Read Your Position
Tempo's admiration for Karpov made me read again one of his books, «Stellungsbeurteilung und Plan» (positional evaluation and plan). I had read it years ago, but I think I did not make much profit from it because of my tactical weakness. Now I have begun to read it again and to replay his annotated games. Great, great.
Yesterday we had a blitz turney at our club. I am bad at blitz and normally score below 50%. Yesterday I made 4/7. After the turney I played 6 blitz games with a pal. I won all. And it was kind of a slow walk.
What has changed? Well, I just used some focus on reading the position as Karpov recommends in his book. And then make a plan to exploit it. In most of the won games I managed to make a continuous plan and to get a position that remained constant for some moves so that I was able to stay with my plan for several moves. So my time I had invested in earlier moves was not wasted due to a sudden change. And more: It allowed me to use the time of my opponent.
Karpov evaluates a position according to seven criteria. They are not new, of course, every beginner should know them. But the art of position reading is to take the right conclusions and to build a good plan. The seven criteria, by the way, are all connected to tactics in some way. Without tactics, there can be no sound positional play:
- Material: Every imbalance in material must be the result of a tactic. Either one side has missed a tactic or has used a tactic to sacrifice material.
- Threats: This is pure tactics.
- Safety of the Kings: This is the main issue of all tactics.
- Control of open lines and diagonals: This element plays a major role in many tactical operations: pins, skewers and more.
- Pawn structure, strong and weak squares: Most pieces that play a role in tactics operate from strong squares and exploit weak squares.
- Center and space: Again a main tactical element.
- Development and positon of pieces: Plays a major role in tactics such as piece trapping, removal of the guard and more.
My long-term plan now is to learn more from Karpov and then try to use his position reading and plan making for the annotation of my own games. What I admire most is how clearly Karpov explains the big plan of a game: First build a strong position. Then exploit your strengths and prevent your opponent to exploit your weaknesses. Open lines as soon as your major pieces are ready. Invade, set up pressure. Force the opponent to passive defending moves, weakening his position. Realize your advantage. It is clear that tactics is required here. Without tactics the advantage would just evaporate, for example if the opponent manages to trade his bad pieces against your good pieces.