Positional vs. Tactical 😏 Chess with IM Valeri Lilov

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Positional vs Tactical Chess

We proudly present IM Valeri Lilov, that will make a new free video lesson every Wednesday in exclusive for iChess.net. Today’s topic is Positional vs Tactical Chess, and I will anticipate the conclusion: there is no battle between positional and tactical chess!

IM Lilov examines 3 recent master games, from top GMs Aronian, Caruana and Ray Robson. The three are great attacking games, so we can quickly anticipate that they are tactical chess games. But Lilov demonstrates that we are wrong.

We will look at some positions Lilov analyzes to try to understand his point. Positional vs Tactical Chess – Robson-Shabalov

The first position is extracted from the first game. Try to evaluate it before continuing reading.

In this position, Black is a pawn up, but is he really better?

It’s easy to see that is not the case. Black is behind in development, has less space and his pieces doesn’t have good square (look at the poor minor pieces on the kingside!).

Even more, Black’s pieces are disorganized and without clear objectives.

Conclusion: the pawn sacrifice was entirely a positional sacrifice to get a better position.

Only now that White has all his pieces in the best squares, he starts the attack with 16.h4!, that give him the full point 15 moves later.

What Lilov shows in this game is that the attack is a consequence of a better position. And that’s an important concept that he reinforces with the next example (see the second diagram).Positional vs Tactical Chess – Caruana-Meier

White has more space and has finished the development. Did Caruana immediately start the attack? NO!

You need to accumulate more positional advantages before!

Caruana kept improving with his next moves: 11.Kb1 – 12.Bg5 – 14.c3 – 17.Rhe1, until he reaches the position on the left. Only now that he has all his pieces centralized, he starts the attack with 20. h4!

Positional vs Tactical Chess – Caruana-MeierAnd even after starting the attack, he kept pushing without crazy moves, until he has the opportunity to give the final blow. But the tactics appear only because he has positional advantages!

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The final game analyzed gives us a good opportunity to talk about when to launch the attack and start with the tactics (see the next diagram):Positional vs Tactical Chess – Aronian-Naiditsch

In this position, it’s White to play. You are right if you focused your attention in the black king in the center of the board. That’s a problem for Black. But there is no possible way to attack it right now!

We have no development advantage, so we don’t have pieces to attack.

So, what did Aronian do? Just improves his position! 17. Rd3! prepares to double the rooks in the d- or c-file. Only after 17…Qc7 18.Bf4 Ne5 19.Rc3 Qb8 20.Qh5 Bd6 21.Rxc8+ Bxc8 22.Rd1 Bc7 23.Na5 Bd7 White found the way to punish Black with 24.Bxe5 Bxe5 25.Rxd7 Kxd7 26.Qxf7+, starting a king hunt.

Take a closer look to the moves until the exchange sacrifice. They are aggressive moves, but there is no tactical chess until he has improved the position of all his pieces!

If you want to see more attacking games, you definitely need to see the webinar IM Lilov did a few weeks ago: Mikhail Tal’s Attacking Genius. Click here to see the Wizard of Riga on action!


This insight into these games teaches us an important lesson about attacking chess: you will not get a killing position out of nowhere – you have to work hard to create one!

Always improve the position of your pieces. They must be very active before beginning the attack.

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