Mastering positional play should be one of every chess player’s goals in their journey to improvement. It is highly important to know how to react in different types of positions and how to select the right plan. Not only this, but you will find it easier to do so during the game if you have studied beforehand the typical plans according to the pawn structure or if you have solved many positional exercises, for example.
It will help you make good moves in a shorter amount of time and it will help you save time for the more complicated moments. But how to get there? The key is always to study and here are some things we suggest you include in your training routine.
1. Typical pawn structures
One of the most important factors in choosing the right plan is the pawn structure you have on the board. Learn how to “read” it and you will understand on which side of the board you have to play, how you are supposed to place your pieces, which ones should be kept and which ones you should try to exchange.
Always pay attention to the changes in the pawn structure and modify your plans accordingly.
Try to keep the central tension for as long as possible and only release it when you are sure that the resulting position will be in your favor. Improve your understanding of the pawn structure by seeing many games played by Grandmasters and trying to understand the moves they make and the plans they seek to employ.
2. Games of the classical players
We always emphasize how important this step is in any player’s training routine. Nowadays, when everybody uses the engine to analyze their games, you can see the influence of the machine in many of the top players’ games.
They play fantastic chess, but one that is sometimes difficult to understand.
However, if you turn on the engine, you will find that most of their moves are the computer’s first choice. This will rarely happen in the classics’ games. The ideas employed are most of the times clear and it is beautiful to watch how they convert a positional advantage “by the book”.
3. Switch off the engine
Nowadays, most of the players can’t even conceive watching a game without turning the engine on. With the computer’s evaluation in front all the times, it is easy to criticize a move or consider the engine’s first choice as obvious. However, this will not help your chess. In order to improve, you have to try to find moves by yourself, without any kind of help.
So, next time you are watching a game online, switch off the engine and try to find a good move yourself. Consider it as an exercise; use everything you have learned so far exactly as if you were playing the game.
Another useful thing to do when you are looking at the games of strong players is to try to understand why they played the way they did and what their plan is (again, without the help of the engine).
4. Solve many positional exercises
These ones, just like the tactical exercises, are very important for the improving player. You can solve them from books or you can select them yourself by stopping at the critical moments of a game and trying to find the right way to continue.
From the positional point of view, you can recognize the critical moment as the moment where you have to find a suitable plan for your position.
These are only a few ideas that you can apply in order to improve your positional understanding. Of course, you must not forget about studying the most important positional patterns such as the bishop pair, opposite color bishop, knight vs bishop, favorable tandems, etc. either. They are all equally important and by understanding all of them you will certainly see an improvement in your games.