Transforming advantages in chess

Today, we have an interesting topic to discuss. It is entitled “Transforming Advantages” or converting advantages into a victory. This lesson has been prepared by FM Kevin Trujillo.
About the author (FM Kevin Trujillo):

I started playing chess competitively when I turned 15. Over my short 5 years playing chess, I have been able to play chess in many different countries. GM Igor Smirnov definitely sparked my desire to play chess.
FM Kevin Trujillo
A picture of me (left)

Transforming Advantages

Recognizing advantages in chess is not enough to win. It is crucial to understand the nuances of the position, and when to capitalize on an advantage and when to exchange it for another advantage.  For example: exchanging a very strong attack for material advantage.

It is important for amateur and even masters to be aware of this, because holding on to an advantage or failing to recognize when to transform it could even result in a loss. How can we do this?

In the following game, we will not only analyze how Capablanca navigated a position where he had a superior bishop, but we will also learn different ways in which you can transform small edges towards victories.

Nimzowitsch – Capablanca
Nimzowitsch vs CapablancaBlack to play

Let’s analyze this position. White would love to play e4 and develop his dark-squared bishop. The queen on a4 is in a very good position because not only does it support e4, but it allows White to play Ba6. We can see that White may attempt to play on the light squares. His plan would be to develop his rooks on the d and c files, as well as playing Ne5-c6 in the future if allowed.

Black has very active pieces and is ahead in development. White’s position has no weaknesses; however, his dark-squared bishop is still on c1, and Black should act quickly before White gets the chance to develop his queenside.

Now that we analyzed the position, what is the direction Black should take?

1… Qf6!
Nimzowitsch vs Capablanca
White to play

This move activates the queen, gives space for the rooks to develop, and pressurizes the b2 square.

White now has big problems developing his dark-squared bishop and his rook on a1. Black recognizes that White must play b3 (or a3-b4) to develop his bishop.  One way to transform a small edge into a big one is by stopping opponent’s “Freeing moves”.  By doing this, we force our opponent into a very passive position.

2.Ba6 Bxa6 3.Qxa6

White removed Black’s powerful bishop, but is now left in a good bishop vs. bad bishop situation.

3…Nb4 4.Qe2 Rfd8 5.a3 Nd3 6.Ne1
Nimzowitsch vs Capablanca
Black to play

The following move by Capablanca encircles a very important concept: It is okay to exchange pieces that are not crucial in your main idea. In other words, Capablanca is trying to take advantage of White’s bad bishop. By removing knights, he is not only isolating the pieces that are crucial in his master plan (good bishop vs. bad bishop), but he is leaving the opponent without counter-play.

6…Nxe1 7.Rxe1 Rac8 8.Rb1
Nimzowitsch vs Capablanca
Black to play

Black activated all his pieces, while White is still trying to develop his queenside. White still can’t develop his bishop, unless he willingly weakens his queenside. We can see that when you pressure your opponent and insist on your ideas, you can force your opponent to weaken his position and make mistakes.

White intends to play 9.b4 followed by 10.Bb2. How can Black stop this?


Now 9.b4 is met with 8…Bd6 followed by Qe4 with a big advantage for Black because the rook on b1 is under attack and Black threatens Rc2.

We can see that tactics play a huge role in strategic battlesBlack is using tactics to stop White’s plans. He is also using tactics to slowly improve his position and force the opponent to defend.

9.b3 Qd5 10.b4 Bf8 11.Bb2 Qa2
Nimzowitsch vs Capablanca
White to play

White was able to develop his bishop but at a very costly price. His light squares on the queenside are very weak and Black is ready to enter the 7th rank with his rooks.

12. Ra1 Qb3 13. Bd4 Rc2 14.Qa6 e5!
Nimzowitsch vs Capablanca
White to play

White is in serious trouble. Black is giving up a pawn in exchange of two very active rooks on the 7th rank.

15. Bxe5 Rdd2 16. Qb7 Rxf20-1

White kept playing, but he eventually resigned.

Note: you can watch this complete game here.


  • It is important to recognize when we can transform an advantage.

How do we do this? There are 2 ways:
  • Recognize your opponent’s “freeing moves” and prevent your opponent from freeing their position. This forces your opponent to either weaken his position or play passively for the rest of the game.
  • Pressure your opponent. When your opponent has to defend, he is prone to making mistakes. Capablanca pressured the b2 pawn, knowing that it could be defended easily, but forced White to play accurately.

  • Don’t be afraid to exchange pieces that are not part of your main idea.

Black was happy to exchange knights and light-squared bishops as we saw in the game because the knights did not play a role in his plan.

  • Tactics play a big role in strategic battles.

Capablanca took advantage of White’s hanging piece (the queenside rook) to improve his position and stop White from developing the queenside. Recognize your opponent’s tactical weaknesses (e.g hanging pieces, exposed king, etc) and use them to improve your position.

New Book:



Tactical shots at the Candidates Chess Tournament 2016 and important news

First, I have some good news. For chess fans from Hong Kong, I’m going to visit it soon.
GM Igor Smirnov SeminarIf you live in that area, feel free to send me an e-mail – We may meet personally, which would be really exciting! See you soon! :) 

What happens when coordinated pieces occupy weak squares?

Recently, our guest coach IM Boroljub Zlatanovic published a video lesson for you on “Weak Squares”. In that lesson, Boroljub taught you how to occupy weak squares with your pieces and create an attack against them. If you missed it, you can watch that lesson here.
IM Boroljub ZlatanovicContinuing with that instructive lesson, Boroljub has prepared another lesson for you on a similar topic – this time, answering the question “What happens when coordinated pieces occupy weak squares?

The above question can be metaphorically related to the saying “adding fuel to the fire”. :) Yes, when your pieces are coordinated, occupy the weak squares and you create an attack against these squares, you have “won” already!

Well, it’s easy to say so… but you can learn HOW to do that in reality by watching the game played by IM Boroljub Zlatanovic below:

Mickovic, Slavisa (2132) – Zlatanovic, Boroljub (2371) [A40]
Otvoreno prvenstvo Paracina 2016 Paracin,

1.d4 g6 2.Nf3 Bg7 3.Bf4 d6 Simply, d6+Nd7+e5 is a very solid method against the so-called “London system”. 4.c3 Nd7 5.e3 e5 6.dxe5?
Chess Puzzle
Black to play

After exchanging on White’s queenside, expanding is simply impossible, so… White stays without any real plan. Soon White will face serious problems. 6…dxe5 7.Bg5 Bf6 [7…f6 8.Bh4 Nh6 is another plan, based on keeping Bh4 out of play.
Chess Puzzle
White to play

Nh6 is going to d6 and Bg7 to h6 or f8 with good prospects] 8.Bxf6 Ngxf6 9.Bc4 Qe7 10.0–0 0–0 11.a4?… another mistake!
Chess Puzzle
Black to play

Advancing pawn (even if possible) will miss its mark! 11…a5! [11…e4! 12.Nd4 c5 13.Nb5 Ne5…
Chess Puzzle
White to play

was even better, but at that moment Black already had contemplated transferring the game to a favourable and comfortable endgame] 12.Nbd2 Nb6 13.Be2 [13.Ba2? Bd7! 14.Bb3 (14.b3 Bc6µ) 14…Bc6µ] 13…Rd8 14.Qc2 Bf5 with the idea of provoking advancing pawns and fixing some of them on light squares.
Chess Puzzle
White to play

15.e4 Bg4 16.h3 Bxf3 17.Nxf3 Rd7 18.Rfd1 with the idea of reducing material; but after exchanging rooks, White will be far from equality.
Chess Puzzle
Black to play

18…Rad8 19.Rxd7 Rxd7 20.Rd1 Rxd1+ 21.Bxd1 Qd6 22.Nd2 Kg7!? White’s pieces are somehow paralysed 23.Be2 [23.Nb1 Nxe4]
Chess Puzzle
Black to play

23…Nxa4! 24.Nc4 Qc6 25.Bd3 Nc5 26.Nxa5 Qd6 27.Be2 b6 28.Nc4 Qe6 29.f3? creating very important weaknesses on e3 and g3.
Chess Puzzle
Black to play
If 29.Nd2 Qa2…
Chess Puzzle
White to play promising, with ideas of Na4 or Qa1-Qe1] 29…b5!! 30.Na3 c6
Chess Puzzle
White to play

30…Qb6? 31.Bxb5 Ncxe4+ 32.Kh2= 31.b4 Qe7!!
Chess Puzzle
White to play

Of course, 31…Na4 looks natural, but Black’s chances are not on the queenside. The c3-pawn is not a weakness, and White can even play c4 at some moment, thereby reducing material. Black wants to transfer Nc5 to the kingside!

32.Kh2 [32.bxc5 Qxc5+ 33.Kh2 Qxa3–+] 32…Ne6 33.Nb1 Nh5–+ Black is winning. Simply by placing pieces on comfortable squares on the kingside, Black will create a decisive attacking set-up. 34.Bf1 Qh4 35.Qd2 Ng5 36.Qe3 Qg3+ 37.Kh1 Nf4 38.Nd2 f6‡ A very funny and instructive position! White is paralysed!
Chess Puzzle
White to play

Any move will lead to the loss of material! 39.Qa7+ Kh6 40.Qe3 [40.Qe7 Qf2 41.Qf8+ Kh5 42.g4+ Kh4 43.Qh6+ Kg3 will lead to an even more amazing final position] 40…Kh5! 41.c4 bxc4 42.Nxc4
Chess Puzzle
Black to play

42…Nfxh3 43.Be2 Qe1+ 44.Kh2 Nf4 winning a bishop. White resigned! 0–1

You can download the PGN of the above game here.

Informative feedback on the new course by an RCA student

So you want to get better at chess and need proper training that can move you to the next level. Will my paid courses help you? As the well-known proverb states: “Never ask a barber if he thinks you need a haircut“. Hence, you may be skeptical about anything I say about my own courses.

To find a more objective opinion, you may try to locate feedback about my courses on the Internet. I tried that myself, as I also want to know what people think about my courses.
mixed reviewsSurprisingly, there’s a full range of opinions about the same course, starting from “Smirnov is the best ever” to “He’s a cheater who sells overpriced nonsense”.
Despite these opposite views, there’s something in common with these kinds of comments: they are too EMOTIONAL. They are not serious and don’t provide any deep analysis or arguments.

At the same time, I stumbled upon one review that was both objective and informative. I got in touch with this person,Jonathan Pettit, and asked him to write a review of the new course – “Grandmaster’s Secrets – second edition”.

About Jonathan:
Jonathan Pettit“I learned chess at the age of 6 and advanced relatively quickly, getting to 1800-rating … and then got stuck there no matter how hard I studied. I eventually gave up chess for many years, but then I found GM Smirnov’s courses and had my passion rekindled. When not playing chess, I’m an avid martial artist and fitness enthusiast”.

Jonathan’s review
I won’t lie: when I first read that GM Smirnov’s course “The Grandmaster’s Secrets” covered basic chess knowledge, I thought it didn’t apply to me, an 1800-rated player at the time. This was especially true when, about five minutes into the first lesson, Smirnov explains why Nc3 is the best move to defend the e4-pawn. I remember sighing, thinking I had wasted my money on something completely at beginner level.

An hour later, though, Smirnov presents an incredibly complex position, and his ideas (or principles as he called them)explain everything perfectly. At that point, I realized these ‘beginner-level’ ideas went far deeper than I had first thought.
Grandmaster's Secrets - second editionThe “GM’s Secrets” has roughly two parts, one dealing with the chess game itself and the other dealing with preparing for tournaments and specific opponents. As someone with no real interest in attending tournaments, I found that section relatively unimportant. The chess section, though, was absolute gold.

Here, Smirnov tells us what to do in general during every stage of the game, and he also shows us his chess principles, the way to find any given move in any position. His ideas seem very easy, almost too easy, but they have incredible depth. Using these chess principles has completely transformed my game.

Before, I’d stare at the board and essentially pick out moves randomly, calculating as far as I could; and I would do that for as many moves as I could until I found something that looked good. Now I have a structured, logical thinking process for finding moves, and my results have skyrocketed.
Grandmaster's Secrets - second editionPerhaps the best part, though, was the practical part, the series of exercises and tasks that train this new skill. Here, Smirnov has commented on some games, and he explains virtually every move with one of his principles. This shows how powerful these ideas are, and soon I was accurately predicting the moves of a grandmaster. Smirnov’s thinking system presented here, as basic as it first looks, is really that good.

All that said, the original course wasn’t perfect. It had three main problems.

  • First, the audio quality was quite low. This was Smirnov’s first course, and he did not sound very comfortable in front of the mic. He had a constant monotone, as well as awkward periods of silence.
  • Second, the visuals were very basic. The PowerPoint information was often sparse, with maybe eight different slides for a 15-min lecture. For a video-based course, that was a significant weakness.
  • Finally, the practical part had many spelling and grammar errors. In short, the GM’s Secrets had none of the polish of his later courses.

The updated version has kept all the chess information the same, but it has improved on all three areas, often significantly so.

The biggest change is that an English speaker is doing all the narration instead of GM Smirnov. The content is identical, virtually word for word, but an enthusiastic and unaccented English speaker is now delivering it. It was a bit strange not hearing Igor’s Slavic accent explaining all the chess rules, but the audio quality is superb and easy to follow.

Second, the PowerPoints have been completely redesigned. There is more information, more colour, more images, more everything. This may be the most important change, as the lectures are more engaging and easier to follow. This is a huge improvement over the original.
Grandmaster's Secrets - second editionFinally, the practical section has been completely cleaned up. There is proper spelling and grammar for every move, with maybe an odd typo here and there. Extra explanations have been added, as well as arrows and diagrams on certain moves. This is relatively minor, but it shows the attention to detail put into the entire course and makes your ‘homework’ that much easier to follow.

There are a few minor glitches, such as the odd typo or the screen fading white to black quickly in-between PP slides, but these are few and far between. On the whole, it’s a polished project, in line with RCA’s more recent work.

Bottom line, this course is ideal for the improving beginner and intermediate player. The higher your rating, the less you will get out of it. I imagine anyone below 1800 or so will get something out of it, but those under 1600 will get the most value. Once you learn these chess principles deeply, you will never look at the chess board the same way again.


Thank you very much for your detailed review Jonathan! :) I’m so glad that you liked the course and have improved your chess results.

If you would like to make progress like Jonathan, don’t forget to grab the new course “Grandmaster’s Secrets – second edition” with a 25% discount. You can find more details here.