Understanding before Moving 127: Chess history in a nutshell (9)

by ChessBase
5/28/2023 – Herman Grooten is an International Master, a renowned trainer and the author of several highly acclaimed books about chess training and chess strategy. In the 127th instalment of his ChessBase show "Understanding before Moving", Herman continues his series "Chess history in a nutshell". | Photo: Pascal Simon

Key Concepts of Chess - Pawn Structures Vol.1 and 2 Key Concepts of Chess - Pawn Structures Vol.1 and 2

In this two-part course the emphasis will be on typical pawn-structures.


Wilhelm Steinitz (1)

The first to question the so-called romantic style of chess was Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900). He discovered imperfections in many of his contemporaries' combinations, which could be exposed to find the best defence. It seems that Steinitz was the first to approach chess in a scientific way and is therefore considered to be the most important founder of modern strategy.

Steinitz's starting point was that the initial position is perfectly balanced. This remains the case as long as the game proceeds according to the laws of logic. According to him, every move must meet the strategic requirements of the position. However, if one of the two players violates these strategic laws, the balance is lost and the advantage goes to the opponent.

It is commonly argued that Steinitz developed a theory based on the various features of the position. This theory was later summarised in a list called "Steinitz's Table of Elements". The person who drew up this list turned out to be the future World Champion Emanuel Lasker. He was kind enough to give Steinitz credit for it!

Permanent advantages

1) Material advantage 2)  Weakened king's position 3) Passed pawn in the middlegame 4) Weak pawn(s) (of the opponent) 5) Strong and weak squares 6) Fewer Pawn Islands 7) Strong Pawn Centre 8) Bishop Pair 9) Control of a File 10) Control of a Diagonal 11) Control of a Rank

Temporary Advantages

12) Poor position of the opponent's piece(s) 13) Lack of harmony of the opponent's pieces 14) Lead in development 15) Piece pressure in the centre (centralisation) 16) Space advantage

But things are not as black and white as some sources claim. Steinitz played his games, sometimes annotated by himself. In them he dropped terms like "bishop's pair" or "open file". Lasker was able to make such a table on the basis of such annotations.

I personally used the table as a springboard for my book Chess Strategy for Club Players, which won the 2009 Book of the Year award.

In this video we discuss a position with an isolated queen pawn and later the "hanging pawns", in which Steinitz with Black has to defend carefully against one of his rivals, Zukertort.

In the diagram position we see such a case where he has to be careful not to fall victim to an attack. White has just played 25. Re3-h3 with the threat of Qxh7+. This sacrifices the knight on e5. Can Black take this knight with impunity or should he play something else? Try to support your answer with variations.

Master Class Vol. 12: Viswanathan Anand

This DVD allows you to learn from the example of one of the best players in the history of chess and from the explanations of the authors how to successfully organise your games strategically, and how to keep your opponent permanently under pressure.

This week’s show (for Premium Members only)


Reports about chess: tournaments, championships, portraits, interviews, World Championships, product launches and more.