In chess there is a classical understanding of controlling the center that revolves around having a strong pawn center and using the minor pieces to protect and solidify those pawns. Then the rooks will usually be placed along the center files to take advantage of the lines that open up when those central pawns are exchanged, or to provide further protection and free up the bishops and knights for other operations. In the early 19th century, however, a different way of controlling the center was established. Known as hypermodernism, the basis of this type of strategy is to control central squares with many pieces instead of having a solid pawn center. Here we’re going to look at the basic ideas of hypermodern strategy and how they are effective in different ways than the classical strategic ideas.
When two players who play to control the center have styles from different strategic schools of thought, something incredible almost always happens. The classical player will almost always establish a pawn center right away, while the hypermodern player will often fianchetto one or more bishops, quickly develop some pieces, and then strike at the classical player’s center. It’s strange in a way because even though the classical player occupies the center, the hypermodern player uses this as an object of attack instead of seeing it as some imposing force that hinders operations.
For example, take the King’s Indian Attack which begins with 1.Nf3 d5, 2.g3 Bg4, 3.Bg2 Nd7, 4.h3 Bxf3, 5.Bxf3 c6, 6.d3 e6, 7.e4 Ne5, 8.Bg2 dxe4, 9.Bxe4 Nf6. White is holding back from playing the traditional pawn moves like e2-e4 or d2-d4 until black establishes some sort of control presence. Then he uses these moves as a climax to bring his pieces to life and challenge black in the center instead of seeing them as normal routine moves to control some central squares. The fianchettoed king-side bishop cuts across the board putting pressure on the central squares d5 and e4, while all of the other pieces are prepared to quickly come into play. This will lead to a type of game which I described above. Black establishes his center, and white takes advantage of this by building his forces and assaulting black’s central pawns.
What’s important to notice, and what makes this strategy effective, is that while one side is taking time to build his central pawn structure, the hypermodern player is using this time to develop pieces instead. So there almost always comes a moment where the classical player’s central structure becomes a liability instead of an asset because there will inevitably be a point where the hypermodern player is more developed than the classical player because of fewer pawn moves being made, and this means that the classical player is not as prepared for the battle in the center.
The hypermodern strategy is what drives many of today’s top-scoring openings, like many variations in the Sicilian Defense against white’s 1. e4, and many of the Indian Defenses against white’s 1. d4. Because of the popularity of these hypermodern openings, even if you favor a classical pawn center, you still must study hypermodern chess principles since you will often be defending yourself against them.