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Weak Squares? Who Cares?

  • GM DanielNaroditsky
  • | 28/02/2014
  • | Visto 15344 veces
  • | 48 comentarios

To chessify Jane Austen, it is a truth universally acknowledged that all chess players in possession of a weak square are doomed to a miserable existence. The concept of weak squares appears rather straightforward: avoid creating them, but never fail to utilize them. In fact, most positional manuals eschew the topic altogether. While the subtleties of maneuvering or the benefits of positional sacrifice obviously require elucidation, no positional training is required to identify the cause of Black's troubles in the following position:

You guessed it: the f5 square is horribly weak, and after the imminent Nf5, White will simply tear Black's position apart. True, the square is "protected" by my light-squared bishop, but after 1...Bg5 2.Nf5 Bxf5 3.exf5 Black found little relief! I was tempted to resign immediately, but did so only after 12 more moves of agony. 

However, modern grandmasters thrive not only because they have mastered the principles of positional chess (a task that might have appeared daunting 200 years ago), but because they know precisely when and how to deviate from these principles. While an amateur may well understand the rationale behind developing a bishop before a knight or temporarily positioning a knight on the side of the board, he or she might find it difficult to explain how strong players break apparently inviolable positional rules with impunity. Each article will hopefully come one step closer to resolving this conundrum, and as you may have guessed, today's sub-topic is a particularly thorny one: when is it permissible to voluntarily weaken a square? 


I always write under the assumption that every strong move or subtle idea can be logically and clearly explained. Most world-class players certainly possess an accurate intuition (i.e. they sense that a move is correct or incorrect without much calculation or logical reasoning), but all of their decisions can be decoded. To this end, we will introduce a concept that will streamline our quest for an answer to the aforementioned question: inaccessibility

Put simply, inaccessibility refers to the idea that a square can often be permanently weakened if your opponent cannot immediately access it with a desirable piece. From a psychological standpoint, it is often quite difficult to leave a square terminally weak, but concrete thinking trumps general evaluation nine times out of ten: if a square is inaccessible, do not be afraid to weaken it! The following game is a terrific illustration. 

So what should White do? Well, of course there is 27.f4, nipping the idea of ...e5 in the bud, but no self-respecting player would ever make such a positionally heinous move on the board...or so you might think! Let us enumerate the flaws of 27.f4. Of course, the bishop will be closed in by his own pawns, but it can later reroute to the a5-d8 diagonal with Be1. Most importantly, however, 27.f4 leaves the e4 square horribly weak. If Black can position a knight on e4, the tables will instantly turn to his favor. But take a closer look: to actually maneuver his knight to e4, Black needs a staggering eight moves (...Nh8-g6-e7, ...Kh8(7), ...Qf7, ...Ng8-f6-e4)! To crash through on the queenside, White needs half that time. Thus, since the e4 square is inaccessible, the preclusion of ...e6-e5 makes this trade-off incredibly favorable for White. 

Unfortunately, cases of total inaccessibility are relatively rare. In fact, some may even argue that an unreachable square cannot be classified as a weakness at all. In any case, what truly distinguishes leading chess players is their ability to weaken a square that can be accessed, at least to some extent, by the opponent. Chess is a quid-pro-quo game at its heart, and you must be cognizant of the fact that to dent your opponent's solid position -- to introduce a defect that you will later seek to utilize -- frequently requires a major positional concession from your side. Sargissian-Tomashevsky was an exception, but in the following game, Bobby Fischer shows us that even ostensibly ludicrous positional blunders should be considered! 

What's so rewarding about chess is that hard work -- a headstrong desire to penetrate the thought process of a legendary chess player -- almost always results in an aha moment. For me, one of these moments was a realization that the disobedience of one positional principle (e.g. do not voluntarily weaken a square) is the observance of another, no less important principle. In Fischer-Unzicker, White weakened the e5 square but totally restricted the movement of the c8 bishop in return. In the following game, Boris Spassky epitomizes the quintessential "quid-pro-quo-ness" of chess: the only way to unlock the path to Black's king is to create a gaping (and accessible) central hole. 

The position arose out of a relatively tame Breyer Ruy Lopez. Black's queen seems out of place, but in fact, Black is eyeing the possibility of ...Bh6, forcing the trade of dark-squared bishops and making the weakness of g5 less noticeable. On the other hand, White's knight on h2 is terribly inactive while Black's knight is firmly situated on the dream square c5. To arrive at the correct decision, it is important to recognize just how time-sensitive this position is: given one more move -- ...Nfd7, perhaps -- Black will rid himself of any kingside dangers. For instance, 1...Nfd7 2.Be3 Qe7 (2...Bh6 is also feasible) and Black already has the edge. 


Boris Spassky | Image Wikipedia

Thus, White must act before Black plugs all of his kingside holes. The best way to do so is obviously to open the position, but the only way to do that is the dreadfully weakening 1.f4. The problem with this move is rather conspicuous: after 1...exf4 2.Rxf4 Nfd7, Black's knight will entrench itself on the ideal square e5. After 3.Raf1 Ne5, for instance, White is positionally busted.

Once again, strong players have the ability to consistently penetrate the superficial layer of a position to immediately and precisely locate its latent aspects. In this case, Spassky recognized that, positional considerations aside, he had a rather formidable conglomeration of pieces on the kingside; whereas Black's rooks, c5 knight, and b7 bishop are doing little to defend the monarch. If White can open the h-file, his rook and queen will have a prime access route to the Black king. Hopefully, by this point your intuition is screaming at you to sacrifice the knight! 

I would encourage you to play through this game more than once. Always remember that positional concessions -- no matter how significant -- are perfectly permissible when made for a concrete tactical gain.

By way of a summary, I would now like to present an example from modern top-level chess. It is given as an exercise, but since you know the topic of the article, it should not be very difficult to find the correct first move! In any case, try your best to apply the concepts of inaccessibility (or partial inaccessibility, as in Fischer-Unzicker) and tit-for-tat -- weakening a square to further your prospects in another aspect of the position. Then, be sure to read the annotations carefully -- the logic behind a move is often more important than the move itself! Note: After you have solved the one-move exercise, please scroll down to view the entire annotated game segment.

To be sure, chess cannot be reduced to an algorithm. You will always have to be the one making a decision, but hopefully, this article sheds some light on the various ways in which an ostensibly heinous positional blunder can be rationalized. Since it is my first "real" article, I would encourage any comments, constructive criticism or discussion. Auf wiedersehen!



  • hace 3 meses


    This article basically won me a crucial game at a tournament in Reno last weekend. I realized I had to weaken a square to get my knight to a great outpost, but I was too scared to do it until I remembered reading this. A few moves later I won the exchange and went on to win the game... Even managed first in my section for the first time =) just like Mr Naroditsky himself in Reno nine years ago- hats off to the author, top-notch positional articles like this are doing wonders for my game.

  • hace 5 meses


    Thank you GM Naroditsky for great article and very instructive; sometime article are only for beginners and enough material for advance players. Please keep writing any style you prefer, being to simple is boring.

  • hace 5 meses


    This is great! Thank you very much! Cant wait for next friday.


  • hace 5 meses


    Yes, I read all of what you wrote. I assumed when you said you agreed with earlier comments that you meant sammibang's, so it made sense to include your 'name'/handle in my post.

    I didn't think this author's language was too 'ornate'. I think 'eschew' might have been exactly what he wanted to say; it doesn't quite mean 'ignore'. I agree that chess should be direct and simple, but writing about chess doesn't have to be.

    I concede I resorted to the lowest form of wit in my last comment, but for me it wasn't off-topic. I would much prefer the author to continue writing as he is doing, to believe that his choice of words is OK.

  • hace 5 meses



    Out of curiosity, did you even read all of what I wrote, before including my name in your little off-topic rant about Esperante?  I really shouldn't humor you, and I presume the answer is "no", but want to be sure.

  • hace 5 meses


    Great article, this does indeed shed some light into the mysteries of how, when and why stronger players can get away with "breaking the rules". There has yet to be any appreciable criticism of the content, which, given the peer review of a site frequented by GMs, IMs, FMs etc, means your assertions are sound. As for the criticisms of your use of language, I particularly enjoyed this because it doesn't read like a technical manual, it's good prosaic English. There's some validity to the notion of simplistic writing for international audiences. However, some of the most instructive articles I've read here were written by international GMs in quite poor English. The chess board and notation is a logical system transcending language barriers. If readers would rather chastise your writing style instead of using that time to do the work on a board or computer and understand the content, that's their problem, not yours. Back in Fischer's day, most of best writing on chess was only available in Russian ;)

  • hace 5 meses


    Very useful stuff! The article flowed very well from beginning to end. Hope they pay you well enough for this!

    @ LaserZorin, sammibang, et al,

    Do we really want a world in which language becomes flat and barren just to make sure everyone can understand? Why not scrap every language under the sun; we can all learn Esperanto, and make synonyms blasphemous. It would be a disaster if someone actually improved their vocabulary reading this article.

    @ silaskulkarni,

    Agreed, chess evaluations can be frustrating. But it's not surprising you can't just click your fingers and suddenly understand what a GM is saying. There is no such thing as spoon-feeding in chess. I would suggest you take the first position and play it as black against a computer, or even comp vs comp. Observe how it 'crashes through' in that position. Take the second position and do the same. Observe this time the lack of weaknesses to attack. Doing this with a stronger player would be better, but you might not have one lying around.

    Believe it or not, positional chess understanding can't be gained merely from reading articles.

  • hace 5 meses


    Can't wait for next article, great job!

  • hace 5 meses


    Very nice article, Daniel! Also, here is my group link.


    A "missing page" tab might show up. When you get to that page, then you just type in The Chess Studiers and just click on the chess studiers. It is my group, and thank you.

  • hace 5 meses


    This is good for my chess.

  • hace 5 meses


    This is a tremendously instructive article - thanks Daniel!

  • hace 5 meses


    It may be that the article was not intended for a lower rated audience, but, as with much writing about chess from high level players, I couldn't follow most of what you were saying. The problem with most chess writing is that after a long series of moves and variations, the author will conclude with statements, "and now it's all over for white." But for an amateur reading and following along it is in no way clear why it would be all over for white at that point, precisely because he or she lacks the positional understanding you are trying to build.

    For example in your annotations of Sargissian-Tomashevsky you end consideration of the line 33. Be1Qf834. Qb6Rec835. Ra6with the note,  "and White should crash through any minute." but how that will happen is not apparent to the amateur reader.   By contrast in the first section on this game you state (30. dxe5!?Nxe531. Qd4Nc432. Qxf6gxf633. Bf4Kg7and I cannot see a way for White to penetrate. ).  For the life of me, I can't understand why one represents and imminent breakthrough and the other an impenetrable fortress.  Without that understanding, none of this type of analysis makes sense.  To your credit, you try to explore many more lines and points than a typical article like this, but if the ultimate evaluation of a position comes down to a skill that the reader lacks, all of that is just more writing, without more understanding.  Is this article designed for players 1800 and above?  Is there a different sort of article for players in the 1400-1600 range, to help them understand this topic?

    I don't mean to be negative, but to clarify why it seems hard to learn positional chess, unless you already know a ton about positional chess.

    Thanks for your consideration,


  • hace 5 meses


    I think the chess content of this article is good, though not spectacular.

    I think it is basically axiomatic an outpost that cannot be accessed is not useful.  But , I think you define the term "weak square" too broadly.  Weak squares are muh more than a fixed outpost for knight.  The best definition I have heard is weak square is a square that can never again be defended by a pawn. 

    Along these lines, black's problems in the first position are merely amplified by white's ability to slam her knight onto f5, not caused by it.  Black has many other weaknesses, d6, g6, h5, h6, after ...Bxf5, the light squares in general.  White's  space advantage is also quite relavent; she can access black's bad squares but d4 and d3 are totally off limits to black! 

    In virtually every other example you give, the side which creates a weakness is gaining access to other weaknesses of the opponent.  Crucially, the side which creates  the weak square is never gives the opponent further access to other weaknesses. 

  • hace 5 meses


    Very very good article :)

    Thanks for the many hours you surely needed to write this article, but it was time well spent.

    Bravo! Instantly tracked.

  • hace 5 meses

    MI DanielRensch

    Just awesome. It's that simple.

  • hace 5 meses


    Daniel, from a chess perspective, the article is excellent.  You chose an interesting topic that can be covered in decent depth within a single installment, and provided really good examples.  They were just the right mix of classical and modern. 

    I agree with IM Silman, and would note that it's outstanding reading for the 1800-2200 range. (I'm 2029; not that much higher than when we briefly crossed paths) 

    In terms of the writing, I agree with a couple of the early comments, too. I wrote using the exact same way you did back when I was 16-18; ornate language with complex, run-on sentences.  For me, it was at least partially a product of reading lots of 19th century literature, and given your Jane Austen reference, might apply to you, too. :) However, with chess, simpler and more direct is better.  For instance, using "ignore" is better than "eschew" not only because it's "simpler", but also because the former is closer in meaning to what you're trying to convey.  

    This is a small point, but worth noting.  Also, it doesn't afflict your actual annotations, which are very well-written, but the paragraphs in-between.

    Anywho, it's a great start, and I look forward to your future work.  

    Wish you all the very best in your writing and chess, 


  • hace 5 meses


    Thanks for the top quality article with superb annotations. Please continue to share your elegant writing style with the Chess.com readers. In a world of short messages typed with thumbs this article was a tasty buffet. 

  • hace 5 meses


    Great stuff! I very often find myself in the position to absolutely not understand what master players are doing - and now, after reading your article, I can see that this is at least partly because I am glued to the "basic rules" like "dont create weak squares" and have no space left for the exception. Your article very well points out that in certain positions the exception to the rule makes the difference. that was one of the best articles on chess.com I have ever read! thanks a lot, and keep on writing!

  • hace 5 meses

    GM DanielNaroditsky

    I really appreciate all of the feedback -- both the positive (a special thank you to IM Silman, one of my favorite chess authors -- your praise means a lot to me!) and the constructive criticism, which I will try to put to good use in my next articles.

    LondonSystem22: Thank you for pointing out GM Marin's perspective; I'm glad I changed your mind! :) It truly is remarkable that White can get away with such a weakening, and perhaps Marin was under the impression that Carlsen's idea is objectively dubious -- but after analyzing the position for a while, it seems both objectively justified and, mainly, extremely strong from a practical standpoint. 

  • hace 5 meses

    NM londonsystem22

    Very interesting, educational, and well-written article!  Definitely one of my favorites on chess.com

    However, it is interesting to point out the different perspectives that were to be had on the move e4 in Carlsen-Adams.  On Chessbase, the annotation after e4 reads "Even though Black's knights cannot reach d4 very quickly, the weakness of this square restricts White's active possibilities. White probably thought that he would be able to play Nd5, underestimating Black's answer." (Annotator Marin, M).  The annotator proceeded to give Black's next move c6 and exclamation mark.  When I reviewed the annotation of this game some time ago, I too couldn't understand the logic behind e4 and agreed with the Chessbase annotator.  Now after reading this article, my perspective on that move has changed and I too would now write e4 as e4!!

    Thanks GM Naroditsky!

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