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Controlling the Center | Opening strategy

Nov 19, 2014
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Hi everyone! this is IM Srinath, and I am back again with the basics of opening strategy.

In our introductory column last Wednesday, you had learnt the three main strategies that form the part of the opening. Today, you will be studying the first of the strategies, viz. control of the centre as deeply as we can. Our objective is to have a solid foundation in the openings.

Opening Strategy:

Control the centre!


I don’t focus on what I’m up against. I focus on my goals and try to ignore the rest.   -Venus Williams


Chess is a game where focusing on your plans is very important if you want to win. Typically, most chess players when they start out focus on attacking their opponent’s king. Beginners have almost an automatic reaction as soon as they sit on the board. Take out your queen, remove your bishop, capture on f7 or f2 and voila! It’s mate!

Gradually, as your chess playing strength increases, you play against stronger players. You tend to realize that it is not that easy to deliver checkmate as it used to be when you were a rank beginner. Is it time for you to despair? Nope!

The reason why such a primitive idea of directly attacking your target is wrong because you focus on the wrong target! If you do not possess the right goal of attack, i.e. the right plan to attack your target, most probably you will fail to win the game. In this article, we will discuss the primary goal you must focus on in order to win more games: centre of the chess board.


The centre of the chessboard is like the sun, which stands in the middle of the solar system. All the planets revolve around the Sun. In the same manner, the centre of the chess board is the primary goal you should focus on.

All the remaining elements like attack on the king, development of the pieces, etc. revolve around your control of the central squares.
Let us have a look at what this means by waltzing through a game by the great American genius and the 11th World Chess Champion, Bobby Fischer. This game was played when he was still a promising junior player.

Fischer, Robert James - Sholomson, Steven 1-0

USA-ch Juniors

1.Nf3 g6 2.e4 Bg7 3.d4 d6 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.Bc4 O-O 6.O-O

BD_27015_237_0.pngDiagram #1


Observe carefully the White set up. This is a model position which you must aim to bring in your own games.

6... c6

BD_27015_237_1.pngDiagram #2


Black prepares to attack the White center by pushing b5-b4 harassing the White pieces who are holding the white's center pawns.

7.Qe2 Nbd7

preparing 8...e5 hitting the white center.


BD_27015_237_2.pngDiagram #3


Young Bobby Fischer stops Black from executing his plan by hitting the center himself first.

8... Nd5 9.Bxd5 cxd5 10.exd6 exd6 11.Nxd5

White has gained a pawn, better control over the center and hence is doing very well.

11... Qa5 12.c4 Nf6 13.Bd2 Qd8 14.Ne7+ Kh8 15.Nxc8 Rxc8 16.b3 Qd7 17.Qd3 h6 18.Rfe1 g5

Black just seriously weakened the light squares in the kingside. White now targets the f5 square making a meal out of it.

19.d5 Nh5 20.Rad1 Rg8

Black is hoping to create an attack in the kingside. However, with the center firmly under white's grip, Fischer mops up his opponent.



21... Qg4 22.Nf5 Nf4 23.Bxf4 gxf4 24.Nxd6

and after a few more moves, Black gave up. Did you notice how young Fischer nurtured his center by developing his pieces around it?

Lessons from the game:

1. The model position with two pawns on the central squares d4 and e4, the Bishop on c4, Knight on f3 and the castled King.

2. If you dominate the centre, it is very easy to play on any side of the board.

How to play with a classical pawn centre?

Having a strong pawn centre is like sowing a seed in a fertile land. It has all the chances to grow into a wonderful asset. If you want to use you pawn centre to the maximum, you must carefully nurture it by developing all your pieces around it.

You have to note that the following game is one of the most famous examples which show how to play with a classical pawn centre.

Keres, Paul - Fine, Reuben 1-0


BD_27015_237_3.pngDiagram #4


You must observe in this position that Keres has on the board a central position which is very similar to what Fischer had in the previous game.


BD_27015_237_4.pngDiagram #5

1... b6

Whenever your opponent makes a move, it always makes sense to pre empt what your opponent wants to do with his last move. Here he obviously prepares . ..Bb7 attacking the central pawn e4


one benefit of having classical pawn center is that it allows you to calmly develop your pieces around the center.

( 2.e5?

BD_27015_237_5.pngDiagram #6

2... Bb7 = Note that you should not move your classical pawn center until all your minor and heavy pieces have been optimally developed.)

2... Bb7 3.Rfe1 Rc8 4.Bb3 Nf6 5.Qf4

keeping the queen active and at the same time protecting e4.

5... Qc7

as you may note from the diagram, Black intends to trade the Queens because the White queen is defending e4 pawn. If you trade the queens, you lose one of the supporters of the e4 pawn.


BD_27015_237_6.pngDiagram #7


Paul Keres obviously avoids the trade.

6... Rfd8 7.Re3!

BD_27015_237_7.pngDiagram #8


A calm rook lift. You must observe that white can make this possible only because he possesses such a strong classical center.

7... b5

Planning to march the pawns in the queenside to create play.

8.Rde1 a5 9.a4!

BD_27015_237_8.pngDiagram #9


Stopping Black's pawns midway!

9... b4 10.d5

After getting all his pieces ready, Keres breaks open the center.

10... exd5 11.e5 Nd7 ( Ne4! is a better way to defend.)


BD_27015_237_9.pngDiagram #10

12... Nf8 (12... h6 13.Nxf7 Kxf7 14.e6+)


BD_27015_237_10.pngDiagram #11


Ask yourself why did Keres sacrifice his Knight?

13... Nxh7 14.Rh3

The rook swings across to deliver the finishing blow!

14... Qc1 15.Qxh7+ ( Don't get excited by the seemingly 'free' Queen by playing 15.Rxc1??

BD_27015_237_11.pngDiagram #12

because15... Rxc1+ 16.Bd1 Rxd1#)

15... Kf8 16.Rhe3

supporting the e1 rook and also preparing to open the e file

16... d4 17.Qh8+ Ke7 18.Qxg7 Rf8 ( dxe3 19.Qxf7#)

19.Qf6+ Ke8 20.e6


20... dxe3 21.exf7+ Rxf7 22.Bxf7+ Kd7 23.Qe6+ Kc7 24.Rxc1+ +-

Things learned from the game:

1. The same model position which Fischer had was generated by Keres too. You must aim for an approximately similar position in your games.

2. Do not be overcome by greed and move your central pawns forward until you have all your pieces placed on their best squares.

3. After making sure all your pieces are ready around your pawn centre, strike!

How to play when your opponent has a classical pawn centre?

Chess is not an easy sport to play. You will have to play games where your opponent instead of you will possess a strong pawn centre.

In case you are faced with such a situation, you must use your pieces and pawns to attack the enemy pawn centre with all your might (and calculations of course).

In the following game, Black smartly uses a tactic to destroy white’s pawn centre.


Lputian, Smbat G - Epishin, Vladimir 0-1

Rostov on Don

BD_27015_237_12.pngDiagram #13


In this position, White seems to have built an enviable pawn center. However, Black with his subsequent moves proves that this center is not well protected and backed up by white pieces.


BD_27015_237_13.pngDiagram #14



(1...Nxd4 doesn't work because of 2.Nd5 Nxd5 3.exd5 Bc5 4.Ne4 +/- again, the advantage of center!)

2.Kh1 Bxd4

winning a good central pawn.


preparing 20... Nb4. However, now that the WHite center has fallen apart, Black takes over the attack on the Kingside.

3... Ng4 4.Qe2

preparing for the coming Qh4-h2 idea.

4... Qh4 5.Nb5 O-O 6.Rf4 h5 7.Nxd4 Nxd4 8.Qg2 Rc2 9.e5 Ne6 10.Rb4 a5 11.Re4 ( 11.Rxb7?

BD_27015_237_14.pngDiagram #15

11... Nf4! -+ )

11... Rd8 12.h3 Rd3

Things learned from the game:

1. Use your pieces to attack opponent's pawn centre.

2. ALWAYS stay alert for tactics!

In a nutshell, you have to remember to

• control the centre with your pieces and pawns,
• develop your pieces around your centre,
• make your pieces and pawns attack the central pawns if you don’t have any pawns in the centre.

I hope you thoroughly understood the importance of having the centre under control. In the next article, you will study development of pieces in more detail. Until then, good bye!

Have something to add to this article, or have any questions? Please ask!


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wbrederode 17:16 - 18 May 2015
Yodhaa,thanks for your work,and instructive lesson Willem
yodhaa 11:08 - 26 May 2015
Thank you so much Willem!

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