Monday, December 02, 2019

Exaggeration ad absurdum

The truth lies often in the middle. The fastest way to end up in the middle is to seek for the extremes.
That's why I try to simplify Nimzowitsch's writings into the extreme.

  • build a pawn center
  • a pawn center is a shelter for your pieces
  • develop your pieces behind the shelter
  • pieces cannot be demobilized when they shelter behind you pawns
  • overprotect your center squares see this post why
  • develop your pieces into overprotection
  • overprotecting pieces are free to move
  • by overprotecting your center, your position cannot crumble
  • overprotecting your center squares works as prophylaxis against assaults
  • hack off freeing pawn moves from your enemy with your center pawns
  • taking with your center pawns clears the squares where your overprotecting pieces are pointing to
  • those center squares become pivot points for your pieces
  • occupying the pivot points with your pieces blockades the enemy center pawns
  • with a pawn chain, you attack the base
  • you try to weaken the blockading pawns
  • you annihilate the defenders of your enemies central pawns
  • you annihilate the blockading pieces of your central pawns
  • you set your pawns in motion once the blockaders are driven away
  • a rolling pawn mass works as a wedge in the communication lines of your enemy

To make a start.


  1. yes, when you protect a pawn with 3 pieces, but actually only 2 pieces are needed, then you can always afford to move one of those pieces away. In that way, any of those 3 pieces can move freely away, all 3 can act to attack something else as long as the other 2 remain.

    However, in practical game I was not able to make anything out of this wisdom.
    Can you?
    Truth is: you have a given army under your command, and every piece is involved as good as it gets. You have an opening, you developed - and there you are. Full Stop!

    The plan with the centre pawns rolling forward - it is not something new. It works fine when it works, but it doesnt work if it does not.
    I (for instance) am rather a hyper modern strategy player, which means: I let my opponent have the center, and then I attack it. My opponent trys to defend the center and get it into motion. Sometimes I win (his centre crumbles), sometimes my opponent wins and he rolls over me.

    I found Nimzowitch an interesting read - but I am unable to really get anything out of it. It does not improve my play.
    Strange as it is: Nimzo himself loved to play this with black:

    1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 - That is giving up the center! This black defense is called Nimzowitch Defense.
    Nimzo played it, and he was so successful with it, that players started to play 2.Nf3 or 2.Nc3 instead, because it seems so hard to defend that white centre, despite it is only 2 central pawns and not 3.

    If his opponents took the center, Nimzowitch played like this:
    1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 d5 - attacking the centre.
    3.exd5 Qxd5 - Queen gets out early, but it attacks the d4 pawn. So:
    4.Nf3 (guards the d4 pawn) 4...Bg4 (attacks the defender of the d4 pawn)

    So Nimzo himself let his opponent have the center, and then tryed to undermine it - like the Gruenfeld-idea or the Aljechin Defense Idea.
    ...Nc6 looks "double stupid", because it blocks the c-pawn. The c-pawn is especially useful when attacking the central pawns, because the only other pawn that could attack the center from the side is the f-pawn, but moving the f-pawn is risky because of king security, while moving the c-pawn usually is very sound and harmonic with blacks pieces.

    Ah well, you read Nimzowitch's book, but then you look at his games and you wonder - why isnt he doing what he is writing himself?

    The truth with Nimzowitch seem to be in the middle: Either you have the centre or you dont.
    Find that truth!

    1. Good points.

      I notice that there are quite a lot of tipping points in his system. For instance W d4 e5 B d5 e6 creates two possible fronts: an attack of the black king or an attack of the center. What are the parameters that influence the choice? When does the balance tip over from one front to another?

      I intend to map out these tipping points and to investigate the parameters involved.

      At least I do have a starting point for my thoughts.

  2. As Nimzovich took great pains to explain, elimination of your own pawn in the center (through exchange) does NOT NECESSARILY mean "giving up the center." The ideal classical approach to "control" of the center (from Steinitz, based primarily on Morphy’s games) was to try to obtain a pawn phalanx (two pawns side-by-side) sitting on center squares. Nimzovich (and the other hypermodern players like Breyer, RĂ©ti, Tartakower, and Alekhine [to some extent]) refined the notion of center control by postulating that actual control of the center squares by pieces could (in some circumstances) be just as effective occupying the center (i.e., via the fianchetto Bishop). The "dark side" of pawn occupation is the blocking of LoA through those occupied center squares. The absence (or forced removal) of one's own pawns from the center leads to open LoA for the side WITHOUT pawns sitting immobile in the center. The modern refinement (Hedgehog, etc.) is to refrain from any occupation of the center with pawns, in the hope that the dynamic potential built up by the pieces confined to the 1st-3rd ranks can "explode" and blow up the opponent's pawn center which has been immobilized by that piece pressure. (It doesn’t hurt psychologically that the modern player can also defer “signaling” his intentions by avoiding pawn movements to the center squares.)

    In all cases, the pawn center must FIRST be immobilized, before any consideration of attack can occur. This is a generalized application of Lasker's encircling motif - first, immobilize, second, add attackers and/or thin the ranks of defenders by exchange or diversion by Function, and third, destroy by capture, usually by a pawn attack from the side.

    In Nimzovich's Defense, there is the immediate intent to provoke the center pawn duo to advance, driving the Black Knight from pillar to post and losing time, just as in Alekhine's Defense. The end result is the same: White gets more space in the center, Black loses some time moving his piece(s), but the pawns themselves prevent utilization of the LoA when those pawns are eventually immobilized. As a result, the two battlefields emerge. (One battlefield is the pawn center/chain itself; the other battlefield is the wing on which one has a space advantage.)

    Regardless of which opening setup you prefer, or whether you prefer to attack or defend or maneuver, it ultimately comes down to better piece placement in conjunction with the pawn structure AS IT IS.

    Choose your preferred poison!

    1. It starts with realizing the importance of the central squares. My notion of that is rather vague. First I want a clearer picture of the why are these squares so important. What is the mechanism behind it. Without a good understanding I cannot judge the moves that bear an influence on the center.

      I cannot permit to be lazy here and accept just a few rules without this deeper understanding.

  3. PART I:

    While re-reading My System (Quality Chess edition), I realized something that I had not previously been aware of regarding pawn chains – Nmzovich’s view that the pawn chain is (essentially) a blockading problem. I did not “see” the head of the chain as a blockader, and consequently did not consider treating that square as an outpost. I was limited to thinking of outposts as being occupied by pieces only, and was blissfully unaware that establishing an outpost on an open file was not the final goal.

    Given a pawn chain in the center (or while contemplating whether to create a pawn chain via our opening choice), it is important to be aware of several things. The first is that the head (not the base) of your side of the pawn chain should be seen as a "blockader" of the enemy base pawn. This becomes a strategically important point and must be overprotected. This is why our own base pawn must be protected. It helps to place a Rook on the file behind the head pawn, because the file has the potential to be opened. (Consider that a “mysterious Rook move”.) Minor pieces should be maneuvered and placed so as to be able to recapture on the "outpost" square. (The "rule" is to use minor pieces on central output squares and Rooks on wing outpost square. This gives the broadest scope for dynamic action by the outpost piece.) The concept that we discussed some time ago (i.e., looking "through" all obstructions to the edge of the board for all line-moving pieces - Queen, Rook, and Bishop) must be applied when looking down a file toward the opponent's base pawn: it is the primary target. If we can advance our own pawn (on the adjacent file) to attack his base pawn, all well and good. On the other hand, if the opponent tries to attack our head pawn (or bypass it with his adjacent pawn), after capturing his adjacent pawn (either directly or en passant), the SQUARE on which the head pawn sat is now available as an outpost square for a minor piece. Changez les blockaders! It also must be kept in mind that establishing an outpost (or a blockade) is a means to an end. The outpost puts pressure down the file, enabling us to add attackers and eventually to overpower that poor blockaded pawn. Ultimately, the (endgame, possibly) goal is an enveloping (flank) attack against the opponent's base pawn, with our Rook on the 6th or 7th rank. By exchanging off his base pawn, we gain access down the file behind our head pawn. Consider the establishment of a pawn chain to be a blockading problem. Nimzovich's formula is first restraint, then blockade, and finally destruction. These ideas give longer term strategical goals which can be used as the basis for our plans.

    1. "The first is that the head (not the base) of your side of the pawn chain should be seen as a "blockader" of the enemy base pawn."

      Every square which blockades a pawn is a possible outpost.

  4. PART II:

    My superficial knowledge of the "rule" to Attack the base of the pawn chain led to mechanical play, without considering the longer term strategical objective(s). We use the pawn chain to cramp the opponent, making it more difficult for him to shift his pieces to meet our threats. So, we want to refrain from exchanging (if possible) so as to not open LoA for his pieces, enabling them to regain their mobility.

    The two battlefields are also important. We can start by placing our pieces in such a way as to keep the option open as to whether to attack the base of the pawn chain or launch a piece attack. That means NOT throwing the adjacent pawn forward until we have decided on our course of action (strategic plan). The direction that the pawn chain "points" gives us a clue as to which side of the board we should be transferring our pieces toward. If our pawn chain also points toward where his King resides, that's also a good indication for where to aim the pieces, and perhaps, a good reason to pick a piece attack as the battlefield. It is possible to advance the pawn cover in front of the King as part of a concerted attack IFF the central squares cannot be opened by force. The King may be perfectly safe since there is no way for the opponent to attack it. An alternative plan (in the case the opponent does breach the center after our pawn advance) is to transfer the King (via a "King walk") to the opposite wing. This is usually a risky undertaking, especially if the opponent's pieces are flooding through the center. Either of the two battlefield options may be open to us until the moment that we advance our adjacent pawn toward his base pawn. At that point, the die is cast. This adjacent pawn will often simply block the free movement of our pieces toward that side of the board, making it much more difficult to conduct a piece attack. The placement of the pieces should be flexible up until that critical moment.

  5. @ Aox:

    Do you have GM Kotov's book The Science of Strategy?

    If so, could you please provide a review/critique of it?


    1. I have a german translation : Alexander Kotow , Lehrbuch der Schachstrategie, Band 2, Sportverlag Berlin, 1975

      Longer Explanation of the general ideas of attack and defend with the different Pawnstructures in the center. Several commented Games for each pawnstructure as illustration . Thats ~50% of the book. Then: Attack at the queenside ( and center ) with different aspects like : opening files, attack with pawns, attack with pieces..., the rest is a litte here a little there
      Its a small book wich makes more sense to me than Nimzowitschs System.

  6. This is a wonderful post. It provides a good description of how you can strengthen your center and weaken that of your opponent. I believe it is a trick I need to try and recommend it to chess lovers who find it hard to secure their center.