Planning after the Opening


Neil McDonald


Neil McDonald is a popular and prolific author of chess books and his forté is dealing with early middlegame themes and making the best use of positions that occur after the opening.  Prior to "Chess Success" he produced "Chess: The Art of Logical Thinking" and "The Art of Planning in Chess"  (both available from the Batsford catalogue).   These had a common theme and now he has teased out other new aspects of this stage of a chess game.

McDonald has an easy writing style and uses apt phrasing and anecdotes that keep the readers interest from flagging and at times these provide a more succinct explanation than masses of academic language. For instance, consider the following paragraph as part of the annotation to a game Bauer - Gelfand, Biel 2005:

"Note how powerful White's bishops would be if Bauer succeeded in advancing d4-d5 in a favourable way: they would rain down fire on the black king from their adjacent diagonals.  The f7 square would be vulnerable to combinations from the white knight, bishop on a2 and queen.  Hence it is imperative that Black keeps up the blockade on d5"

Another point to notice here.  The author does not assail us with reams of analysis that would require setting up half a dozen boards to understand.  The significant features inherent in the position have been described in a succinct and imaginative manner.  This technique is common to the whole book and with an ample number of diagrams sprinkled throughout the text, it is possible to read the book without sight of a chess board.

Now to the contents.  Here are the chapter headings together with a brief description of the subjects chosen:

  Chapter One - The Smiting style  


Here the author discusses the use of tactics in open positions that quickly decide the outcome of the game and then underlines the need to consider the structure of the position and in particular the role played by pawns in closed games..


Chapter Two - Delaying the moment of tactical truth.


Continuing the theme of closed positions, this chapter acknowledges that some tactical methods are normally used to bring about a decision but in closed positions this has to be delayed and requires the groundwork to be established. 


                                      Chapter Three -  Super symmetry


This chapter discusses methods of continuing when the pawn positions are mirrored such as the position opposite that arrives from the French exchange.


                                    Chapter Four - The support point centre


The term "support-point" (initially coined by Euwe and Kramer) refers to a a special type of square, preferably a centre square, where a piece can be placed that is immune from displacement by an opposing pawn.  This is demonstrated by the position on the right where d5 is support point as is d4 in the diagram to the left.  Both these positions could arise from the Sicilian Defence.


                              Chapter Five - A prickly customer - the Hedgehog

This subject requires little explanation - the diagram opposite says it all.  This can arise from many openings but will often be found in a Sicilian.

                            Chapter Six - Dr Jekyll and Mr Steinitz

There is no need to provide a diagram in explanation of this chapter title - quite simply the subject is the isolated d-pawn.  However, the title itself requires explanation.  The IQP can provide either a winning or a losing theme.  Dr Jekyll would thus be the better side of the IQP, but why Steinitz instead of Mr. Hyde?  The reason - Kramnik described Steinitz' play against Lasker in the 1894 World Championship as being no more than one would expect froma simultaneous player.  Lasker "almost tore his opponent apart."  In doing so Steinitz' handling of the IQP contributed to the result. 

                            Chapter Seven - The dilemma of d5

What dilemma?  In the position opposite White is thinking "When do I exchange on d5?" and Black is thinking "When do I take with the d5-pawn?"  A dilemma for both players.  Here the author discusses the possibility of White maintaining the central tension and fixing the the pawn structure with cxd5.

                         Chapter Eight - Roaring lion and crouching tiger

Here McDonald takes a look at various Indian positions and likens the player of the white pieces the "Roaring lion" and the black player as "The crouching tiger."  Here various pawn structures can emerge i.e. the King's Indian will likely lead to interlocked pawn chains,  whilst the Gruenfeld and Benoni systems will produce fluid pawn structures.

It would be easy to think that these subjects have already been comprehensibly dealt with in other works on chess strategy.  But there is a slight difference in this book - this picks up the game at the end of the opening and describes how the game can then be shaped in accordance with its specific features. What is just as important is the manner in which the author describes these features.  The language chosen makes a lasting impression and one does not put the book aside for another twelve months because of voluminous analysis.  Having respect for the subject matter and the author's communication skills, this book can be thoroughly recommended.  It has been placed in Batsford's  "Club Player - Strategy/Tactics" category.

The recommended price £14:99 and for this you get a volume that contains 267 pages of double column text, ample diagrams and all bound in the imaginative covers that Batsford do so well.

To provide an example of the contents - CLICK HERE to play over the game Leko - Gurevich.

Bill Frost

31st. January 2008