Monday, February 01, 2010

Making His System My System

This week I finished My System for the second time. I have gotten a fairly good idea what Nimzowitsch is talking about. It is time now to really dig in and go into the details. The book in its current form is of course not usable for me. I must translate it into my own words before I can apply what he says. I must make His System My System. Otherwise it are only rules that can be applied dogmatically and everybody knows that that is bound to fail in chess. All in order to create the ultimate coathanger.

This means that I will add a lot of my own findings, so if you want to learn what Nimzowitsch really said you have to read the book yourself.

If I sort everything out then I find the following topics to be paramount:
  • The targets.
  • The attacking pieces.
  • The roadmap.
The targets.
In previous thinking about the middlegame I found piece activity as the nec plus ultra of positional play. I have come to the conclusion that that is not concrete enough. Pieces can be active like hell but accomplish nothing at the same time. The activity has to have a goal. That goal consists of targets. When there are no targets, all activity is in vain.

The natural targets of the chessgame are the slow moving pieces. That are the king and the pawns. The other pieces move too quick to hunt down. There are three preconditions before a pawn can be called weak.
  • It must be deprived of the help of its brotherpawns.
  • It must be restricted in its movement.
  • You must be able to attack it.

How to deprive a pawn of the help of its brothers? You cannot always force that, but often you can induce it.
You cannot shoot on a moving target. Before you can attack a pawn its movement must be restricted. It must behave like a sitting duck. You can restrict the movement of a pawn by occupying the square in front of it. Be it by covering it or by putting a piece on it.
The third precondition is that you are able to attack the weakened pawn. Often this means that the the weak pawn has to stand on a half open line.
There are countless methods to implement the three preconditions. It is necessary to dive deeper in this to understand how it works. I have not done that yet.

In my games weak pawns arise usually by accident. In order to make plans I have to learn how this mechanism works. Otherwise my results will always be the subject of (bad) luck. Of course it all starts by noticing that an accident has happened and to make use of it. But steering towards it is much better of course.

Actually pawns on the second or seventh rank meet already one precondition: they are deprived of the help of their brothers.

Diagram 1

Black to move
The pawn on c7 meets all three preconditions and can be called weak:
  • It cannot get help from its brothers
  • since it is restricted and cannot go to c6 which is occupied by white and
  • it is under attack.
Pawn d7 meets two preconditions:
  • It cannot get help from its brothers
  • since it is restricted and cannot go to d6
Since it cannot be attacked it is not weak.

Pawn b6 meets none of the preconditions.

BTW this is taken from a middlegame position, not and endgame position.

Often it is said that a square can be a target too. That makes matters unnecessary complicated. Squares are part of the roadmap. The roadmap consists of the pathways that give an attacking piece access to a target. In My system I consider squares to be no targets in themselves.

The attacking pieces.
The pieces have two different tasks in the scenario above. To restrain or blockade a potential weak pawn and to attack it. This is much more clear than the vague jobdescription of "to be active". I redefine the term "centralization" as following: a piece is centralized where it attacks the most targets. Often this will coincide with the center of the board. But not necessarily.

The roadmap.
The roadmap consists of the pathways that lead to the targets.
The pawnskeleton is the landscape through which the pathways meander. A pathway has a home for the attacking piece at one end and a target on the other end. Bringing the pieces from their initial position to their pathway is called developing while bringing a piece from a random position to a pathway is called manoeuvring. The pawns dictate where the pieces belong while we have to dictate where the pawns belong.

Moving pawns not only alters the roadmap but it can expand the space for manoeuvres, while diminishing the space for the opponent.


  1. I always wonder why you dig so deep into things as if you want to disect a skeleton?

    I guess the mentioned roadmap is the same as the plan, which is in fact a coathanger you put your next moves on to execute that plan.

    With other words it may not be the best moves but moves that strongly correlate with the execution of the plan.

    Secondly you give three rules that must descrive a weak pawn. To much info to put into your brain. A weak pawn is a pawn that cannot (anymore, for the rest of the game) be defended by one of his brothers, with other words a loose pawn that has no more lookalikes of the same colour and therefor has to be defended by the higher rated pieces.

    Anyway, not to be judgemental, just wondering why you sometimes have te nack to make things more complicated then they are?

  2. CT,
    The roadmap can form the base of a plan. It is what it says, a map of the roads, from the attacking pieces to their targets.

    To me, my musings are an enormous simplification. That you experience it as added complexity is probably my fault, since I make no extra effort to tell it in a simple way. The reason for that is that I don't want to lose momentum due to extra time and energy to simplify my posts. So I apologize for that, but I'm not going to change it anytime soon.

  3. No apoligize or change needed.

    If this works for you then it works for you and afterall, this is your blog so do what you want.

    It was just an observation from my side. What seems difficult for me can be the simpliest thing in others eyes.