Positional Assessment and Strategical Planning Approach

Positional Assessment and Strategical Planning Approach


This is an approach I learned years ago when I first started playing chess more seriously.  (The original source was a book by GM Oleg Chebotarev.)

As soon as you get out of the opening, and as needed subsequently, it's important to ask yourself the following questions:

* Who controls the central squares (e4, d4, e5, d5)?   For which ones is there shared control and for which ones is the control by one side only?   Is the center mobile or is it fixed / closed?

* How well developed are the pieces of each side?  Are the pieces active where they are currently positioned (or are they merely moved out of their original squares but not on "active duty" yet)?

* How safe are the kings?   Yours and the opponent's?

* How are the heavy pieces positioned (yours compared to those of the opponent) -- symmetrically or not?  Which group is more active given the other nuances of the position?

* Are there open or semi-open files?  If so, who controls and can make better use of them?

* Are there open diagonals?  If so, who controls them?

* Which squares are weak in the position of each side?  (This may include squares that are currently occupied by a piece, e.g., a pawn, or squares that are empty but undefended.)  Which squares are strong for each side?  Is there any obvious geometry (alignment) between the weak squares of your opponent and strong aspects of your position?  What about geometry that is present in your weak squares that your opponent might take advantage of?

* On how many of the above questions the assessment of the opponent's position was better than the assessment of your own position?  On how many was your position superior?  The balance indicates roughly who might have an advantage and where specifically...

Answering those questions clarifies:

* Who has an advantage, or perhaps whether the position is equal?

* Where is that advantage?  E.g., development, control of open files or diagonals, strong/weak squares, unsafe kings, etc.

* How might that advantage be exploited (if it's yours) or minimized (if it's the opponent's)?  Examples of this are many:
   ** hindering the opponent from developing their pieces well and improving the placement of their already developed pieces, including by constantly posing threats that increase your potential and do not help the opponent catch up since they must respond to those direct threats;
   ** starting an attack if the opponent is undeveloped or if their king is unsafe;
   ** increasing pressure on open files/diagonals that you control or decreasing the pressure on those that your opponent owns;
   ** preventing the opponent from transforming their weaker squares into stronger ones;
   ** taking maximum advantage of your strong squares and the opponents' weak squares by pressing the opponent on them, including by exchanging pieces that would further highlight those weaknesses in their camp;
   ** minimizing any targetted attacks at your weak squares, including by exchanging opponent's pieces that can attack them;
   ** exchanging the opponents' active pieces as a way to reduce their pressure;
   ** exchanging your passive pieces or maneuvering to improve their placement as a way to improve their utility;
   ** etc.


  • 5 years ago


    This evaluation approach is part of the game, and in that sense it's not distracting but contributing.  Based on those results from the evaluation you formulate your plans for how to best develop in the specific game you're playing.  Conversely, without having the input of such a strategic assessment, the follow-on play is in many ways random and blindsided.  

    While very strong players may not always formally do all these steps and use more of their intuition at times, they have developed that intuition as a result of seeing many situations develop into specific patterns, so really their intuition is helping them do the assessment in the back of their minds (somewhat subconsciously). 

  • 6 years ago


    The method you outline is similiar in some respects to Jeremy Silman's "imbalances" approach.

  • 6 years ago


    I recommend exploring a variety of openings and not limiting yourself to only some.  You will know which feel right, and over time they may change, so you will adopt more.  I have been doing that myself, and I know many serious players constantly work on updating their opening repertoire.

    One good way to get a taste for some openings is to participate in vote chess games, and pay attention to the opening phase, particularly aided by comments from more experienced players as well as (occasionally) chess theory databases (such as Games Explorer).  I find the combination of these factors to be quite helpful.

  • 6 years ago


    I liked your review of how to evaluate a position. I am going to print it out and look it over from time to time. I am embarrassed about my openings though. I think I could be doing more, but it seems like I am always giving away the initial advantage whether I play white or black. I don't like to throw my pieces or pawns in the center, and I don't like 2 knights opening. I think I prefer an opening that leads to a more defensive position. What openings could you recommend for me?


  • 7 years ago


    Kent:  Indeed, there are endgame patterns, and one you learn a few you'll start noticing more similarities than differences in the positions you're playing for your own games.  Clearly, no two games are exactly alike, but the patterns transfer quite successfully from one game to another, if one recognizes them well and knows (remembers) how to utilize them.  This is easier than learning words from the dictionary :-) -- you'll notice inherent logic in the patterns.

    As far as studying the games of others, it's always the case that there will be moves you (and I) don't understand that GMs have made.  That's why they are stronger than us; but if you study games that have comments associated with them -- either by the author or by some other equally strong player -- then you'll more easily start to pick up the ideas and why they are applied in a given context.  I remember studying games (back in my day) from monographies by Karpov and Kasparov -- they had each written up and published commentary on some of their best games.  That's a great way to learn from the experience of others, I think.

    Having partner at approximately your level or perhaps a coach with whom to interact while you're studying patterns can always help, obviously, since that way you can learn from someone else's thinking and interpretations as well.

  • 7 years ago


    Thank you so much for taking the time to write a thoughtful and thorough response to some random guy (me).  I need to apply your first two bullet points at every move.  Endgames are difficult for me because every move seems unique to the specific position.  I read Seirawan's book on endings, but have trouble converting his lessons to my own games because each situation is different.  Also, when I study others' games, I don't always see why certain moves were made - I suppose that's where coaches come in.

    Thanks again - I'll keep working at it!

  • 7 years ago


    Kent:  Those are both good questions.  I think I can answer them because I've been there myself and have asked myself those questions at some point in the past.

    Answering your first question of how to escape the tactics-only view of games, you can look at every position (whether your knight is immediately endangered or not) through two different lenses and then integrate the two to make a coherent one.  Here's what I mean:

    • First, you evaluate the strategical aspects, as I described in my article.  This will tell you what you're aiming for, what you're trying to avoid, etc. for the long-term benefit of your side (not just for this move and the next).
    • Then, you look at candidate moves, which are always in the specific context of the position you are in.  Among them, as you evaluate the tactical aspects, you seek out those that both: (a) respond to the present tactical dangers and opportunities of the position, but also (b) fit the overall strategy that you've selected based on your overall analysis, which you've done previously.  Note that this overall analysis is less likely to change often, whereas the tactical aspects are much shorter-lived.

    On your second question, how to apply learnings from watching other people's games to your own games, I have found it useful to look at two types of games from which to extract lessons:

    • Games that illustrate some common and useful endgame patterns (e.g., endgames you've experienced in your own games but not known how to handle well, or perhaps common endgames that you are likely to experience, e.g., rook endgames where the defending side has one pawn deficiency).
    • Games that fit your preferred openings -- they will teach you middle-game strategies of how to best develop, order, orient, and synchronize your pieces in patterns that are distinct and likely different between different openings.  This will allow you to focus at first on the patterns that are most important to your own games.  (Only later, when you expand and want to branch into new openings or become a much stronger player will you need to look further.)  So, for example, if you're an 1.e4 player, there's no great need to start learning the patterns of Queen's Gambit for white, since you'll almost never see them, but it's helpful to study those of Petroff Defense and Ruy Lopez and the Sicilian, because they are so common yet different, and none of them is like the Queen's Gambit patterns anyway.

    Does this answer your questions?

  • 7 years ago


    I am at a level where most of my games seem to be only about tactics.  When I assess a position and find imbalances, weaknesses, etc., I end up thinking something like: "I would like to take advantage of my lead in development, but unfortunately, right now I have to move my knight or it will be taken."  I have trouble getting past the situation where every move is just a tactical move - if I move here, he'll have to move there, and then I can take, he can retake, etc.  The fact that very few of my games end up as draws makes me think it's mostly tactical mistakes that decide the outcome, not strategy.  Any suggestions?

    Also, when I read books or articles, I can generally understand what is going on in the positions as explained by the author, but since each position is unique, how can I apply that understanding to my own games?

  • 7 years ago


    What I described above I learned from a book by GM Chebotarev (in Russian) aimed at youth chess players.  I read it a while ago and I still have it as a source of many good ideas -- this being one of them.

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