Finding Your Inner Artist: Creativity on the Board

Beautiful, flashy, and unexpected. While in a large number of cases simplicity and banality are the correct route, these are the types of moves and games that we love to play. Developing a strong creative sense can make chess a lot more fun, and if harnessed correctly, can elevate your play to a whole new level.

It seems like with the emergence of computers, tablebases, exhaustive opening theory, and centuries of ingrained positional principles, the artistic side of the game is being pushed to the wayside. But we have to remember that chess is still played by humans. Chess as a mental sport, chess as a game, and chess as a problem may be dominated by computers now, but the one area left we can lay claim to an advantage over the silicon beast is chess as an art.

When this is discussed, the first thing that often jumps to mind is tactical creativity. Creativity is not just restricted to the tactical realm though, and tactical possibilities often need to be executed in conjunction with other counterintuitive ideas for a creative combination to work.

We can go on and on about what it takes to do this, but in my view, it all comes down to one thing: knowing when to break the rules. As the saying goes, rules are meant to be broken, and playing with a sense of flexibility and openness is a lot more useful than strictly adhering to principles. (Of course, this means you also need to know when to follow the rules)

Our first example is a classic, and something almost all of you have probably seen already:


Short-Timman, Tilburg 1991, Position after 31…Rc8

Black is completely tied up and can barely move, with the White pieces dominating the board and more importantly the squares around the Black king.  If you haven’t seen this idea before, it’s not immediately clear what to do though. Computers are still flummoxed to this day at this position. In fact my computer (which admittedly is pretty old and terrible) says the position is equal! (!!) Venturing a guess, this is probably a result of the machine not being able to find a clear tactical breakthrough and Black’s “better” pawn structure (which means absolutely nothing here). Short noticed the helplessness of all the Black pieces, and the juicy dark squares on the kingside, uncorking a shocking, brilliant maneuver:

  1. Kg3!! Defying common sense. It’s only when you realize there’s no need to worry about the “rule” of king safety that Kg3 even pops out as a possibility. Even after this move has been played, some engines still show the same evaluation as the move before, exhibiting a blindness because of the premium the program places on king safety. 32…Rce8 It is only after this move that the engines recognize White’s idea, and the evaluation quickly flips to totally winning. 33. Kf4! The march continues. 33…Bc8 34. Kg5! And Black resigned in the face of the unstoppable Kh6 with mate.

One more example, this time from one of my games. While this wasn’t a killer winning combination or even objectively the best move in the position, I thought it was a good example of creative thinking.


Goeller, M (2040) – Xu, G (2151), USATE 2012, position after 19. g5

In this position, the two sides are trying to generate activity on different sides of the board. White wants to push his pawns and bring his pieces for a kingside attack, and Black wants to exploit some weaknesses on the queenside and generate some piece activity there. The natural move seems to be Nc5, targeting the weak d3 pawn. The problem with this is that it allows f6, which looked highly unpleasant for me. Other plans like an a5-a4 push were too slow for my liking. So then I asked myself “Is there a forcing and unexpected way for me to take advantage of those weak pawns?”

19…Nxd3!?  Who said two knights have to attack the pawn for it to be taken? My engine prefers a5 or Rfb8, but then again, my engine is able to play a lot more precisely than me after that, and I thought the position was more straightforward for White to play. Nxd3 was a nice practical decision, as the surprise factor unsettled my opponent a little bit and let me direct the play. 20. Qxd3 Nc5 21. Qd1 Nxb3 22. Qxb3 Bxc4 Basically all forced. Before move 19, I had figured the activity I would get and the two pawns were enough to compensate for the piece. Nxd3 wasn’t in my engine’s top 10 options, but I feel like it gave me great chances. While I didn’t play totally accurately from this point on, I was still able to eventually win.

I guess the main takeaway from this is to not limit yourself when considering the possibilities in a position, and to never consider a certain move you or your opponent can make to be “impossible”. I’ll be sure to show some more examples of creative play in future posts, and hopefully you are encouraged to create your own art in the games you play!

















One thought on “Finding Your Inner Artist: Creativity on the Board

  1. mpratt2013

    I liked your post and your creative play in the second game! I also missed the king march in the first one despite knowing Shorts epic king march well. You had me groaning when I realized what position it was. One suggestion is the add a Fen right below every diagram, so we can try things out with the engine if we want. For example Id like to set up Shorts position to see what my engines say about it.

    Good post!

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