Müller/ Engel: Player types - a review

by Christian Hoethe
1/24/2022 – Can players be classified into certain types? On their new ChessBase course Karsten Müller and Luis Engel follow a model of Danish Grandmaster Lars Bo Hansen and distinguish between four types of players and illustrate their different playing styles with typical games. This model helps to understand your own strengths and weaknesses and the strengths and weaknesses of your opponents better. Christian Höthe took a look at the course.

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Review: "Player Types" by Müller and Engel

I know of hardly any other Grandmaster who is as interested in passing on his knowledge and sharing it with others as Karsten Müller is. His ChessBase courses on the most diverse types of endgames are legendary and have earned him the reputation of being one of the greatest endgame experts around. In recent years, however, he has also devoted himself to topics of opening theory, and chess philosophy. In 2020 appeared his book "The Human Factor in Chess", which he wrote together with the young German Grandmaster Luis Engel. In this book Engel and Müller classify the playing styles of top players, distinguishing between four types of players, and they now published their findings in a ChessBase course.

Who hasn't experienced this? The next round of an open or team match is coming up, you know the name of your opponent, and the database spits out a handful of his or her games. Now the question arises: how do you play most effectively against this particular type of player? How do you recognise their strengths and weaknesses, do you play risky or risk-free?

It is precisely this question that Müller and Engel addressed in the aforementioned book, and with this ChessBace course of a full 7 hours of playing time they present an ideal digital supplement to the book, which, however, can be used wonderfully independent of each other.

In their "player types" model, Müller and Engel follow the Danish Grandmaster Lars Bo Hansen, who first presented his concept of "player types" in his book "Foundations of Chess Strategy" from 2005. Hansen divided chess players into so-called "Activists", "Reflectors", "Pragmatists", and "Theoreticians". He was the first to deal intensively with the question of how much the individual playing style influences our decision-making at the board. One of the questions that has always interested me!

Hansen called this "The role of the human factor in chess" and asked his readers to define their chess style on the basis of personal characteristics and preferences analogous to his guidelines. These characteristics were filled with concrete content according to the respective player types in the chapters, so that one could ultimately assign oneself to a certain player type. I liked this concept at the time and I still find it extremely helpful today.

The following quote from Grandmaster Vincent Keymer, currently Germany's strongest player, shows that professionals also consider such an approach helpful:

"As part of the preparation for my opponents, I often try to research their typical player characteristics with the help of a database in the shortest possible time. When I try to assign certain significant character traits to them, my main starting point is asking typical questions like the following: Do they like dynamic positions or do they plan their game as strategically as possible? - How do they react in time trouble or under other kinds of pressure? - Do they like to go into endgames? - How high is their willingness to take risks? - In this respect it can be helpful to draw conclusions about the type of player, and thus about strengths and weaknesses, by looking at the openings they play - or to use the characteristics of certain players to infer the likelihood of which opening lines they might choose."

Müller and Engel expand on the concept presented by Hansen with examples from the work of such top players as Kasparov, Carlsen, Kramnik, Anand, etc.
Once you have identified what type of player you are, you want to know:

  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of each type of player?
  • How and against whom do I emphasise my strengths or how do I best conceal my weaknesses?
  • How do I ideally play against representatives of other styles or against representatives of my own?
  • How do I concentrate more on my strengths and become an overall chess "all-rounder"?

This is where Müller and Engel do pioneering work and provide a myriad of practical examples and valuable tips to guide you.

The chapters contain descriptions of the numerous strengths and weaknesses of the four  player types. Müller and Engel clearly explain why certain players tend to certain positions and what advantages and disadvantages this might have.

The numerous illustrative games include old and well-known gems such as Karpov-Unzicker 1974 with the move 24.Ba7! right next to more recent ones such as Carlsen-Caruana, Sao Paulo/Bilbao 2012.


I also liked the division of tasks between the two authors: Müller and Engel each discuss different chapters and player types. Müller concentrates on the "theorists" and "activists", while Engel takes on the "reflectors" and "pragmatists". This brings variety to the presentation and gives the presentation a more personal "touch". This is especially true, when Müller and Engel presents their own games, such as Engel-Albornoz Cabrera, in which an incredible "pragmatic" rook sacrifice saved the game for the co-author.


If you are interested in making your game more perfect on all levels, you should reach for the new course by Müller and Engel. You will find the theoretical tools with which you can question the efficiency of your own style, and you will certainly be able to transform weakness into strength! I am sure that purchasing this course is far more worthwhile than a look at the latest opening monograph!

I close with a quote from GM Vincent Keymer that could hardly be more appropriate:

"I find it interesting and instructive to get insights into the way of thinking of other types of players. Studying the different approaches and the resulting strong and effective characteristics of others is certainly useful for every chess player and can help to expand the own spectrum. From my point of view, one of the important messages of this book consists in the idea that you can actually influence or change your player characteristics through insight, will and training.."

The 4 Player Types standard model - Find your strengths and weaknesses and those of your opponent

Playing styles in chess are an important and thus often discussed topic. GM Dr. Karsten Müller and GM Luis Engel take up a model by GM Lars Bo Hansen based on 4 player types - namely ‘activists’, ‘pragmatics’, ‘theoreticians’ and so-called ‘reflectors’.

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Christian Hoethe was born in 1975, is father of two daughters and one son, lives in Brunswick, Germany, and learned chess relatively late, at the age of 13, from his father. At his peak he reached an Elo of 2247. He plays for the German club SC Wolfsburg where he also teaches once a month.


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