The Chess Files
The answers are out there.
By Jim Eade
Alex Sunshine recently asked, “What do you recommend for a player who already knows the basics?” The more I thought about my initial answer, the more I thought it was incomplete, and I will return to this theme in subsequent columns.
I’ve always maintained that the best way to improve early on in your chess development is by systematically drilling yourself on tactics. You must be able to spot forks, pins, skewers etc., if you are to have any hope of surviving chess combat.
However, Alex was asking a different type of question. How do you develop your strategic (or positional) chess understanding? The classic work in this area is “My System” by Aaron Nimzowitsch (1886-1935). His play was considered odd, even ugly, and he had to battle to get his ideas understood by his peers.
His work was broken into three sections: 1. The Elements 2. Positional Play and 3. Illustrative Games. My first copy of this book has not survived the years. It is now in the public domain and multiple publishers have come out with new editions, so it can be purchased fairly inexpensively.
Some of Nimzowitsch’s ideas have not stood the test of time. He was in love with a concept he called “Overprotection” but today’s theoreticians consider it to be too eccentric.
Most of his insights, however, are thought to be as valid today as they were when he first proposed them. His writing style was very personal, and could leave lasting impressions on players of all ages. I still recall his description of a passed pawn calling it “was a dangerous criminal, which had to be kept under lock and key.” I don’t think it would’ve been as memorable if he had simply written that you should try to prevent a passed pawn from advancing.
The importance of restraining a passed pawn led Nimzowitsch to develop the concept of the blockade. A blockade is used to prevent a pawn’s advance. If a pawn cannot advance it is immobilized, and Nimzowitsch demonstrated how, if you can’t move your pawns, your pieces will have trouble moving too!
He provided the following example from one of his own games.
Classical theory taught that you should not move knights to the edge of the board, because it limits the knight’s mobility. No wonder people shook their heads when Nimzowitsch played 1. Na4. He correctly saw that he needed to prevent the pawn on c6 from advancing to c5. Today’s masters would spot this move immediately, but they didn’t understand it back in 1912!
As always, you can send your chess questions directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.