Game Spotlight: Building Your Positional Skills

When you first play chess, the most important skills to build involve tactics and basic endgames.  But as you get better, and start learning about positional play, you can re-evaluate what you’ve been doing.  Instead of hacking away, you can see possibilities for playing that you didn’t see before.  As an example, let’s look at the opening I believe is the first one players should learn:

This is the Four Knights variation of the Scotch Game.  Almost every piece for both sides is developed by the end of this line, and there’s a logical order to it involving both sides making and reacting to threats.  (I don’t want to get into all the reasons for the moves here as this article isn’t about that, but if you haven’t before, it’s worth taking some time to go through this move order and think through why each move is best.)  While the end position gives plenty of opportunity to set up tactics, let’s instead take a minute to look over the positional features the players have created:

  • The e-file is open.  Both players will want to get Rooks to stay on this file with the idea of getting into the opponent’s camp.
  • Black has a semi-open b-file.  Putting a Rook here could put pressure on White’s b-pawn.  It’s possible moving a Rook up the b-file will be more effective at getting it active than other options.  Backing up the Rook by pushing the a-pawn (a minority attack to weaken the White b-pawn) could be an idea.
  • White has a semi-open d-file.  This one’s a bit harder to take advantage of because Black’s pawn is on d5, but it still could be a useful file for White to put a Rook on.  Similar to Black’s plan above, combining a Rook on the d-file with pushing c4 could be an idea for White.
  • Black has the only weak pawn, on c6.  That’s not easy to attack right now, but also weak is the square right in front of it, on c5.  White would be happy to stick a Knight or Bishop on this outpost.

Other positional factors may come up during the game (and Black probably wants to work to create some to balance out the list), but what we have here can heavily influence play.  Let’s see how White can combine the open file idea with the outpost square:

We are now closed for the holidays, but we still have articles scheduled for the website.  We’ll re-open on January 12, 2019 with the Capablanca Cup, so stay tuned for details.

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