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Planning - An Informal Discussion

Forming a plan- a concrete example

The position being discuss is shown below. It is from Test Your Position Play by Bellin & Ponzetto

Tseshkovsky - Kasparov
USSR 1978

It arose after the moves:

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5 5.Ng3 Bg6 6.h4 h6 7.h5 Bh7 8.Nf3 Nd7 9.Bd3 Bxd3 10.Qxd3 Qc7 11.Bd2 Ngf6 12.0-0-0 e6 13.Ne4 0-0-0 14.g3 c5 15.Bf4 c4 16.Qe2 Qc6 17.Nxf6 gxf6


Think about assessing the position for both sides in terms of the following elements before reviewing the following chat transcript!

Control of important files or squares - -

Tryfon is presented with the following position and asked to assess it with the view of making a plan. He is not given any other information about the game except the names of the players.


<Tryf> Black has a potentially very nice idea here..if black can play moves like b5 and then manoever the knight to d5 and then put the king on b7... and then get the rook to c8- the rook can maybe contribute to a major attack on whites king. Eg, this kind of position:-

Black's knight coming to d5 will reduce a lot of whites play and b5 will carry the threat of b4. The black rooks can invade via the c file or maybe even the b file. If its white's move, d5 as a pawn sac seems tempting... to be able to play Nd4, so maybe black can't do b5 immediately

<Jan> Right, so white plays d5, taking away that square from black's knight but how did you reach that conclusion?

<Tryf> okay i remember a key game in the LLoyds Bank masters which impressed on me this idea of a blockading knight on d5- the power of the blockading knight. Since then i appreciate more the significance of black playing moves like dxe5 to get the d5 square......i just saw a vivid example....basically....

<Jan> But where would a less experienced chess player like me start?

<Tryf> if you go to tournaments......and wander around looking at other boards... especially if there are IM's and GM's to watch... sometimes you can pick up things like that.....or sit on the post mortem analysis of games in the tournament analysis room or read through annotated master games which explain the positional themes you can gather examples in all sorts of ways from your own games...., if you lost horribly when your opponent has this monster knight on d5 which you couldn't budge.....but even more fundamentally the great writer Nimzovich talked at great lengths about the theme of "blockade" and "restraint", these are key devices for killing the opponents counterplay

<Jan> OK, but I am also thinking that is it possible to work this out for yourself by analysing the position. Am I wrong?

<Tryf> a good grip of the fundamental principles of :- the pawn chain; restraint; blockade rook on the 7th, king safety. These are the fundamental knowledge that you need, regardless of your ability to analyse can then be really tired for example- which you will be in a tournament.... but if you stick to good solid positional principles... you will not go very badly wrong. you need solid positional principles in the back of your mind...we are not computers.

The formulation of the plan is obviously improved with experience of:- The understanding of the opening and the potential plans it gives rise to; experience; reading annotated GM games okay... but i know what you mean independent of that... you need a concrete method of getting a plan- independent of experience. I personally think in terms of element management. I try and assess the elements in the position- again my assessmenent of the elements is influenced by my experience. I then try to see the best way of managing those elements and what i can do with that management.......okay we have a list of the elements in the table above...... let us see

<Jan> Let's say this is the position in front of me on my board and I want to make a plan.

<Tryf> you can come to a position "cold".... and form a plan,it seems mechanical though to put things in the "king safety" box... because:- in this position the white king looks relatively safe apart from the hanging threat of c3 by black maybe as a potential pawn sacrifice. But deeper than that, one can say that if black had a knight on d5 then this would increase the pressure on the white king...because then the threat of c3 by black would be amplified.

So one can conclude that perhaps white's king isnt that safe...because the knight on d5 would be attacking c3 and if white played c3, to stop any posibility of c3 by black, then black might play b5 and b4 undermining white's king position.
This would be more effective with the knight on d5

<Jan> What about Black's King? Is it safe?

<Tryf> if its white to move, then d5 might be effective for white, especially for example after Nd4, and perhaps then there would be the "tension" created of threats such as Nb5 and Nf5. But even so, i think white's king is safer...there is the weaknesses of the dark squares around the Black King, because white does have a bishop pointing at black's king, so black has to be careful about his king safety.

Also....tactically...... if white played a move like b3, and black did a silly move like cxb3, and white did cxb3 then the c file could be exploited in white's favour. So both sides have to be aware of the potential dangers which have implications for their king safety ie this kind of thing:-

<Jan> So both kings at the moment are fairly safe but there are dangers for both sides?
<Tryf> i think black has to immediately stop the threat of d5 by white...beyond this......think in terms of "avoidance" to assess the difference in king safety...... ie which side has an "unavoidable" plan to damage the other person's king does not have to be silly and do cxb3 in response to white doing b3. this would in effect be suicidal in the current poistion.

But can white do anything to stop the manoever Nb6- d5 by black? and then once the knight is on d5- can white do anything to "avoid" the possibility of b5-b4 by black- or Kb7 Rc8- think in terms of "avoidance" and you will know what one side can do which the other side cannot do anything about. Assessing "avoidance" is a key part for assessing the true effectiveness of a potential plan- ie can it simply be "avoided" by the opponent... or can you systematically build up pressure on the opponent without them able to do anything about it. So in comparing the king safety of both sides.... i would say that if its black's move- black should prevent d5 by white, and play Nb6-d5 which is an "unavoidable" sort of manoever..... increasing the tension.

<Jan> By the way, it's a plan for white. White to move.

<Tryf> heheee you got me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! kasparov is black...........hehe....if it is black's move, i think nb6 and he will be okay

<Jan> What about material balance?

<Tryf> material balance is equal....both sides have knight and bishop each..... ie it is not as though they have different piece types... so material is from a theoretical perspective completely equal.....

<Jan> Possible tactics?

<Tryf> possible tactics...d5 by white!!!! vacating the d4 square, and stoppping black from using the d5 square.....The e5 pawn sacrifice in the benoni type positions is a similar kind of sacrifice, where white vacates the e4 square for himself and denies black the use of e5.... d5 is a positional pawn has the possible tactics of c3.. lets see

If you think in terms of tension and pressure..... the move d5 by white... if black plays exd5 then Nd4, white has a lot of possibilites created, but black's possibilities of say Nb6-d5 have been removed. The tension is all in white's favour with threats of say Nb5 and Nf5. d5 is the most important tactic to assess from white's's tactics which need calculation because they are forcing include the move e5 but although a forcing move, it simply loses a pawn for nothing in this particular position!

Also black has potentially tactically annoying ideas of Qb5 and Ba3 but this is compltely harmless in this particular position, because white would just play b3! and if needed just do tactically there arent many resources of significance for black...Ba3 (if we were to consider this seemingly insignificant move) reveals nothing...white just takes the bishop!...okay... but if white's queen was say on d2 then the move e5 would be more significant in some lines.....anyhow after the pawn sac of d5 by white, and Nd4, white has created tactical opportunities.......fantasisng a bit.... if white then had his rook behind the queen, white could play Qe8! ....this is insignificant only it reflects a bit on blacks king safety...

The dynamics are revealed a bit even by some wild tactical analysis........the dynamics of the king safety in particular.enough on tactics?!

<Jan> Good points! What about space and centre?

<Tryf> if black had a knight on d5, then he could potentially increase the space on the queenside with b5 and b4

<Jan> Start with the position as it is now.

<Tryf>!!! yep, thought you would say that!!!

<Jan> hehehe

<Tryf> the central pawn formation for both sides is complex to has these doubled pawns on f7 and f6. The one on f6 plays a significant role, because it stops white from sticking a piece on e5. It is guarding that central square.... The pawn on e6 is "guarding d5" but, it is also guarding f5, and this is where assesment is complicated because.... black really wants a piece on d5..... if that pawn on e6 went do d5- then black would have sliced the pawn structure up more- the pawns on f7 and f6 would be one island...the pawn on h6 another.......and the protection of the f5 square would be non-existent. The f5 square even though its not a "central" square is significant for white.. ie:-



As for the concept of "space".... If black has a big knight on d5, I would argue he has both more "space" and more capacity to "create" space, by moves like b5 and b4. If whites knight is on d4, then I would argue he has more space, and more tactical opportunities!!!

<Jan> What about the space at the moment for each side?

<Tryf> okay....this is where it is difficult to mechanically "fill the boxes" for the positional elements!!!!!!! ...blacks pawn on c4 arguably gives him more space on the queenside........

<Jan> Who has the space in the centre?

<Tryf> Whites pawn on h5 gives white more space in terms of squares able to use, eg white can use the h4 square... sometimes white uses that square in caro-kann games to switch a rook to the queenside, but that is irrelevant in this position.....

<Jan> By the way, as you know, this is a Caro-Kann

<Tryf> BUT... the pawn on h5 and blacks pawn on h6, black cannot use the h6 square...i feel this is a caro-kann- came from a caro-kann.... it is difficult to define space from this position because it does not seem such a big a deal that white has access to say the h4 square... and black has got a pawn on h6.....The only significant indicator of a definite advantage in space is black's pawn on c4.......

<Jan> What about the centre then?

<Tryf> i cant define the centre.. it seems variations are more important to asess like d5 by at the moment is defending the central squares but not in the most idealistic way... especially d5, which at the present time, if white played d5, white would be forced to recapture with a pawn

<Jan> I found the centre very difficult too.

<Tryf> pawn structure is easy to assess!!!

<Jan> What about piece placement and mobility?

<Tryf> it is as though in this position, the elements are going to be fundamentally changed with one move- d5 by white or Nb6 by black if it was black's this present situation therefore........

What i mean is....the assessment of say piece mobility HAS TO BE LINKED with the move d5. if its whites move, white has greater piece mobility!!!!... because he will play d5 and get a knight to d4............not linking the assessment of piece mobility with the move d5 is an example of not assessing and combining a panaramic view of the position from the perspective of not just the static elements as they seem NOW... but the dynamic elements of the position- ie d5 by needs to synthesise these to form a realistic idea of whats going on here......the synthesis reveals that interestingly..... the position can go completey against either play depending on who's move it is!! space will go completely in blacks favour if he has Nb6-d5

<Jan> Yep

<Tryf> and other factors will also go in blacks favour including piece mobility and in Kotov's think like a grandmaster, Kotov cites one position, where he did not analyse enough variations, and from a "superficial perspective", he thought he was doing okay, because he visibly had more space on the queenside. The harsh reality of the position, was that black's seemingly badly placed pieces, came to life in forcing variations, which showed the weakness of white's king so the variations offer insight which can massively impact the superficial evaluation of the position......

<Tryf> The analysis of variations encapsulates an insight of the dynamic aspects of the position, such as king safety ,and losing pieces, etc!!!... more than verbal reasoning!...... there is nothing more concrete than analysis of variations

<Jan> So, are you saying that we can not assess the position in this manner?

<Tryf> the value of the visible assessment of the position has to be assessed in the light of variations......the variations reflect on the dynamic elements in the position

<Jan> From what I've read, especially Silman, it seems as if first of all you look at the position, make plans and then calculate to see if they are feasible. If not, go back and choose another plan. Is this right?

<Tryf> okay... that is a good general idea... but if the position in front of view, clearly has forcing variations which dramatically influence the assessment of the elements, then these might as well be worked out as PRIORITY.......that is why computers excel in tactical situations......

<Jan> Yep, but wouldn't that be taken into account when assessing the tactics?

<Tryf> we are simply making superficial judgements in positions where the computers have a grip on the true brutal realities of the variations that the position implicates and therefore we will be tactically crushed, if we do not see the key variations... and given that we have limited time on the clock, i would argue that superficial judgements can be secondary to analysing the forcing variations....assessing the tactics can sometimes take priority because we have limited time resources!! also, the tactics, like in this position, the tactic d5- is like the STARTING POINT for the assessment of the position! because it is a position, white can force black into- d5 exd5......white should then see the POSITIAL IMPLICATIONS...

<Jan> When you looked at this position you immediately saw d5 by white and black's knight to d5. You said you immediately saw this because you linked this position to another game which was similar but d5 was not immediately apparent to me!!! I'd probably look at d5 and think, silly move because it loses a pawn!!!

<Tryf> - Ok because it loses a pawn is an assesment of the material balance...... you should then assess the other factors!

Think about what will be an "academic" part of your thinking according to the position. An assessment of the position as it currently stands without regard of the implications after d5 by white, would be completley and utterly ACADEMIC... for its own sake. It is because d5 is clearly a forcing move, which gives the position it creates, a priority to assess by the process of systematically looking at the factors...Now if the position was really much quieter with no immediate positional sacrificies, then the effectiveness of the position from a less "intimiate" perspective without reference to any particular moves, would be more justified....

There is clearly a cost/benefit associated with each aspect of your thinking- there is a cost/benefit of doing an analysis of variations ; there is a cost/beneift of assessing the elements of the position as they currently stand........If one saids, that in all one's games, one is going to follow a particular path of thinking, eg one is always going to asssess the position superfically, then form a plan, then check the implementation of that plan, then while this model of thought may hold for a large number of positions, for other positions, the cost/benefit will be siginificantly lower such as in this one... of the initial position. This is clearly because of the fact that d5 is such a key move to consider.

<Jan> So really what you are saying is that this is a bad example for what we are trying to do?

<Tryf> no its a good shows that the model of assess-> plan-> check plan will not immediately focus one's thoughts on the most critical thing. i have a clear example of the model assess-> plan -> implement working....
You know what i was saying to you about restraint..... and blockade......a chess player's "culture" has an impact on their capacity to find effective plan's quickly........Nimzovich must form part of that culture. In the cultural context, the mechanical recommendations of say the "assess->plan->implement/check" model, will alter one's thinking profoundly towards re-use of existing concepts than Nimzovich taught, e.g. we might simply be re-using the idea of "blockade".

Up to a certain grade, players should perhaps simplify the clarity of their thinking by following Silman's model of assess-> plan -> check plan, then if in the check plan process, the plan is deemed impractical, then one should iterate........however after a certain grade, one should realise, that everything and every model has a cost/benefit associated with quote the potential future World champion , Luke McShane.....,

"It all depends!....."

This paper looks at the thinking process... not specificially on "planning" or what a "plan" looks at the process critically of arriving at a plan, and argues that a player's culture will influence the amount of re-use which is involved in the actual thinking process.

<Jan> But this is totally true. This is what you did when you looked at this position! You used your past experiences! But planning begins with thought processes!

<Tryf> actually the element management papers, are like planning papers because they emphaisise the type of plans arising from a particular element but they dont tackle when there are a number of elements in the position to consider.

The game above concluded:

18.d5 exd5 19.Nd4 Qa6 20.Kb1 Bd6 21.Qf3 Bxf4 22.Qxf4 Ne5 23.Qf5+ Kb8 24.f4 Nd7 25.Qxd5 Ne5 26.Qe4 Ng4 27.Qe2 Qb6 28.c3 f5 29.Rhe1 Qc5 30.Qe7 Qxe7 31.Rxe7 Rhe8 32.Rde1 Rxe7 33.Rxe7 Nf6 34.Rxf7 Nxh5 35.Nxf5 Rd3 36.Rf8+ Kc7 37.Rg8 Kd7 38.Rg6 b5 39.a3 Rd1+ 40.Ka2 Rg1 41.Rd6+ Kc7 42.Rxh6 Nxg3 43.Nd4 Ne4 44.Nxb5+ Kd7 45.Rh7+ Ke6 46.Rxa7 Nc5 47.Nd4+ Kd6 48.Nf5+ Kd5 49.Ne3+ Ke4 50.Rc7 Nd3 51.Re7+ 1-0