum operation carried out. Weaknesses inflicted. At the same time “this move is making room for the Queen’s Bishop. White could have also played 13.Qe2 and if  13…Qxd4 14.Ngf3 followed by Bh6  and Ng5 with a violent attack”, Capablanca.

13. …Kg7 14. Bg5 Nbd5 15. Rac1 Bd7 16. Qd2 Ng8 17. Bxe7 Qxe7

Capablanca - Alekhin, after 17...Qxe7

18. Be4!

“This move I considered a very long time. It looks very simple and inoffensive, yet it is the foundation of the whole attack against Black’s position. The fact is that the Bishop is doing very little, while the black Nd5 is the key to Black’s defense, hence the necessity of exchanging the almost useless Bishop for a most valuable Knight”, Capablanca.

18. …Bb5 19. Rfe1 Qd6 20. Bxd5 exd5 21. Qa5 a6 22. Qc7 Qxc7 23. Rxc7 h6 24. Rxb7 Rac8 25. b3 Rc2 26. a4 Be2 27. Nh4 h5 28. Nhxg6 Re8 29. Rxf7+ Kh6 30. f4 a5 31. Nh4 Rxe5 32. fxe5 Kg5 33. g3 Kg4 34. Rg7+ Kh3 35. Ng2 1-0


Let me be perfectly clear. There are two things that should become your first instinct in chess, an indispensable part of everybody’s subconscious, strong chess vision engine, so you never ever again even have a slightest thought about it:

1. Strategy #1

2. Basic chess contacts



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

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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