The Grand Synthesis:

Let us first discuss current budding chess players' dilemma:

Strategic vs Tactical, Positional vs Combinational: This is the biggest confusion a budding chess player has today. Many players are talented enough to make very good and deep combinations but are thrashed by their coaches that they must play positional chess. On the other hand, many players are slow maneuvering positional players but are forced to make brilliant combinations by coaches. Though on higher levels (say above 2000 FIDE), one has to be very good both positionally and combinationaly but below that a new player especially a child must be allowed to enjoy his game in the best style which he naturally likes.

Which phase to study most - Endgames, Middlegames or Openings: Most of the books recommend that endgames shall be studied first because endgames teach you the exact power of each piece or pawn and precision in your moves. Many endgame situations emerge at some part of your board in the middlegame and opening phases themselves and you can use your endgame knowledge to gain advantage at that part of the board. For example, delivering check mate with a bishop and knight may not occur actually in your game but the coordination which you learn by studying such ending helps us in achieving bishop and knight coordination in the middle game phase too. Though many argue that what is the benefit of studying endgame when a chess game can end in opening itself and keep studying opening traps all their life. Though opening traps are a good part to study but after knowing some traps, your job is to avoid falling yourself into it but stressing too much on them may not get you too far especially at 60:30 or 90:30 time controls as your opponent comes prepare with all those traps and may not fall into it and you situation may get spoiled positionally in getting that trap. Hence, equal emphasis on all three phases and in-between transitions too can only help one become a great player. Though starting with a mastery on endgames is an excellent idea in a sense that an endgame expert is always confident of winning the game as any chess game is finally going to enter the endgame.

Calculation at each move - Generation of candidate moves: Following system can be applied on each move in chess:

Always watch closely, your opponent's last move or better set of moves made by him. In this aspect chess is similar to cricket where a batsman has to always watch the bowling hand of the bowler and bowler the batsman position.

1. Check for Mate & Attacking possibilities: Always check if you can mate your opponent's king with your next move. If yes just mate him and you will win the game whatever the situation be on the board.
If your next move or set of moves have no possibility of mating your opponent's king, then check if your opponent is going to mate your king on next move or in a set of moves and if yes find the escape plan or a precise plan to mate your opponent's king before he does that.
Even if there are no mating possibilities, check for the attacking possibilities.

2. Check for combinations: At each move, check if your opponent has laid some combinations for you. If yes, think how you can refute that. If no, think if you can put some combination. Also, check if your combination does not affect you positionaly much. Combinations can be checked as per following elements and their combinations:
(i) Discovery: My piece is shielding an opponent's piece from attack from another of my pieces. Now if my shielding piece moves so that it attacks another opponent's piece, then one of the two opponent's pieces is lost. And if my piece delivers a check after moving then opponent's piece is surely lost and it is called discovered check.
(ii) Skewer: If two of your opponent's heavy pieces fall in the same range (side or diagonal) of one of your pieces (Bishops or Rooks), opponent will have to loose one of those pieces.
(iii) Fork: If your pawn, bishop or knight attacks two or more of your opponent's pieces in different directions, it is called fork. Opponent will have to loose one piece in most cases.
(iv) Back rank mates: If your opponent's king on first or last rank has no place to move any rank above (due to pawns), he gets mated. Many combinations are based on this theme.
(v) Pawn promotions: If one or more of your pawns reaches last rank, it gets promoted to the piece you want and you gain massively.
(vi) Pawn breakthroughs: Through a jugglery of pawn moves, you can gt a passed pawn and queen it.
(vii) Pawn storms: You may take a series of pawns ahead and create big problems for your opponent's king.
(viii) Smothered Mate or attack: If your opponent's king, queen or any piece except knight is surrounded by your opponent's pieces and there is no place to escape then if your knight attacks it from a safe place (from where it can not be taken), you will be able to mate your opponent or take that piece. 

3. Perform a thorough positional analysis: A six step MOSCOW system (developed by Michael Stean though not in this exact name) can be used to perform positional analysis:

(i) M - Minority Attack: Often it is said that if your opponent has got more pawns in one side than you, he has all probability to create passed pawn and trouble for you. But Minority attack is a clever technique through which you having less number of pawns can create trouble for your opponent. Mastering this tool can help you a lot in real games and leave your opponent with backward or isolated pawn. 
(ii) O - Outposts: An outpost is a square in opponent area which cannot be attacked by opponent pawns. A piece (mostly a knight but may be bishop or rook too) on a central outpost applies significant pressure on the opponent and controls the game quite efficiently in your favour. Pawn structures quite often generate outposts. If you have more number of outposts than your opponent, you can control and win the game provided you can occupy those outposts in time.
(iii) S - Space: Essence of chess is mobility of pieces. Hence, if you have got more space in middle-game, your pieces can move more freely and can even help you in switching attack from one side of the board to the other side and win the game. If your opponent has got less space, it is your duty to restrict him further so that his pieces get maximum difficulty in coming out.
(iv) C - Colors (White Color or Black Color strategy): Positional Chess quite often depends on controlling the white squares or black squares in your opponent's camp (mostly near opponent king) through your long range piece - bishop. Bishop in fact is the most helpful piece in positional play. Many openings and middle-games are based on this color strategy.
(v) O - Open files & diagonals: Open files help your rooks and queen to reach the squares in your opponent camp (mostly near opponent king) faster and mate the opponent. In fact, if your opponent king is at the first or last rank and your rooks or rook and queen reach seventh rank (if you are white) or second  rank (if you are black) than your winning chances are quite high. Similarly, open diagonals help your bishops create maximum damage to your opponent.
(vi) W - Weak Pawns: If you can create weak pawns in your opponent camp (isolated pawn, backward pawn, doubled pawns, too advanced pawns, hanging pawns etc.) and limit such weaknesses in your camp, your chances of winning the endgame are quite high.

4. Planning & Judgement: This is the most difficult part. Judging the opponent's plans accurately (you must know your opponent's prospects more than him) and creating counterplans. Also, Creating concrete plans for yourself and judging which one will be most difficult to be countered by the opponent. Karpov's Seven reference points (MTK OPSD) for chess accounting can be used to judge a position accurately:
1. Material relationship
2. Threats
3. King Positions
4. Open Lines
5. Pawn Structure
6. Space & Center
7. Development & mobility of pieces

Though it is a matter of personal taste  but I found GM Moskolenko's five touchstones very useful in planning in my recent tournament win. These touchstones are MDPKT:
1. Material
2. Development
3. Placement of Pawns and Pieces
4. King position
5. Time: This is not the time on chess clocks (though that is also one very important factor) but the speed at which an attack can be organized. For example, in one endgame I promoted my pawn to queen and my opponent also did the same on next move (both of us were having one rook each but my opponent an extra pawn too) but since my queen came into action first, it delivered mate with the help of my rook and opponent could not get time (a move) to bring his queen in action and try to win or draw the game.

At each move, we can plan next move keeping these five touchstones in mind. In fact, Development goes into background after first ten moves or so (if you have developed properly which is the main goal in the opening phase of chess game) and we need only take four touchstones MPKT into account. Also, I found that with white pieces, you may develop in 8 to 10 moves but with black pieces, full development takes a bit of more moves (or time) say 12-15 moves.

5. Play the Endgame thoroughly: Prepare a set of key endgames and apply your knowledge skillfully in the middle to endgame transitions and in endgame.

6. Creativity & Innovation: Whatever chess study we perform, we must understand that in chess, we need to outwit our opponent at some point or the other. Hence, as the level grows, our own creativity & innovation ability takes center stage and at GM or Super GM levels, we have to devise and discover chess knowledge and concepts on our own. At other levels also, our own winning moves do matter though we need to be through in winning technic too.

(More to come.....)


1. "My System" by Aaron Nimzowitsch
2."Find the Right Plan with Anatoly Karpov" by Anatoly Karpov and Anatoly Matsukevich, Batsford Publications 2008. 
3. "Simple Chess" by Michael Stean
4. "Revolutionize Your Chess" by Victor Moskolenko
5. "Judgement & Planning in Chess" by Max Euwe
6. "Soviet Middlegame Techniques" by Peter Romanovsky
7. "Unlocking the Grand Master's Mind" by GM Maxim Dlugy 

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