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A Scientific Inquiry on Combinations

by Vishnu Prasanna - 01/10/2020

India's 33rd GM Vishnu Prasanna is a prolific trainer. He has trained World's second youngest GM in history, Gukesh D and also worked with GM Adhiban B, he is also training with GM Surya Sekhar Ganguly. He launched his new official couple of months. The website has all the information about Vishnu and it is rich with features. One of the feature of the site is blog where Vishnu himself discusses various themes about chess. In his fourth blog post, he does a scientific inquiry on Combinations using illustrative examples of Steinitz's game. Combinations are very important either to win or defend yourself from impending doom. How and when to spot one? How to improve combinational vision? Vishnu tells it all.

"A win by an unsound combination, however showy, fills me with artistic horror."

Vishnu makes a scientific inquiry on Combinations

Vishnu's site has a lot of features, blog is one of them where he writes about various themes by himself | Photo: Official site

One of the greatest thinkers the game has ever produced is the Austrian world champion Wilhelm Steinitz. A giant step forward in chess understanding was offered by his scientific principles in positional chess.


It was a period when combinations were believed to be a product of the intuition of a genius and only a few were bestowed upon with this gift. One of his earliest experiments was a scientific study of combinations. He studied the positions where combinations occurred and why did it occur. A combination can be defined as a forced sequence of moves usually involving a sacrifice leading to a huge advantage or victory. Steinitz was no stranger to combinations and was in both the giving and receiving end of them.

Hampe - Steinitz, Wien 1859

Black to play

Anderssen - Steinitz, London 1866

White to play

Steinitz - Von Bardeleben, Hastings 1895

White to play

Steinitz - Rock, London 1863

White to play

Apart from the combinations that exist in each position, there are many obvious positional defects to the position of the losing side. A weak King, badly coordinated pieces and Knights on the rim.


Steinitz concluded that the positional defects was the main reason for the existence of combinations and In the absence of a positional advantage one should not look for a combination.


He derived through his study that the initial position did not offer enough to go after the opponent and instead one should aim to accumulate small advantages and avoid forcing moves at the early stages of the game.


The next two positions show how Steinitz perspective of the openings evolved over his career.

Steinitz - Neumann, Dundee 1867

Position after 5.Ke2

A recurrent position in Steinitz Openings with white.

Steinitz - Chigorin, Havana 1892

Position after 8.Ba4

Such moves which do not have any direct aim in the opening must have been a surprising and revolutionary idea for those times.


Steinitz did not completely give up on his gambits but included the closed games as part of his game.


We can make sense of Steinitz discoveries in the following way -

• Study combinations and understand how and where they occur.

• Combinations occur only with a large positional advantage.

• A large positional advantage is not gained by a series of forced moves but by the accumulation of small advantages.

• The initial position does not offer any large advantage so white is not advised to force matters at this point.

• The closed games are born!

Solutions for the combinations

About the Author

Vishnu Prasanna is the 33rd GM of India. He has been coaching professional chess players since 2016. He has organized numerous individual, group and online camps attended by hundreds of Indian and International chess players till date. He has trained the second youngest GM in the world D Gukesh. He is training with GM Surya Sekhar Ganguly. He has also worked with GM Adhiban B as a second for his debut at Wijk aan Zee, where he finished 3rd. Other prominent students include IM Leon Mendonca, IM Rathanvel, WGM V Varshini, WIM K Priyanka among many others.



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The article was edited by Shahid Ahmed

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