Alexander Bangiev: Squares Strategy, Vol. 1
The Bangiev way of thinking is a strategy based on squares. This means that before every move, the piece set-up is checked out against quite specific pre-defined criteria. The method does not develop your memory, but rather your thought processes: you learn to understand the logic of the game by means of a few rules! In each phase of the game, you have to ask yourself the same restricted number of questions and then answer them. Once you have grasped the principle you can always find the best move yourself.
 

Target setting

The motto of the CD: Learn, train yourself to think properly. This CD is totally devoted to chess training. It is well known that chess training methods are open to much discussion in professional circles; but what is agreed by all is the necessity of consistent training, because “Practice makes perfect”. Chess is an intellectual game. It is not a team sport, but an individual struggle, and for that reason the majority of training is done on one's own: we shall call this “solo-training”. But what should we practise in solo-training? The opening? The middlegame? The endgame? And above all; “How?” Training methods may be in dispute, but all contain two elements: learning and training.

Learning and training

I would like to draw a clear distinction between these two concepts: By “learning” is meant the following: acquisition and storing of chess knowledge, specifically concepts and examples in order to create a thoroughly understood information base

The principle behind learning consists of remembering positions in order to be able to handle them properly, should they come up over the board. It is of course important to find out as much as we can about chess. By doing so, we learn to play properly. Above all, we must also learn how to think properly. This seems to be a cliché, but it stems from the fact that each chess move begins in the head. If you attach importance to playing a good game of chess, you must first of all learn how to think properly.

What should be understood by “training” is the encouragement of your own ability to play chess, and its constant development. Here we find ourselves immediately confronted with the question: Which abilities have to be encouraged in chess? Naturally, there are many: e.g. evaluating a position, calculating variations, constructing plans and looking for the appropriate moves, spotting combinations. All that has to be continuously practised, shaped, remodelled and further developed, so that one learns by fending for oneself to make choices more easily, more surely and more consciously in every game one plays. All these abilities can be grouped together under the concept of “thinking”.

Thinking

What actually happens when you play chess? You have to make moves. But every move is the result of thought, the end-result of an intellectual effort. Thoughts must always be subordinated to a specific goal or starting point. As Stefan Zweig pointed out, thoughts need a solid base or else they start to spin and create meaningless circles. This intellectual effort, with, as a goal, the finding of an appropriate move, the actual “chess thinking process” will in future be called “thought process” in short.

Thought process

But the meaning of this very concept “thought process” is much disputed in chess circles. It is almost impossible to learn anything in chess books about how one thinks or how one learns. Recommendations by experts restrict themselves to laying down the goals of the intellectual effort: evaluating the position, selecting candidate moves, and finally determining the best of the candidate moves. But how you should go about thinking how to achieve these goals is never discussed.

This means that each chess player considers moves in his own particular way, develops his own personal technique for problem solving and acquires his own individual thought process. But there are criteria which are common to all thought processes:

Bangiev's method of thinking

At the heart of this CD is the way of thinking which I have worked out and tested on many games, including those of top players.

Bangiev’s method of thinking (in future abbreviated to the B-method) consists of continually taking care to run through in one's head the same thoughts or questions in the same order every time. In each and every position, you first of all strive to set targets and then find the ways to achieve those targets. The relationship between targets and means varies considerably according to the phases of the game: opening, middlegame and endgame. This CD allows you to learn and practise the B-method in the middlegame, especially in the domain of the attack. Employing the method should lead to an improvement in your ability to handle the middlegame in a targeted and effective way.

And in what is to come, which of the two players shall we consider? In all cases, we shall look at the position through the eyes of only one of the two players, the winner. What sort of positions shall we consider? We shall consider above all positions where both sides have opportunities to seize the initiative, that means evenly balanced positions in which both sides have advantages and opportunities.

Explanation of the B-method: The B-method works as follows: You always ask yourself the same questions. By answering these specific and always identical questions, you learn to recognise the key squares and the opponent's pieces which control these squares. Thereafter, these enemy pieces should be put to the question by your own pieces, to push them to one side or at least to get them tangled up. This sounds very simple. The problem is that most players think in a radically different way: they immediately start to consider previously learned variations, without evaluating the position, without constructing a plan. So they have to change their way of thinking!

Power questions: There are three questions, which must be asked and answered one after the other. These three questions are: the strategical question, the question about direction and the question about colour. Answering the strategical question should define the basic problem and the target; answering the question about direction should establish particularly critical zones for defence and attack; and answering the question about colour should define these zones in terms of a colour complex.

Choosing candidate moves and deciding on the best move: Once the key squares have been decided on according to the answers to these three questions (the principle being “Which squares are least protected?”), you should try to take control of them. To do so, you have to involve the opponent's pieces which are protecting these squares elsewhere in the game in order to clear them out of your way as much as possible. To achieve this you have to find certain moves, the so-called candidate moves, which suit this purpose. Finally these candidate moves must be compared and their side-effects checked out until in each case the best move has been found.

The working of the whole procedure will be illustrated by a small number of fully annotated games.

Training the thought processes

What I call thought process training has the target of encouraging one's own thought processes. The more often you use this schematic, the more you think according to the B-method, the better, the faster, the more accurate the whole thought process will be. A well practised thought process will enable you to rapidly discover important areas for attack and defence, which should then allow you to discover the most effective moves.

Solo training: How do you train your own thought processes? Solo training is the most suitable method for this. Each time you play or study chess you should ask and answer the same questions over and over again. In group training, the trainer has to lay down how you must think in any given position or in any game your are discussing.

Here it does not matter what chess material you use: it could be grandmaster games or your own games, or tactical problems taken from any chess publication. The most important thing is that you always stick to the structure you have been given, i.e. you decide and act along the lines of the thought processes you have learned.

What goals should you achieve by doing this? The B-method should become a habit, should become so instinctive that questions and answers occur quicker and quicker, until they are lightning fast. What must you watch out for? Wherever possible, you should avoid such critical situations as time trouble and excitement, because that is where it is easiest to lose your disciplined self-control. During this training phase, you are recommended to avoid blitz and rapid tournaments, at the very least until the thought process has become routine for you.

Solo training with the "Tactics training" CD

This CD sets out your course for solo training. The training material is constructed in such a way, that the trainee is immediately put into a position in which he learns to think properly: after that he can practise the thought process he has learned, i.e. think and play according to the criteria he has studied. I am of the opinion that practice in both areas, “Learning” and “Training”, should be carried out in parallel. For that reason in the areas of “tactics” and “middlegame”, I have divided the exercises into two databases called “Learning” and “Training”.

“Learning” database: The games in this database are annotated in such a way as to make clear the thought process we are talking about: the questions are formulated, then the answers which are then commented on.

“Training” database: The games in this database are annotated in such a way as to develop the thought process we have discussed. The questions are asked and the answers have to be found. Help is provided in the form of so-called training questions.

In every possible learning situation or chess position, the trainee is challenged to find the answers to these questions and in doing so learns to think properly. For example, if you cannot find the answer to the question about direction, then you can click on "Help" and "More help" to receive more information about the particularities of the position; doing this leads you step by step to the correct thought process. The student must always try to manage without help as long as possible. This is the best way to organise your solo training.

The first CD devoted to Bangiev’s new training method is dedicated to tactics. In a first database “Learning” the new training method is introduced by means of four introductory texts and 50 annotated game fragments. A second database is given over to practice; there are training questions to be answered in 200 game fragments. You can test your progress by using grandmaster games; this is because grandmasters make use of the correct thought process, without perhaps realising that they are doing so!