Now and then, I hear a non-chess-player make an analogy using the game of chess, suggesting that some competitive business advantage is like being able to play two moves in a row in chess. I try to point out that being able to play two arbitrary legal moves in a row in chess is not just some kind of small or large advantage, but an overwhelming one. For example, suppose it only takes one move to push a Pawn forward attacking your opponent’s Queen: this means that given two moves in a row, you could win a Queen without doing any of the ordinary back-and-forth calculation that characterizes the complexity and beauty of chess.
However, the fantasy of playing two moves in a row is quite an important one, the first step toward making plans, if we place some constraints on the nature of the two moves.
First of all, as already mentioned, it’s cheating if you imagine a sequence of moves in which the first move creates a deadly threat but in reality your opponent could block it easily, without making some other serious concession, because that’s like being allowed a two-move sequence in a fight in which you get to both get in close and the deliver a blow, when in real life the whole trick is how to get in close without being punched back in the first place.
If your opponent can block the threat of the first move, but you have calculated a second move in response to the first defensive move that has no good defense, then what we have is a two-move combination. Although it is very important to be able to see and calculate combinations, this also is not what I’m talking about here. A tactical combination is where you figure out how to strike your opponent so that even after he puts up his best possible block, this leaves an opening for you to then deliver the final blow.
Rather, I’m talking about imagining two moves in a row where you pretend you have an opponent who will take minimal care to protect himself (avoiding immediate mate, loss of material, etc.), but at the same time may not be super aggressive. This fantasy works best if the position at hand is at least “closed” enough so that it is plausible for each of you to maneuver in your own space without stepping on the other.
Ten moves in a row!
In fact, the most closed position possible is the initial board, with nobody having played a move yet! This position is so closed that you can, and should, imagine that you can play not only two moves in a row, but more like ten.
Try this exercise, both as White and as Black. Keeping in mind to be consistent with your actual opening repertoire, set up the board and play the first ten moves of your ideal setup, with the assumption that you can only place Pawns and pieces on your half of the board. Be honest: do not just pile everything up on the f7 square, for example.
What does your setup say about what your middlegame plans are before you even make a move in each game that you play?
You might also want to test out playing this ideal position against someone who has not yet made any moves. Theoretically you should be able to win, with such a lead in development. You can even test out your ideal position against a computer engine and see how well you can do against best defense (one way to do this is to set up a position by forcing the computer to just move a Knight out and back home for ten moves).
Here are some sample positions that reflect different opening choices. Create your own!
Typical for many beginning players:
A more advanced setup:
Black setups are a lot trickier because typical opening theory has them being different from White setups as a result of forcing play by White. A mistake I see often is when someone as Black plays passively because of following a invisible script that is relevant only because of best play by White. But if White plays passively, there is no reason Black cannot immediately adopt an ideal setup rather than a compromise defensive setup.
Here is a Black setup that is less aggressive than one White might choose with colors reversed, but is often the best that can be done given constraints from early in the opening:
Here is another typical realistic Black setup. Note that if not for typical constraints placed by White, Black could already have moved a Pawn from c6 to c5. Depending on what your opponent as White do, you don’t have to follow the usual script, if you understand what you’re aiming for and your opponent allows you to take a shortcut to it.