Structure vs. Activity

The question of whether to aim for a structurally sound position or active play is one of the most common dilemmas known to chess. A solid structure, almost by definition, is meant not to change so easily, and opening lines of play or creating weaknesses in order to play more actively almost always entails some risk or structural concession. It is very natural for most people to develop some kind of stylistic preference, but this is not always a good thing. Attacking for the sake of activity, for example, can be disastrous if you are undeveloped, have too many other problems to deal with, or are simply not tactically justified in attacking. On the other hand, trying to stay solid can easily turn into simply being passive, which may just as easily get you rolled off the board.

For the amateur player, it’s almost always a question of tactics and calculation, since in most positions it can clearly be determined what moves are certainly good or bad. However, as someone who fails to do this a lot, I know that it’s often not an easy task. In my case, laziness, fear of calculating incorrectly, or simply the preference to play certain types of positions (even if they might be worse) makes a more subjective judgment tempting. This has its ups and downs, as I discovered in a recent game against an 1800-rated player at the Pittsburgh Chess Club this week. My opponent’s interesting attempt at an active yet risky position did not prove its worth, but some ups and downs in my decisions made things interesting for a while, although I managed to stay ahead and eventually pulled off the win. Enjoy!

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