Game#39 – Improving your positional chess

Building positional play

Positional chess is the art of improving your position while degrading your opponent’s piece play. This is more of an art than a science. It takes lots of practice and understanding to put your pieces on squares that consistently dominate your opponent. In my last post I wrote a review of Best Lessons of a Chess Coach, a fantastic book written by Sunil Weeramantry. This book touches on the importance of positional chess and how it can make you a better chess player. In this post, I am going to show you a game I played fresh after reading this book.

I have always been an advocate for playing lower-rated chess computers to help improve your play. Many online chess sites chess computer bots designed to play lower-rated chess. One such computer is on the Internet Chess Club called SlowPlow. Its ELO ranges from 1800-2100. Like many humans in that rating range, it plays a lot of passive, sometimes senseless moves. Getting an advantage against SlowPlow is easy — beating it can be tough. SlowPlow defends like iron. It makes you convert (and earn) any advantage you might get from it.

I took on SlowPlow to see how I would fare against it. I made a lot of mistakes but was able to beat it. I did this using positional play – building my position and maneuvering pieces to their ideal squares.

Game#39 – Building on positional chess play

Paul H. – SlowPlow (C)
Sicilian Defense [B30]
25 minutes 10 seconds

Post-game analysis

Dealing with passive moves. I’ve written a lot about the need to avoid playing passive moves. But what do you do when your opponent plays passively. The answer: play actively! Always look to improve the scope of your pieces and to put them on good squares. That is how you counter inaccuracies in your opponents play.

Active moves must be meaningful. Good positional chess involves active piece play and strong square control. I’ve said this before but the moves have to be meaningful. I played many actives moves in this game but they weren’t part of a deeper plan. So, placing pieces indiscriminately on active squares must be done with a greater purpose. My failure to make more purposeful moves resulted in SlowPlow being able to equalize.

Watch for equalizing moves. In this game, SlowPlow had many opportunities to equalize but it didn’t play them. This is obviously a deliberate oversight given the reduced playing strength of the computer. Still, the message is clear: watch for moves that take away your advantage. Usually, this comes in the form of trades. In this game, I didn’t see equalizing moves that my opponent could have played to save the game. Here is one example:

Game#39 - Improving your positional chess
After 26. f4? black replied 26…g5!

With Black’s queenside locked up, g5 is a fairly obvious and something I should have seen. It opens up the g-file and allows Black to start activating his pieces. The bigger problem is that my king comes under fire. Black can play moves like Ng5 followed by Rg8 and suddenly I am the one looking to equalize.

Refusing to resign. Same chess players never resign – even strong players. SlowPlow is one of them. It was lost well into the ending but continued to play on, forcing me to deliver checkmate. This is part of its configuration – to force its opponent to convert their advantage. Fortunately for me, SlowPlow had to sacrifice almost all of its material to prevent itself from being mated.

Just because you are winning doesn’t mean you will win. Some human players often play out a lost game because they believe (often correctly) that their opponent will slip up and force a stalemate. This is more common in blitz than slow chess but be careful – take your time to convert a winning advantage. Playing solid positional chess requires patience, concentration and follow through.