Positional Calculation

I introduced this term a few posts ago when I was trying to explain Carlsen’s dip in form at the Gashimov Memorial. It is a term I invented for my own purposes and it is about the calculation that is done in quiet positions, when there is no tactics and general plans and principles come to the fore. In the last round of the 4NCL I played a game that illustrates this concept very astutely, so I’ll present the complete game here. Bear in mind that all the lines in the notes are the lines I calculated during the game, unless otherwise stated (which is only once, in the note to black’s 17th move).

Colovic,A (2479) – Sowray,P (2348) [A89]
4NCL, 2014

1.d4 f5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.0-0 0-0 6.b3 d6 7.Bb2 Ne4 

 8.c4 [8.Nfd2 was an alternative, but eventually I decided to go for the more central approach. The reason was that I already saw the line leading to the endgame from the game] 8…Nc6 9.Nc3 Nxc3 10.Bxc3 Kh8 not really necessary, as black has no choice but to push …e5 [I was expecting 10…e5 11.dxe5 dxe5 12.Qd5+ Kh8 13.Qxd8 Rxd8 14.Ng5

which is very similar to the game, here white’s rook is still on a1. This was the endgame I was aiming for. I reached this position when analysing my game against Rendle, from the previous 4NCL weekend and I considered it quite favourable for white as after taking on c6 white will have a very easy game against black’s weaknesses] 11.Rc1 e5 12.dxe5 dxe5 13.Qxd8 Rxd8 14.Ng5! Rf8 15.Bxc6 bxc6 16.Ba5 

From this moment the game is a good illustration of the concept of positional calculation. All that was necessary was to calculate lines a few moves ahead and to be aware of black’s ideas. [16.Rfd1 a5 was what I wanted to avoid] 16…Bf6 I thought this was the only move. [16…Bh6 17.h4+/- with the idea of Bc3,f4; 16…h6 17.Nf3 e4 18.Nh4 with a tempo 18…Kh7 19.Bxc7] 17.Nf3 [I wasn’t sure whether to insert 17.h4 h6 as in some lines it was useful for me, and in others it was useful for him. Eventually I decided against it, as it gave him the opportunity to reduce the material on the kingside and gain space there with …g5]

17…Rf7? after this it’s really difficult to pinpoint where black could have played better as the remaining of the game seems to be a smooth ride for white [I was expecting 17…e4 18.Ne1 Rf7 19.Nc2 with Nb4 or Rfd1 and Nd4 to come and I thought I was doing quite alright, but after 19…f4!

black seems to be able to activate his bishops. I saw the move, but underestimated its strength. What follows is the computer analysis of the position 20.gxf4 (20.Nb4 fxg3 21.hxg3 Bb7; 20.e3 Bh3 21.Rfd1 Bg4 22.Rd2 fxg3 23.hxg3 c5 24.Rd5 Raf8 25.Rxc5 Bb2 26.Rf1 Bh3 with counterplay; 20.Kg2 g5 21.Rfd1 Kg7 22.Nd4 fxg3 23.hxg3 Bg4 with counterplay) 20…g5! 21.fxg5 Bxg5 22.Bc3+ Kg8 23.Ra1 (23.Rcd1? Bh3 24.Rfe1 Bh4-/+)23…Bh3 24.Rfd1 Bh4 with counterplay] 18.Rfd1 [18.Bc3 forces 18…Re7 19.Rfd1 Bb7 20.Bb4 Rf7 but I couldn’t see why this was better than the game continuation] 18…Bb7 [18…e4?! 19.Nd4] 19.Ne1 with ideas like Nd3-c5 or Nc2-b4

19…Re8 [19…e4 again this was what I expected 20.Nc2 (20.c5 Ba6 21.e3 with the idea of Bc3 was my alternative, leaving him only with a white-squared bishop and the knight is coming to d4)20…c5 21.Ne3+/-] 20.Nd3 Bc8 

21.Bc3! preventing possible …Be6 and preparing to play f4, which is the ideal for white here – the dark-squared bishops will be exchanged and black will be stuck with horrible pawn weaknesses and a bad bishop on c8 [21.Nc5 threatens nothing 21…Kg8; 21.Nb4 Bb7 and the bishop is stuck on a5] 21…Kg7 22.e3 with f4 to come and black cannot prevent it [the immediate 22.f4 wasn’t very good 22…exf4 23.Nxf4 Rfe7 here I realised that I’d prefer to take on f4 with a pawn, hence the game move] 22…g5 

23.f4+- this is already strategically winning for white 23…exf4 24.Bxf6+ Rxf6 25.exf4 Re2?! after so much suffering, he finally decides to go active, but as usual, it only hastens the end [25…gxf4 26.Nxf4 was pretty grim too 26…Rd6 27.Kf2] 26.fxg5 Rf8 

27.Nf4 after some thought I continued to play for domination [27.a4 was my alternative, and I couldn’t decide between this and the game move 27…c5 28.Re1+- (28.Nxc5?! f4! 

and things start to get messy – this was the reason I went for the game move, even though I saw the better moves 28 Re1 and 28 Nf4; 28.Nf4+-) 27…Rxa2 28.Ra1 Rxa1 29.Rxa1 black is completely paralysed 29…a6 30.Rd1 Kf7 31.Kf2 Be6 

32.Re1 forcing him back to go back immediately 32…Bc8 [32…Bd7? 33.Nd3; 32…Re8? 33.Rxe6 Rxe6 34.Nxe6 Kxe6 35.Ke3+-] 33.Nd3 Rd8 34.Ne5+ Kf8 [34…Kg7 35.Nxc6 Rd2+ 36.Re2 Rd3 37.Re7+]

35.Ke3 again not allowing him any counterplay [35.Nxc6 Rd2+ 36.Re2 Rd3 was what I was trying to prevent, even though I saw it’s winning after 37.Re7+-] 35…Rd6 36.h4 h6 

37.gxh6! [37.g6 was very tempting, but after 37…Kg7 38.h5 Kf6 39.Nf7 Re6+ 40.Kf2 Rxe1 41.Kxe1 f4! 42.gxf4 Bg4 all of a sudden B draws!

After seeing all this it was easy to decide to take on h6] 37…Rxh6 38.Rd1! Ke7 39.Kf4 Re6 40.h5 a move on general basis, but in fact I saw that I transpose to a winning rook endgame 40…Kf6 [40…Rd6 41.Rxd6 Kxd6 42.h6]

41.Rd8! the point 41…Rxe5 42.Rf8+ Kg7 43.Rxc8 Rc5 44.Rxc7+ Kh6 45.Rf7 Ra5 46.Rxf5 [46.Rxf5 Ra3 47.Rf6+! Kg7 (47…Kxh5 48.g4+ Kh4 49.Rh6# was the point behind the check on move 4748.Rxc6 Rxb3 49.Rxa6 was the final calculation I had to do in this game] 1-0

As you can see I didn’t calculate a lot in this game and what I calculated wasn’t very complex. The required state of mind in these types of position is the harmony of intuition and calculation. The intuition “suggests” a move and then, provided the calculation is precise (and when it is, it is a sign of good form), it is justified by the calculation. Additionally, the precise calculation leads to clarity of the evaluation, as seeing clearly what lies in every position allows you to evaluate it correctly – the typical example was the line after 37 g6 and the position when white is two pawns up but black draws. In my opinion this is the thought algorithm used by the great intuitive technical players such as Capablanca, Karpov and Carlsen: their intuition would “tell” them the correct move and then they would proceed to verify it with precise calculation. As long as their calculations stay precise they never make mistakes and stay on top of their game. But I don’t see a reason why a player of any strength shouldn’t try to play in the same manner. In my experience following your own intuition brings you much more inner comfort and satisfaction during the game so even if only for that it is a path worth following.

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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  • May 12,2014 at 10:52 am


  • Anonymous
    May 9,2014 at 2:42 pm

    Very nice and instructive!

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