This is the first of a series of strategic challenges. The answers are supposed to provide a move (or sequence of moves) and the right plan for the corresponding player. In this occasion we have the following diagram:

[fen "r3kb1r/1p2qp1p/p1p1npp1/2P5/3P4/4BN2/PP3PPP/R2Q1RK1 w - - 0 1"]

I took this position from Mastering Chess Strategy by Johan Hellsten. This position arose in a game between Curt Hansen and the author in 1996. The author says about the position:

Black just need a few moves like Rd8, Bg7 and 0-0 to achieve safety. However, it is White to move ...

What is the right move and plan for White in this position?


To me d5 would be pretty much an automatic move. There might be a better idea in the position, but I don't see it.

The reasoning is as follows:

  • Longterm black is more than ok, with Bg7, 0-0, Rd8, f5 …
  • d4 is a weakness which also limits the Be3 and the Nf3.
  • I don't have to worry about losing c5, because black is way too underdeveloped to grab a pawn like that.

Based on that I would be inclined to just play it without calculating anything. Then I would force myself to at least calculate one or two lines:

  • 1.d5 cxd5 2.Qxd5 Nxc5 3.Bxc5 Qxc5 4.Re1+ and black loses her queen.
  • 1.d5 cxd5 2.Qxd5 Rd8 3.Qc4 (black still can't take on c5 and I'm ready for c6, when blacks queenside falls apart.) 3…Qc7 4.Rac1 and I don't know how much this is, but black has to solve some problems (c6 is a threat. Qc6 Nd4 doesn't look good).

Basically, given that black needs at least two more tempi to get his king into safety, if you open the position with white nice things will happen.

Edit: Then I would make the move, write it down, get up from the board and look at the positions of my friends and then suddenly realise that black can also immediately take on c5, without taking on d5 first. That would give me a little jolt, but wouldn't worry me too much, because after all "black is way too underdeveloped to grab a pawn like that". But I would still hurry back to my board and calculate stuff like 1.d5 Nxc5 2.dxc6 bxc6 3.Bxc5 Qxc5 4.Re1 Be7 5.Rc1 Rd8 6.Qe2 Qb4 7.a3 Qb7 8.Rxc6 and relax.

  • In your first line, 2... Rd8. I also wonder about 1. d5 Rd8 2. d6 That pawn looks annoying.
    – Tony Ennis
    Nov 20 '15 at 14:14
  • But I do like pushing the d5 pawn. It is weak and might as well be killed by his friends instead of his enemies.
    – Tony Ennis
    Nov 20 '15 at 14:15
  • @Tony Ennis: In my second line I look at 2…Rd8. I don't think black can allow the pawn to d6. Nov 20 '15 at 14:36
  • 1
    1.d5 Nxc5? 2.Bxc5 Qxc5 3.Re1+ Kd8 (3... Be7? 4.d6) 4.dxc6+ looks more convincing than the line you give. Black's king will die in the centre with all the open files in front of it. E.g. 4... Qd6 5.cxb7 Rb8 6.Qa4 with threats on d1 and e8.
    – kahen
    Nov 20 '15 at 15:56

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