Master's thinking-process.

You played a decent opening and you have now reached a critical position.

You see all sorts of ideas and possible outcomes but it's all (evidently) unclear and unfocused.

How to find the right ideas?
How to translate them into a plan?
How to orient your plan according to your pawn structure?
How to make sure it is a sound and tactically effective plan?
How to make sure it is strategically precise?

It's all in the thinking-process!

Before you go any further, please study the next Diagram as hard as you can.
You are advised to set it up on a real board and study it for a few days!

If you require assistance and care to take this exercise to the next level go to this LINK and read the two articles by FM Levin on "To Plan for the Middlegame, Read the Pawn Structure".


In the game (I was Black) I chose the plan of …Qc7 / ….0-0-0 and exploiting the g-file via …Rhg8.
This is a nice practical plan and there is nothing wrong about it but I had a better plan!

I did not find that plan although I have considered something similar.
Upon publishing the game that brought about the position above I immediately got multiple replies at Pete’s forum.

I made the remark that despite the aesthetic weakness it might have been more prudent to play the plan …0-0 / ….Kh8 / ….Rg8 etc.

It was FM Levin who found the best plan.
Upon asking him (Dave) to further elaborate his own thinking process that oriented him to find his plan; Dave’s reply was a joyful read and I have therefore decided to publish it here as an educational study of a Master’s thinking process.


“Can you try to verbally explain your own thinking process and what brought you to think about this plan?”


"[1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 d6 5. O-O Bd7 6. Nc3 g6 7. d4 Bg7 8. d5 Nce7 9. Bb3 f5 10. Ng5 Nf6 11. Ne6 Bxe6 12. dxe6 c6 13. exf5 gxf5 14. Re1] 


In this position, I was pondering what Black's middlegame plan should be. (I like to engage in planning whenever the game either is about to reach a position envisioned in my previous planning, or reaches a position that radically differs from positions I had considered.) 

Being that Black's d-pawn is on a half-open file, he'd like to play ...d5 so that the pawn is protected by a peer. But that would hang Black's e-pawn. Therefore, before playing ...d5, Black must protect the e-pawn. One way would be ...e4, when that pawn would be admirably protected. However, this would create a hole at the f4-square (which White could occupy with a minor piece), give up the possibility of ...f4, and weaken the d4-square. Therefore, I'd prefer to keep Black's e- and f-pawns abreast on his fourth rank until advancing one of them to the fifth rank brings a concrete benefit.

Black could instead protect the e-pawn directly (that is, using a piece). Since White could add a second attacker by playing Qe2..., Black would need to defend the e5-square either by two major pieces or by a minor piece. The queen could defend the e-pawn from the c7-square, but White's e-pawn would block a Black rook on the e-file. Therefore, a second defender of the e5-square must be a minor piece, but in that case, Black's queen need not also defend that square.

One way to defend the e-pawn would be by ...Ng6, but this would leave the f-pawn undefended and inhibit Black from castling kingside (due to the discovery e7+...). Were Black to castle queenside, this would inhibit the advance of Black's queenside pawn majority; however, leaving the queenside pawns where they are would still leave Black's king somewhat vulnerable on the queenside, due to the weaknesses at the b6-square and along the g1/a7 diagonal.

The e-pawn could instead be defended by Black's bishop if the f6-knight were to move. ...Ng4 would subject the knight to being kicked back by f3... or h3... 

The other two feasible squares for the f6-knight are e8 and g8. Either would allow the knight to reach the f6-square. From the e8-square, the knight could also reach c7 (possibly with ...Nxe6 to follow) or d6, but at either e6 or d6, the knight would block a central file and lack access to an obviously better square. In contrast, putting the f6-knight on the g8-square would leave the central files unblocked and support the blockade of White's e-pawn. Another benefit is that it would prevent Bh6... (if White should line up queen and bishop along the c1/h6 diagonal), because Black's bishop is needed to support the e-pawn and potentially other squares along the a1/h8 diagonal, were that diagonal to open. 

Were Black to castle kingside, the g8-square would be denied to Black's f6-knight, but this could be remedied by ...Kh8 (which also evades potential discovered check along the a2/g8 diagonal). After ...O-O, ...Kh8, and ...Nfg8, Black's f8-rook would be supporting the f-pawn and thereby make a later ...Ng6 more feasible. 

Would this plan enable Black to meet White's doubling along the d-file? Let's see: 14...O-O 15. Bg5 Kh8 16. Qd2 Nfg8 17. Rad1 d5 (just in time). Hence the idea seems tactically playable.


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