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Positional Theme: Understanding the Center

Positional Theme: Understanding The Center

The center is the most important area of the chessboard. Placing pieces and pawns in the center spread their influence to all parts of the board. A piece will usually reach maximum maneuverability and power when centrally positioned.

"The control of the center confers the possibility of influencing activity on both wings at one and the same time." --- Aron Nimzowitch

The Strength of a Powerful Center and Space

In the following game white achieves an advantageous pawn center and uses it as a basis for squeezing all the play out of blacks position.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Be7 4. d4 d6 5. d5 Nb8 6. Bd3 preventing …f5 6…Nf6 7. c4 0-0 8. h3 c6 9. Nc3 Na6 10. Be3 Nc7 11. 0-0 Nfe8 12. Qc2 cxd5 13. cxd5 g6 14. Bh6 Ng7 15. g4! White prevents f5 keeping his strong center intact. 15…Nce8 16. Kh2 Kh8 17. Rg1 Bd7 18. Rg2 Rc8 19. Rab1 b6 20. Qd2 Nf6 21. Ng1 Ng8 22. Be3 g5 23. Nf3 f6 24. h4! H6 25. Rh1 Kh7 26. Kg1 Kg6 27. Nh2 Rc7 28. Nf1 Qc8 29. Qe2 Kf7 30. Ba6 Qb8 31. Nb5! forcing the exchange of bishop for knight accentuating the light-squared weaknesses of blacks camp. 31…Bxb5 32. Bxb5 Rfc8 33. hxg5 hxg5 34. Bc6 Bf8 35. Qf3 Rxc6 36. dxc6 Ne6 37. Rh7+ Bg7 38. Ng3 Rxc6 39. Nf5 the knight finally arrives at an ideal central post. 39…Qc8 40. Rgh2 Ne7 41. Nxg7 Nxg7 42. Bxg5 and black resigned faced with both 43. Qxf6+ and 43. Bh6. Tarrasch-Showalter, Vienna 1898.

The Really Big Center

A large pawn center will cramp and crush its opposition if measures are not taken to restrain and counter-attack it. This holds true in modern chess. The following example is from “Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy” by IM John Watson.

1. d4 e6 2. c4 Bb4+ 3. Bd2 Bxd2+ 4. Qxd2 b6 5. Nc3 Bb7 6. e4 Nh6 7. f4! going all out in an attempt to crush black f5 8. e5 Nf7 9. O-O-O g5 10. Nf3 Rg8 11. Be2 Na6 12. h3 gxf4 13. Qxf4 Qe7 14. g4 fxg4 15. hxg4 Ng5 16. d5 whites pawns have totally paralyzed the black position 16…Nxf3 17. Bxf3 O-O-O 18. Rh6 Rg7 19. Rf6 exd5 20. cxd5 Re8 21. g5 Kb8 22. Bh5 Reg8 23. Bf7 Rc8 24. e6 dxe6 25. dxe6 Nb4 26. a3 Nc6 27. b4 Qf8 28. Nd5 Qd6 29. e7 Rxf7 30. Rxf7 Qe6 31. Rf8 Ne5 32. Rxc8+ Bxc8 33. Qf6 Qh3 34. Qxe5 Qxa3+ 35. Kd2 1-0 Karpov-Miles, Biel 1992

The Mobile Center Pawn Mass

Nimzovich speaking on the advance of central pawns in one game says, “the pawn advance was no isolated, self contained process. On the contrary, it derived its strength from the readiness of the pieces behind them to occupy central squares. “ IM John Watson in “Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy” notes, “this rings as true today as it did then.” The following game is from Watson’s book.

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Nbd7 5. e3 c6 6. cxd5 exd5 7. Bd3 Bd6 8. Qc2 h6 9. Bh4 Qa5 10. O-O-O Bb4 11. Nge2 Be7 12. Kb1 Nf8 13. h3 Be6 14. f3! the first step in developing a pawn roller 14…a6 15. a3 Bd7 16. Bxf6 Bxf6 17. e4 Ne6 18. e5 Be7 19. f4 the pawns threaten to over run blacks position 19…Nc7 20. f5 Nb5 21. Rhf1 Qb6 22. Bxb5 axb5 23. Nf4 b4 24. Ncxd5 this secures an even more mobile pawn-mass 24… cxd5 25. Nxd5 Qa5 26. Nc7+ Kd8 27. Nxa8 Qxa8 28. d5 whites pawns are crushing 28…Qc8 29. Qe4 Re8 30. Rc1 Qb8 31. e6 Bb5 32. Qd4 b6 33. d6 Bf6 34. e7+ Kd7 35. Qd5 Bxf1 36. Qc6# 1-0Nimzovich-Romi, London 1927 (a very modern game)

The “Hypermodern Center”

One of the premises of the “hypermodern revolution” of the 1920’s was the idea that while a large center can indeed be crushing if measures are not taken against it, it can also become a target for the opposing pieces.

The “hypermodern’s” discovered that there are 2 ways to defeat a center:

  1. Destroy it
  2. Force it to advance

Here is an example of the first type from modern play:

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd55.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Nf3 c5 8.Rb1 O-O 9.Be2 Bg4! A nice example of “hypermodern strategy” black allows white a big center and then dissolves it and occupies it with his pieces. 10.O-O cxd4 11.cxd4 Bxf3 12.Bxf3 Bxd4 13.Rxb7 Nc6 14.Qa4 Qd6 It will be difficult for white to breach blacks highly centralized position. 15.Rd1 Rac8 16.Ba3 Qe5 17.Rb5 Qf6 18.Rd5 Bb6 19.R5d2 Ne5 20.Qb3 Rb8 21.Qa4 Rfc8 22.Bb2 Nxf3+ 23.gxf3 Bxf2+ 24.Rxf2 Rxb2 25.Qxa7 Rc1 26.Rxc1 Qg5+ 27.Kh1 Qxc1+ 28.Kg2 Qg5+ 29.Kh3 Rb1 30.Rg2 Qh5+ 31.Kg3 Qg5+ 32.Kh3 Qh5+ 33.Kg3 g5 34.Rc2 Qh4+ 35.Kg2 g4 0-1 Ligterink-Timman, Holland 1983.

“A center is only strong because it restricts the opponents pieces. If it has to advance and give the enemy pieces good squares then its whole purpose has been negated.” –IM J. Silman from “How to Reassess Your Chess.”

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Bc4 c5 8.Ne2 O-O 9.O-O Nc6 10.Be3 Qc7 11.Rc1 Rd8 white is doing the utmost to uphold the integrity of his center while black is putting intense pressure on d4 12. Qd2 a6 13. f4 b5 14. Bd3 f5! 15. exf5 (15. e5 leads to the same type of light square domination for black) 15…c4! 16. Bb1 gxf5 17. Ng3 e6 18. Nh5 Bh8 19. Rf3 Ne7 20. Bf2 Bb7 black has won the central battle by ridding white of his e pawn and creating weaknesses on d5 and the long-diagonal a1-h8 21. Re3 Kf7! 22. Rce1 Rd6 23. Bh4 Ng6 24. Bg5 b4! the remains of whites center are falling apart and black enjoyed a big advantage 25. Qe2 Qc6 26. Re5 bxc3 27. d5 Qc5+ 28. Kh1 Bxe5 29. Bxf5 Rxd5 30. Bxg6+ hxg6 31. fxe5 Rxe5 32. Rf1+ Rf5 33. Ng3 Re8 34. h4 Bc6 35. h5 Kg7 36. Nxf5+ exf5 37. Qc2 Qd4 38. Rd1 Qg4 39. Qxc3+ Kg8 40. Rd2 Re1+ 41. Kh2 Qxh5+ 0-1 Haik-Koualty, Cannes 1986.