Positional chess and concretistic (calculating) chess are
opposites that compensate each other. A positional player will make different
moves than a calculating player. I suggest that a deep positional move
cannot be reached by concrete calculation alone. Still, there are of course
positions where the positional and the concretistic player would choose the same
move. As a matter of fact, positional chess is an amazing capacity while a
player with weak calculating ability can sometimes play good chess. This never
occurred during the romantic era. We must not forget the creative aspect of the
game associated with the "visionary" types which I mention below.
a chessplayer's style is designated either as positional or tactical. However,
these concepts aren't really opposites. A positional player will make tactical
considerations when judging positions. For instance, one frequently talks about
dynamic compensation for pawn. This means that the player calculates that his
tactical vision will help to compensate the material deficit. It is typical for
positional players to make these "tactical" decisions to sacrifice
pawns. As a matter of fact, it is the concept of strategy that is the
opposite of tactics.
Positional qualities don't stand in
opposition to tactical qualities. Hence a positional player can be a strong
tactician. An example of this is the pronounced positional player Tigran
Petrosian. Prior to the World Championship match in 1966, Spassky got the
advice to stir up tactical complications since Petrosian, because of his
positional style, was regarded a weak tactician. Spassky later came to regret
that he followed this advice. He even said afterwards that tactics was
Petrosian's main strength. The trouble stirred up by his opponents suited
Petrosian fine since he, by using his well-developed tactical vision, could
foresee and refute his opponent's ideas. He had no significant problem with Tal
either, during the latter's ravages in the sixties.
judgement cannot be viewed as opposed to tactics, what is the opposite
standpoint of positional judgement, then? In today's computer chess era we have
once more opened our eyes to concretistic chess. While computers are bad
at formulating logical plans, they can compensate their very weak positional
judgement by means of massive calculation. On the other hand, logical planning
is very central to the human positional player. The conclusion is that
concretistic chess is a complementary opposite to positional chess.
Chessplayers are aware of the fact that they can trust their positional
judgement despite the relative complexity of the position. However, positions
exist where concretistic chess treads in the foreground. An example of this is
the knight ending which often exclusively demands calculation.
often than not, positions occur that are balanced to the extent that it depends
on the disposition of the player whether concretism or positional judgement is
principally used. The point is that the two different types will, in the same
position, often arrive at different decisions - and both may be
right! Hence we can conclude that concretism and positional judgement is a pair
The latter pair of
opposites describes the realistic type since this type strives after the
objective truth in every game. The positional player foremostly tries to find
the correct plan; the plan that is in accordance with the demands of the
position. He disregards the greater part of the concrete variation tree in his
search for the correct plan. Furthermore, he principally uses his judgement (not
calculation) to cut off sub-trees from the variation tree.
concretistic player, on the other hand, wants to solve the problems of the
position by finding the correct concrete variations. If one encounters a
concretistic player one is often struck by his clear-sightedness and technical
efficiency. That's why the concretist Kasparov is called "the monster with
a thousand eyes" - he sees every variation. The concretist
takes a firm grip on the immediate problems of the position and he
seldom blunders. He could also be called the technical type. These two
types have the characters of truth-seekers. In science there is a corresponding
division in the theoretical physicists and the practical lab-physicists.
The visionary type
other pair of opposites must be regarded as the
visionary type since they foremostly try to conjure up tactical or
strategical motives, respectively. They are less interested in the correctness
or the inherent truths of the position. This doesn't mean that tactical or
strategical elements are irrational, but merely that players who prefer these
qualities before correctness and truth must be considered visionary. The
visionary notion should not be regarded as a derogatory concept. There is an
artistic quality to the works of this type.
I also want to call
attention to how I regard the concept of tactics. To me it signifies the tactical
vision, i.e. the creative function whereby tactical ideas are formed. So by
tactics I don't mean variation calculus. A tactician strives after solving the
problems by tactical means. This is, as in all other instances, dependent on
variation calculus. But the tactician doesn't put the variation calculus in the
foreground. The tactician invests a great amount of energy trying to create
tactical motives, and this is something quite different from variation calculus.
Since concretistic calculus is merely an auxiliary function with the tactical
type, he will make a few errors. But this doesn't bother him much as long as he
wins by tactical creativity.
combining the realistic and visionary pairs of opposites we can
construct the following cross of opposites:
By looking at this picture it is easier to
understand why a positional player is expected to be strong both tactically and
strategically. With the positional player the positional judgement is primary
whilst strategical and tactical creativity are auxiliary functions. The latter
functions do not oppose the positional function. However, in this cross it is
obvious that the concretistic function is in opposition to the positional
function. Two opposing functions cannot be utilized simultaneously. A player
that is disposed towards positional judgement will not only devote less time to
concrete calculus, but he will also be relatively blind to the more immediate
problems of the position, e.g. that the queen is threatened. Consequently, with
the positional type concretism becomes relatively repressed; it becomes the inferior
Also here the positional player Tigran Petrosian
is a good example. When he was asked the obligatory question of how many moves
he counts, he answered half-jokingly: -One! Petrosian at an early stage in his
career realized that he was rather weak in his concretistic function. Therefore
he devoted much energy to strengthen his calculative ability. He trained by
reading chess games without using a board and by visualizing the position until
the next diagram was reached. It is worthy of imitation to in this way exercise
ones inferior function. Obviously, Petrosian as World Champion was not bad at
concrete calculus. Nevertheless, it was his weakest function. He didn't need
this function that much since his positional judgement was so well developed.
His realistic attitude is apparent from his outspoken striving after logic in
chess. He was taken aback by Kortchnoi's balancing on the edge of disaster.
positional judgement was Petrosian's primary function his style diagram should
be depicted with the positional function on top. I have encircled the primary
function and what I call the secondary function - in
Petrosian's case the strategical function. The secondary function is the one
auxiliary function which the player prefers to use. It can also suitably be
called the help function. As you know Petrosian preferred to solve the
problems on the board in a strategical way rather than by tactical means. He was
never in a hurry to arrive at a conclusion.
The auxiliary functions can be more balanced so
that it becomes more difficult to decide which one is secondary. I believe
Karpov belongs to the same type as Petrosian. His secondary function is also the
strategical but since he is somewhat more balanced his tactical function stands
out more clearly. With other words, his style is not as slow as Petrosian's.
excellent example of the utilization of the secondary function is the way in
which Michail Tal during the years around 1960 shifted primary
function. He had realized that the successful positional paradigm had made the
chess world blind to the power of the visionary function. He went over from
having been a positional player to become a devoted tactician. As his primary
function he now used his earlier secondary function; namely the tactical
function. This meant that he devoted much energy during the games to conjure up
tactical motives by utilizing his tactical creative vision. He did not bother
whether the variations were really credible or not. After this period Tal went
back to his former primary function - the positional.
is not hard to realize to what type Kasparov belongs. His style diagram looks
True to the realistic type, Kasparov has an
extremely strong desire to arrive at the truth in every position by means of
concrete variation calculus. This attitude is obvious from his concept of
'Advanced Chess' whereby computers are utilized to further enhance the
calculative function. But it is probable that, in his case, the concretistic
function will become overly developed. It does not bring about the deepening of
the game that was intended. On the other hand, the positional player can improve
his chess using Advanced Chess while their inferior function is strengthened.
you know, the calculative player is, because of his relatively inferior
positional function, dependent on preparations so that the positional
problem-complex, i.e. the planning, is to a great extent resolved already from
the beginning. This is very obvious in Kasparov's case. There is with this type
a tremendous passion for concrete variations. Their tactical vision and their
strategical inventiveness are seldom lacking. However, they don't have the
capability of the positional type to judge the plausibility of the ideas. They
don't have the same depth of understanding and the auxiliary functions are not
as effectively utilized as with the positional type. Creating logical plans is
their weakest side. The calculations use up a lot of energy.
Kasparov's case his dilemma became obvious in the match against Deep
Blue. One would expect a computer to be a pronounced concretistic player.
One must, however, keep in mind that a computer lacks any well-developed
tactical or strategical vision. Consequently, it must try to compensate also the
lack of these with massive calculation. So one cannot really regard a computer
as a concretistic player according to human measures. Rather, the computer is
Kasparov, however, wanted to fight the computer
using a suitable antidote, namely a pronounced positional style of play.
Kasparov indeed tried to play like Petrosian against the computer, but since the
positional function is his weakest, the attempt failed. Although the concept was
fortunate in certain games, there are many that argue that he would have been
better off playing in his normal style, even if it in principle would have
suited the computer better. I think that Karpov or Petrosian (if he had lived)
would have defeated the computer rather easily.
As examples of visionary
types I would like to mention Spassky and Botvinnik, respectively. The
visionary type does not seem to be as bound by the laws of the game as the
realistic type. Spassky could shift between positional play and concretistic
play. Accordingly, this type is often regarded as a pragmatist. But the
guiding principle for Spassky was his tactical vision which probably outshines
any other tactical prodigy that the world has ever seen. Spassky always tried to
use his magical wand. It wasn't particularly vital to him whether or not it was
positionally motivated or whether there existed concrete variations in the
background that would disturb his tactical vision. He was even prepared to play
unsound openings in battle against the world elite. Spassky definitely deserves
the denomination of tactician. The chameleon-like character is easily
understandable if one ponders the diagram below. The positional and concretistic
functions are both auxiliary. The fact that the strategical function is inferior
explains the impatient nature of Spassky.
The strategical player is the
odd figure in the chess collective. Their greatest weakness is the tactical
vision since it constitutes the inferior function. Botvinnik expressly said that
his greatest weakness was his tactical vision. He was sometimes rather
unsuspecting and naive. He took the corresponding measures as Petrosian did, and
worked to improve his inferior function. The strategists often have a fighting
spirit and persistence that is admirable. To play against Botvinnik was
experienced as playing against a steamroller. Below is his style diagram. I
haven't studied him thoroughly so I'm not quite sure whether to place his
concretistic or positional function as secondary. But I have the impression of
judgement before concrete calculation, so I encircled the positional function.
It could be of interest to
construct a cross of opposites with the named players, putting the positional
player on top. This is the result:
The inference of my idea is that we arrive at altogether
eight player types, when taking into account primary plus secondary function.
At least, this is better than the two types we had before. Consequently it would
be possible to construct a star with eight branches and then try to place eight
top players on the different branches. Done by a cunning person it would be a
suitable test for the theory if the placing of the players could be
It is the player himself who can best determine which
type he belongs to. Only the player himself can know how his own thought
processes goes. But it is often easy to draw conclusions from the games of a
player. Of course, the best players have a greater scope in all respects
compared with the amateur. It's hard for the weaker player to assess a stronger
player's weaknesses because, relatively speaking, this side is strong, too.
Botvinnik was a weak tactician compared with his other capacities. This doesn't
mean that he was weak tactically, only weak compared with his other abilities.
I only have recourse to my own thought processes, and I clearly
recognize my own weak sides. I belong to those who simply must find the right
plan hidden in the position. Otherwise I can't play, so I am definitely a
positional player, according to my model. Those who can "conjure up"
plans (regardless of their validity) belong to the strategists and the
tacticians. However, I often miss out on the concrete things in the position,
which is due to a lack of concretism. The technical capacity almost disappears
sometimes. But if I repress my strongest function (the planning
function) when playing blitz, then I become reasonably strong technically.
The "philosopher" must be shut out if one is to be strong
technically. Chess is problematic in this sense. There is an ongoing conflict
between these different faculties. Comparatively, in archery, only the technical
(concretistic) capacity should be in operation at contests. However, in
chess this is not possible. You cannot play with the backbone only, but
conflicting functions must be active simultaneously. That's why a positional
super-GM can blunder away a piece in the opening. There are amateur players,
that would never lose a piece this way, because they are very
down-to-earth and technical, i.e. always focused on that which lies near at
hand, that which immediately suggests itself, the obvious and natural. On the
other hand, this player cannot find the right plan.
In conclusion, I
have suggested a method of determining a player's style according to a model
which uses primary and secondary function. Fischer would be a positional player
with tactics as secondary function (or help function). Spassky would have
tactics as primary function and the positional as secondary. Botvinnik is a
strategist with positional(?) play as secondary function. Kasparov would be
primarily concretistic with tactics as secondary. The tacticians and the
strategists are the visionary and also the artistic types. The concretists and
the positional players belong to the realistic and the more "scientific"