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This is our second article about planning in Chess. In the first article, we saw how Botvinnik optimized his pieces’ activity in the Carlsbad structure. This happened in a seemingly quiet exchange variation of the Queen’s gambit declined.

Valeri Lilov is a 2438-ranked International Master, through his website, he is delivering personal Chess training to help people improving their Chess skills.

Before going into the game, let me remind you a few important aspects of planning. Planning is about knowing what you want to achieve and in which part of the Chessboard you want to achieve it. It comes together with optimizing your pieces’ activity: of course, it is easier to find a good plan with active and coordinated pieces. But planning also has to take into account the opponent’s moves, in order to be able to react and, possibly, change plans if the opponent does not react as planned.

After 12 moves of the game Botvinnik-Keres, 1952, the following position was reached:

The correct plan here is to play in the center. Here is what could happen if White plays on the Queenside.

The previous line shows how dangerous the position can become quickly for White. It is remarkable how fast Black can build his attack, and also that even if White plays the best moves, Black remains somewhat better and gets the initiative anyway.

Thus, choosing the right plan matters, and we will see how the play in the center from White efficiently inhibits Black’s attacking plans.

The better control of the center is the strategic reason behind the move f2-f3. But, before playing such move, White has to check that Black cannot build a strong attack on the Kingside. This is very important.

This moment was very interesting and the question Botvinnik had to answer can be extended to many types of positions where you are finally able to make “that” move you were looking forward to playing: Should you play it immediately, or delay the move and improve your pieces’ coordination ?

If you play immediately “the move”:

  • On the plus side, you achieve your objective (here e3-e4) as soon as possible.
  • On the minus side, as your pieces are maybe not well coordinated, you increase the risk of a strong counterplay from your opponent.

If you delay playing the move:

  • On one hand, you can set up your pieces perfectly and therefore make your targeted move (e3-e4) even stronger.
  • On the other hand, if your opponent can remove your threat or get some activity elsewhere forcing you to react, you may never get the chance to complete your plan.

So, what is the good plan ? There is no generic answer of course but here:

  • There is no way Black can prevent the move e3-e4, given the control White has on this square (six pieces controlling it !).
  • We can hardly see how Black could launch a Kingside attack quickly: Black’s pieces are not perfectly placed.

All this suggests that the best practical decision here is to improve your pieces’ play with a move like Ne2-g3 before playing the desired e3-e4. Botvinnik shows a deep strategic sense in this game.

e3-e4 would be a serious mistake in this position.

To complement what I said about Black’s bad Bishop on e6, you will find out more about good and bad Bishops in my definitive article about good and bad bishops.

21 moves have been played. At this point in the game, everything changes:

  • White has completed his plan to push e3-e4 and is certainly better: White has won the opening battle and the early middlegame one as well.
  • Now, despite White’s advantage in space and activity, we can see that the d4-pawn can become a worry for White: Black has already felt that and is starting to put pressure on it with moves like Rd8.
  • Therefore, White must now take a step back and come up with new ideas to capitalize on his better play.

Thanks for following this game so far ! We can say that at move 21, Botvinnik stands better and has already achieved a lot. This position is probably winning already, but now the nature of the game changes and White will have to come up with a new plan and new moves to conclude this game. That is what we are going to see in the third part of the art of planning. See you there !

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