12/03/2008 20:28


There are many books on middle game strategy but even so, certain aspects have escaped attention. Grandmaster Adrian Mikhalchisin starts to put this right in this ChessBase DVD in the Fritztrainer middle game series.  Accepting that standard middle game motifs such as open files, strong squares, outposts etc have been adequately covered, he points to other rather more obscure techniques that are used by masters of the game.  He extols the virtues of a study of classic games to uncover such motifs and relates a story that exemplifies such a course of action.  Whilst at a training school, his class was visited by Mikhail Botvinnik who noticed a deficiency in the handling of a particular structure, whereupon he recommended that a study of the notes from his game with Bondarevsky in the 1941 Absolute Championship would be a starting point to correct such a lack of understanding.

Using this manner of study as a platform, Mikhalchisin presents four main sections to his lectures:

1. Botvinnik's games that demonstrate the benefits of centralisation, use of a space advantage, flank attacks and the creation of a second weakness in the opponent's position in order to exploit the existence of the first weakness.

2. The application of Makagonov's "rule" whereby, in positions where no other important matters need to be considered, one should identify one's worst placed piece and bring it to a more active square.

3.  The creation and exploitation of material imbalances as demonstrated in the games of Mikhail Tal.

4. The application of white (black) squared strategy as exemplified by the games of Tigran Petrosian.

To cover the subjects, sixteen lectures totalling 4 hours,  are delivered in the excellent ChessBase media system.

Of particular interest in the first section, are the examples given of the creation and exploitation of two weaknesses.  We are used to this technique being applied in the end game, but this has seldom been examined for the purpose of the middle game.

The first example is the position diagrammed on the left that occurred in the game Botvinnik - Zagoriansky, Sverdlovsk 1943.  Here the white attack on the isolated pawn at d5 cannot be fruitfully advanced further.  Black has tied his pieces to passive but adequate defence of this weakness and to take advantage of their defensive positions White must identify and open another attacking front.  Botvinnik chose to attack the weakness of the black king position and whilst maintaining the pressure against the d-pawn he brought the second attack to victory.

To demonstrate that this technique had been studied by Botvinnik's disciples, Mikhalchisin cites the game Karpov - Spassky, Montreal 1979 that reached the position opposite.  The main difference between the two positions is that an additional pair of bishops existed in the Karpov game.  However, by applying the Botvinnik technique, Karpov brought the game to a successful conclusion.

Little is known in the west about the master Vladimir Makogonov from Baku.  Up to the 1960's he was an active player in the USSR and as well as introducing some opening systems he became a second to Smyslov during his world championship bouts with Botvinnik.  Then he retired from chess to take up a professorial post in Baku University.  However, he did continue training promising chess pupils and in particular was asked by Botvinnik to assist one of his pupils - Gary Kasparov - in an understanding of positional play.  It was during this training period that he developed the "Principle of the worst placed piece."  This rule is pertinent in a situation when there is no other important matter to be considered, then one should identify one's worst placed piece and deploy it to a more effective square.   Mikhalchisin gives nine games that demonstrate the effectiveness of the application of this rule.  Included is another Karpov - Spassky game from the Candidates semi-final of 1974 that reached the position opposite after 22. ...... Nb6.  By applying the Makogonov rule, Karpov identified the knight on c3 as being his worst placed piece and by re-deploying it eventually to f3 he was able to force the black knight to the ineffectual square of a6.   This strategy was so effective that Spassky was forced to resign on the 34th move.

In two lectures totalling just under a full hour, Michalchisin examines how a player should consider the position of his pieces and, if appropriate, apply the rule.

Mikhail Tal needs no introduction, and although he is better known for his calculating and combinational powers, he did make the chess world aware of the middle game strategy of exchanging two minor pieces for a rook and pawn(s) and bringing this material imbalance to a successful conclusion for the possessor of the rook.  The successful winning technique employed is in the main brought to fruition in the ending.  However the necessary exchanges to achieve the imbalance occur in the middle game and this is sufficient to designate the process as being a middle game strategy.

To persuade us of how effective this technique can be, Mikhalchisin uses five lectures totalling  72 minutes and including thirteen games as examples.  He does stress however, the need for accurate calculation as it would be far too easy to go astray as the owner of the rook and either lose the advantage or be forced to reduce to a drawn game.

The final section covers a strategy that has long been a mystery to me.  Although I had made full use of David Bronstein's explanation of this phenomena in the introduction to the game Szabo - Geller, Zurich 1953, in his fine book on the tournament, the subject of white (black) square strategy still had some blurred edges in my understanding.  Mikhalchisin's fine presentation of this subject has cleared away many of the cobwebs.

This strategy has been employed for many years but has been poorly dealt with by theorists in the literature of the game.  Petrosian was surely the greatest exponent of this technique and Mikhalchisin pays due homage to his efforts in the four lectures and six Petrosian games he uses in his presentation.  In the first of these this position was reached with Petrosian playing the white pieces in a game with Schweber at the Stockholm Interzonal of 1962.   Petrosian had just played 13. g4 and in the following moves he gradually and remorselessly crushed his opponent. 

Although Mikhalchisin gives a lucid explanation of the potential of White's position, I would like to add a note given by Peter Clarke after 13.g4 from his excellent book on Petrosian as further explanation.  

""Well that's that," I can imagine Petrosian saying to himself at this juncture. As far as he is concerned -,  and I am sure I am right in this - the above position is just as conclusive as a winning attack would be.
The chain of white pawns from h5 to d5 (a veritable "V for Victory) holds the enemy force in complete subjugation. Black has no scope for his pieces and is doomed to wait while his opponent works out a suitable of campaign. This can be divided into three parts:

(a) mobilising the remainder of his men;
(b) occupying or threatening to occupy the hole at f5 (it should be observed that a black knight cannot hope to reach the corresponding point); and
(c) preparing a decisive invasion of the queen side.

Naturally, modifications may have to be made."

Because the material given on the DVD is essentially classic games , I found myself sufficiently prompted to seek out annotations given in other sources to study the ideas put forward here.  I can recommend such a procedure. 

This DVD is a valuable addition to the ChessBase series, in that it deals with subjects imperfectly covered in contemporary chess literature and is presented in a clear and precise manner by Mikhalchisin.

The recommended price is  17:95  and more information can be found here :-