I have played chess so many times, understood tactics (pins, discovered check, overloading, deflection, skewer), but I never understood clearly the positional play. I have noticed not many tutorials available that explains positional play.

  1. What exactly is positional play? Why is it important?
  2. Please can you show some nice examples to understand the concept?

Sorry for being so naive, but very curious on this.

  • You might find this somewhat related older thread to offer a useful example.
    – ETD
    Jul 1, 2015 at 22:41
  • 2
    Not worth a full answer, but as usual Tartakower has something to say on this subject: "Tactics is what you do when there is something to do; strategy is what you do when there is nothing to do."
    – Ian Bush
    Jul 3, 2015 at 14:17
  • I think of positional play as something which happens on average. Eg on average it is a good idea to move a knight to an outpost e5 square or put a rook on the seventh. The more you understand what happens on average the better your positional play is. Opening theory is something which allows you to manipulate these averages to a certain extent by playing openings which allow a knight to e5, eg the QGD. Tactics and calculation is something which is needed to work out what is happening in the specific position on the board. eg this fork of rook and king is more important than the Knight on e5.
    – magd
    Jul 8, 2015 at 20:51

9 Answers 9


Classically positional play is what is described in part 2 of Nimzowitsch's "My System". Part 1, The Elements, is more tactical in nature. It describes play in open files, using the 7th and 8th ranks, passed pawns, pins, discovered checks and a few other features.

Part 2, Position Play, deals with stuff like

  1. Fighting for the center, which you do by moving pawns and pieces (firstly knights and bishops, later rooks) so that they occupy, support or attack the center.

  2. Over protection of important points or squares, in the first instance central ones later they may be points important for attack or defence, is important because it strengthens those points. This in turn gives more freedom and flexibility to the pieces involved. They are not firmly tied down because other pieces are sharing the burden. And it gives prophylaxis. Because these points are over protected you are not going to get caught by a sudden attack from your opponent.

  3. Certain static features are described and discussed which have positional characteristics. Doubled and isolated pawns are usually positional weaknesses. Very occasionally they may have good features but mostly they are bad. The IQP (isolated queen's pawn) is covered in great depth. Depending on how the two sides play the IQP can be a dynamic attacking tool or it can be a static weakness which will eventually fall.

  4. The two bishops (when you have two bishops and your opponent has either two knights or one bishop and one knight) is positional plus because of the way they can work together. They can cut an impassable diagonal line across the board in the same way that a rook can cut such lines orthogonally.

Why are these concepts important? Well, when you first start playing you don't really know what to do with your pieces. As Nimzowitsch says you probably think you should get your pieces out, castle on the opposite to your opponent and then each of you should launch a pawn storm attack against your opponent's castled king. First one to break through wins. It can certainly be a lot of fun but it's just not going to work against somebody who has mastered a more positional way of playing.

These positional concepts give you guidelines of how to play when the position doesn't call for a tactical solution. In some respects it gives you guidance of how to build up your position so that you can either start your own tactical attack or frustrate your opponent's tactical attack.

Mastering tactical and positional play will likely take you to somewhere round about the 2000 level, which is no mean feat. To make progress much beyond this level you will have to start to learn and understand when to break these positional guidelines.

My System has many examples and games which Nimzowitsch uses to illustrate his points. He also wrote a follow on book of more examples and games called Chess Praxis which is highly recommended for further study of positional play.


Positional play is the attempt to make make a small improvement in your position with every move. In the most simplistic sense this would involve making your worst piece more active, bringing pressure to bear on an important square, improving pawn structure or denying your opponent the opportunity to improve his position.

If you watch a chess engine working you can see and feel how it accumulates a positional advantage with almost every move. It feels like being slowly strangled. Tactics emerge naturally from a strong positional advantage. I would often spend far too long looking for tactics before the position warranted it. Now I may sense the possibility of tactics but be unclear of the outcome. Often all that's needed to make a tactic work is making one more strong positional move.


Tactics is the science of piece safety. Positional play is play involving 'piece activity' and 'pawn structure'.

If you are rated under 1300, positional play is not important because tactical advantages (material) are much greater than positional advantages (slightly better pawn structure). Once you reach 1500, however, positional play becomes every important because it is how games are won and lost, once players stop giving free pieces and pawns.

  • I'd say 2000 for positional. A decent tactical player can go a long long way.
    – Tony Ennis
    Jul 1, 2015 at 21:29
  • I am sorry i have no way of achieving 1500 ratings, still a novice, but i am very interested to learn about positional play in middle game or openings. is this even possible?
    – pbu
    Aug 6, 2015 at 14:54
  • If you are a novice the fastest way to improve is to practice basic tactical problems and play slow (G/90 or slower) games focusing on playing "Real Chess" instead of "Hope Chess": When you consider a move, you make sure that you can meet all threats that might be made in response to the move, rather than making a move and hoping that you can meet any threat your opponent replies with.
    – limits
    Aug 6, 2015 at 20:37
  • You could learn about positional play before 1500, it won't hurt you, but it likely won't help until you improve to near that level.
    – limits
    Aug 6, 2015 at 20:37

Positional play is maneuvering for small advantages, like controlling the center with pieces and pawns, gradually improving your position and encroaching into enemy territory to gain a space advantage while at the same time minimizing your opponent's space and opportunities until you can utilize tactics for some kind of decisive result. I like to use Nimzovitsch's term prophylaxis for this, limiting your opponent's moves. The closed openings, like the Queens's Gambit, are generally considered positional openings since the pieces don't come into contact with each other so soon as opposed to double king pawn openings, or open games, when early tactics can predominate. If you want concrete examples, in addition to looking at Nimzovitch's games, the orthodox advice is to "study the games of Capablanca, Smyslov and Karpov". You can find these on chessgames.com.

  • This is considered one of the greatest examples of a positional game, 1. d4 Notes by Nimzowitsch 1... e6 2. c4 Here is illustrated the stratagem "sacrifice of blockade" 2... Nf6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Bd2 O-O Also good is 4...b6 5. Nf3 d6 6. e3 b6 7. Bd3 Bb7 8. Qc2 Bf3 Very risky. 9. gf3 Nbd7 10. a3 Bc3 11. Bc3 c6 The Black-side avoids the premature opening of the game, while explores the debility of the double-complex and intends the blockade. If 11... d5 12.cxd5 exd5 13.Rc1 and White has freedom in the c and d-columns, and the only counterchance... c5, activate white´s bishops.
    – CConero
    Aug 10, 2015 at 7:58
  • 12. O-O-O d5 13. e4 This advance, although produces chances of attack, debilitates the double-complex in great extension. 13... g6 Forced move, but a good one. The knight is an excellent guard of the enemy advance h4-h5. 14. cd5 Better was 14.h4 or 14.Kb1, but the White-side wishes to advance the e-pawn, which now would be bad, for example: 14.e5 dxc4 15.Bxc4 15.Bxc4 Nd5, etc. 14... cd5 15. e5 Nh5 Now the Black-side contemplates very satisfied the completely paralyzed enemy double-complex.
    – CConero
    Aug 10, 2015 at 8:00
  • 16. h4 a5 Played in order to restrict the action of the white Queen´s Bishop and regroup the forces with Qe7, Rfc8 and Nf8. 17. Rdg1 Qe7 18. Qd2 Rfc8 19. f4 b5! The sacrifice of blockade. The pawn is given in order to exchange the King´s Bishop, and consequently debilitate the white squares. 20. Bb5 Rab8 21. Be2 Nb6 The sacrifice of the piece is deep, but the correct and elegant response was 21... Ng7 22.h5 Nf5 followed by Nb6 and Nc4.
    – CConero
    Aug 10, 2015 at 8:00
  • 22. Kd1 The White-side should have accepted the sacrifice: 22.Bxh5 Nc4 23.Qc2 Nxa3 24.Qd2 Nc4 and draw. 22... Nc4 23. Bc4 Rc4 24. Rg5 Ng7 25. h5 Nf5 26. hg6 fg6 27. Rf5 A desperate attempt. Black refutes it energetically. 27... ef5 28. Ba5 Rb3 29. Ke2 Qb7 30. Bb4 Qa6
    – CConero
    Aug 10, 2015 at 8:01
  • Here's another sample game, Brinckmann-Nimzovitsch, 1923, 1. d4 Notes by Raymond Keene. Nimzowitsch was also capable of constructing fantastic blockading possibilities for his knights over the board. Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Nf3 Bxc3+ 5. bxc3 d6 6. Qc2 Qe7 7. Ba3 c5 8. g3 b6 9. Bg2 Bb7 10. O-O O-O 11. Nh4 Bxg2 12. Kxg2 ? Qb7+ ! 13. Kg1 Qa6 14. Qb3 Nc6 15. Rfd1 Na5 16. Qb5 Qxb5 17. cxb5 Nc4 18. Bc1 a6 19. bxa6 Rxa6 20. dxc5 bxc5 21. Ng2 Nd5 22. Rd3 Rfa8 Black's blockading knights, firmly established on light squares, create an impression both of power and of pictorial beauty.
    – CConero
    Aug 10, 2015 at 8:06

In the absence of any tactical justification, it is logical to:

  1. Put your knight on e4 rather than on a1 because on e4 your knight would have much more influence on the game (it controls 8 squares) than on a1 where it controls only 2 squares.

  2. Put your bishops on open diagonals, your rooks on open files, 7th rank... etc thus they will have maximum activity

  3. Keep your pawns connected as long as possible because they are very simple targets for attacks when they are isolated, doubled... etc.

This system of thinking is in fact the root of positional play and you can see it in action when studying Capablanca games.

I recommend also Igor Smirnov's course "Grandmaster positional understanding".


There are many aspects of positional play that are always mentioned. Put Rooks on open files, put knights on outpost squares, keep your pawns neat and tidy. But that is not enough to win if your opponent shows similar good sense.

A very important aspect of positional play is knowing which of your pieces to exchange and which to keep. Sometimes this leads to decisions that seem contradictory. Elizabeth Pahtz does a nice DVD on this topic for Chessbase and you can get a free preview by going to this article on the Chessbase site.

In this she shows a very instructive game Smyslov-Reshevsky where making the favorable exchange is more important than preserving the pawn structure. Positional play is not always risk-free play.


Positional play is when you gradually outplay your opponent. For example, if you manage to win a pawn and manage to realize that small advantage into a win. Usually players who like positional play (opposite to tactical players) are very patient players who prefer positional openings. It needs to be said that the openings are the very important indicator whether this game is going to a positional game or tactical. For example, Queens Gambit is a positional opening.


Basically positional chess is everything that isn't tactical. Open lines, outposts, pawn structure, piece activity, and many others are examples.

[fen ""]

[White "2000"]
[Black "2000"]
[Result "1-0"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 g6 5. Nxc6 bxc6 6. Qd4 Nf6 7. e5 Qa5+ 8.
Qc3 Qxc3+ 9. Nxc3 Nd5 10. Nxd5 cxd5 11. Be3 Bg7 12. O-O-O Bxe5 13. Rxd5 d6 14.
Bb5+ Bd7 15. Rhd1 Bxb5 16. Rxb5 {White has more active pieces and open files.
 The real weakness is that a7 can't be protected well.  Now black makes a
tactical mistake.} 16... O-O 17. c3 a6 18. Rb7 e6 19. f4 Bg7 20. Rxd6 Bh6 21.
Kd2 a5 22. Ke2 a4 23. Rdd7 {Due to the doubled rooks on the seventh, black can
never activate his pieces.} 23... a3 24. b3 Rac8 25. c4 {Now black's bishop has
nothing to attack on the queenside and is biting on granite on the kingside.}
25... Bg7 26. Bd4 Bh6 {Although white's bishop is better, every trade brings
white closer to a won endgame.} 27. Kf3 Rfd8 28. Bf6 Rxd7 29. Rxd7 Bf8 30. Rd8
Rxd8 31. Bxd8 *

[FEN ""]
[White "2000"]
[Black "2000"]
[Result "0-1"]

1. d4 e5 2. e4 exd4 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. c3 d3 5. Bxd3 d6 6. O-O Be7 7. Be3 Nf6 8. h3
O-O 9. Nbd2 Re8 10. Qc2 h6 11. Rfe1 Bf8 12. Nd4 Ne5 13. Bf1 c5 14. Nf5 {Nb3 to
stop black from playing d5 is the correct move.} 14... d5 15. f4 Bxf5 16. exf5
Nc6 17. Nf3 Qc7 18. Bd3 {Black controls more of the center and white's king side
is weakened, but white has everything protected.  Is there a combination?} 18...
c4 19. Bf1 Rxe3 {The weakness of the dark squares allows black a vicious
attack.} 20. Rxe3 Bc5 21. Qd2 Qxf4 22. Nd4 Nxd4 23. Kh1 Ne4 *

These games, played by 2000 rated players, show some of the positional elements and how to exploit them.

They aren't the best, but the first ones I thought would show some themes.

EDIT: http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1012733 and http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1012683 are nice examples of Alekhine using positional elements.


Positional play: positioning ( Bring ) ur pieces into the contact of strategically important squares . Ok then what is strategically important squares? Strategy: plan of action designed to achieve overall goal Goal: checkmate?? In reality chess is drawish game( it's impossible to checkmate if both side play correctly cause it's like war between the countries with equal force) Ok then what's our goal then only we can design the plan?! Goal: activity (positive action for the pieces)ex 1.e4 e5 2.nf3 Every one follows with nf3 cause it limits opponents response and ur +ve action n*e5 conclusion : goal :activity strategy : bring ur pieces to the squares that will give greater activity ( central squares, blockading squares,holes in ur opponent camp).U should overprotect that squares with all of ur pieces ...it will give greater activity for ur pieces..... Simple idea but strong: overprotection!!! In the fight for the strategically important squares .ex : fight for the e5 square if the square control count is 5vs4 then U can move any of ur 5 pieces greater activity!! But 4vs4 ur pieces are tied to that great squares but ur pieces are tied....

  • 2
    Please edit your answer to make it more readable. The second-person pronoun in English is 'you', not 'u'; the possessive version is 'your'.
    – Glorfindel
    Sep 21, 2017 at 9:15

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