By Momir Radovic
Last time we identified one critical skill chess masters possess that provides a huge competitive edge over amateurs: it is center of gravity, a concept developed by the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz that works in all situations where two or more parties compete.
In the same way that CoG is a useful reference point for calculations in physics, locating CoG in a position helps you grasp the essence of it and find the right direction where you want to go from there. It saves you time and calculation effort.
CoG as Part of Critical Thinking Process
We like to say that chess promotes critical thinking. So what is critical thinking anyway?
It is a three-step process requiring that you understand a situation you are in before you come to a conclusion about what to do, and then ultimately take the right course of action. It gives you a framework to think in, in chess, or any field of life for that matter. Actually, chess is a perfect paradigm for critical thinking and a powerful tool to practice it with.
Center of Gravity should be the product of the first step in the critical thinking process. When you face a position in front of you, you should always ask questions (such as “What is CoG here?” or “What matters most in this position?”) to clarify the issue. As a matter of fact, the single reason why so many undertakings and decisions fail is that the situation or objective is not clear in the first place.
You should invest more time in clarity stage (as compared to conclusions and decisions phases) when thinking critically. But it commonly takes less total time overall for the whole 3-step process.
Before you is Bent Larsen – Aleksandar Matanovic, Zagreb 1965 (with White to move).
Our task here is to identify the CoG in this position.
Let’s try to first bring some clarity to this position. This will give us ideas where we should actually look for the CoG.
White pieces are much more active. They are all ideally placed. Look at the knights: they occupy perfect attacking posts close to the enemy headquarters, ready to strike at any moment. As a temporary setback, the d4-knight is closing the bishop’s diagonal at the moment. But that can be fixed. The c4-rook is on an open file and is challenged by the black counterpart that just moved Re8-c8 fearing White’s strong Qe3-c3. Yes, the queen is also ideally positioned. She may go to c3 on the long diagonal and behind the rook on an open file, creating two powerful batteries (Bb2-Qc3 and Qc3-Rc4), but she may also move to the K-side really quickly along the c1-h6 diagonal. So every member of the White’s army is doing great job.
Compare now with Black’s army. You can immediately sense that they aren’t as well. There is no target to “glue their action together,” so they look pretty disorganized. They don’t seem to have any useful mission to get on with (CoG cannot be found for them!), and on top of that, their defensive capabilities seem reduced as they are placed a little away from their supreme commander’s post towards which a brutal assault may be currently brewing.
So what may be the most distinctive capability available to White to help press home advantage?
Larsen saw the long diagonal, the highway toward g7, as the main asset and key capability his pieces possess in this position – it is the clear CoG here. It is like the backbone of the position. This gives White the idea what to do next:
1. Nxe6 Rxc4?
1…f6 seemed to be to only move to play on, but that would have left the Black pawn down with a “miserable position” (Larsen). Obviously, on 1…fxe6, 2.Qc3 would have followed.
The Black king resigns, just two moves after the initial position, 1-0.
Did you see how all White’s pieces were drawing their energy from the contact with the long diagonal?
– the bishop and the d4-knight play in sync as (after 1.Nxe6) the long diagonal opens up and they get to double attack g7
– the white queen uses c3 (1…fxe6 2.Qc3 line) to create a powerful double battery, the primary one firing along the long diagonal
– the g4-knight is sacked to help its queen reach h6, which in turn establishes contact with the key square g7
This is an exemplary coordination of pieces working together in a most harmonious way (“the main chess principle throughout,” Capablanca). The full value of individual capabilities of pieces emerges only when they work as a team toward a viable objective.
CoG makes the most efficient use of available resources, attention and time. It is the glue of the position. It gives strength and cohesion to it by creating the essential advantage you need to prevail in your chess battles.
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Next time we are going to introduce the theory of the main characteristic of the position as presented by IM Vladimir Vukovic (the author of the Art of Attack in Chess classic) from his Introduction to Chess, Zagreb 1947. This will appear in English for the first time!
FEATURED PICTURE: Chess Heads, by Betty Ollier-Perez
ABOUT THE ARTIST: Betty Ollier-Perez, aka MissBoll, is a French artist, based in Clermont-Ferrand, France. She is known as the chess painter as there is a marriage between art and chess in her work. She is very interested in the history of chess and all the images associated with it, always on a pictorial journey through time, from Persia to Lewis islands. Visit her at her blog.
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