Technical white paper: Middle game element - Space element management


Element definition
Ineffective space gaining
Effective space gaining
Space gaining without occupation

Revisions to this paper
18/12/97 - Indexed and restructured, More emphasis on the dynamics of space gaining. Space gain does not necessarily imply occupation.


This white paper focuses on an important middlegame element, namely space. This is a positional element which should come high on the priority list when trying to objectively assess a position.

Element definition

Space can be considered as increasing the mobility of ones pieces, and reducing that of the opponent. This does not necessarily imply occupation.

Ineffective space gaining

Gaining space for its own sake, can bring about terrible weaknesses in one's position. Certain openings postively encourage the opponent to gain lots of space, in order to exploit the potential weaknesses later on. Examples of these openings include the Kings Indian Defence, "hedgehog" systems and the Alekhine Defence.

The fact of life here is that pawns cannot go backwards!. They are dumbest of the pieces in this respect.

This game is impressive from the point of view of black maintaining a solid position, and then pouncing on white's overstretched position via a brilliant tactic. In this example, black won. If black played this wrongly however, the hedghog might have got "squashed"!

Plaskett Jim - Adams Michael [A30/10]
Plymouth, 1989

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.d4 e6 3.g3 b6 4.Bg2 Bb7 5.0-0 c5 6.c4 cxd4 7.Qxd4 Be7 8.Nc3 d6 9.Rd1 a6 10.e4 Nbd7 11.Qe3 Qc7 12.b3 0-0 13.Bb2 Rac8 14.Nd4 Rfe8 15.Rac1 Bf8 16.h3 Qb8 17.Re1 g6 18.Rcd1 Bg7 19.f4 e5 20.fxe5 Nxe5 21.Rf1 Bc6 22.a4 Ba8

spacex1.gif (6136 bytes)

23.Rf2 Nfd7 24.Rdf1 Nc5 25.Rd1 Nxb3 26.Nxb3 Nxc4 27.Qf3 Nxb2 28.Qxf7+ Kh8 29.Rxb2 Rc7 30.Qf2 Rxc3 31.Nd2 Rf8 32.Qe1 Bd4+ 33.Kh1 Re3 34.Qg1 Rd3 0-1

Given that pawns cannot go backwards, certain players such as Petrosian have adopted the unusual strategy of tempting the opponent to overeach, and then later take energetic measures to show up the opponent's weaknesses. The following game is a classic from Petrosian which illustrates this idea:-

Petrosian T - Kortschnoj V L [A20]
Candidates Semi Final Match, 9th Game, 1971

1.c4 e5 2.g3 c6 3.b3 d5 4.Bb2 d4 5.Nf3 Bd6 6.d3 c5 7.Bg2 Ne7 8.0-0 Nec6 9.e3 0-0 10.Nbd2 Be6 11.e4 Nd7 12.Nh4 g6 13.Bf3 Bc7 14.a3 Ba5 15.Bc1 Qe7 16.Bg4 f5 17.exf5 gxf5 18.Bf3

spacex3.gif (6344 bytes)

Nf6 19.Bg2 Rad8 20.Ra2 Bc8 21.Re1 Kh8 22.b4

spacex4.gif (6412 bytes)

This energetic move is that start of a series of moves designed to expose the vaccum of weaknesses within black's position.

cxb4 23.Nb3 Bb6 24.Bxc6 bxc6 25.axb4 a6 26.Nf3 e4 27.c5 Bc7 28.Nfxd4 Qf7 29.Rd2 Bd7 30.Bb2 Kg8 31.Na5 Bxa5 32.bxa5 Rb8 33.Ba1 Rfe8 34.Rde2 Qh5 35.Qd2 Kf7 36.h4 exd3 37.Qxd3 f4 38.Nf3 Rxe2 39.Qxe2 Qxc5 40.Ne5+ Kf8 41.Nxd7+ Nxd7 1-0

Effective space gaining

The following game shows how, space can be gained to assist in mounting an effective kingside attack, whilst covering up weaknesses:

Nunn John D M - Tal Mikhail [B47/03]
Wijk aan Zee (3), 1982

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 a6 6.g3 Qc7 7.Bg2 Nf6 8.0-0 h6 9.Nb3 Be7 10.a4 d6 11.f4 0-0 12.g4 Bd7 13.h4

spacex2.gif (6247 bytes)

The space gaining is effective however because the centre is adequately controlled. The game showed how blacks pawn sacrifice to open up the centre, was not effective in highlighting white's weaknesses.

b5 14.g5 Nh7 15.Be3 b4 16.Ne2 d5 17.exd5 exd5 18.Qxd5 Rac8 19.a5 Nb8 20.Ned4 Bg4 21.Rae1 Rfd8 22.Qe4 Re8 23.Bf2 Bd7 24.Qd5 Qd6 25.Nf5 Qxd5 26.Nxe7+ Rxe7 27.Bxd5 Rxe1 28.Rxe1 Rxc2 29.Re7 Bc6 30.Bxf7+ Kf8 31.Rc7 hxg5 32.Bc5+ 1-0

The pawn chain and its role in maintaining a space advantage

The great Aron Nimzowitsch talked about the pawn chain, and the implicit strategies based on it, such as undermining it at its weakest point. Certain openings, create a pawn structure which inherently give one player an advantage in space. Take the opening from the following game as an example:-

Adams Michael - Gurevich [C05/03]
Innsbruck, 1987

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.c3 c5 6.f4 Nc6 7.Ndf3 Qb6 8.g3 Be7 9.Bh3 cxd4 10.cxd4 f6 11.Kf1 fxe5 12.fxe5 0-0 13.Kg2 Kh8 14.Bg4 Nd8 15.h4

spacex5.gif (6183 bytes)

The pawn on e5 forms a wedge into blacks position, and allows white's pieces extra freedom to manoever. This happened to be a nice win for white from the space gaining perspective, because the white king become initmately involved in exploiting the space advantage. The game continued:-

Nf7 16.Ne2 Nh6 17.Bh3 Nf5 18.Qc2 Qc6 19.Qd3 Qc4 20.Qxc4 dxc4 21.Nf4 Nb6 22.Bxf5 Rxf5 23.g4 Rf8 24.Ng5 Bxg5 25.hxg5 Kg8 26.Bd2 Bd7 27.Kg3 g6 28.Raf1 Rf7 29.Ba5 Nd5 30.Nxd5 Rxf1 31.Nf6+ Rxf6 32.gxf6 Bc6 33.Rh2 Rf8 34.Kf4 Rf7 35.Bb4 Rd7 36.Bd6 b5 37.Kg5 a5 38.a3 Bf3 39.Rf2 Bc6 40.Be7 Kf7 41.Rh2 Kg8 42.f7+ Kxf7 43.Rxh7+ Kg8 44.Kh6 Rb7 45.Rg7+ Kh8 46.Rf7 Rb8 47.Rh7+ Kg8 48.Rg7+ 1-0

Space without occupation

The space gaining examples given so far, are biased in that pawns were occuping or advancing to the opponents sector of the board. Space gains can occur however without such physical occupation. The following is a dramatic example:-

Karpov Anatoli - Kasparov Garry [B44/11]
It, Moscow, 1985

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nb5 d6 6.c4 Nf6 7.N1c3 a6 8.Na3 d5 9.cxd5 Nb4 10.Be2 exd5 11.exd5 Bc5 12.0-0 0-0 13.Bf3 Bf5 14.Bg5 Re8 15.Qd2 b5 16.Rad1 Nd3 17.Nab1 h6 18.Bh4 b4 19.Na4 Bd6 20.Bg3 Rc8 21.b3 g5 22.Bxd6 Qxd6 23.g3 Nd7 24.Bg2 Qf6 25.a3 a5 26.axb4 axb4 27.Qa2 Bg6

karkasp.gif (5685 bytes)

Black clearly has more space in this position! The possibilities for black's pieces are quite great, eg just looking at the 2 rooks and knight :-

karkasp2.gif (7476 bytes)

28.d6 g4 29.Qd2 Kg7 30.f3 Qxd6 31.fxg4 Qd4+ 32.Kh1 Nf6 33.Rf4 Ne4 34.Qxd3 Nf2+ 35.Rxf2 Bxd3 36.Rfd2 Qe3 37.Rxd3 Rc1 38.Nb2 Qf2 39.Nd2 Rxd1+ 40.Nxd1 Re1+ 0-1


Effective space management needs to consider the weaknesses and vacuum that is potentially created by the "gains" in space. Players such as Petrosian have played many games with the point of view of encouraging such space "gains". The advantages that can be achieved with more "space" include greater mobility, and freedom to manoever. Space gain does not necesarily imply however physical occupation, as the Karpov Kasparov game dramatically shows. The psychological implications of space are significant, and players such as Lasker have deliberately gone into cramped positions to make their opponent more mentally relaxed. Indeed players of the French defence, are content to have less "space" because it offers them opportunities to bit at their opponents pawn chains later on in the game.




Click Here!