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A Practical Manual on Improving Middlegame Thinking and Play: Part II

Sep 12, 2015
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In the first part of this series, we looked at the unique attributes of Chess Structures: A Grandmaster Guide in comparison to other existing books on the subject of pawn structure. In this blog, I'll be sharing some of my favorite positions and instructive ideas from the book.

II. Highlights of Favorite Examples

As I describe what stood out to me in these examples, I will also be sharing the author’s helpful annotations.


  • Caro-Kann/Slav Structure

Ivanisevic, Ivan - Ascic, Pero

Zupanja 2007

BD_10663_315_0.pngDiagram #1

1.Bf4! monitoring the e6-e5 break.

The author instructively points out that the typical idea is premature due to 1.c5?! 1... e5! which "solves most of Black's problems" e.g. 2.Be3 exd4 3.Bxd4 Nf6 4.Bxf6 Qxd1 5.Rfxd1 Bxf6 6.Nxf6+ gxf6 "with an inferior but defensible position."

1... Nf6 Now you may wonder what if he breaks the other way? The author is well-prepared to answer it: "Black is not well prepared for1... c5? since after 2.dxc5 Nxc5 3.Nd6! White wins the pair of bishops and the queenside majority will advance easily, e.g.3... Bxd6 4.Bxd6 Qb6 5.Qd4 Nd7 6.c5 Qa6 7.a4! and White wins after either7... Nf6 ( or7... e5 8.Rfe1! ) 8.b4 trapping the queen!!." Convinced or not? Question answered.

2.c5! +/-

BD_10663_315_1.pngDiagram #2

Here, the author shares an insight from his personal learning experience: "As a young player I was very puzzled by moves like this. My strategy books had taught me that c4-c5 was a colossal positional mistake since the d4-pawn would be permanently vulnerable as a backward pawn. . . but in this pawn structure the c4-c5 move has far more benefits than drawbacks." In sum, the benefits are that it permanently prevents c6-c5 break, takes hold of the stronger d6 square compared to d5 for the N, and gains a space advantage.

2... Nd5 3.Bd6!

and White slowly realizes the main idea of the previous move trading off the dark-squared bishops. The rest of the game sees White dominating the game with his space advantage and superior pieces.

3... b6 4.Qa4! 4... b5 5.Qc2 a5 6.Rfe1 Bf8 7.Bxf8 Rxf8 8.Nd6

BD_10663_315_2.pngDiagram #3

White has a strategically dominating position and eventually won.

  • Carlsbad Structure

Onischuk, Alexander - Dominguez Perez, Leinier

FIDE World Cup 2013

BD_10663_315_3.pngDiagram #4

Here, we have a standard Carlsbad structure in which White has started a minority attack. Let's see if Black can find a way to neutralize it:

1...Ne4 2.Qc2 ( the author points out that the alternative 2.Bxe4 dxe4 3.b5 "does not give White anything after3... c5! = 4.dxc5?? 4... Qxe5 ")

2... g6! (2... Nf6?! allows White to weaken the queenside with (2... Bf5?? 3.f3 +- ) 3.Rfc1! preventing the c6-c5 idea seen earlier3... a6 4.a4 +/= )

3.Rfc1 ( "White cannot take the pawn with 3.Bxe4 dxe4 4.Qxe4? because4... f6 wins a piece." This simple, straightforward comment suggests that Black must use little tactics to hold the position or try to obtain counterplay.)

3... Bf5 4.Rb3 ( In the book, the author convincingly shows a concrete refutation to the alternative idea 4.Nf3 preparing b4-b5, beginning with:4... a5! it's all on p. 93 ;-.)

4... a6 5.a4 Nd6 6.Bxf5 Nxf5 7.h3 Nd6!

BD_10663_315_4.pngDiagram #5

"Preventing b4-b5, White has nothing useful to do, meanwhile Black can speculate with potential kingside threats if he wishes..."

8.Nd3 Kg7 9.Nb2 White knight is travelling towards c3 to make b5 happen.

9... Kg8!? "waiting for White to do something more concrete." I think this idea is sly and shows that one doesn't have to do something active on every move.

10.Nd1?! 10... f5! this is the point. Planning to strike while White's pieces are misplaced/ uncoordinated.

11.Nc3 consistent with the previous move

( 11.Nb2 was given as mainline and would also be met with ( if 11.g3 the author suggests to boldly play11... g5!? =/+ ( or11... h5 12.h4 g5 =/+ ))11... f4! )

11... f4! 12.exf4 Qf6 13.Rd1 Qxf4

BD_10663_315_5.pngDiagram #6

And the author ends it here giving Black an edge due to the weak d4-pawn. It is Black who clearly gained from the change in structure as he has better placed pieces with more target. Just to check if White can obtain counterplay, I tried:

14.b5 Nc4!? ( cxb5? ( axb5?! the more pawns come off the closer we get to a draw! 15.axb5 Re6 ( Nf5 16.bxc6 bxc6 17.Ne2) 16.bxc6 bxc6 17.Ne2 Qf7 18.Rf3 = ) 15.Nxd5)

15.bxc6 bxc6 16.Ne2 Qh4!? ( Qe4 17.Qxe4 Rxe4 18.Nc3 Re7)

17.Rb7 Re4! =+ While White may have some counterplay, I do think Black's position is easier to play and therefore has better practical chances in a real game.

  • Symmetrical Benoni Structure

Morovic Fernandez, Ivan - Lodhi, Mahmood

Khanty-Mansiysk ol (Men) 39th

BD_10663_315_6.pngDiagram #7

preventing the c8-bishop from developing to f5 while improving placement of his pieces.


BD_10663_315_7.pngDiagram #8

1... Bd7 2.Ng5

BD_10663_315_8.pngDiagram #9

With the idea of Nge4 to increase pressure on d6.

2... Rxe1+? A serious mistake according to the author after which Black's position collapses.

3.Rxe1 Re8 ( According to the author, the only way to survive is the "computer-like defence" Nh5!? 4.Bh2 Rf8 5.Nce4 Nc8 but White is still clearly better e.g. 6.g4! ( 6.b4!? 6... b6 7.a3 +/- )6... Nf6 7.Nxf6+ Bxf6 8.Ne4 Bd4 9.Qh6 Bg7 10.Qh4 with strong kingside pressure.)

4.Nge4 Nxe4 5.Nxe4 Nc8 6.Bg5! +/-

BD_10663_315_9.pngDiagram #10

"The invasion on f6 will force Black to give up his dark-squared bishop. White's advantage is nearly decisive."

6... f5 7.Nf6+ Bxf6 8.Bxf6 and White eventually won by making use of the weak dark squares around the enemy king.

  • Grunfeld Center Structure

Karpov, Anatoly - Kasparov, Garry

World Championship 35th, 1990

BD_10663_315_10.pngDiagram #11

This game is annotated in Megabase. But with added analysis, the author uses it to demonstrate how easier it is to play White's position and reveal the dangers facing Black despite the "=" evaluation of engines. The author then explains that things are more difficult for Black in practice due to the weaknesses on e7, a6 and c-file that even a World Champion couldn't cope with the problems otb.


1...Nc4 was a better choice according to the author (1...Qd7? this was given as equal in the database, but the author correctly points out that it's better for White: 2.Qa3 Nc4 3.Qxa6 Black has barely any compensation for a pawn.) 2.Bxe7 Re8 ( Nb2? 3.Qd2 Nxd1 4.Bxf8 Ftacnik) 3.Ba3 Nxa3 4.Qxa3 Rxe4 5.d5 stating that "White's position is easier to play, but Black should be able to hold with care."

2.Rc1 +/= "a logical decision, taking control of the essential c-file." I also learned in my early chess education that the side who has control of c-file usually has winning chances in these type of positions.

2... Qb7 3.d5 controlling the c6-square and hoping to create a passed pawn someday.

3... Nc4 4.Nd2!

BD_10663_315_11.pngDiagram #12

Eliminating Black's good piece which allows White to take over the important c-file. "Any other move allows Black to equalize with 24... Rc8."

4... Nxd2 5.Bxd2 Rc8 6.Rc6! +/-

BD_10663_315_12.pngDiagram #13

The author points out that this may be the move that Black missed which takes over the c-file. The rest of the game is a display of "Karpovian technique."

6... Be5 (6... Rxc6 7.dxc6 Qxc6 8.Qd8+ Bf8 9.Bh6 +- is the point.)

7.Bc3! 7... Bb8 8.Qd4 f6 9.Ba5 Bd6 10.Qc3 Re8 11.a3 Kg7 12.g3 Be5 13.Qc5 h5? ( "A better defence was: Bd6 14.Qc1 Qd7 15.Kg2 Ra8 16.f4!? +/- ")

14.Bc7! trading bishops to gain control of c7.

14... Ba1 15.Bf4 +- 15... Qd7 16.Rc7 Qd8 17.d6 g5 18.d7 Rf8 19.Bd2 Be5 20.Rb7 there is nothing Black can do to stop Qc6, Be3-b6, so Black resigned.

I must admit that I have more favorites, but if I keep going I will run the risk of giving away half of the book’s valuable material!



So far, I have only gained knowledge and inspiration from reading Chess Structures: A Grandmaster Guide. And I have a feeling more ideas will be introduced and reinforced in my chess brain as I keep solving from the Exercise Chapter regularly.

Overall, this book is highly recommended for both chess book lovers and serious players. For those looking for a fresh way to learn and improve, this exceptional “opening-middlegame book” is a must-have and a must-read!
Judging from its helpful format, exceptional clarity, instructive master plans and practical ideas, I dare say that this is definitely a strong candidate for “Most Instructive Chess Book of the Year” award.

Have more to add to this article? Do share your thoughts in the comment section below! We will be happy to read your comments.

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