Added on 6/5/2019

How many times have you found yourself in a closed position, with no idea about how to proceed? Yeah, I know. This is why the ICC, with the collaboration of GM Davorin Kuljasevic, brings you a brand-new video course: "Mastering Closed Positions". Here is the course outline. Many players have problems understanding and playing properly in closed positions. Sometimes you can hear them say: ‘’I don’t know what I am doing in closed positions’’ or ‘’I am not good at maneuvering.’’ – I know the feeling because I had the same issues once and had to work on understanding such positions better. The idea of this video series is to give you some ideas, strategies, and techniques that should help you understand closed positions better.

The main thing is that closed positions require different kind of thinking compared to open or semi-open positions which we get in most games and which most people prefer. ‘’I go hear, he goes there’’ kind of thinking rarely works in closed positions – one should modify their thinking from concrete to abstract (which is what a lot of people fail to appreciate, so they start playing move-to-move without a clear plan, or try to force the position open at any cost). Abstract thinking means that we think in ideas, plans and maneuvers, rather than concrete variations.

Closed positions are generally characterized by static center, increased importance of flank action, and piece maneuvering. They do not necessarily have to be completely blocked - there could be an open/semi-open file on the board or some pawn structure flexibility.

To make our ideas work in such positions, there are several basic principles to follow: pawn breaks on flanks, schematic thinking, prophylactic thinking, and breakthrough.

- Firstly, you always need to keep in mind pawn breaks on the flanks, both for yourself and your opponent. A successful pawn break can help one of the sides get a significant advantage or open up the position favorably.

- Schematic thinking – This is the proper mindset in most closed positions. Before calculating concrete variations, we need to focus on finding ideas and plans (schemes) and try to think at least 3-5 moves ahead.

- Prophylactic thinking – While it is useful to use prophylactic thinking (what my opponent wants?) in any type of position, I believe that its importance increases in closed positions since allowing or missing a strong opponent’s idea can have more serious consequences compared to positions with open center. The simple reasoning is that it is more difficult to obtain counterplay against opponent’s initiative in a closed position because counterplay with the center being closed is often not available.

- Breakthrough – In certain closed positions the opponent sets up barriers of entrance with long pawn chains, or controls infiltration squares with his pieces. In such cases a breakthrough may be necessary to open up a corridor to break into his position. A breakthrough often comes as a pawn or piece sacrifice that completely changes the nature of the position.

We will also talk about the importance of outposts, as well as open and semi-open files in closed positions. There are some topics that we will not specifically cover, such as the right piece exchanges or attacks in closed positions, though we will see them pop out from time to time in our examples, of course.


Course structure:

Video 1: Introduction + Inaccurate maneuvering in closed positions

Video 2 and 3: Schematic thinking

Video 4: Prophylactic thinking

Video 5: Breakthrough

Video 6: Outposts in closed positions

Video 7: Semi-open files 

Video 8: Open files

Video 9: Play on two wings

Video 10: Anatoly Karpov masterclass: Python squeeze

Video 11: Boris Gelfand masterclass: Deep maneuvering

Video 12: Karjakin masterclass: Knight maneuvering

Video 13: Ding Liren masterclass: Avoiding piece trades

Starting June the 12th, every Wednesday ICC members will find new quizzes, annotated games, and notes from the author in the Learning Center! Watch here the Intro video to this fantastic series!

For the start, I would like to show you an example of inaccurate play in closed positions. In the upcoming videos, we will mostly focus on the correct techniques in closed positions, but sometimes a lot can also be learned from typical mistakes – so that we don’t repeat them.

The game we will see was played between master-level players who did not handle the closed position that arose in the game in the most principled manner. When I analyzed the game, I realized how even very decent players can struggle to understand and playing properly such position. This should be a good motivation to sit down and study maneuvering in closed positions methodically, especially if this is not your strong point. I hope that this course will help you achieve that.

So, the goal of this course is to give you a reference point for such a study, as well as to teach you some proper methods and let you practice finding the best move/plan in closed positions – so that you can play these kinds of positions with competence and confidence. Enjoy!