Techniques of Positional Play

For today’s post, I wanted to recommend a book I’ve been working through. Techniques of Positional Chess by Valeri Bronznik and Anatoli Terekhin is by far one of the most instructive books I’ve read, and while it may be a reach for many chess^summit followers, it’s definitely one to put on your future reading list.

My coach, Grandmaster Eugene Perelshteyn, suggested that I read this book in conjunction with 100 Chess Master Trade Secrets by Andrew Soltis to help me prepare for the US Junior Open this summer. To say the least, I’m glad he did, and today I wanted to share a few examples from the book with some of own my analysis and insights to show you why this is the book to read.

The “Padlock”

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 00.29.00

So here I’ve constructed a position to help demonstrate the padlock idea. The goal with a padlock is to reach a position where the pressing side can’t make progress. Here, if Black tries to push one of his queenside pawns to open up the position, White can lock up the position by pushing the other. For example, should Black play …a4-a3, White can simply push b2-b3, and no more progress can be made. Understanding this concept is not only important in race positions, but also a key feature of endgames. This next composition is taken from Bronznik’s book and highlights the importance of the padlock idea. See if you can find it!

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 16.47.28

White to move and draw

So where’s the padlock? In these kinds of endgames, it’s critical that the Black rook has points of entry to infiltrate White’s set-up. Because of the padlock structure on the a- and b- files, Black can never hope to open the queenside as long as White does not move his a3 or b3 pawns. That being said, the only way to secure the kingside is the incredible 1. Kd1!! Rh2 2. Ke1!! Rxg2 3. Kf1! Rh2 4. Kg1 Rh5 5. f3 = and Black will never be able to make progress. As long as the White king prevents the Black rook from entering e2, e1, h2, or h1, the extra rook is meaningless for Black. Again, it’s the padlock idea on the queenside that makes this possible.

I have to admit, that one study alone made me want to write this post today… but we must go on!

Fighting with the Rook Pawn

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Steincamp – Chen (G/60 Pennsylvania State Championships, 2015)

After being under fire for most of the game, my opponent offered a draw here, and without too much thinking here, I took the half point. Not too much in this major piece ending, right? Well not quite. In this position, I actually had one opportunity to press for more. The a-pawn. Here, I could have tried a3-a4-a5-a6 at no cost, securing the b7 square for my rook and with play along the 7th rank. It’s not clear if this is enough to win, but the lack of an active plan for Black here does make this promising. Let’s take a look at one of the book’s examples.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 00.52.10

Botvinnik–Smyslov (1954 World Championship)

Black to Move

White is definitely cramped but Smyslov will need a point of entry to find a way to take advantage of his opponent’s passivity. 1… a4! 2. Bd2 Qb6 3. Be3 a3

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 00.54.46

And just like in my own game (rather what should have been), Black takes over the b2 square, thus securing the critical point of entry. For the sake of brevity, looks fast forward a few moves later.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 00.56.19

White cannot simply take the rook on b2 without creating a strong passed pawn and weakening a2, so White must succumb to a worse position. To get out of Black’s grips, White gave up the bishop pair in the game by trading on c5, and eventually lost the rook and minor piece endgame.

The “Wavebreaker”

The last idea I will discuss today is a prophylactic structure called the “wavebreaker”. In my post, Catching Up – A Season in a PostI discussed a game from the World Open where I actually used this concept to secure my kingside!

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 00.59.54

Steincamp – Zinski (World Open, 2015)

White to Move

So White could try a “padlock” set-up with 1. h3?!, but that would be structurally dubious after 1… h4 2. g4 because now the White king is at risk of being exposed. Much simpler is creating a harmonious set-up with 1.h4!

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 00.59.41

Stopping the h-pawn push in its tracks. I originally got the idea from watching Jan Gustafsson’s commentary during the 2015 Dortmund Sparkassen Meeting. Black ought not to get too carried away with his antics, as …f7-f5 would give me a great outpost on g5. You can check out my analysis of that game with the corresponding link above, as I got a slightly better position, misplayed the advantage, and then had a little luck to secure the half-point in the endgame.

Understanding the “wavebreaker” structure is not only important to understand defensive play, it’s also an important element of the 4 v 3 rook and pawn ending. Check out this position from the book:

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 01.13.23

Capablanca – Yates (1930)

Black to Move

As Bronznik explains, if it were White’s move, Capablanca would play g3-g4! stopping Black from creating the wavebreaker formation. This idea of having a pawn on g4 is the easiest way to convert the 4 v 3 ending, with the idea of pushing the h-pawn in the hopes of creating a passed pawn. If you are more interested in 4 v 3 structures, you should watch this lecture by Yasser Seirawan:

For this reason, the book explains that Black had to try 1… h5= to equalize but after the inferior 1… Rc4? 2. g4! was played. While White is far from winning, he is well on his way towards making Black’s life miserable.

It’s been a while since my last book review on the site, so I’m glad I chose this one to break the silence. I’m still working my way through it, and I feel like I learn something every time I sit down to read it.

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3 thoughts on “Techniques of Positional Play

  1. Pingback: The Tale of Two Bad …Nb6s! – From Pittsburgh to DC – chess^summit

  2. Pingback: Endgame Essentials: Activity Wins Endgames … Just Ask Carlsen! – chess^summit

  3. Pingback: Endgame Essentials: Woes of the Inferior Pawn Structure – chess^summit

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