A good plan helps your pieces; a better plan helps your pieces and at the same time hinders the opponent’s pieces; the best plan of all meets the needs of the position. I shall seek to explain what ‘the needs of the position’ means. We should begin by examining the different aspects of chess thinking.
1. Assessing a position
There is an old saying that life is no dress rehearsal: we only get one chance to shine. In chess, it is rather different. At various moments we have the power to choose between possible futures for our position.
2. Tactical Continuation
An obvious way of doing so is to visualize a series of moves from a given position – that is, hold a series of moves in our head, not literally see them being played in ghostly fashion on the board. In that way we can calculate two or more possible futures for our position. If we see a future that leaves us with an extra pawn, everything else being equal, we will choose one which leave us with equal material.
There is an essential place in chess for thinking of the kind ‘if I go there and he goes there, I can take the bishop….or can I? In fact, if you are a serious about improving your play, you should train by yourself everyday by solving puzzles. You might even try to develop the habit of reading through variations given in a chess book ‘blind’, i.e. without moving the pieces. It would not only sharpen your tactical vision during a game, but also make the digestion of opening theory a bit easier, and as a bonus would spare you the hassle of reconstructing positions on the chessboard!
3. Verbal Analysis
In this case we use judgment to decide the best way to improve the layout of our pieces. An internal dialogue that weighs up various strategic factors and persuades us to castle queenside rather than kingside means a different future for the position.
What is Planning?
Analysis of the features of the position and tactical continuation are not to be confused with planning. Analysis may tell you that you can put a rook on an open file, but that doesn’t mean you can make any use of it; calculation may show that in two moves time you can get your knight to a splendid-looking square in the centre – but again, it doesn’t mean it will do anything of value there.
Planning is about getting your pieces working together in a group, so that their overall strength is greater than the sum of their parts. That it what is meant by coordinating the action of your pieces.
So, as in the examples above, analysis may tell you that the rook can go to an open file, but it needs planning to hit on the idea of using the open file as a basis for an attack on the opponent’s king, which would employ all other pieces as well; or perhaps calculation shows that you can get your knight to the centre square whereupon planning says ‘Great: the knight will help support the other pieces to queen the passed pawn’.
Alternatively, planning might disagree with both ideas: ‘the rook is useless on the open file, it should be on the kingside, backing up the advance f-pawn’ or ‘the knight looks pretty on d5, But I would prefer to keep it on c2, defending the passed pawn’
Pattern Recognition and model thinking
For a beginner, any game is rich with novelty and unexpected success and failure. He or she has no internal models with which to compare the position on the board; it is like being in a dark room, fumbling about blindly and trying to make sense of the objects we touch.
We are delighted when, for the first time, out of all the mess and confusion, we manage to carry out a successful operation – it was sheer luck that all the elements fell into place to allow us to make our first combination. But we don’t forget it: we have tasted our first success, and the pattern gets placed into our unconscious mind. The next time a similar situation arises, we are waiting to unleash it. In other words, we have began to apply model thing and pattern recognition.
Of course, if instead of our own clumsy trial and error method, we can grasp the plans and ideas of the great players and make them part of our second nature, so much the better.
However, you must decide for yourself whether it is appropriate or not to apply them in a situation that arises in one of your games. You are the master of your pieces. Nevertheless, if you have seen how Kasparov or Kramnik have handled a similar position, it cannot fail to increase your chances of finding the right plan.
I will continue the next part in few days 🙂