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  1. Forum
  2. General Chess Discussion
  3. Positional play: s p a c e (beginner)

I just finished to read the chapter on space of Play winning chess of Seirawan. Basically, to quantify and compare space advantage, you just have to count how many squares each side attacks on enemy's territory.

I find this definition a little bit strange (I think it's not the same thing to control a square with a pawn or the queen if there are trades involved; or if the squares you attack are defended or not; or if it is the same thing just to attack some squares and effectively control them being free to put one men on it etc).

Because of that I did some researches. Found this article ( which discusses this concept of space and the way to quantify it -counting squares. It is said that this notion can be not only useless but also misleading. Instead one should think in terms of "activity" (barely understand). I also have read some things about "over extension", so it seems to me that understand space advantage is a litter more complicated that say "ok, I attack 10 squares and you only 7".

I have two questions:

1. Can be useful to a beginner like me, who until now the only thing about positional play I knew was "knights in the center, bishops and rooks in open files", think about space in these terms (counting squares) when playing? At least it can be useful to know when to trade or not, no?

2. Does Seirawan (a GM) actually "count squares" when he plays or it just a simple way to teach beginners some simple good rules to follow?

At your level (also mine) you first need to not hang pieces, watch out for opponent tactics, recognize tactics, win endgames.
Those things about space only make sense qualitatively, not quantitatively, unless you define some kind of evaluation function (which you don't, since you are human and not a computer).

#2 I think you're right, tactics first, but I read it in the very first book of the Winning chess series of Seirawan, so it should be very basic stuff (that book starts explaining how the pieces move!)

It is not that easy to give an exact definition of space, but it's also not really needed. You need to understand when (and where) one side has a space advantage, but I doubt anyone is actually gonna "count attacked squares" or sthg like this during their games.

This is roughly how I think about the concept of space in chess:
There are squares that players are typically able to use to maneuver their pieces, for example you are usually able to safely move your pieces within ranks 1-3 (or 8-6 if you're black). If you are not able to safely put a piece on a certain square because your opponent controls it (e. g. with a pawn, or with more pieces than you have defenders), that's a sign of you having a space disadvantage. If one of your pawns is fixed on a certain square, that square also won't be accessible for your pieces, which again means you have a space disadvantage.
On the other hand, if you are able to access certain squares that you (in most position) wouldn't be able to use, that means you have a space advantage on that area.

Here are some examples that (hopefully) will help to illustrate my point:

In this position, white has a central space advantage. Why? Because of the white pawn on d5. White is able to maneuver on all squares from his 1st to 3rd rank, whereas black cannot use the squares c6, d6 and e6.

Here's another example: White has a space advantage on the center / kingside. He controls d6 and f6 directly with his e5 pawn, and e6 also won't be available for black's pieces since his own pawn will be there for the time being. Black, on the other hand, has a space advantage on the queenside: He controls b3 and d3 directly, plus c3 isn't available for the white pieces because he has a pawn fixed on that square. Also note that black might even be able to put one of his own pieces on b3 (e. g. after Bd7, Na5, possibly Ba4 if the white queen moves away). In most "normal" positions, black isn't able to put pieces on b3, so his ability to do so in this specific case is a sign of a space advantage.

These are of course very basic examples, but I hope they helped to make my point.

Basically, having a space advantage on a certain area means that you are able to use unusually many squares on that area and / or your opponent can only use unusually few.

@Dr_King_Schultz thanks for your answer, very instructive

Space might be the final frontier but it's made in a hollywood basement- Red Hot Chili Peppers

More space means opponent pieces have less space to navigate. The player with the space advantage can navigate faster from one wing to another. Piece exchanges help the player with less space. Therefore the player with the space advantage should avoid piece exchanges. If the pieces have good squares, a space disadvantage can be no big problem. Example is the Hedgehog. Also, pawns which are more advanced can at the same time be easier attacked from behind or from the side. Therefore control of open files and protection of the advanced pawns by other pawns or pieces is important.

Especially the bishops become a problem when one has space disadvantage, if it is extreme, also the knights. A bishop which is blocked by own pawns is for example in the way of the rooks, so space disadvantage creates bad pieces and such pieces make the other pieces become bad too.

One wins space by creating pawn duos which take away squares from the opponent pieces. c5 in the French, f5 in the Kings Indian, c3 and d4 in the Ruy Lopez, c2-c4 in the Queens Gambit, thats creating pawn duos.

The longer the pawn chain, the more further advanced pawn duos one can build. For example f5-f4 and g5-g4 in the Kings Indian, c5-c4 and b5-b4 in the French, d4-d5 and c3-c4-c5 in the Ruy Lopez.

However, note that f5-f4 in the Kings Indian takes away pressure from e4 which makes it easier for white to play c4-c5 himself, same is true for c5-c4 in the French, which makes f4-f5 easier, and d4-d5 in the Ruy Lopez, which makes f7-f5 easier. c4-c5 in the Queensgambit is usually just bad as e6-e5 is then very simple to play for black, creating a center pawn duo d5-e5, and center pawn duos are better than pawn duos on the wings.

So advancing pawns is never without a disadvantage, still it is necessary in order to make progress.

If the space advantage is extreme, also often a sacrifice of a piece against two pawns becomes an issue, which creates a far advanced pawnduo. For example in Kings Indian positions c4-d5-e4 against c5-d6-e5 this often is an issue.

That is one of the reasons why many isolated pawn chains are bad: Less advanced pawn duos are possible.

There are also space advantages where one has a further advanced pawn in the center which prevents the advance of an opponent pawn which is in the way of the bishop.

Philidor, 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 is an example, e4 prevents the advance of d6 which is in the way of Bf8 (and Qd8) but e4 is not in the way of Bc1. It also allows white to put a piece to d5. A mirrored example is French, 1.e4 e6 2.d2 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4. Here e6 is in the way of Bc8 but d4 is not in the way of Bf1. d4 prevents e6-e5 and at the same time e5 is a good square for a white knight. Sicilian is an example, e4 prevents d6-d5, accepted Queensgambit is another, d4 prevents e5.

Therefore openings like Caro Kann and Scandinavian are popular, the black bishop c8 is not bad here, but black pays a price, he loses a tempo in the Scandinavian, and in the Caro Kann c6 is in the way of his Nb8. Similar Problems like Caro Kann appear in Slav lines.

Other openings attempt to solve this bad bishop problem in another way, all pay some small price for it, be it time and space in the Gruenfeld, space in the Kings Indian, the bishoppair in the Nimzo, structural weaknesses in the Queens Gambit Tarrasch.

e4 e5 is one of the few openings where black doesnt have this bishop problem. Most GMs regard it as being the most solid answer to 1.e4. The white ways to try to get an advantage are more subtle here.

A white opening which unnecessarily does not create the bishop problem for black, or worse, create one for white, is usually a b-class opening. For example 1.e3 e5! and white has the Bc1 problem but black has no Bc8 problem (e6 is free). Or 1.d3 d5!, white has a Bf1 Problem, but black has no Bf8 Problem (d6 is free).

When the position is more open, space advantages more and more disappear, then it is just temporarily piece activity which counts, and this activity can be neutralized by exchanging pieces on the open files. Therefore, when both players have sufficient development, the advance of the blocked pawn (d6-d6 in the Philidor and Sicilian, e6-e5 in the French and Queens Gambit) often completely equalizes for black as this frees the bishop. That is why center control is so important.

The more space one can win, the more opponent pieces he can drive into bad positions, the higher is the possibility of a tactical blow and, in the end, mate.

Of course i simplified things here, but that should be an acceptable intro into the meaning of space in chess.

@no_bullet_thanks thanks for your answer, it was pretty useful

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