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On various occasions in commentaries or interviews, e.g. during the World Championship commentary with Peter Svidler and Anish Giri, I've heard the Dorfman method being mentioned. I then learned that this method, devised by the well-established chess player and trainer Iossif Dorfman, is in some sense an algorithmic way of finding good candidate moves. Iossif Dorfman has written two books on the matter, namely, The Method in Chess and The Critical Moment, both of which seem to be out-of-print and highly expensive.

These seem to be inspired by the much older works of W. Steinitz, M. Euwe, and A. Nimzowitsch. His method, although not necessarily being a follow-up (I don't know), is a formal approach to evaluating positions and finding the best moves.

Considering the books are basically inaccessible at the moment, this post is merely an attempt to find out what the method entails at a basic level. So I was wondering if someone could briefly shed some light on what the method is all about.

  • 3
    +1 because I was unaware of this method and it's introduced an interesting area for me to study – Darren H Feb 14 at 16:33
  • He released second edition of The Method in Chess few months ago. You can find it on ebay. Only on French ebay. ebay.fr/itm/… – Simon Apr 16 at 4:04
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This is not a book review, nor is it an opinionated account of the method. I've never really used this method per se, but have read/heard about it, so hopefully my rough summary here doesn't do disservice to the merits of the method.

The Dorfman method is a two-fold scheme for finding good moves.

The static elements

The first fold is the static elements of the position. These are 4 elements in decreasing priority:

  1. The king position: whose king is better positioned and protected.
  2. Material correlation: material balance, and combination of pieces. For instance, Dorfman considers 2 knights + bishop as being often more effective than 2 bishops + knight since the former can triply coordinate on the colour of the bishop.
  3. Which side will stand better after a potential trade of queens. This depends on which side has a more active queen, and whose endgame play is favourable.
  4. Pawn structure. Central outposts, number of pawn islands, pawn weaknesses, pawn majority, doubled-pawns, domination of light/dark squares such as the grip provided with the Moraczy bind, etc.

Dynamic play

The second fold is short-term play provided by dynamic play, which roughly constitutes:

  • Being ready to opt for extreme measures, such as piece sacrifices,
  • Create threats,
  • Preventing a king from getting castled,
  • Drastic change of pawn structure, and liquidations,
  • Quick pawn advances on either flanks.
  • etc.

Critical moments of a game

The scheme then is basically: At each critical moment of the game, each player has to decide whether to play statically, i.e. to improve their longterm play, or play dynamically for short-term advantages to possibly stir up the static balance of the position.

Critical moments are defined as moments when there can be:

  • a possible exchange of pieces,
  • a change in the pawn structure,
  • and the existence of forced sequences of moves.

The Method

At each such critical juncture in the game, the method says:

  • Study the static balance of the position in order to decide whether to play dynamically or not.
  • The balance constitutes comparing the 4 elements one-by-one between the two sides, starting from highest priority.
  • One side is deemed statically better if it stands better in any of the higher priority elements. For instance, if king positions are about the same, but one side has a stronger material correlation, then that side stands statically better even though they might be worse in the 3rd and 4th elements of the static balance.
  • The side with a favourable static balance should play slowly and find moves that further improve their longterm static advantages.
  • Conversely, the side being statically worse, should opt for dynamic play and establish a short-term advantage, in order to ultimately stir up the static balance in their favour.
  • Ideally, the dynamic play should aim to establish an advantage in terms of a higher priority static element. For instance, if we are statically worse because our material correlation (2nd element) is worse, then by playing dynamically we should try to worsen our opponent's king position relative to ours, i.e., establish an edge in a static element higher in priority than the one we're doing worse in. So in this example that higher priority would be the king position (1st element).

Related material and further reading:

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"The Method in Chess" is a regressive scale of factors that you can use to evaluate a position. Here they are in order:

  1. King safety, which is more important than all the others combined.
  2. Material, and various material correlations, like Q+N vs. Q+B. He also goes into a new one B+B+N vs. B+N+N, and which pieces you should aim to trade off.
  3. Who has the better position after a queen trade.
  4. Pawn formation

The books are very rare (I happen to have both, and when I bought them, I gave a set of them to my friend, but now, they are worth a fortune), but Dorfman recently released a series of 9 videos (and an intro) on chess24.com. You can join, even for a month, and watch them as part of your membership, or you have the option to buy them outright.

In the videos, which I happen to be watching right now, he also talks a lot about dynamic vs. static advantages, and when you have a dynamic advantage, you must act fast or it can evaporate. Also, if you are worse, and you do not act dynamically to change your situation, you are destined to lose.

I am on the 4th video now, but I know that he also talks a lot about outposts, which is the next video, and has been mentioned a lot in the previous videos.

In "The Critical Moment", he talks about the following (the names of the chapters):

  1. The static position of the king
  2. The king may be attacked
  3. The concept of a secure shelter
  4. The exchange of material (a subject that is neglected in chess writings-PhishMaster)
  5. Modification of the pawn structure

He also has discussed some of this in the first four videos in passing.

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  • 1
    what is a regressive scale? and HOW do the factors get USED to evaluate the position ? – edwina oliver Feb 13 at 14:45
  • Regressive is just English in this case: It means that the one at the top is the most important, and they work down from there. As far as evaluating them, that is beyond the scope of the question since short of cutting and pasting large chunks of the book, you just have to read it or watch the videos. His explanations are quite intricate at times. – PhishMaster Feb 13 at 14:48

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