Author Archives: Hugh Patterson

About Hugh Patterson

Prior to teaching chess, Hugh Patterson was a professional guitarist for nearly three decades, playing in a number of well known San Francisco bands including KGB, The Offs, No Alternative, The Swinging Possums and The Watchmen. After recording a number of albums and CDs he retired from music to teach chess. He currently teaches ten chess classes a week through Academic Chess. He also created and runs a chess program for at-risk teenagers incarcerated in juvenile correctional facilities. In addition to writing a weekly column for The Chess Improver, Hugh also writes a weekly blog for the United States Chess League team, The Seattle Sluggers. He teaches chess privately as well, giving instruction to many well known musicians who are only now discovering the joys of chess. Hugh is an Correspondence Chess player with the ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation). He studied chemistry in college but has worked in fields ranging from Investment Banking and commodities trading to Plastics design and fabrication. However, Hugh prefers chess to all else (except Mrs. Patterson and his beloved dog and cat).

Chess and Jazz

Because I spend the majority of my time teaching chess, I often forget that I’m a musician. I play guitar as well as other instruments. How good am I? Well, my professional guitar playing peers consider me an excellent guitarist, although I always think I need improvement. I have a fairly large fan base for the kind of music I play and have been sited by bands such as Social Distortion and Green Day as being influential regarding their own playing. I mention this because the Grammy’s, those folks that do that yearly award show, just cut a check to pay for the last of my medical expenses. A few months ago, their Board (Music Cares) met and decided (for the second time) that I was worthy of help. I qualified because I am a recording artist who has sold records. Why am I mentioning all this? Because, upon getting the news, I felt guilty about not playing and recording in a while and decided to go back to playing music professionally (as long as it doesn’t get in the way with my chess teaching which is a stipulation in my current record contract). Enter Jazz guitar.

I honestly became bored with playing rock and roll, not because I don’t like it but because it wasn’t technically challenging. I decided to do a Jazz band that focused on Jazz from 1959. I asked a fellow guitar player who the toughest Jazz guitarist to emulate was and he said Wes Montgomery. That was who I’d study. I found some charts of Montgomery’s songs and within ten minutes of starting to learn them I knew I was in over my head. That made me smile because it was the type of challenge I live for. What does this have to do with chess?

You cannot get better at anything unless you take on a challenge that is above your skill set. For example, playing stronger opponents will lead to improvement. Learning Jazz guitar leads when you’ve mainly played rock and roll is like learning a complicated opening. You sit there staring at a sequence of notes or chess moves feeling as if you have no clue as to what’s really going on. However, if you stick with it and work hard, it eventually becomes clear. You slowly master it. You only master it when you put in a great deal of time. Push your boundaries and venture outside of your comfort zone.

One of the aspects of Jazz guitar I really enjoy is the seemingly endless choice of guitar solos. Rock tends to be Blues based so lead guitar work can (but not always) be limited. On the other hand, Jazz, because of it’s broader range of rhythmic drum beats and early prolific experimentation, allows for a greater range of soloing. In chess, you want to explore the many openings and playing styles available before settling on one. In short experiment! Openings are like a specific genre of music. Some have greater complexity than others which requires working harder to master them. Some provide greater options in regards to the direction your game goes in. Some lead to open games while others lead to closed games. Which you chose depends on your personality and how much effort you want to put into theory and study. Again, challenge yourself, aim for the stars and if you fall short of your goal, you’ll still be light years ahead of where you would have been had you simply set a small overall goal. There’s nothing wrong with practical goals that can be easily reached but you should try setting tougher goals that force you to work harder than you ever have. I like openings that give me options. Of course, if you’re a beginner you want to learn the basics first. When first learning to play guitar, you start with basic chords and simple leads. That doesn’t mean you can’t dream of playing like Hendrix! However, you have to build up your playing skills before you arrive at that destination.

Music is an art and so is chess, at least it should be! I’m of the opinion that computer software and technology in general have taken some of the art out of the game. Let me give you an example of how technology has taken a lot of the art out of music:

When I was coming up in the music world, you had to learn to play your instrument if you stood a chance of getting anywhere. While I literally learned to play while standing on a stage in front of people, an opportunity only afforded me thanks to punk rock, you were expected to get better if you wanted to survive. Back then, we didn’t have guitar effects that would essentially make us sound better even if we weren’t good musicians. Today, you can purchase an inexpensive set of effects that make you sound like a technical genius. You can also use effects to make your singing voice sound pitch perfect. What’s so bad about this technology? Some of the best recordings are flawed recordings in which wrong notes and bad tones actually make the musical composition better. Art is created by those who take chances, go against the societal grain and sometimes hit the wrong, right note! With chess, so many younger players strictly adhere to what their chess engines and databases tell them to do. Play through the games of chess’s romantic era, the 1800’s, and you’ll see dangerous and daring art. The same holds true with players like Tal and Spassky, who created art on the chessboard. If Tal played guitar he would have been a Jazz innovator.

Of course, you don’t want to play chess haphazardly, but you do want to experiment a bit. Try new things out, take a chance or two. You might find you like the outcome and even if you don’t, you can at least say you tried. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a student say “well, Houdini says I should make this move,” I’d be writing this article from my villa somewhere on an island I owned!

Jazz, or any music as long as it inspires you, is good to have playing in the background when you play chess. I know some people need silence to play but I find that music can push me further on the chessboard. I have a play list of songs, mostly Jazz from 1959, that inspires me, pushes me one step further in my playing. Well, there you have it, a little music and a little chess. Often, you can find the answers you seek regarding one endeavor in another seemingly unrelated subject. Of course, music and chess are very much related since a few brilliant chess players have also bee professional musicians. I know many musicians who play a lot of chess when on tour. They may be rock and roll animals when on stage but become quiet studious players when they sit down at the chessboard. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week. This guy could really rock the piano, classically speaking!

Hugh Patterson

Opening Principles Part Seven: Middle-Game Preparation

When beginners learn and begin to master the opening principles they often think, after the last basic principle has been applied, that it’s time to start attacking. While attacking is the crucial factor when it comes to winning games, launching into one prematurely can and usually does, lead to a weakened position from which one can never fully recover. If you play through the games of master level players, you’ll see that they only attack when the time is right. When’s the right time? Read on and you’ll find out.

Obviously, if your opponent provides you with an opportunity to launch a successful attack early on you should consider doing so. When I play beginning students, they provide ample opportunity for me to launch into attacks that greatly alter the balance of the game in my favor. Beginner’s games tend to have a lot of weak positions that allow for early attacks. I teach my beginning students to avoid launching early early attacks, those during the opening, and instead build up their position. Of course, I teach them how to spot a potential early attack and what they can do to stop it. After all, I’d be a dreadful chess teacher if I didn’t teach defensive methods.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, when you play through the games of the masters you’ll see that they methodically build up their position, only attacking when the position warrants it? What do I mean by this? Typically, a beginner who takes the opening principles to heart will control the center with a pawn or two, develop three or four of their minor pieces (Knights and Bishops), Castle their King to safety and connect their Rooks (moving their Queen up a rank). Then they’ll start looking for possible attacks. They might spot a potential attack but that attack will depend on their opponent making a specific move or two that allows the attack to take place. This is wishful thinking chess. Our beginner, in this example, is counting on their opponent doing something specific in terms of a move. This specific move is what the beginner wants not what their opponent wants. Our beginner is seeing the position only in terms of what opposition moves work for that beginner’s plan. Their opponent is most likely going to make a move that counters our beginner’s plan which leaves the beginner in a jam!

The mistake our beginner is making is launching an attack that will only succeed if their opponent makes essentially bad moves. This is unrealistic since your opponent also wants to win the game and has plans of his or her own! When a plan solely depends on a move or two being made by the opposition and those moves aren’t made, then the attack falls apart. How do we create a position that leads to a successful attack? By increasing the number of pieces that can partake in an attack so we have greater attacking options! How do we do that?

We continue the development of pawns and pieces. Just because you’ve controlled the center with a pawn or two, developed your minor pieces, Castling your King and connected your Rooks, doesn’t mean you’re ready for the Middle-game where attacks generally start. There’s further development to be had! Of course, you want to bring a new piece into the game during each opening move but you can, after having achieved this goal, bring those pieces to more active squares. What are active squares? Those squares that allow your pawns and pieces to control opposition squares (the squares on your opponent’s side of the board). For example, a White Knight on c3 might consider moving the d5, only if it’s safe, in order to attack more squares on the opposition’s side of the board. However, before you start considering moving pieces for a second time, take a look at your Rooks.

Beginner’s tend to neglect their Rooks. A beginner playing the White pieces might Castling King-side but leave their Rook dormant on the f1 square. While that Rook is more active than it was prior to Castling (when it was trapped on the h1 square), moving it to e1 would allow it to access the e file which is especially important if Black hasn’t Castled yet. Then there’s the other Rook, the Rook on a1 in the case of King-side Castling (by White). Once the Rooks are connected, they have the ability to work along their starting rank, acting as bodyguards for pawns you might want to push up (or down in the case of Black) the board later on. Pawns can be further developed. While beginner’s learn not to make flank pawn moves during the opening, if there’s a Black Bishop on c8, a White Knight onf3 and White Queen on d1, White might want to move the h pawn from h2 to h3, preventing a potential relative pin. However, it’s more important to develop your minor pieces first before making such a pawn move.

Sometimes we’re forced to move a minor piece to a square that is less active during the start of the opening because the opposition controls the square we initially wanted to move to. Can we develop the piece in question to a better square? If we can we should, especially before launching an attack. The more pieces you can employ in an attack, the better your attack will be. Think of it this way, if you have five attackers and you opponent has three defenders, their chances of warding off your attack are far less than if the number of attackers versus defenders was equal. Greater force (when attacking) is a key idea. However, to have a greater attacking force you first have to activate your pieces.

Slowly developing or moving your pawns and pieces to active squares gives you greater attacking options. Namely, you have more potential ways to attack. If your pieces are centrally located, controlling a large number of squares on your opponent’s side of the board, you’ll be able to launch attacks from more locations that your opponent can defend. You opponent might build up a good defense on one part of the board but, because you have centrally located pieces, you can attack elsewhere. Having options within your plan is crucial. The problem with most beginner’s plans is that they’re based on a specific move being made by their opponent. Having options also means being flexible. Thus, if your opponent makes a move you didn’t see coming, you’ll be able to address that opposition plan accordingly because you have actively developed your pieces. You can’t anticipate every move your opponent might make which means you could be attacked. However, if your pawns and pieces are actively placed, you have a much better chance of surviving.

When you look at your position and think there’s nothing there, look again! You’ll probably find a pawn or piece that can be further activated or developed. When you have greater control of the board, which only happens when your pieces are more actively positioned than your opponent’s pieces, you opponent may be forced to make a move he or she doesn’t want to make. That can lead to a better position for you and a winning game. The watchwords for the day are pawn and piece activity. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

Opening Principles Part Six: Managing Principles

We’ve looked at what to during the opening and what not to do during the opening. To review, what we should do is control the board’s center from the start with a pawn, develop our minor pieces (Knights and Bishops) to active squares (those that control the center) and Castle our King to safety. What we shouldn’t do is make too many pawn moves, move the same piece more than once (unless necessary) and bring out our Queen early. These opening principles have been around for a long, long time and have been proven to work. They’re simple enough to learn and their logic is somewhat self explanatory. However, applying these principles accurately during the opening, the first ten to fifteen moves (typically, although some opening variations are longer), can be difficult for the beginner. Applying the opening principles requires knowing when to make a specific principled move. It’s all about exact timing. Take Castling for example.

We know that many beginner’s games are lost due to the novice player not Castling his or her King to safety. Having a safe King means that you can get on with the business of attacking your opponent’s King. Beginner’s are taught that they need to get their King Castled as soon as possible. As a chess teacher and coach, I tell my beginning students this, but I do so to get them into the habit of Castling early in their chess careers. As they improve, I then teach them to hold off on Castling, if their King is safe, so they can further develop their pawns and pieces during the opening. Knowing an opening principle, such as Castling your King to safety, is important, but knowing just when to Castle is even more important. During the opening phase of the game, gaining control of the board, especially the central squares, is the most important task. If given the choice between Castling when your King is safe or furthering the development of your pawns and pieces, development should be your choice.

Another important decision to make during the opening is which minor pieces to develop (move) first. The minor pieces, the Knights and Bishops, have the same relative value, three points each. We know the opening principles tell us to bring our minor pieces out during the opening. However, which minor pieces should we develop first? The beginning player we consider both equal in terms of development. However, if given the choice between developing a Knight or a Bishop, you may want to consider the Knight. Why? Knights have the ability to jump over pawns and pieces, be they your own or your opponent’s. This means that you don’t have to move a pawn prior to bringing a Knight into the game. After 1. e4…e5, developing the King-side Knight to f3 (2. Nf3) is most often played because it allows the Knight to develop actively with tempo. Tempo is time in chess terms and a Knight on f3 attacks Black’s e5 pawn, forcing Black to defend that pawn. While you could move the King-side Bishop to c4, which would attack a central square as well as Black’s weak f7 pawn, the Knight move to f3 is more forcing, in that it causes Black to react by defending the e5 pawn. Therefore, you should consider the order in which you develop pieces during the opening.

Another consideration is cooperation between your pawns and pieces. Good chess player’s pawns and pieces work together. They support one another rather than acting independently of one another. If you have a White pawn on e4 and Black moves a Knight to f6 to attack it, how do you defend it? This brings up the idea of not blocking in your pawns and pieces. If you have your King-side Bishop on it’s starting square (f1) and you defend the e4 pawn by moving the d pawn to d3, you’re blocking in the Bishop. This means that Bishop doesn’t have immediate access to key squares that help to control the center. A better move (for beginners) would be developing the Queen-side Knight from b1 to c3. From it’s c3 perch, the Knight not only defends the e4 pawn but it puts pressure on the d5 square. Remember, you want to control central squares on your opponent’s side of the board. Beginner’s sometimes defend the e4 pawn by playing their King-side Bishop to d3 which blocks in the d2 pawn as well as the Bishop on c1. Always consider moves that don’t block your pieces in.

Play for piece activation during the opening rather than fast attacks. The problem with fast attacks in the hands of the novice player is that they more often than not fall apart which leads to a losing game. When developing your pawns and pieces during the opening, always try to get them on their most active squares. A typical opening for the beginner is the Italian Opening, which starts off 1. e4…e5, 2. Nf3…Nc6, 3. Bc4. These first three moves for White adhere to the opening principles. If Black plays 3. Nf6, you have a few choices as what to do as White on move four. You could Castle (4. 0-0). I mentioned that you should put off Castling if your King is safe, which the White King is at this point. However, Castling activates your King-side Rook which can than be moved to e1 should the f6 Knight capture the e4 pawn. Black would have to react to this move in a defensive manner. You could also consider 4. Nc3 developing your Queen-side Knight which defends the e4 pawn and puts pressure on d5. If Black played 3…Bc5 you could play c3 preparing for d4 on a subsequent move, ignoring the potential attack on e4, if Black plays 4…Nf6, and preparing to attack Black’s center. Remember if the f6 Knight takes on the e4 pawn, you can always move the Rook to e1. These moves have logical reasons behind them. They’re following the opening principles but also are part of a plan. While the opening principles provide a plan that covers the length of the opening, your opponent is going to do everything possible to disrupt your plan.

This means you have to be flexible with your opening moves (and opening plan). Make moves that do more than one thing when possible. In our above example, when the Black Knight moved to f6 and White countered by moving his Queen-side Knight to c3, the move did two things. It defended the attacked White pawn and put pressure on d5. This is why pieces are stronger when centrally located. The more squares a piece controls, the greater your options. If you have more options than your opponent, you’ll have a better game. The greater a piece’s options, the greater it’s ability to be flexible if your plans suddenly change do to an unexpected opposition move. Plans change during a chess game and when your opponent makes a move that changes your plan, you have to be able to adjust and take a new course of action.

Rook activation is very important. Just because your Rooks usually become active later in the game, doesn’t mean they can’t be useful early on. Beginner’s often activate one Rook via Casting but leave the other Rook sitting in the corner on it’s starting square. Connect your Rooks by moving the Queen up one Rank which allows both Rooks to move along their starting rank. However, to connect your Rooks, you must activate your minor pieces first so they don’t restrict their (Rooks) movement. Rooks are excellent bodyguards that can guard pawns you want to move across the board later in the game.

In closing, it comes down to activity, coordination and knowing who to bring into the opening and when to bring them into the game. I suggest playing through some openings and, after each move, asking yourself why that move was made and what opening principle does it adhere to. Studying games is a sure fire way to improve your game. Also don’t play mechanically. For example, we don’t like to move a piece twice during the opening, instead bringing a new piece into the game with each move. However, if you’re about to lose a Knight and the choice is treating this principle as a hard rule and losing the Knight or bending the principle and moving the Knight out of danger, move the Knight. Principles are not rules of the game but good ideas. Speaking of games, here’s one to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

Opening Principles Part Five

So far, we’ve learned about developing a central pawn (or two) at the start of the game, developing our minor pieces and Castling. I was going write the next article in this series about combining these three principles, using the Italian Opening as an example. However, I think we should discuss a few things you don’t want to do before moving on to walking through a typical beginner’s opening (also played by the greats), the Italian Opening. The article examples of what not to do are mistakes typically made by beginners. Rather than simply criticize things you shouldn’t do, we’ll look at these mistakes from the beginner’s point of view in an effort to understand why they’re made. When you examine both points of view, you often walk away with a better understanding of the issue at hand. If you’ve made or make these mistakes, this article should help to explain why they don’t work. We’ll start out by discussing the moving of pawns during the opening, specifically what you shouldn’t do in regards to pawns.

We know that we have to move at least a few pawns during the opening in order to get our pieces into the game. Ideally, White would like to be able to safely move the e and d pawns to e4 and d4, while Black would like to move the e and d pawns to e5 and d5. These moves give each player an opportunity to quickly develop their Bishops. Unfortunately, we seldom get the chance to create a classical two pawn center because our opponent also wants to control the board’s center and will make every effort to crush your opening plan. The ruining of plans in chess is what makes the game exciting!

Pawns are great for controlling the center because of their low relative value. The pieces, which are worth substantially more will normally not move to a square controlled by a pawn because that pawn would capture it. Thus controlling key squares with pawns seems like a reasonable opening goal. Beginner’s will take this idea too literally and move pawn after pawn, neglecting the minor pieces, while the experienced player will move a minimum number of pawns, favoring the development of their minor pieces who can control far greater territory on the board. I completely understand the beginner’s point of view. Use your pawns to control the board because the pieces, both major and minor, will keep away from those squares controlled by one’s pawns. However, pawns can only control one or two squares whereas pieces have far greater control. Moving too many pawns , especially those closest to your King, can leave an opening that can pave the way for an opposition mating attack. Did I mention that the more pawns you have in play, the more pieces get tied down to their defense? Then there’s pawn structure. Most beginners haven’t mastered the art of proper pawn structure which means their pawns are often in a state of disarray. Pawn moves are absolutely committal since pawns can only move forward. They can’t run away (move backwards) when the going gets tough. It’s best to keep your initial pawn moves to a minimum and get your minor pieces into play early on.

Don’t move the same piece twice during the opening unless you have to. If you’re rushing to an appointment, you go from point A to point B as quickly as possibly. This means you’re not going to take a side trip to point R then over to point Y. If you want to move the King-side Bishop to c4, do it directly. Don’t move it to e2 and then on the following move, to c4.

Beginner’s have a tendency to gang up on the f7 pawn for Black and the f2 pawn for White. Again, I understand the beginner’s mindset. Gang up on their f7 pawn (for example) with a Bishop on c4 and a Knight on g5 and you can either check the Black King, costing it the right to Castle, or fork Black’s Rook and Queen, winning material. The beginner walks away with an advantage (so they think). There’s only one problem. The Knight, in the case of the fork, has to move three times to get to f7. While the Bishop in the case of the check, has to move twice. Meanwhile, Black gets a chance to bring a new piece into the game with each move. This means that Black can get ahead in development. Development is the name of the game when it comes to the opening. Bring a new piece into the action with each move.

Then there’s the desperado piece. To my beginning friends, I understand your thinking: Bring one piece into the game and see how many pieces you can subsequently capture with it. Then bring out another piece all by it’s lonesome self and repeat the process. It sounds reasonable to the beginner but your opponent will be busy developing his or her pieces, gaining control of the board’s center while avoiding your lone piece. You’ll end up checkmated in no time! The more force you bring into the game, the easier it is for you to launch a meaningful attack. Pawns and pieces work best when they work together. Again, bring a new piece into the game (towards the center) with each move during the opening.

Then there’s the Queen. Everyone who plays chess has been intoxicated by the Queen’s power. Beginner’s look at the Queen as a nuclear weapon that can be brought out, aimed at the enemy, fired across the center of the board and detonated at some point. Unfortunately, the Queen doesn’t work like a bomb. In chess, when you bring the Queen out early, she gets chased around the board as the opposition develops his or her pieces. Sometimes she gets trapped and you lose her. I know she’s powerful, combining the moving ability of the Rook and Bishop. However, chess is more like old fashioned warfare in which you gradually introduce more powerful weapons as the battle continues. Yes, it’s tempting to try and end the game quickly but it’s simply too dangerous to bring her into the game early. Do yourself a favor, save her later on.

Lastly, don’t make passive moves. Some beginners make passive moves employing the logic that their opponent will have to bring the battle to them. They plant their pawns and pieces on their side of the board, often piling up around their King hoping their wall of pieces will protect his majesty. Unfortunately, experienced players will know just how to break down your safe walls and take out your King. They’ll go as far as sacrificing material to rip your safety net apart. If you make moves that control central squares your opponent needs to us in order to attack, the opposition’s attacking chances will be greatly reduced. Make moves during the opening that control the center.

Try not to do the above mentioned things and your game will improve. There’s nothing wrong with being defensive but you have to know when to be offensive. Players who know the perfect balance of both win games. Next week, we’ll put it all together. Until then, here’s a game to enjoy (I suspect one of these players never brought his Queen out early again)!

Hugh Patterson

Opening Principles Part Four: Castling

A safe King is a happy King and this is nowhere more apparent than in the game of chess. If your King is constantly being attacked, you have to defend him which means you’re unable to attack you opponent. Attackers win games while defenders are left holding down the fort! Beginner’s games are most often lost because the novice player doesn’t make his King safe. The way you make your King safe is by Castling. Castling is crucial but when to Castle is extremely important as well. Timing is everything in chess.

Castling is very simple. However, there are some important rules to Castling that we’ll go over first. Castling is the only time you get to move two pieces at the same time. You can Castle either King-side (towards the right for White or towards the left for Black) or Queen-side (towards the left for White or towards the right for Black). When Castling King-side, the King moves from the e file to the g file, remaining on it’s starting rank, while the Rook moves from the h file to the f file. When Castling Queen-side, the King moves from the e file to the c file, while the Rook moves from the a file to the d file, both pieces remaining on their starting ranks. You move the King first and then the Rook (not the other way around) Now for the rules:

The King and Rook, on the side you’re Castling on cannot move prior to Castling. If you move the King prior to Castling, you give up the right to Castle on either side. If you move one Rook prior to Castling, you give up the right to Castle on the side of the board the Rook moved on. If you move both Rooks before Castling then you give up the right to Castle, period. This is why it is crucial not to move either of these two pieces until after Castling.

You can’t Castle until the pieces between the King and Rook have moved off of their starting Squares. Remember, only the Knight can jump over pawns and pieces. All the other pieces can only move when there is space for them to do so. This is why it is important to move a central pawn towards the center early on. Playing 1. e4 allows the King-side Bishop room to get out onto the board which facilitates Castling sooner. On the King-side, you have to move the Knight and Bishop prior to Castling and on the Queen-side, you have to move the Knight, Bishop and Queen. Many people Castle King-side because you have one less piece to move.

This next one is important: You can never Castle through or into check. This makes perfect sense since protecting the King is the name of the game! Thus, if an opposition pawn or piece attacks a square the King either moves through and will end up on after Castling, you cannot Castle until that pawn or piece is dealt with.

Castling does two things. It provides a safe haven for your King and it gets one of the Rooks that would otherwise be stuck in the corner into the game. There’s something you need to consider when Castling and that’s pawn structure. Ideally you don’t want to move the pawns that will be in front of your King before you Castle because they create a wall in front of his majesty. For example, when Castling King-side, you want to keep pawns on the f2, g2 and h2 (f7, g7 and h7 for Black) squares because they can work together to stop potential attacks. If you move them prior to Castling, you’ll leave openings that opposition pieces can exploit. You’ll also want to keep a Knight on f3 for White or f6 for Black because the Knight can work with the King to protect the h pawn as well as keep the opposition Queen off the g and h files. When Castling, don’t Castle if doing so lines your King up with a swarm of opposition pieces. If the opposition has amassed a large force on your King-side, consider Castling Queen-side. Never Castle into a potential attack.

When to Castle: The history of chess is littered with the corpses of games lost due to not castling. Beginner’s are taught to Castle early on, yet in many master level games we see Castling occurring much later. Why is this? Because the master level player knows when to Castle. During the opening phase of the game, both players are developing their pawns and pieces to active squares, building up their control of the center and preparing for future attacks. It comes down to King safety. If your King is safe you can put Castling off in favor of active development. However, you need to take a good hard look at the opposition’s pieces, especially those nearest to your King. Are they able to deliver a successful attack? If there are two attacking pieces, do you have enough defenders. If the King hasn’t yet Castled and he’s a defender, you’ll lose your right to Castle should the King have to get into the action. This would be a time to Castle, perhaps on the other side of the attack or on the side of the attack, only if you have enough defenders. You want to have one more defender than your opponent has attackers. Remember, if you actively develop all your pieces right away (but carefully), you’ll have the option to Castle on either side of the board! Better to have the ability to Castle sooner than later which is why we try to bring a new piece into the game with each move during the opening. Note that you can move your Queen up one square or rank and it doesn’t count as bringing your Queen out early. Bringing your Queen out early can be deadly for the player who dares to exploit her power early on (during the opening).

You should always Castle if you want a safe King. If your King is safe, you have one less thing to worry about. You can get on with the business of building up an attack. If your opponent’s King is not Castled, you have a target. Beginners should avoid sacrificing pieces in order to force the opposition King to capture that piece before Castling, giving up the right to Castle. Many beginners playing White will exchange their c4 Bishop for the f7 pawn in order to bring the Black King out onto the board (after Kxf7). Sacrificing pieces is a skill that take time to develop because it is usually part of a combination of moves and beginners are not ready to think that far ahead. Build up your attacks rather than squander valuable pieces. Next week we’ll combine opening development with Castling. Here’s a game to enjoy until then!

Hugh Patterson

Opening Principles Part Three: Working Together

In the first two articles in this series, we talked about pawns and minor pieces, specifically, what to do with them at the start of the game. The opening, the first ten to fifteen moves, is the foundation you build the rest of your game upon. Build that foundation right and you’ll set yourself up for a good middle-game, meaning you’ll be able to launch successful attacks which leads to a winning game. Build it wrong and you’ll more than likely be punished and lose the game. We know we should initially control the center with a pawn or two and then bring our minor pieces (Knights and Bishops) out to active squares, those that also add to central square control. However, there’s another key idea we must embrace and that’s coordinating our pawns and minor pieces.

Our pawns and pieces must work together the way in which a successful sports team works together. This means coordination between all members of the team. One team member can’t win a game by himself and if everyone on the team is working against one another, chaos ensues (as well as a big loss). Coordination is a skill beginners must develop if they wish to improve and win games. While our first two opening principles, controlling the board’s center with a pawn or two and developing the minor pieces towards the center, seem easy enough to comprehend, there’s a bit more to it. Again, pawns and pieces must work together.

We know that control of the board’s center is your primary goal during the opening. Step one is moving a pawn or two to control one of those central squares (an opposition central square). Step two is bringing out the minor pieces, the Knights and Bishops to add additional support to your centralized pawns as well as further centralized control. Now what?

Let’s start by looking at the Italian Opening (for White), an opening that all beginners should consider learning first. I suggest this as a first opening because the opening principles are clearing seen and learned when playing it. We’ll look at the first three moves. White starts with 1. e4 which opens up diagonals for both the Queen and the King-side Bishop. Just because it opens a pathway for the Queen to enter the game doesn’t mean you should bring her out right away. You have better pieces to bring into the game. When Black plays 1…e5, White follows with 2. Nf3 and Black defends the e5 pawn with 2…Nc6. White’s third move, 3. Bc4, puts the Bishop on a diagonal that cuts through the center and attacks the weak f7 pawn (weak because it’s only defended by the Black King). There are other squares upon which the Bishop can move to such as e2, d3 or b5 ( Bb5 being the Ruy Lopez opening which is a bit advanced for the absolute beginner). Moving the Bishop to e2 is rather passive and Blacks in the Queen. Moving the Bishop to d3 blocks in the d2 pawn and prevents the dark squared Bishop on c1 from coming out along the c1-h6 diagonal. You should never make moves during the opening that block in your pawns and pieces (within reason). Moving the Bishop to c4 seems to be the best choice here (for the beginner) and is the move that defines this opening. Let’s say that Black plays 3…Nf6. Now what do we do?

Principled play tells us that we should continue with the development of our pawns and minor pieces. When in doubt as to what to do, consider a move that adheres to the opening principles regarding the development of your pawns and pieces.

You should always try to find three potential moves before simply committing to one move. As the old chess adage goes, when you find a good move, look for a better one! We could make the move 4. d3 which allows the d pawn to protect the e4 pawn. While this appears to make sense since the pawns value is one while the Knight’s is three (meaning Black won’t trade Knight for pawn), try to think of a better move. How about 4. Nc3? The reason 4. Nc3 is better than the pawn push to d3 (remember, this article is for beginners first learning opening principles) is that the Knight on c3 is defending the attacked pawn and also attacking the d5 square. We want to control as much of the center as possible before our opponent does. When your opponent makes a move, look to see if any of your pawns or pieces are being attacked. It a pawn or piece is attacked and it has no defender, add one! The other move to consider would be 4. 0-0, Castling on the King-side (we’ll get into Castling next week). Castling is important but if your King is not under attack, hold off and continue development. Black play 4, Be7, Now What?

Now we can consider 5. d3. This move bolsters the e4 pawn and gives the Bishop on c1 a diagonal to patrol. Notice that the Bishop on c4 is outside of White’s pawn chain. Had White played 3. d3, our King-side Bishop would have been trapped. This is what I mean by piece coordination and not blocking in your pawns and pieces! The few moves shown above are to serve as a starting point for understanding opening principles and piece coordination.. Of course, there are many ways in which both White and Black can play but beginners should start by just simply getting their pawns and pieces to active squares, those that control the center of the board. As you get better, you’ll play more advanced openings and their variation. For now remember, you have to learn to walk before you can run. Next week we’ll look at Castling. It’s simple to learn but there’s more to it than you think. Here’s a game to enjoy until then.

Hugh Patterson

Opening Principles: Part Two

Last week, we discussed the importance of controlling the center of the board with a pawn move or two, giving the greatest consideration to 1. e4. As I mentioned. We don’t want to make too many pawn moves during the opening, opting instead to introduce our minor pieces quickly. For any beginners reading this, the minor pieces are the Knights and Bishops while the major pieces are the Rooks and Queen, Both types of minor pieces, the Knights and Bishops, have a relative value of three points each. We use the word “relative” because the value of these two very different pieces can fluctuate based on the position at hand (on the chessboard). If the board is wide open, meaning there are plenty of free squares void of pawns and pieces, Bishops can control a great deal of territory, being able to attack long distances across the board. If the board is clogged with pawns and pieces, our Bishops are limited in their mobility so the Knight, who can jump over pawns and pieces rules the roost. Thus, When the board is littered with pawns and pieces (belonging to both players), the Bishop has limited abilities so the Knight has greater relative value. Bishops rule open positions or games while Knights lord over closed positions or games.

The Knight and Bishop are like night and day in that both are key parts of a complete cycle. Night follows day and day follows night, both tied together in an endless cycle. However, night and day each has unique qualities or attributes that distinguishes one from the other. In chess, both the Knight and Bishop are considered minor pieces and are closed tied to one another when it comes to the opening, middle and endgames. However, the way in which each moves is absolutely different, one being designed for close combat fighting while the other more like a long distance sniper. Knowing which one to use for a specific positional situation is crucial to one’s chess success. Before we discuss this last idea we first, as beginners, need to know how to employ both pieces during the opening phase of the game, the first ten to fifteen moves. Remember, the opening builds the foundation for the rest of your game. Fail during the opening and it’s not likely that you’ll even get into a proper middle-game!

There’s an old chess adage that states “Knights before Bishops” and while it’s not a rock hard rule, there are good reasons for developing (moving) your Knights before your Bishop. In the first article in this series, I mentioned that we have to move some of our pawns out onto the board in order to give our pieces mobility. Getting your Bishops into the game requires moving at least two pawns, otherwise, our powerful Bishops will be stuck on their starting squares, inactive, and you don’t want to leave pieces inactive. The Knights, on the other hand, have the ability to jump over pawns and pieces, be they yours or your opponent’s pawns or pieces. This means they have immediate access to the board. The Knight’s ability to jump over any material (pawns and pieces) in their way makes them an extremely valuable weapon, especially when the board is clogged with pawns and pieces. You should note that their ability to jump means you cannot block an attack by a Knight. This is valuable because it reduces the way in which you deal with an attack by one. When attacked, you often have the choice of moving the attacked piece, blocking the attack or capturing the attacker. That’s potentially three choices. I say potentially because you don’t often have the choice of all three methods of dealing with an attacker. Removing one of those methods, blocking an attack, can thus severely limit your choices!

Another consideration regarding the power of the Knight is the way in which it moves. All the pieces move in a linear manner, straight lines along the ranks, files and diagonals. The Knight moves in an “L” shape which makes it slightly more difficult for the novice player to follow. Therefore, beginners and even more experienced players sometimes miss a Knight’s attack because of its peculiar movement. However, you should always keep in mind that this “L” shaped movement can make it slow going when it comes to the Knight attacking a square directly next to it. Now let’s talk about where the Knight should go during the opening.

We know from the first article in this series that we want to control the board’s center (especially those central squares on our opponent’s side of the board) during the opening. Once we employ a pawn or two (don’t make too many pawn moves at the game’s start), it’s time to bring in the minor pieces, the Knights and Bishops. The key point to remember about Knights is that they can enter the game without moving a pawn. In the last article, I suggested that beginners commanding the White pieces start off with 1. e4 (1…e5 for Black). Now, as White, we want to bring a minor piece into the game and no other piece is better suited (for the beginner) that the King-side Knight. The Knight has a choice of three squares, e2, f3 and h3. While 2. Ne2 (the Alapin Opening) does adhere to the opening principles by controlling one of the four central squares (d4, d5, e4 and e5), it blocks in the White Queen and White’s light squared or King-side Bishop. Don’t block in your pieces when possible because doing so means you’ll have to unblock them which comes at a cost of tempo or time and time is of the essence during the opening phase of the game. Playing 2. Nh3 is an absolute stinker of a second move. Not only does it not control the center but a Knight on the rim or edge of the board controls half as many squares as it would when placed on a more centralized square. This leaves 2. Nf3 which is developing with tempo. Tempo? In chess tempo means time and Black will have to expend the extra time to defend the Black pawn on e5 that the Knight on f3 is now attacking! Moving the Knight to f3 also has some bonuses. Not only does it attack the Black pawn on e5 but it also controls the d4 square as well as the g5 and h4 squares. What’s so important about g5 and h4? Those are two Squares Black’s Queen might take up residency on in an effort to launch an early King-side attack. It also adds a defender to the h2 pawn and brings White a move closer to castling on the King-side. In short, 2. Nf3 does many things at once and if every move you made during a game did more than one thing, you’d be winning more games than you lost!

Black’s best response, at least for beginners is 2…Nc6. This move protects the e5 pawn as well as putting pressure on the d4 square. Remember, when you’re commanding the Black pieces, you’re a move behind so you should aim to equalize the position, keeping things balanced rather than trying to launch a premature attack.

After developing you’re first Knight, you may want to consider either developing your remaining Knight with a move like 3. Nc3 (for White) or 3…Nf6 (for Black). Developing both Knights allows you to control all four of the central squares. Place Knights on c3, f3 (for White), c6 and f6 (for Black) and note the squares they control. Remember, Knights can jump over pawns and pieces so they can control the center very quickly, without having to move any pawns. The opening phase of the game is a race to see who gains control of the center first. The player that does gain control of the center first will usually have the advantage because the opposition doesn’t have much in the way of counter play since you control key squares they need to place their pawns and pieces on. Centralized control is the name of the game when it comes to the opening.

Now let’s look at those deadly sharp shooting snipers, the Bishops. The Knight, because of his ability to jump over any pawn or piece on the board, is an expert in close combat. However, when the board is wide open (plenty of empty squares ), the Bishop is King, so to speak! The Bishop, unlike the Knight who has to get up close and personal with his target, can attack an opposition piece from the comfort of his own starting square. However, bringing your Bishops into the game requires moving the e and d pawns (or b and g pawns), so their immediate entry onto the board is hampered until some pawns are moved.

The best places for the Bishops (at least for the beginner) are c4 and f4 for White and c5 and f5 for Black. A Bishop moved from f1 to c4 as it’s first move into the game, controls more squares than anywhere else it’s moved to along that diagonal. Remember, the more of the board you control the less of the board your opponent controls. From the c4 square it cuts through the board’s center squares and aims itself at the weak f7 pawn. For Black, the c5 squares has the same effect. Sometimes, you don’t have the option of placing a Bishop on the c or f files because there may be opposition pawns controlling those squares. Beginners are often tempted to use their Bishops to pin opposition Knights to either the King or Queen. While it seems like a good idea, the pin can easily be broken or the Bishop pushed away by pawns. On occasion, a player will ignore the pin and let you capture their Queen. When you do, they deliver a nasty attack that leads to mate. Therefore, when looking for a Bishop move (other than c4 or c5), I suggest making a non committal move, such as placing a Bishop on the e or d files (for White, e2 or d2 and for Black e6, e7 or d7) where it can move to either side of the board quickly if needed for an attack. Good chess players build up their position and the activity of their pieces before launching attacks.

Next week, we’re going to put our pawns and minor pieces together in an opening and see how they work together, as well as discussing castling. Until then, here’s a game to enjoy until then!

Hugh Patterson

Opening Principles: Part One

Beginners tend to lose games before they really get started because they randomly move pieces out onto the board with little thought being put into the moves they make. Often, you’ll see beginners making pawn move after pawn move during the opening, the first ten to fifteen moves of the game, while their more experienced opponent brings a variety of pieces into the game in a structured order. Beginners also have a bad habit of bringing their Queen out early, intoxicated by her power, thinking that one should employ the heaviest artillery early on to win the battle quickly. Beginners make a plethora of mistakes during the opening that lead to their downfall. Then there’s the beginner who memorizes a series of opening moves they found in a chess book. They make those moves without understanding the underlying mechanics of each move. Their more experienced opponent will make the appropriate responses, knowing why each move is made and it’s underlying principles, eventually making a move that starts a vicious attack. Our beginner wrings his or her hands in despair, not knowing what to do. If any of these scenarios sounds familiar, read on.

I’m going to break the opening principles down in great detail, exploring one principle per article. The first principle we’ll look at is controlling the center of the board with a pawn, something we should do on our very first move. When I say the center of the board, I’m talking about four squares, e4, e5, d4 and d5. These four squares make up the board’s center. The twelve squares that surround our four central squares are also important. Those squares are c3, c4, c5, c6, d3, d6, e3, e6, f3, f4, f5 and f6. What’s so important about the center of the board?

First off, the most important piece, the King, sits on a central file, the e file (the files are the eight vertical columns running up and down the chessboard, named (starting from the left) the a, b, c, d, e, f, g and h files). Since the opposition King is your target, going through the center of the board to get at him is the quickest approach. Another factor to consider is the simple fact that pieces have more power, the control of more squares, when they’re centrally located. On the chessboard, a Knight placed on one of the four central squares attacks or controls eight squares. That same Knight placed on the edge of the board attacks or controls four squares (half as many as when centrally located). A Knight on a corner square attacks or controls two squares. The same holds true for all pieces except the Rook. A Rook on an empty board controls fourteen squares no matter where it’s placed. Now you know why the center of the board is so important. Now to start the game!

Beginners are faced with a dilemma on their first move because they have a choice of twenty possible moves, sixteen pawn moves (pawns can move one or two squares forward on their first move, then one square at a time after that first move). Since Knights can jump over pawns and pieces, each player has a choice of four possible Knight moves. While an experienced player knows exactly what first pawn move to make, the beginner frets, trying to decide which pawn to push. In this article, we’re only going to look at initial pawn moves.

We know that our job during the opening phase of a chess game is to control the board’s center. We know that the central squares are d4, d5, e4 and e5. Therefore, we want to move a pawn that controls one of these squares. However, I need to amend this statement to say that we want to control a central square on our opponent’s side of the board. White’s half of the board consists of the first, second, third and fourth Ranks (Ranks are vertical rows running left to right, named the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth Ranks). Black’s half of the board consists of the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth Ranks. Thus, on White’s first move, we want to control the d5 or e5 square (on Black’s side of the board) and on Black’s first move, Black wants to control the d4 or e4 square (on White’s side of the board). Therefore, you should move a pawn two squares forward, not one square forward, because you want to control your opponent’s side of the center.

The reason pawns are so important has to do with their relative value, which is one. The pieces have values ranging from three to nine points (consider the King priceless). Therefore, a one point pawn that controls a square will dissuade an opposition piece from moving to that square if pawn can capture it since trading a Knight, for example, for a pawn would be a bad trade!

Knowing the importance of the central squares helps narrow down our choices regarding which pawn to use on move one. Since we know that pawns attack diagonally, we should choose a pawn that attacks the d or e files. This means the e, d and c pawns. What about the f pawn, you might ask? We don’t want to move our f pawn because moving that pawn can prematurely expose our King to attack. I’ve listed the pawns we want to move in an order the beginner should follow. You should start by learning e pawn openings, followed by d pawn openings and finally c pawn openings such as the English Opening. The beginner reading this should let out a sigh of relief since we’ve just narrowed our list of twenty possible first moves to one or two. I suggest that beginners learn e pawn openings first because d pawn openings lead to more closed positional games that require a skill set the beginner has yet to develop. However, you should study d pawn openings as soon as you’re comfortable with e pawn openings.

Playing white, the beginner should start with 1. e4. This plants one of your pawns firmly on a central square. However, having a pawn or piece on a central square doesn’t mean you control it. In the case of a pawn on e4, that pawn is controlling the d5 and f5 squares. Playing Black, the beginner should start with 1…e5, which controls the d4 and f4 squares. While there are other alternatives for Black’s first pawn move, such as 1…e6 (The French Defense), 1…c6 (The Karo Cann) or 1…c5 (The Sicilian Defense), these openings require a good knowledge of opening principles which the beginner needs to develop over time.

Moving a pawn to e4 for White or e5 for Black has an added bonus. With the exception of the Knights, all the other pieces are trapped behind a wall of pawns, unable to participate in the game. When White plays 1. e4, the pawn moves off the e2 square which allows the King-side or light squared Bishop and Queen to enter the game. The same holds true for Black upon playing 1…e5 (Freedom for Black’s King-side Bishop and Queen). You have to move pawns to get your pieces (other than the Knight) into the game. Ideally, White would like to play 1. e4 followed by 2. d4, which would give both Bishops immediate access to the board. However, 1…e5 stops White from being able to immediately play 2. d4 (although in some openings, White will play 2. d4, allowing Black to capture the d pawn). Remember, in chess there are two plans, yours and your opponents. You opponent isn’t going to let you have your way when it comes to controlling the board’s center and vice versa.

It’s important to make a first move that controls the center of the board if you’re commanding the White pieces. Since White moves first, the person in charge of the White army should take the initiative which means control of the board’s center. The person commanding the Black pieces is essentially a move behind. This means, as Black, you should aim to equalize the position. Thus, when White plays 1. e4, they have a foothold in the center. If Black makes a move like 1…a4 (a dreadful move) White will take advantage of this move and plant another pawn in the center with 2.d4 and Black will fall hopelessly behind in development. By development, I mean building up central control by developing or moving specific pawns and pieces. When Black plays 1…e5, Black has the same advantages as White such as control of a central square (d4) and the ability to bring the King-side Bishop and Queen into the game. Please note that just because you give your Queen access to the board doesn’t mean you should bring her out right away. The Queen is a powerful piece that will instantly become a target for the opposition should she be brought out early on. Save her for later.

When starting a game, always aim for the center and use a pawn to secure a foothold there. Since pawns have the least relative value (one), the have a great talent when it comes to keeping those more valuable pieces at bay (off of any square the pawn controls). Don’t go crazy and make nothing but pawn moves during the opening. Make one pawn move to start or two, should you have the opportunity to move the d pawn safely to d4, for White, or d5 for Black on move two. Pawns have to be moved to get your pieces into the game (except for the Knight). Learn to love and respect the pawn. Just because you start the game with eight of them and they have the lowest relative value doesn’t mean they’re not important. Every pawn has the potential to promote into a Queen.

We’re going to look at part two of your opening plan, bringing the minor pieces into the game next week. The minor pieces are the Knights and Bishops. For now, here’s a game to enjoy until next week. Enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance of Tactics Nine: Putting It All Together

Over the last eight articles, we’ve explored basic tactical ideas and have seen how important a role tactics play in the game of chess. Of course, great chess playing requires more than simply being good at tactics. Master level players will incorporate and employ tactics in their overall plan but know that tactics alone don’t solely win games. They know that many other elements contribute to whether or not they win or lose. However, tactics are often the decisive winning element in the games of beginning and intermediate players. Today we’re going to look at a single game in which one player, Boris Spassky, employs tactics impressively. First, we’ll break the game down into two key positions, isolating a two specific examples and looking at the series of moves leading up to each tactical play. Then we’ll see the entire game played out in my game of the week. By looking at some specific tactical examples within the game and then playing through the game in it’s entirety we’ll better understand when and where we should use our new found tactical tools.

We talked about the power of the pin early in this series of articles. Of course, beginners often stumble into an opportunity to employ a pin due to their opponent’s poor handling of his forces on the chessboard. However, at a master level of play, even a simple tactic such as a pin can require a great deal of positional work to set that tactic up. In our first example, we’ll look at the series of moves that led up to the first pin. Boris Spassky, commanding the White pieces (Avtonomov playing Black), demonstrates why he is such a fantastic chess player (he’s also my favorite chess player of all time so pardon my bias). Note that there are more complex and deeper reasons for some of the moves made in this game then I’ll be mentioning. However, this article is written for the beginner so we’re sticking with basic principled tactical reasoning here. Let’s jump right into the action:

Studious beginners and Grandmasters alike know that castling your King to safety is critical. An unsafe King becomes a target for your opponent’s pawns and pieces and an overwhelming number of games have been lost throughout chess’s long history (at all level of play) due to not castling the King. Therefore, Spassky castles his King with 1. O-O. However, there’s more to this move than simply sheltering your King from the opposition’s forces. Activating your King-side Rook (or Queen-side Rook when castling Queen-side) is an added bonus to castling. Beginners have a bad habit of leaving their Rooks dormant throughout the game. Rooks can play a crucial roll during all phases of the game as we shall soon see. Black responds by playing 1…a6. This move prevents Spassky from checking the Black King with his c4 Bishop which might lead to a trade of light squared Bishops (don’t give your opponent an opportunities to check your King, especially when it may lead to an exchange of pieces (such as your light squared Bishop) that include a piece you might need later on. Spassky now plays 2. Qe2. Why play such a move? We’ll find out momentarily. Black plays 2…b5, pushing the Bishop off of the c4 square. One thing you’ll want consider, whenever reasonable and possible, is to push your opponent’s pieces back, away from your King, while moving your pieces forward towards your opponent’s King. Now, the White Bishop simply move to b3 with 3. Bb3.

Master level players make a point of building up their pawn and piece’s activity, methodically moving their forces to specific squares and only then, launching their attack, whereas beginners tend to launch premature attacks which contributes to their losing games. Black plays 3…Nc6, putting pressure on both d4 and e5. Spassky responds with 4. Nc3, bringing his Queen-side Knight into the game and putting pressure on the d5 square. After Black plays 4…cxd4, it looks like Spassky has to either move his Knight on c3 or capture the attacking pawn with exd4. Absolutely not! Spassky plays the wonderful 5. Rd1 and now the d4 pawn is pinned to the Queen. This is the difference between top level players and beginners. The beginner would panic and either move the Knight or capture the pawn. However, Spassky set up a potential pin a few moves back. Remember when he castled and then moved his Queen up a rank? This combination of moves allowed the Rook to move from f1 to d1 where it now pins the Black pawn on d4 to the Black Queen on d8. A nice piece of tactical work by a great tactical artist of the chessboard! Take a look at the next example from our game:

The only different between the first example and this example is that black has moved his light squared Bishop to the long diagonal running from a8 to h1. Take a good look at this position. See if you can spot any potential future pins for White. Really take a look at the position before reading further and write down any moves that could create a pin. The first move that Spassky makes is going to capture the d4 pawn. How would you recapture it, with 1. Nxd4 or exd4? Think in terms of creating a pin! Remember, my friends who are beginners, when given the choice of capturing with a variety of pawns and pieces, we should (unless the position warrants otherwise) capture back with the unit of least value. Therefore, 1. exd4 is the correct move. It’s a better choice than 1. Nxd4 because capturing back with the pawn creates an absolute pin along the e file. Notice that, after the e pawn captures the d4 pawn, the White Queen on e2 is pinning Black’s e6 pawn to the Black King on e8. While the Black e6 pawn is dormant, it’s future use will be limited as long as it’s pinned. Absolute pins can be lethal since the pinned piece cannot be moved. Spassky, of course, plays 1. exd4.

It looks like White’s pawn on d4 is heading towards d5 which is why Black plays 1…Nb4 which does two important things. First, the Black Knight on b4 is attacking the d5 square. This adds another defender to that square (d5). Remember, as long as the Black e6 pawn is pinned, it cannot aid in the defense of d5. Second, it allows the Black Bishop on b7 to also aid in the attack on d5 now that the Black Knight has moved off of c6. Good chess players know how to make moves that don’t block in their pieces. Spassky now plays 2. d5, pushing the pawn forward. While Black would love to capture the White pawn on d5 with his e6 pawn, he can’t because that pawn is absolutely pinned to the Black King. Now we’re seeing the power of pins when employed by a highly skilled Player. Black captures back with 2…Nbxd5. Unfortunately, the black Knight on d5 is now pinned to the Black Queen on d8, thanks to the Rook on d1. White now has two pins going, both involving Black’s most important pieces, the King and Queen. One pin is bad enough, but two? Now Spassky plays 3.Bg5 and an additional pin is added to the mix, the White Bishop on g5 pinning the Black Knight on f6 to the Black Queen on d8! Any casual player would simply tip his King in resignation and go home to tend to his greatly bruised ego. However, Black makes what I consider to be an important move that the beginner should take note of! Black plays 3…Be7! Put yourself in Black’s shoes. You have to deal with three separate pins and since you can only move one piece at a time, you’re facing possibly least three move to break each of the various pins. Take a moment to note each pin before reading on. There’s an absolute pin and two relative pins. Which do you deal with first? The absolute pin comes to mind. However, what if you could stop two of the pins in a single move. Black does so by playing 3. Be7. Bravo! This simple move temporarily stops both the pin involving the Black Knight on f6 and Black Queen on d8 (being pinned by the White Bishop on g5) as well as the pin involving the Black e6 pawn and the Black King on e8 (being pinned by the White Queen on e2). The placement of the Black Bishop on e7 relieves some of the pressure Black is feeling in this position. Moves that do move than one thing are excellent moves to make! However, the Black Bishop on e7 may be feeling a bit overloaded at the moment!

Before I let you loose to play through the game in it’s entirety. We should discuss a few key points regarding tactics employed in the above examples. Notice that not much, in the way of material has been captured. Top level players know that successful attacks require that the attacker build up his position. Also, the more pieces you have in play, the greater the opportunity for tactics. In military terms, this means getting all your troops onto the battlefield, carefully positioning each member of your army where it will do the maximum amount of damage when the fighting starts and be able to exploit an opportunities! You should also note that you have to set tactics up. In the first example, Spassky castled his King to activate the Rook followed by moving his Queen up one rank so the Rook could move from f1 to d1. It’s important to note that Spassky waited until the right moment to bring his Rook over to d1. Timing is extremely important when employing tactics. You have to wait until the right moment to unleash the tactical beast. Here’s the game from start to finish. You’ll find a great example of removing the defender on move 19. Enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance of Tactics Eight: Removing the Defender

Often, a beginner will see checkmate close at hand except for one small problem, there’s an opposition pawn or piece standing between the beginner and victory. “If only that pawn or piece wasn’t on that square”, muses our intrepid beginning player. “I’d win this game if my opponent would just move that darn pawn (or piece)!” His opponent also sees it as the one member of his army stopping checkmate, so he’s not going to move that pawn or piece unless he’s forced to. What is our poor beginner to do? After all, if that opposition pawn or piece isn’t going to move then how’s he going to win?

The beginner facing this dilemma, refers back to his limited chess training and thinks “maybe I can somehow trade a piece of lesser or equal value for the piece standing in the way of my mating plan, but I’ll have to move that piece of lesser or equal value into position to do so.” Of course, following this plan means spending extra time to do so and extra time might give the opposition an opportunity to stop the attempted checkmate! While experienced players might laugh at this notion of only trading pieces of lesser or equal value to clear a path to checkmate, all the beginner has to go on, regarding the exchange of material, is what they’ve learned so far in their chess education, namely that you should always try to exchange material in a manner that is profitable for you or at least equal. In other words, trade or exchange material of lesser value for pieces of higher value or trade material of equal value for material of equal value.

The beginner, thinking in these terms is thinking mechanically which is part of the learning process. When a beginner starts playing chess, they tend to make terrible trades, such as giving up a Rook or Queen for a minor piece (with no great positional gain or compensation for their loss) because they don’t understand the relative value of the pieces. Chess teachers and coaches, such as myself, spend countless hours teaching our beginning students the value of the pieces and how to make profitable exchanges. Thus, when the beginner is faced with a position in which an opposition pawn or minor piece is standing in the way of their mating attack, they don’t consider the idea of trading a piece of greater value for one of lesser value, even if it allows checkmate to occur (remember, beginners haven’t developed their pattern recognition skills and often don’t see a potential checkmate).

We call this tactical idea removing the defender. The defender is any pawn or piece that protects a key square near it’s King. Typically, Knights on f6 for Black or f3 for White are key defenders when castling has occurred on the King-side. Take a look at the example below:

In the above example, it’s White to move. The White Queen on e4, backed up or protected by the White Bishop (the Queen’s bodyguard) on d3, would be able to deliver checkmate with Qxh7 if it were not for one huge problem, the Knight on f6 which is guarding h7 (along with the King) while also attacking the White Queen. The beginner would look at Black’s Knight of f6 and his Queen on e4 and think, “I had better move my Queen so the Knight doesn’t capture it!” Our beginner might have glanced at his Rook on f3, then at the Knight on f6, but thought “this goes against the principles of making good trades. I’d be crazy to trade a five point Rook for a Three point Knight!” This is mechanical thinking at it’s worst. Certainly, it wouldn’t be a good trade based solely on the relative value of the pieces. However, the Knight on f6 is standing in the way of White delivering checkmate (as well as attacking the White Queen). The Knight on f6 is a crucial defender of the mating square h7. Therefore, to deliver checkmate, White must remove this defender even though, from a relative piece value point of view, the trade is not advantageous for White. The more experienced player wouldn’t think twice about trading Rook for Knight since doing so removes one critical defender of h7 and subsequently allows checkmate. Remember, beginners have a limited chess knowledge base and will often consider specific game principles as rules rather than principles, which can be bent or broken at times. Let’s return to our example.

White sees that the Knight on f6 is both attacking the White Queen on e4 and defending the h7 pawn, along with the Black King (who is also defending h7). The h7 square has two defenders and two attackers. In order to deliver checkmate on h7, White need to remove one of those defenders, the Black Knight on f6. White therefore plays 1. Rxf6, leaving the Black King as the sole defender of the h7 pawn. Now there are two attackers going after this pawn (h7) and only one defender. It’s important to note that the King isn’t really in any position to defend when there are two or more attackers! Now it’s Black to move. Here, black breaks a principled idea, never capture pawns and pieces unless it helps your game. While White has bent a principle regarding the exchange of material, Black’s bending of our principled idea of never capturing pawns and pieces unless it helps your position will have dire consequences.

The beginner commanding the Black pieces in this example thinks mechanically, grabbing material to come out ahead in this exchange rather than asking the critical question, why would White trade a Rook for a Knight?” He should have visually seen the answer within the position on the chessboard, the answer being “to remove a crucial defender that allows checkmate!” Had Black deduced, by looking at the position careful rather than grabbing material, he might have played 1…g6 (a miserable move to have to make) rather than 1…Bxf6 which leads to White’s second move 2. Qxh7#.

The idea I want you to remember is this: Avoid mechanical thinking. Playing mechanically often means that you mistake game principles for rock solid rules. The numerous and sound principles that guide us towards making good moves during our games can also lead to our downfall. The best chess players in the world know when to employ sound game principles and more importantly, when to bend those principles. Principles are guidelines not rules written in stone. In the case of removing the defender of a key square, especially when doing so leads to checkmate, would you rather stick to the principles or bend them a little and win the game? I thought so! We’ll look at some further examples of removing the defender next week. However, between now and then, let’s have a look at an extremely famous game in which a Queen is traded for a Knight leading to checkmate. Paul Morphy was extremely successful at removing the defender. If there’s any beginner’s topic you’d like to see here, please feel free to email me and I’ll write an article about that topic. Enjoy this classic battle on the chessboard!

Hugh Patterson