[Title "The knight on f5"] 
[FEN "1r1qr1k1/2pb1pp1/2np1n1p/ppb1p3/4P2N/2PP2NP/PPB1QPP1/R1B1K2R b KQ - 5 13"]

I recently played a Blitz game that perfectly underlines my biggest weakness: I don't know how to handle outposts I cannot get rid of. In the position above, white will plonk a knight on f5 and black cannot do anything about it. Yet, black is fine. Kicking the knight away with g6 never works because h6 will be hanging. The engine suggests expanding in the center with d5 and at some point play b4 to open things on the queenside. That makes sense, of course, but white could just sit there and do nothing. My feeling is that I cannot make progress in this position. And, to be honest, the psychological effect of not having achieved anything while my opponent will get an outpost is also quite significant. Of course, I know that, objectively speaking, black has fine development and a good position. But the fact that I cannot force the center to open and basically have to wait is quite uncomfortable for me (against moves like d5 or b4, white can just refuse to take the pawn, and taking on e4 or c3 myself doesn't feel like it achieves much). So, I have a number of questions regarding this position (and playing around outposts in general):

  • How do you play around outposts?
  • Do you know any famous grandmaster games that illustrate the concept of playing around an outpost?
  • What is black's best plan in the position above?
  • @fuxia: What made the FEN visible? Indentation? – postnubilaphoebus Apr 12 '20 at 20:47
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    Yes, use the code format button, or just hit Ctrl + k. :) – fuxia Apr 12 '20 at 20:57
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    This is too short to be an answer, but I'd like to point it out in any case. While pleasant to have, outposts are not the end-all-be-all of positional play in chess. As Bobby Fischer famously said, you've gotta give squares to get squares. Positional chess is about tradeoffs, and what's important isn't necessarily to prevent your opponent from getting an outpost, but may rather be about getting a good enough deal (positionally) out of allowing it. – Scounged Apr 14 '20 at 12:21
  • This is not an answer to your actual question, but may be at least in part the root of evil: ...h6 is usually an undesirable move against Ruy/Giuoco c3-/d3-setups. As you have noticed, it makes ...g6 harder in particular, but it also weakens your kingside in general - for example, it enables Bxh6 ideas. – Annatar Apr 15 '20 at 14:09

I think the main idea od .. d5 here is to undermine the outpost. Hence the followup should not be a quick .. d4, but rather trying to keep pressure on e4. I don't like .. d4 for more than one reason: it makes Bc5 bad, and it tempts White to Bc2-b3 returning to the best diagonal. My plan would be:

  • .. d5 motivated as above
  • .. Bf8 to shore up the kingside and to avoid a hit with tempo on Bc5
  • .. b4 starting to open lines on queenside and taking aim at White's center from the side
  • if White does nothing, .. a4 and then .. a3 will break up her pawn chain, eventually gaining the d4 square for Black. White can counter this by plaing a3 herself but that creates more scope for Black counterplay on the queenside like maybe Nf6-d7-c5-b3.

Now, of course White also moves, and the best use of that will be to cook something up on the kingside. The side who gets there first will rule the game, and that's how it should be. Human compatible, 20th century chess :-)


The easiest way to deal with an outpost is to avoid it in the first place. (Sorry. I hate answers like this, but half of chess is anticipating what your opponent is going to do.) Of course, an outpost on b6 is easier to play around than a more centralized one.

http://billwall.phpwebhosting.com/dvoretsky/dvoretsky108.pdf is a little article about the second knight becoming superfluous.

In this position, I wouldn't be looking to prevent the knight moving to the outpost, but to provide enough defenders to ensure that a pawn will be forced to recapture. This would involve Ne7 and Kh7. If needed, I would even go so far as to force g6 (with or without h5 and a Ng8 to protect the h6 square. However, more importantly, I don't really see any danger from a knight on f5, so I would play d5 here to put pressure on white's king. I'm more worried about the destruction the white LSB would do on the a2-g8 diagonal.

  • I would like to avoid it as well, but in this case it was not possible. The game went as follows: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.Qe2 Bc5 5.c3 0-0 6.d3 d6 7.h3 h6 8.Ba4 a5 9.Nbd2 Rb8 10.Nf1 b5 11.Bc2 Re8 12.Ng3 Bd7 13.Nh4. I quickly lost because I played 13. ... Ne7?! 14.Qf3 Ng6 15.Nhf5 Nh7? 16.h4 Rf8 17.Nh5. Black is busted here, and I went on to lose quite quickly. Of course, Ne7 and Nh7 were bad moves, but I only made them because I was lacking a plan. Beyond pushing d5 as you suggested, I just don't see much. – postnubilaphoebus Apr 13 '20 at 17:14
  • I know about Dvoretsky's idea of the superfluous knight, but I don't see how this helps me much here. As black, I can basically only improve white's position by taking on f5. Of course, it would be ideal to force white to recapture with the pawn on f5, but I don't see how I could achieve that. Your suggestion of sacrificing the h6 pawn certainly seems original, but I'm not convinced yet. I'd need a practical example that shows that this idea indeed works. – postnubilaphoebus Apr 13 '20 at 17:19
  • But you are right. I had another look at the position. Black must act quickly. 13. ... d5 14. Nhf5 (14.Qf3?! runs into 14. ... Nxe4!. This little detail is the main reason black needs to play d5 here 15.dxe4 Qxh4 16.exd5 e4! and black has the initiative) 14. ... Ne7! and now we are just in time to exchange all the knights on f5 and then push in the center with d4! – postnubilaphoebus Apr 13 '20 at 20:34

Nf5 in front of castled king is no normal outpost that you can play around with. It will kill you before you know it. At the very least, it costs you time to calculate Nxh6, Bxh6, Nxg7 and various Q mate threats every single move.

Luckily the knight isn't stable there yet, I would play Ne7 to trade it off the moment it lands there, and of course don't worry about BxN exchange. In blitz games, knights are at least as strong as rooks.

I don't have good knowledge in open games, but general theory says respond in the centre against side attacks, so d5 is probably right, although I don't have a concrete follow up plan.

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