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Good or Bad Square?

Mar 25, 2014
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This week I’d like to explore the positional concept of good and bad squares. A keen reader of the previous articles will have noticed a strong link between squares and placement of pieces.

A good square is one where a piece is controlling central squares or actively assisting other pieces in executing a plan. Another type of good square is called an "outpost" which could be referred to as "strong or weak square." The terms weak and strong in describing a square are almost similar, because it’s a matter of perspective as described in Herman Grooten’s instructive book "Chess Strategy for Club Players." A strong square is one that enemy pawns cannot control and our pieces can utilize to create threats and pressure in enemy territory, while a weak square is one that is created in our camp and can be seized by the enemy. 

On the other hand, a bad square is where a piece is not controlling enough important squares (either on the center or wherever the battle is taking place), or where it interferes with the harmony/cordination of the entire army.

To demonstrate this, I will show one of the games by the recent European Indvidual Champion: Russian GM Alexander Motylev. In this positional game, I will focus on showing on how to effectively seize good squares and take advantage of it. From the defender’s perspective, I will reveal the consequences of having pieces on bad squares and carelessly creating weak squares in one's position.

Motylev, Alexander - Riazantsev, Alexander

15th ch-EUR Indiv 2014 2014.03.08

1.e4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3 Bg4 4.h3 Bxf3 5.Qxf3 e6 6.d3 Nf6 7.Bd2

So far, both sides have no weaknesses and are trying to develop their pieces the best way possible. Believe it or not, this variation/position has been played since 1955!

7... Bd6?! an inaccuracy.

A better and more popular move is7... Nbd7 which keeps flexibility with the deployment of the f8-bishop, and prepares immediate counterplay after 8.g4 d4 ( b5!? ) 9.Ne2 Qb6! a game which Motylev has played himself as Black that ended in a draw.

8.g4 Bb4 ( 8... Nbd7 9.g5 Ng8 ( Ne5?! e5-knight is temporarily good but e5 is not a good square because the knight can be driven away eventually with f2-f4 or d2-d4 10.Qg2 Nfd7 11.d4! ( 11.f4 Ng6)11... Ng6 12.O-O-O White is better due to his space advantage and plans to gain more and weaknen Black's kingside with h4-h5!) 10.d4! +/= also leaves Black passive and lacking a good plan.)

9.a3! White wants to draw the Black's bishop further away from the aid of his kingside.

The immediate 9.g5 should also be good.

9... Ba5 10.g5 forcing the f6-knight to go to a bad square.

10... Nfd7

BD_10663_96_0.pngDiagram #1

On d7, Black's knight is stepping on the b8-knight's toes, and is controlling less central squares than when it was on f6.

11.d4! It is important to make simple-looking moves like this because it not only gives more room for White's pieces, but also takes control of important central squares

If White had waited a moment longer to take control of more central squares, 11.O-O-O Black will seize them with11... d4! 12.Ne2 Bxd2+ 13.Rxd2 c5!

(Not 13...e5?! because it creates a weak square on f5, and controlling it with g7-g6 will only create more weak squares on the kingside--f6 & h6-- 14.h4 O-O 15.Ng3!?

BD_10663_96_1.pngDiagram #2

(15.Qf5!? c5 16.f4 with attack) 15... g6 16.Qg4 with h4-h5 to follow and a strong attack!)

After the solid, non-weaknening 13...c5, 14.h4 Nc6 = Black has a good position as his pieces has room to move about and does not have any weak squares.

Back to the game:

11... O-O 12.O-O-O!

BD_10663_96_2.pngDiagram #3

Opposite-side castling situations frequently leads to sharp, double-edged game where strong and weak squares become important in aiding either side's attack and counterplay.

12... e5?

BD_10663_96_3.pngDiagram #4

Black decides to prevent White's plan and create some play in the center before White starts his attack. Unfortunately it only betrays Black because his pieces are not well-placed and it weakens important squares like d5 & f5.

13.dxe5 d4 

Activating pieces towards the center only exposes them which results in material loss or accelerating White's attack 13...Nxe5 14.Qg3 Re8 ( Nbd7 15.exd5 cxd5 16.Nxd5) 15.f4 Nc4 16.Bxc4 dxc4 17.e5

BD_10663_96_4.pngDiagram #5

White is ready to take over the strong squares and continue his attack against the defenceless Black king.


14.Ne2 Bxd2+ 15.Rxd2 Qxg5 

Taking on e5 once again will only help White bring his pieces on strong posts. Nxe5 16.Qg3 Nbd7 17.Nxd4

BD_10663_96_5.pngDiagram #6

White is almost winning because he is materially and positionally better. Just imagine what happens after the d4-knight jumps to the strong f5-square...

 16.Nxd4 Qxe5 ( If 16...Nxe5 17.Qf5! Qxf5 18.Nxf5

BD_10663_96_6.pngDiagram #7

18... Ned7 19.Rg1 g6 activating the rook while provoking more weak squares in Black's camp 20.h4! and White has many plans available to increase his advantage.

Back to the game:


BD_10663_96_7.pngDiagram #8

White's knight has finally arrive on the good/strong f5-square where it controls many squares in the enemy camp. Pushing it away will only create more weak squares as we've seen in some lines earlier.

17... Nf6 18.Qg2! Now White uses the strong-placed knight on f5 to create threats and force weaknesses around Black's king

18... g6 Counterpunching with 18... Nxe4 can be refuted tactically by:

BD_10663_96_8.pngDiagram #9

White to play 


Chessity-trained players will quickly spot 19.Nh6+ Kh8 20.Nxf7+! Rxf7 21.Rd8+ +-.


BD_10663_96_9.pngDiagram #10

White's queen moves to the good g5-square where it creates mating threats or win material with the strong f5-knight.

19... Re8 20.f3! carefully and patiently improving White's position. By protecting the important e4-pawn Black's counterplay is elimated and the knight on f5 will stay protected and strong.

20... Kh8 21.Rg1!

BD_10663_96_10.pngDiagram #11

Activating a piece on a good square like this can create powerful threats because it increases the force behind the other strongly placed pieces, in this case those on f5 and g5.

21... Ng8 retreating to a bad square, but it had to be done to avoid mate and force White's annoying knight away from his king


BD_10663_96_11.pngDiagram #12

After forcing an enemy piece to a bad square, White moves forward and invades!

22... Qxg5 23.Rxg5 Re7 24.Re5! removing the defender of the pawns!

24... Rc7 (24... Rxe5 25.Nxf7+ Kg7 26.Nxe5 winning a pawn, with more to come...)

25.Re8 b5 26.Nf5!

BD_10663_96_12.pngDiagram #13

back to the f5-square! paving the way for another heavy artillery to come and deliver checkmate; therefore, Black resigns. If 26... gxf5 27. Rg2! leading to an eventual mate or decisive material advantage.

Great play by the 2014 European Champion! In this game, Motylev effectively pushed his opponent's pieces to bad squares (Nf6-d7, Bb4-a5, Nf6-g8), and seized good squares (f5) presented to him by his opponent. Afterwards, he continuously brought more pieces (Qf3-g2-g5, and Rh1-g1-e5-e8) to active squares where it created threats around the enemy king and in the end effectively used tactics to victoriously invade the heart of enemy position, forcing resignation.


Posted in: Good or Bad Square

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xtboc 21:50 - 26 Mar 2014
amazing !

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