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The difference between Positional and Strategic decisions

John just walked over and said – “yeah, I will have to read that (seeing this headline), I never really got that. Is positional short term and strategic long term?”Now he has wondered off again, not really interested! Ah, the lack of ambition for a has-been (said only to spite – I have to be bitter now he is the boss and have no time to read the blog anymore!).

Here are some (reducted) disctionary definitions to help us a bit along:

strat·e·gy – noun, plural -gies.

1. the science or art of combining and employing the means of war in planning and directing large military movements and operations.
Origin: 1680–90;  < Greek stratēgía  generalship, equivalent to stratēg ( ós ) military commander, general ( strat ( ós ) army + -ēgos  noun derivative of ágein  to lead)

po·si·tion – [puh-zish-uhn]
1. a place occupied or to be occupied; site: a fortified position.

A positional decision is in my definition: A small decision that reacts to the piece placement or pawn structure with immediate effect. A result is 15.Ne2 below, which is poor piece placement (neglecting development) and 13.e4, which weakens the f4-square

Strategy is more than basic understanding of piece and pawn placement, more than just good square and weak pawn. Strategy is positional elements in dynamic action. Say 11.g5 in the game below. Positionally this move is fine. White gets a decent pawn structure (although we could argue if he should give up the control of f5 already – but again this is a strategic issue), but he loses some flexibility and Black is able to block the h4-h5 advance. Black’s reply 11…Nh5 is anti-positional. The knight looks silly there (and is only allowed back in by 13.e4?!), but it has a strategic purpose of blocking the white play on the kingside. Basically, Black is deciding on what elements that will be most important long term.

Here are my quick notes to the game put on the blog yesterday. The summary is that white is making a lot of positional mistakes, through poor handling of the pawn structure and not developing and activating his pieces. Black is playing safe chess and making reasonable decisions all along. Once White starts to play badly Black is not in need of a strategy. He does not need to outplay his opponent with deep play, but instead just hits ground strokes from the back line, seeing his opponent running around like a headless chicken.

I mean this with no offence to the white player – I was no better once upon a time. What I can say is that the training book that will help you will soon be available – maybe the 31st of July!

A final note before moving on to the game. In modern chess we see less and less strategy and more and more basic positional chess. The reason for this is mainly the reduction of time the players have. But look at a game like Giri-Aronian, where Black’s long term manouevres killed his opponent completely. This game was deep with strategic choices. The computer will not like them all, but in some cases the machine will just be wrong. The human is still ahead when looking at long term factors. There is a position Marin showed to me a few days ago for his next book. It was quite deep and in his analysis winning for Black. I toyed with it with the machine for 5-10 minutes and found no engine that would give me an evaluation oover 0.20 in either direction, almost no matter how I moved the pieces around. A typical example of deep positional evaluation – while the way to win the game would be through deep strategic play…

<a href=”#comment-4694”>@Patrick M </a>

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 Bf5
4…Bg4 5.Nc3 e6 6.Qb3 Qb6 7.Nh4 Bh5 8.h3 is an Avrukh main line, which since has been played 100s of times.
5.Nc3 e6 6.Nh4 Bg4?!
This mixes up two ideas and leads to an inferior position.
7.Qb3 Qb6 8.h3 Bh5 9.g4
White is a tempo up on the Avrukh line and should be said to have won the opening battle, but certainly not the game!
9…Bg6 10.Nxg6 hxg6 11.g5?!
11.Bg2 is a bit more flexible and would be my choice, but the text move is the favourite of the computer.; 11.Be2 is not liked by R4, but would probably be my choice over the board. I want to play h4-h5 and when gxh5 comes, I want to play g5 and ¦xh5. This is just a plan and probably not best. I am just sharing my spur of the moment thoughts.
The knight cannot easily re-join the game here, but white also no longer has any h4-h5 plans. This is one reason I would not have advanced the g-pawn too early. It loses flexibility.
Again I don’t like this move. It was better to keep the options open with 12.Bd2
12…Qc7 13.e4?!
White is neglecting his development – and weakening the f4-square.
13…Nd7 14.exd5 exd5 15.Ne2?!
Finally White is losing it. When are the pieces supposed to get out. The position might still be equal, but Black has taken over the initiative with his next move.
15…b6! 16.Qe3+?
Who does this check help?
16…Be7 17.b4?!
Creates another aim for the black attack. White is handling his pawns awfully.
17.cxb6 axb6 18.Bd2 was more prudent. A typical positional idea here is: What is the worst placed piece? For Black it is the king, but castling is not easy. So we need to protect the bishop. This can be done with two ideas. …b5 and …Nb6 or …Nf8-e6. Our other positional question – where are the weaknesses? – would help us decide there. The knight should be at e6 to target d4 and f4 as well as prepare …c5. On the other hand the advance of the b-pawn would ruin the flexibility of the black pawns and make c6 a weakness. R4 is not much help here. After some minutes it is still rating …Qd6 and the two other options within 0.07 of each other, all with even chances. In reality …Nf8! should be the best move for positional reasons, and the position already greatly in Black’s favour.
Black is better. White’s pawn structure is falling apart.
18.b5 bxc5 19.bxc6?!
19.Bg2 was better. White should white clarify the situation in the centre? 19…cxb5?! 20.Nc3! Nb6 21.0–0 would give White some activity and a chance to fight for equality.
19…Qxc6 20.Ba3?!
20.Bg2 was better, but Black has a clear advantage already. Note that White is made a fool off after 20…0–0! because of 21.Qxe7? Rae8, trapping the queen.
Black is now a pawn up and White’s position is falling apart.
21.Bg2 cxd4!?
Objectively this is the best move, but Black would have been better off playing safe with 21…Qxe3 22.fxe3 Bxg5 23.Bxd5 Rc8 and Black should win with his extra pawn.
This enters a plea of no-contest.  22.Qxd4! would have caused Black to play accurately to keep his advantage. 22…Bxa3! 23.Bxd5 Ne5!! (23…Qa6?! 24.Qe4+ Kd8 25.Bxa8 Re8 26.Bb7 Qd6! and …Nf4 is also better for Black, but not to the same extent.) 24.Bxa8 (24.Qe4 f5 25.gxf6 Nxf6 26.Qa4+ Qd7 27.Qxd7+ Kxd7 28.Bxa8 Rxa8 and Black should win) 24…Bb2 25.Qd5 Bxa1 and Black should win, although the game is not fully over.
22…fxe6 23.Bxe7 Kxe7 24.Nxd4 Nf4 25.Bf1 e5
Black is just winning.
26.Nf3 Rab8 27.Rd1 Rhc8 28.a4 Rb2 29.Bb5 Rcc2 30.Nd2 Nc5 31.h4 Ncd3+ 32.Bxd3 Nxd3+ 33.Ke2 Nxf2 34.Kxf2 Rxd2+
Black won.


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  1. WuvMuffin72
    February 1st, 2012 at 02:05 | #1

    In the 2nd Edition of GM Repertoire 1, Avrukh also prefers 11. g5. The reasoning for why White’s plan of 12. c5 Qc7 13. e4 worked was because Black played 11. … Ng8 in response to g5. So no pressure on the f4 and g3 squares.

    Although I don’t not see anything wrong with 12. c5. If White plays 12. Bd2 here I think Black can just play 12. … Qb6 13. axb3 Be7! here and White won’t have the gain of tempo with c5 to help him undouble his b pawns meanwhile the simple 13. … Be7 is putting pressure on White’s loose g pawn.

    Maybe 13. Bd2 should be further researched. If 11. g5 Nh5!? 12. c5 Qc7 13. Bd2 Be7 14. e4 Nd7 (14. … b6 15. Na4) 15. 0-0-0 0-0-0 (0-0!?) 16. h4 Kb8 17. Kb1 and I will probably, superficially evaluate this as chances for both sides. Seeing as I am a club player, I would probably play this line as White against 11. … Nh5 seeing as at least I’m not worse (maybe much worse against 15. … 0-0).

  2. Jacob Aagaard
    February 1st, 2012 at 09:29 | #2

    Avrukh is very pleased with computers; I am a bit older and have a more positional foundation in my thinking. I still do not like 11.g5. I find it unnecessary and cannot see immediate benefits.

  3. March 10th, 2012 at 19:36 | #3

    Have you noticed that strategy, strong, strength, structure, construct, destroy, destruction, etc. all derive from the same root? Latin structura, p.p. of struere, meaning pile up, heap up, build…

    It’s all about building up strategy. Act from the position of strength!

    one can find more at:

  4. Jacob Aagaard
    March 12th, 2012 at 10:15 | #4

    Interesting point.

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