The first type of center we are going to examine is the closed center in which white has released the central tension by playing the move d5. Even though this is optional, in many variations of the Closed Ruy Lopez it is the best strategy:
- Often better than exchanging on e5 and get a Ruy Lopez symmetrical center
- And also usually better than letting Black capture on d4 and get a Ruy Lopez mobile center
… but there are exceptions !
I chose to start with this formation because a fixed structure gives both sides more freedom for strategic maneuvering. When there is no apparent central tension it is easier to undergo complicated, long-term plans without being interrupted by your opponent.
A structure like this can arise from many variations of the main line Closed Spanish.
Stjepan Tomić is a strong player and famous youtuber with his Hanging Pawns channel. His goal is to become a Grandmaster and to share his new Chess knowledge with the community.
Kasparov said that having a knight on f5 is half way to victory. Ben Finegold said knife f5, which has the same meaning. A knight jumping into f5 often means too much tactical dominance. So bear that in mind in relation to everything else in this chapter.
This is a central structure in which knowledge of strategic plans and pattern recognition is most useful. Let us start with main ideas for black.
Ideas for Black
Playing the move g6 is one of black’s strongest strategic ideas. It is a multi-purpose move, whose benefits are multiple.
One other thing has to be emphasized. If you want your bishop on b7, looking at the long diagonal, and not on c8 controlling f5, then you have to safeguard the f5 square. Therefore, when the c8 bishop is developed to b7, g6 is almost a must-play move.
A good example of how g6 can “control the game” without too much risk is the game played in the 1994 Amber Rapid between Anand and Ivanchuk.
Analyze this game as an exercise in understanding the purpose behind the move g6. Try to list 3 things that g6 enabled or prevented.
Attacking the center with c6
A very common theme in closed center positions is that the side with less space attempts to disrupt the space advantage by attacking the head of the pawn chain.
So what white will be doing now is similar to a Najdorf or a Sveshnikov strategy: increasing control over d5 in any way possible, for example, by trading his bishop for the f6 knight. That being said, black’s strategy is not bad, otherwise the Sicilian Defense would not be played.
Waiting too long
Have a look at the game played in the 1993 Candidates final between Short and Timman.
Short ended up winning that game, but this final position was equal. This game shows the risk of waiting too long with Black to play the c7-c6 pawn breakthrough.
Advancing with c4 and occupying c5
This strategy can seldom be employed, but when it is, it can be quite aggressive.