It’s All About Patterns

Anyone who has taken lessons with me or worked through The Power Chess Program will know how keen I am on categorizing positions according to pawn structure rather than openings. This one’s a nice example, the Black pawn on c5 creating problems for his entire queenside but with the position arising from the ultra-flexible 1.g3.

I actually learned about this stuff from very different openings, for example in the Pirc Defence Black should usually be prepared to take on c5 with a piece rather than his d6 pawn. There are also some positions like this with colors reversed, for example the Old Indian after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 d6 3.Nc3 e5 4.dxe5 dxe5 5.Qxd8+ Kxd8. At first sight you have to think this position should be rather bad for Black because of the loss of time and castling rights, but it makes a bit difference that White has put his c-pawn on the c4 square. This has some subtle effects on the position, for example he can’t then play e2-e4 without leaving a hole on d4.

This kind of positional understanding is one of the distinguishing features of strong players, how is it that they just feel these things? The answer is just massive exposure to chess which gives them a broad based  bank of chess patterns that exists at a subliminal level. And trying to develop strength via the various short cuts on offer (usually opening related) are the chess equivalent of trying to emulate Rembrandt via painting by numbers.

Are there any short cuts to acquiring this sort of knowledge or are we back to the usual thousands of hours of study? Well I think that conscious identification of different chess patterns can make their assimilation rather more efficient, but there’s still no substitute for putting in the work.