Interconnectedness in Chess

One of the lessons I’ve been trying to internalize about chess is interconnectedness. Nothing happens on the chessboard in isolation.

One of the habits we chess improvers need to refine is to consider the entire board. We often focus our attention on one part of the board and neglect the rest. We talk about the center, the kingside, the queenside. These are artificial divisions important in our strategic planning. It’s vital that we also remember that strategies and tactics which emerge on one part of the board can impact other parts of the board in important and (sometimes) unexpected ways. “Tunnel vision” is a failure to see interconnectedness.

Another habit we need to refine is giving full consideration to the plans and ideas of our opponents. Strong chess players are flexible about their strategic thinking. If they see that the circumstances on the board have changed significantly, they adjust their plans. Perhaps they even abandon their current plan and adopt another, one better suited to the totality of circumstances in the current game. Weak players bear on, as if conditions have not changed. When we focus on our own plans and ideas exclusively, we invite unpleasant surprise.

Advice I’ve read somewhere on choosing a repertoire suggested that intermediate players begin by thinking about the kinds of middlegames and endgames they prefer. I’ve seen heated forum discussions about when the opening ends and the middlegame begins or when the middlegame transitions to the endgame. Experienced players know that the opening, the middlegame, and the endgame are related. What happens in middlegame evolves out of the opening and (similarly) what occurs in the endgame is determined in large part by what happened in the middlegame.

Developing a better intuition for interconnectedness on the chessboard will help improve your thinking processes at the board.

For example, should you take on doubled pawns for some other concession? Novices tend to think of doubled pawns as weaknesses. Often, they are. Whether to accept them, however, requires careful consideration. And, not just thinking about the short-term consequences. Accepting doubled pawns can have long-term implications that might even affect a different part of the board entirely.

Making decisions in chess is like squeezing a balloon. We apply pressure in one spot but the effect is distributed much more widely. Pinch a balloon in the center (assuming it doesn’t pop) and the balloon will bulge on either side or both.

Glenn Mitchell