Lesson #10: The Interplay And Use Of Phases And Approaches During A Chess Game

Hi all, and welcome to Lesson #10.

In this lesson I want to revisit the interplay of the different phases you go through when you try to deal with a chess position.

As said in earlier lessons the first phase is the “Orientation on the Position”.
We use that phase to get a feel for:

  • what is going on in the position
  • get the gist of the position
  • see if there is a direct threat
  • ask ourselves if we can make our move immediately and if not…
  • …we try to figure out if the position is tactical or strategic in nature.

Based on the answer to that last question we can use one of two tools:

  1. the Analytical Approach or
  2. the Planning Approach.

We have seen examples of both approaches already. The measure in which you have to go through one of these two tools differs with playing strength. For strong players a quick orientation may lead to the best move. The stronger you get the less you will have to use one of the two tools, or only in a more shallow way, because you will already have more chunked information at your disposal.

I think it is important to always remember that you have one of these two tools available if you don’t know what to do! The steps of the approaches are your guides through the jungle of the chess position you are dealing with at that moment.

So again, if you feel lost, which means that you will also not be able to make your move more or less immediately, just try and figure out if the position is tactical or strategic in nature and start using the appropriate approach and its steps. At least then you will have something to work with.

OK, now for something else that is important. During play you are actually constantly orientating yourself on the position, right? Normally you bring information you have about the position with you into the next position and the next and so on.

Most elements of the position will still the same after a move and you will have to be on the lookout for the changes on the board. So, from that perspective it can be kind of unnatural to constantly keep asking yourself the question of “what’s going on?” or “what is the nature of the position?”

Normally you don’t have to do that each and every move. If you feel stuck however, immediately re-orientate yourself on the position and take it from there.

I believe the minimal orientation you always have to do is to check if your opponent is threatening something. That should become a Pavlov-reaction and you can win or save many points with that, I assure you! Just revisit lesson #6 for spotting threats.

I remember Bobby Fischer always taking a few minutes for the first few moves of the Ruy Lopez. When asked why he played them rather slowly he would answer:

“I’m orientating myself on the opening and try get connected to everything that is going on, and that takes some time.”

And it is important to get connected to what is going on right from the start!
If you don’t, you could suffer from several chess sins such as blinking, which basically means that you have your “chess eyes” closed exactly on the moment that something important is going on!

Having said that, you will begin to understand that playing a game of chess should become more of a flowing thing than an infinit number of crossroads where you constantly have to reorientate yourself.

This does not mean that you don’t have to try and wrestle with the position to try and find the best move on each occasion, but rather that you should not make use of the orientation and the approaches mechanically.

Take a look at the Karpov v. Seirawan game f.i. (Learn From The Masters #3).  The outcome of the Planning Approach remained largely the same throughout the game. Bishop versus knight and better development and initiative versus the extra pawn. It was only the analytical approach that Karpov had to use more often to find the right moveorders, tactical justifications, trade downs and so on.

Maybe Karpov could have reorientated himself once more, because when he played 26.Be3 and 27.Bxb6 he probably did not realize how good his position had become. Taking a fresh look at what had changed with the pawn exchange on e6 probably would have led him to 27.Dd3! winning immediately.

The nature of the position had become more tactical than it had been throughout the game. But he was still in his “planning flow” and it did not do him any harm either, because in a way he sailed to victory very logically.

Having said that, this does not necessarily help you in your own game! what makes playing on our level that more difficult(!), is the fact that the position and it’s verdict probably change quite a lot! It is therefore good to always allow that basic emotion of surprise that makes you go like: “Huh, what’s he doing now? I thought there was something else going on in the position!”.

Have you ever heard Seirawan commentate on Grandmaster games during the Corus Chess Tournament or the World Championships for instance? He constantly verbalizes what is going on and listens to his chess emotions a lot. Surpise, which triggers a critical attitude, is one of them.

OK, I think I should stop here. The philosopher in me has roared it’s head enough 😉

Just think about this stuff and try to observe yourself during play. Hopefully it will inspire you and change your outlook on playing a chess game.

Letting his thoughts flow…