[title "White to move"]
[fen "2b2rk1/pr2n1bp/2p1p1p1/2pqPp2/N2p1P1Q/1P1P1N2/P1PB2PP/1R3R1K w - - 1 0"]

In this position, I was considering the best move for white. Re1 seems good but why not Ba5? Or even c4? After Re1, what's the best plan for white?

  • 1
    Interesting! I'll leave it to better players than I (~1850 FIDE) to answer, but my first idea is Bd2-c1-a3 to increase the pressure on the weak pawn on c5. After you get the B to a3 then you might start thinking about c3 or c4 to further increase the pressure if the c file gets opened, but you might want to leave c4 free to allow Nf3-d2-c4(-a5 or d6 maybe?), needs a lot of thought, more time than I have now. Ng5 is another idea to induce a weakness after h6. But I can't see why Re1 or Ba5 are particularly good, or an immediate c4 - what is your plan in this position? – Ian Bush Jun 3 at 10:31
  • @IanBush The main idea with Re1 is for more support on the e file then follow up with a possible fork with Ng5 although applying more pressure on c5 with Bd2-c1-a3 is solid but I don't think it's necessary to rush it as much. Black's position is very weak here anyway - there aren't many good pawn chains and not many immediate threats. Immediate c4 was the idea to push the queen off d5 but that now seems worse than the Bd2 ideas. – Oliver Dransfield Jun 3 at 10:55
  • Is an immediate Ng5 trivial mate threat, forcing ...h5, worth the long term pawn shield concession? Even if it leads to nothing right now? – BaseZen Jun 4 at 16:47
  • Re1 is ambiguous in this position. – John Coleman Jun 4 at 17:57

Why do you think the moves you suggest are any good?

Before you decide on any candidate moves you should analyze the position, consider how you can improve your position while minimizing counter play.

I would approach the position as follows. Other alternative ways might exist...

Evaluate the position

Looking at the position I notice a number of things:

  • the position is closed (so no immediate attacks on the king possible either side)
  • It is very difficult for black to open the position without sacrificing at least a pawn. White on the other hand has several options to open the position with g4, c3, b4....
  • White's pieces are much more active.
  • White's pieces are not bound to protect anything (Rb7 has to protect Ne7 and Qd5 is protecting the pawn on c5).
  • White has no weak pawns, while black has a doubled c pawn (c5 is easy to attack and particularly weak) and an isolated pawn on the a file.
  • white has outposts for the knights on c4, d6, g5. Black has outposts on d5, c3, e3.
  • white has two knights (often better in closed positions) while black has two bishops (often better in open positions)

Candidate plans

Based on the analysis you should come up with ideas of how to approach the position. Generally you want to open the position to some extent as you are unlikely to win with 8 pawns on the board. You are not going to win either by just doing moves that look natural or superficially "good" like Re1 or Ba5 (what do you want to achieve?)

Think of a number of different plans and how realistic they are. Also consider your opponent's option. In this case, only white decides where to open the position and you should make sure that such opening of the position is to your advantage as black can basically just sit and wait.

Opening closed positions by pawn breaks on the flanks is a standard theme that any semi-advanced player knows.

A few possible ideas for a plan together with a rough evaluation. No concrete moves yet.:

  • kingside attack/pawn storm involving moves like g4 or h5 at some point
    • Seems difficult to get enough pieces to the kingside to assist in the attack and the black king could also escape via f7.
  • play against the c5 pawn (in a closed position)
    • with Bc1 and Ba3 you attack the pawn twice, but black could defend the pawn with Rb5 (after protecting the Ne7 otherwise). It is not obvious how to proceed with this plan afterwards.
  • improve the position of your pieces
    • The Rb1 is on a strange square and you might want to reroute the Nf3 to c4. However it is usually better to have a concrete plan in mind before you move your pieces somewhere. Even if c4 is a great square for a knight you might want to figure out that for your plan it is better placed elsewhere.
  • open the queenside with moves like b4 or c3 or c4 (after some preparation)

Decide on a plan

Looking deeper into the rough plans judging how risky they are and in how far they can give you an advantage.

  • kingside attack: looks very optimistic and I would forget about it quickly in this position.
  • direct play against the c5 pawn with Bc1 and Ba3: does not seem to win the pawn anytime soon. Black can defend now with Rb5 and later with Bf8. The Ba3 and Na4 might be misplaced there if you cannot get anywhere with this plan. So I'd forget about this idea either.
  • improve the position of pieces. As mentioned, particularly in closed positions you want to have the pieces not on some random good square but often where the action is, i.e. where the position is going to be opened. So this idea should be seen in combination with any opening ideas.
  • opening the position on the queenside.
    • This looks like a very good idea since, once you open the position here, the doubled c pawn is much easier to attack and also it is easy to get white pieces to the queenside.
      • Need to decide between opening with c3/c4 or b4....

Deciding between opening the position with b4 or c4/c3.

b4 gives black play on the open b file or even the option for counter play with c4. Also the Queen might enter in some lines via a2.

c3/c4 opens the c file for white which is good, but potentially leaves white with a weak d pawn.

Which one to pick depends a bit on your experience with such positions. To me the opening with c3, c4 seems much safer giving black less counterplay and you have immediately targets with the weak black pawns on the c file.

Deciding on concrete moves

Once we've decided on a plan (opening the position with c3 or c4), it is time to settle on a move. An immediate c4 or c3 is probably premature as your pieces are not ideally placed.

How can we prepare the opening of the position so that we avoid any counterplay? Where should the pieces go?

  • rooks on c1 (to have immediate pressure on the c pawns) and d1 (to protect d3 and later perhaps support a push to d4) seems very obvious
  • queen: might want to transfer via f2 to the center/queenside
  • knights and bishop look ok-ish where they are

So, I would improve the position with Rbc1, Rfd1, perhaps Qf2 and then play c3 or c4. Whether you first play Rbc1 or Rfd1 should not matter much.

Note that there are at least two tactical ideas that help you in opening the position with c4:

  1. If the queen move somewhere after c4, the pawn on c5 is not protected and can be captured.
  2. After exchanging the black d pawn for the white c pawn, the white pawn on d3 is not really hanging because Nxc5 forks the queen and the rook.

So in summary I'd go with Rbc1 now and later open the position with c3 or c4.

| improve this answer | |
  • I agree with the c3/c4 plan with a slight preference for the c4 push, since it seems a bit more forcing, at least at the surface level. This answer is a good illustration of how one should approach coming up with a concrete action plan in closed positions in general, and although it's long I have a difficult time seeing how to condense it without losing parts of what makes the answer good in the first place. – Scounged Jun 4 at 15:51

First, how would you evaluate the position? This should help you come up with a plan and thus the moves to consider. It seems you are randomly selecting moves, which you would then calculate the consequences.

Black has serious weaknesses you can think to exploit. How about those c-pawns? c5 looks very weak. And White's Knights are probably drooling over all the holes they can hop on.

B-c1-a3xc5 looks like the juiciest plan (someday getting a Knight to d6 is attractive too). You just have to make sure Black can't get away with something like c5-c4. Black will have to do something desperate for counter-play.

A dream line would go: 1.Bc1 Re8 2.Ba3 Rb5 3.Nfd2 Bf8 4.Nc4 Rd8 5.Nd6 Ra5 6.Qf6

| improve this answer | |

My knight on a4 is crying to go to c4 then even on to d6 so moving it to b2 to get there is great, especially since it will take an extra move for my opponent to get his bishop to a6 as the rook is currently in the way.

There is a temptation to play Ng5. My opponent would have to advance the h-pawn to prevent the threat against it. h6 would force my knight to go back again so appears to waste tempo but it also potentially weakens my opponent's kingside. And what if I leave the knight on g5 and play Rf3? After the exchange on g5 my opponent can move the king to f7 before my rook gets to h3.

But hey, what if first I get the other knight to d6 - that covers f7 and then I can consider Ng5 later followed by moving the rook to f3 and h3.

If I have sacrificed the knight and the pawn on f4 is now on g5 there's a chance the bishop will remain useful on d2.

I haven't put this through an engine, and of course my opponent will play moves in between but I like Nb2 for my move at this point.

(I am going to post this, then do my analysis. Maybe there's a flaw but it's a plan, not necessarily the best move).

| improve this answer | |
  • Having run it through the engine, it doesn't like my move. White is much better in this position. The problem with my move is black will play Qd8 then move his own knight to d5, which is a good square for it. The engine likes Rbc1 to aim at c4 next. Black can capture en-passant but then the rook is bearing down on the c5 pawn after I recapture. Qd8 is not possible while the knight is attacking c5 which it won't be if it moves. – CashCow Jun 4 at 16:07

I just want to remark that it is not always necessary to have a definite plan. If you do have a single, obviously best plan, it is because your opponent has played badly. Here, even though Black has played badly, having weak pawns and disorganized pieces, there does not seem to be a clear way of exploiting this. One reaction to this situation is just to improve your pieces and wait for Black to make another mistake, while keeping more than one plan as an option. I like the play described by @user1583209, but I want to put forward an alterative.

Some answers have observed that there is no prospect of a quick Kingside attack, but there is a good prospect of a slow one. I note that the Na4 is badly placed for a K-side attack. It can be improved by N-b2-c4 and perhaps a2-a4. Then it cuts out virtually all Black Q-side play. It stands on a good square and has a good square to go to on d6. We will need to advance our g and/or h Pawns, so we put the K where it will be safer (perhaps e2), and then bring the Rooks to g1 and h1, We put the Bishop where it can join in, say h4. It usually is not good to lead the attack with a Q, so find a place where she is mobile and can join in, like f2. All of this might take ten or fifteen moves, but I dont see any way for Black to take advantage.

Moreover, this does not involve any committal moves. If you were to become convinced that the c3 plan was better, you could actually take back almost all of these moves and start again

| improve this answer | |
  • Arguably, the kingside attack plan would be very slow. In ten or fifteen moves black would have plenty of time to escape with the king and/or move some pieces to the kingside. Also the pawn structure on the kingside is quite hard to break. – user1583209 Jun 6 at 12:33
  • Disagree with your last point. If you play, a4, breaking the queenside later with c3 or c4 will be much worse because (in addition to d3 also the pawn on b3 will be weak), which is not the case with a pawn on a2. – user1583209 Jun 6 at 12:35
  • Yep, that is why I wrote almost. Blacks position is pretty bad. His pieces are badly placed and you cant even imagine where he would put them with a lot of free moves. But his position is not so bad IMO that you can prove a win for White and thereby determine what the best plan is. OTB, it is an option to go with a tentative plan without taking on too many commitments. As time goes on you get a better sense of what might work. Meanwhile Black can only sit there and watch. I did say that in this particular position I do like your plan, but I wanted to point out that slow plans can also work. – Philip Roe Jun 7 at 20:24

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