Reshevsky System: An unexplored positional system

Mr. Samuel Reshevsky developed a positional system of chess thinking which can be considered the most unexplored till date. He used to win games as effortlessly as legendary Capablanca. Unfortunately due to second world war and other problems, Reshevsky could not become a World Champion but his games are worthy of declaring him an equivalent.

Reshevsky's style is best described in his own words:

"I am essentially a positional player, although I can conduct an assault with precision and vigor, when the opportunity arises. My style lies between that of Tal and Petrosian. It is neither over-aggressive nor too passive. My strength consists of a fighting spirit, a great desire to win, and a stubborn defense whenever in trouble. I rarely become discouraged in an inferior situation, and I fear no one."

"By playing slowly during the early phases of a game, I am able to grasp the basic requirements of each position. Then, despite being in time pressure, I have no difficulty in finding the best continuation. Incidentally, it is an odd fact that more often than not it is my opponent who gets the jitters when I am compelled to make these hurried moves."

In the words of none other than Bobby Fischer:
"He (Reshevsky) is like a machine calculating every variation and has to find every move over the board by a process of elimination. He can see more variations in a shorter period of time than most players who ever lived. Occasionally, in fact, he comes up with new moves - spontaneous ideas he has fabricated from no knowledge."

Elements of the Reshevsky System: Though Reshevsky adopted most of the thoughts about positional chess from Nimzowitsch and Steinitz, he stressed on a combination of positional and tactical chess to achieve the major aim of winning a chess game. While Steintz and Nimzowitsch derived a lot of pleasure from demonstrating the triumph of their newly found principles of positional chess over tactical combinations, Reshevsky states that chess is inherently positional but tactics is a way to get those positions. Though attack can be launched from strong positions, but how to get those strong positions was the focus of Reshevsky's studies.

Following are the main elements in the Reshevsky system:

1. Weak Pawns: Reshevsky states that when you threat your opponent of a strong attack through your pieces, your opponent moves his pawns just to stop your pieces from conquering the key squares and while doing this, weak pawns are created in the opponent's camp. Then you can form a strategy of conquering these weak pawns or forcing your opponent's pieces to get tied in safeguarding these weak pawns. This lets your pieces take control of the board and win the game. Thus, lead in development enables us to create threats of conquering the key squares in opponent's side which forces him to move pawns leading to weak pawns which tie the opponent's pieces leaving us an open field to control and launch attack on the king.

Types of Weak pawns: Reshevsky identifies four types of weak pawns:

i) Isolated Pawns: These pawns are isolated from their fellow pawns and are vulnerable to get captured. Pieces are required to safeguard these pawns and thus the pieces can not work at their full strength or can not attack.

ii)  Doubled Pawns: Doubled pawns are not always a weakness. But in the middle to endgame transitions, doubled pawns can not be used to create passed pawns and thus become a weakness.

iii) Too Advanced Pawn: A pawn that is too advanced looses its defence and becomes vulnerable to capture. Though pawn advancement leads to space advantage in opening or middle-game but too far advanced pawn gets into trouble. 

iv) Retarded Pawn: A pawn that is left backward is also a weakness. Such pawns do not create any threats, get blocked and captured in the endgame. Thus a balanced pawn advancement is required.

2. Passed Pawns: As per Reshevsky, there are several decisions to be take up regarding passed pawns (the pawns which have got no pawns to stop them from moving ahead and promoting to queen). These are:

i) Is outside passed pawn (usually queen side pawn if opponent has castled king side), more useful than kingside or central passed pawn: Usually true but depends on the position of the pieces also.

ii) Shall we blockade opponent's passed pawn or create our own: Takes hell lots of calculation. 

iii) Passed Pawn in the Middlegame: If somehow, we can get a passed pawn in the middlegame, then nothing like it. The entire game further focuses on to preserve and advance it (for the side who has got it) or to restrain and capture it (for the opponent). Even if that particular pawn is lost, it usually gives an advantage in some other terms.

iv) Get your rook behind your passed pawn: If you have got a passed pawn, get your rook behind it. Or if your opponent has got a passed pawn, somehow prevent his rook from getting behind his passed pawn.

v) Pieces vs Pawns: When to sacrifice a piece to get passed pawns? Usually in the endgame if opponent's pieces are away from the passed pawns we are able to get. A piece sac in this situation enables us to advance our passed pawns till opponent's pieces reach near them and thus we can win the game.

(More to come....) 

Example Game 1: Reshevsky beats Capablanca in his own territory (Queen's Gambit Declined)

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1. "The Art of Positional Play" by Samuel Reshevsky, Random House Puzzels & Games, 2002

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