A Scientific Inquiry on Combinations

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

One of the greatest thinkers the game has ever produced in 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.

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.


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 Steintiz 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
● 1….Rxd2 2.Kxd2 Rd8+ 3.Kc1 Ba3+ 4.Rb2 Qc3 5.Bh3! Kb8 6.Qb5 Qd2 7.Kb1 Qd1 8.Rd1 Kd1 #
● 1.Bg7 kg7 2. Nh5 Kh8 3.Qh6 Rg8 4.Ng5! Wins.
● One of steinitz’s most brilliant combinations. 1.Qg4 g6 2.Ng5 Ke8 3.Re7!! Kf8 (3…Kxe7 4.Re1+ Kd6 5.Qb4 Kc7 6.Ne6 wins. (Kd8 5.Ne6 and Nc5 wins)
● 1.Re1+! Be6 2.de6 !! Nb3 3.ef7 Kd7 4.Be6 Kc6 5.Ne5 Kb5 6.Bc4 Ka5 7.Bb4 Ka4 8.ab3#

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