Planning in Chess is the ability to define your strategy for the next few moves. It requires a thorough understanding of the assets of your position: what am I aiming at ? What am I trying to achieve ? All this depends on the characteristics of your position.
Valeri Lilov is a 2438-ranked International Master, through his website, he is delivering personal Chess training to help people improving their Chess skills.
Planning is complex. It is complex because it results from your knowledge of typical positions. When you have studied this position already, you already have an idea of what to do. It is also complex because you should not be afraid to forget about your plan and look for a better one if the circumstances are changing.
In this case, planning does not allow you to stop calculating lines, but it certainly helps to reduce your workload by selecting only the relevant lines. This is an obvious example.
In some other situations, the plan is not obvious, or you may have several plans at your disposal to choose from. Which plan should you choose then ? That case is trickier, but also more interesting. In those cases, you have to consider planning together with:
- the opponent’s moves: You will have to adapt your strategy to his moves.
- your pieces’ activity: a good activity for your pieces creates opportunities
This article considers planning in conjonction with pieces’ coordination and how each of those can help the other. I will illustrate it with a famous game from Mikhaïl Botvinnik played against Paul Keres in 1952. Botvinnik was playing White in this game.
This was a big crossroad: White can continue developing the Bishop, the Knight and other pieces to keep the tension. In this game, Botvinnik chose to clarify the position with the Exchange variation.
With the exchange variation of the Queen’s gambit declined, we have reached the Carlsbad pawn structure, in which White has a couple of well-known ideas to plan for.
But Black can also capture on b5. Does it help ?
That was a quick overview about the minority attack in the Carlsbad pawn structure. If you want to know more, I suggest you to go check my detailed analysis of the Minority attack in Chess. A final word about this: the previous lines seem to give a risk-free advantage for White. This is of course not always the case: the main drawback of the Minority attack is that it is very long to set up, so Black has some time for counter-measures in the center.
But there are other plans in this time of position, and you will see what Botvinnik chose to play. Back to the game now !
In order to come up with a successful plan, it is very important to develop your pieces on good squares, where they can easily coordinate with each other. That way, they are already set for the middlegame fight and you do not have to worry about relocating them. This is more important than, say, getting a space advantage immediately out of the opening you do not know what to do with.
Yet, in this game, Botvinnik developed the Knight to e2, which is an excellent move.
At this point, White should be careful and not play b2-b4 immediately.
Thus the Knight on e2 forces White to be extra-cautious with his Kingside, because any counterattack from Black on that side of the Chessboard will be quick and deadly. Now let’s come back to the game.
So we have reached that point where White has moved his pieces out in an harmonious way and has to choose the right plan. As a reminder, here are these two possible plans.
Attacking in the center is indeed White’s best option at this point. Why ? You will discover it in the second part of this analysis, the art of planning in Chess, part 2. We will see together how Botvinnik prepares his central breakthrough and how the perfect coordination of his pieces helps him to achieve the goal he set in this game.