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I've heard the term Tabiya used online though I've never really run into it in any chess book I've read. I have an idea of what the term means but I'm not sure I'm correct, so first I'll say what I think it means and someone can clarify or correct me if I'm wrong.

I believe the term tabiya refers to a position that arises in an opening after a sequence of more or less standard moves from which there are multiple continuations. That more or less I've gathered from seeing it defined online, but I believe there is a little more nuance in that the multiple possible continuations should represent distinctly different possible plans rather than just slightly different ways of trying to achieve the same plan. So if anyone can tell me if that's correct, I'd appreciate that.

So then if that's correct, the real question is, if this is an important concept, why don't I see it mentioned much in chess literature? Is it just because it's an obscure term and an author would probably just say something like, "From this point, White has a number of possible plans...?"

  • Never heard the word, never seen it used. – Tony Ennis Mar 7 '13 at 2:27
  • It was used in the answer to this question and also in the Dan Heisman article linked to from that question but they both seem to define it as a standard sequence of opening moves however, I think the word tabiya refers to a position rather than the sequence of moves to arrive at it, and also that the position must have multiple continuations of equal merit, which is what I'm trying to confirm I guess. – EvilSpudBoy Mar 7 '13 at 2:38
  • I came across this term in Sveshnikov's "The complete c3 Sicilian." book as he introduced a 13-move standard variation (page 449): 1. e4 c5 2. c3 Nf6 3. e5 Nd5 4. d4 cxd4 5. Nf3 Nc6 6. Bc4 Nb6 7. Bb3 d5 8. exd6 Qxd6 9. 0-0 Bd6 10. Bxe6 Qxe6 11. Nxd4 Nxd4 12. Qxd4 Rd8 13. Qh4 Qe2 "For many years, this position was one of the tabiyas of the c3 Sicilian." – user1597 Aug 11 '13 at 16:09
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    Why are lists of "tabiyas" such a mysterious thing? The question I can imagine that everyone is thinking is: where can we obtain a 'list' of tabiyas; for those of us who would take up their study systematically? – user2169 Dec 29 '13 at 23:46
  • Also it mentioned in the Tukmakov book Modern chess preparation: Another modern theoretical tabiya would arise after 5 ... d5 6.a3 Bxc3 + 7 .bxc3 cxd4 8.exd4 dxc4 with a complex strategic battle, Kortchnoi-Karpov, 5th match game Baguio Wch 1978. – user4370 Dec 1 '14 at 19:22
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A tabiya is a main starting position for a given opening. It is several moves into the game, after the opening has been determined - usually development is more or less complete. Many games will reach the exact position that is labeled a tabiya, but there will be multiple options for a continuation from the tabiya.

If you are striving to understand an opening, all of the various plans from a tabiya must be considered. A tabiya is sometimes important because the concrete factors that will guide both players have already been established, so it is the first chance for the players to put their own spin on a game.

Take the Botvinnik Variation in the Semi-Slav - the first tabiya is 14 moves deep.

[FEN ""]

1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6 5. Bg5 dxc4 6. e4 b5 7. e5 h6 8. Bh4 g5
9. Nxg5 hxg5 10. Bxg5 Nbd7 11. g3 Bb7 12. Bg2 Qb6 13. exf6 O-O-O 14. O-O *

From this position, black can choose a number of plans (the most common starts with 14... c5 15. d5 b4). If you plan to play this variation for either color, the position at the end of these 14 moves is where the analysis really starts. To be sure, there are move order tricks and alternative moves for both colors on the way to the tabiya, but this is a very common position and the effort to reach this position for a professional player is almost negligible.

The term is not used all that frequently. The most common case would probably be an opening book/published opening analysis that wanted to draw your attention to a few key positions that are instructive and require specific knowledge if they arise in a game situation.

  • Thanks, this is a good answer. In the example you gave, the position after 5.Bg5, where Black can choose ..dxc4 (Botvinik) or ..h6(Moscow) is that considered a tabiya also? Is there some reference work that catalogs tabiyas? For example, in a book like MCO does every variation in the notes end at a tabiya? Or if not, how would I pick out the positions that are considered tabiya's? – EvilSpudBoy Mar 7 '13 at 12:52
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    I would not really consider the position after 5. Bg5 a tabiya, but there are certainly tabiyas for both the Moscow and the Anti-Moscow. A tabiya is after development is more complete. As a rule of thumb, probably after at least ~10 moves. – Andrew Mar 7 '13 at 16:49
  • Ok, that makes sense. It seems like the goals of the opening have to have been achieved and the plans that arise from it are middle-game plans. – EvilSpudBoy Mar 7 '13 at 18:23
  • @EvilSpudBoy precisely. I suppose a tabiya could sometimes be considered the end of the opening and the beginning of the middlegame. I say sometimes because many openings (like the Najdorf) have multiple tabiyas at different depths. In that case only the last tabiya would be the start of the middlegame. – Andrew Mar 7 '13 at 20:25
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"Tabiya" is a word that came from Sanskrit and passed into Old Persian, and then to our languages. It means "battle array".

The ancestors of chess, shatranj e chaturanga, had pieces with very slow movement (for example, our "Queen", at that time called General or Advisor, could move only one square diagonally). For this reason, the opening phase of a game could be very boring, since each player had to develop pieces without really attacking the opponent. The "real" game started only when both players had pieces "close enough" to begin the battle. This "close enough" situation was called tabiya.

During the centuries, some variants of the game evolved in different ways. One lead to the "chess" we know nowadays. Another lead to some variants of Thai Chess, for example, where players use pieces with very slow movement like the original ones, but start playing directly from some well defined tabiyas and not from a standard "starting position".

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I believe your understanding is correct. I will paraphrase Dan Heisman in one of his videos on the ICC:

The word Tabiya means standard opening moves. These are moves that are usually made very quickly in an opening before it starts to branch out into side variations. A Tabiya varies from opening to opening and how far it goes varies. For example, the Marshall Attack Tabiya goes 17 moves and the Closed Ruy Lopez goes 8.5 moves (9 for White, 8 for Black) and at this point Black has many different choices for his 9th move.

I don't think you hear it too much because it is general consensus that it is better to learn opening principles rather than specific openings. Opening principles apply to any opening rather than a specific opening. The primary reason is that no matter how much you study openings, you are going to run up against someone who plays rare, bad, or side variations that you didn't study and this will cause you to panic. If you are taken out of your opening knowledge, you have to not panic and play the opening principles.

Speed chess is usually a good way to learn Tabiya's. After you play them, go over your moves and see what moves you would play differently in maybe a slow game.

  • I feel like speed chess is a better way to get familiar with many of the rare/bad/side variations you mentioned -- unless you have a partner that will keep playing the same opening with you. – Nathan Monteleone Mar 7 '13 at 17:23
  • @NathanMonteleone - That was another recommendation from Dan Heisman, to basically play with a partner and switch sides maybe every 4 times until you get White and Black into your memory. – xaisoft Mar 7 '13 at 17:35

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