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).

The Importance of Tactics Three

Tactics can quickly decide the games of beginning and intermediate players, so knowing how and when to employ them is crucial if you wish to improve your game. Of course, tactics are not a guaranteed way to win but they can change the material balance in your favor and thus make it easier to win due to having a larger army than your opponent. We looked at pawn and minor piece (Knight and Bishop) forks in the last two articles. Now we’re going to look at major piece (Rook and Queen) forks. There is a difference between pawn, Knight and Bishop forks versus Rook and Queen forks. That difference has to do with the value of the material doing the forking. Pawns, for example, are great at forking because they have the lowest relative value. When a pawn forks two pieces, you automatically end up with a material gain. Knights and Bishops, when forking major pieces, (Rooks and Queens) also lead to a material gain. However, when you’re using a Rook or Queen to fork, you have to be careful because of their high relative value. If you have a Rook forking two minor pieces, and those minor pieces are protected by pawns or other minor pieces, then you’re apt to lose material should you follow through with the fork and capture one of those minor pieces!

We’ll start by looking at Rook forks. Rooks have the ability to move along the ranks and files. Unlike the Bishop who can only control diagonals of one color, the Rook can cover both black and white squares simultaneously. Because a Rook is worth more than a minor piece or pawn, your target pieces when using a Rook to fork should be a piece of higher value, such as The King or Queen and an unprotected piece of lower value, such as a Knight or Bishop. Why not a piece of equal value? Well, a piece of equal value would be another Rook and you can’t fork another Rook because that other Rook would simply capture your Rook! As with all forks, the set up is critical to your success. Take a look at the example below:

This is an extremely simplified example but it demonstrates what I just mentioned above regarding the idea of forking a piece of greater value than the Rook and a piece of lesser value. In our example, the White Rook moves to d6 (1. Rd6+) where it checks the Black King on h6 while also attacking the Bishop on a6. The King moves (1…Kg5) and the Rook captures the Bishop with 2. Rxa6. Nice and easy. However, if Black had a Knight on b8, this fork wouldn’t work because the Knight would protect the Black Bishop and following through with the exchange would leave you trading a five point Rook for a three point Bishop. Forks work when the piece being captured after the other piece has moved isn’t protected. However, what if we substitute A Black Queen for the Black Bishop and the White Rook we’re using to fork King and Queen has a bodyguard? Take a look at the example below:

Here, the Rook moves to the forking square, d6 (1. Rd6+). Since it’s checking the Black King, Black has the choice of moving the King and losing the Queen (and the game) or Capturing the Rook. Black opts to capture with 1…Qxd6. Now we see why the Rook needed a bodyguard. Remember, the Queen moves like both a Rook and Bishop, so forking a Queen with either of these two pieces requires a bodyguard for the forking piece. White plays 2. Bxd6, winning the Queen at the cost of a Rook. The net gain of this tactic is four points of material, trading Rook for Queen. With major piece forks, you often need a bodyguard to assist the forking piece to ensure a gain of material. Thus, the more valuable the piece doing the forking the more carefully you must set up your fork. There is one place where Rooks can can be highly effective against lower valued material, namely the pawns!

Rooks love to reek havoc on the seventh and second ranks, especially when the initial pawn structure (pawns on their starting squares) is somewhat intact. Let’s take a look:

White plays 1. Rd7, forking the Black pawns on c7 and e7. Black can only protect one of those pawns which means White captures the other one free of charge. After 1…Rfe8, White plays 2. Rxc7 winning a pawn. Black blunders with 2…Rac8, attacking the White Rook, thinking White will trade Rooks. However, the White Rooks says “time to take another pawn” and plays 3. Rxb7. Black decides to cover his a7 pawn with 3…Ra8 and the White Rook runs away after creating a three to one Queen-side pawn majority for White with 4. Rb3. This actual tragedy was from a student game in one of my beginner’s classes. White went on to win after being able to promote a Queen-side pawn. Of course, we can thank the Rook for creating the pawn majority!

The above example shows how powerful the Rook can be when it comes to rounding up pawns. However, you must be careful when going on a pawn hunt with one of your Rooks because of the Rook’s value. Hunting pawns with Rooks and Queens can be hazardous to your position’s health. It’s better not to hunt pawns in the first place because you have greater tasks to be tackled, such as winning the game by creating strong positions! Now we’ll look at some Queen forks.

Since the Queen is the most valuable piece aside from the King, you have to be extremely careful when using her, especially when it comes to forks. If you miscalculate your tactical assault, you may become the victim rather than the other way around. When forking with the Queen, it’s best for the beginner to only consider forks that involve the opposition King as one of the forked pieces. Take a look at the example below:

In the above example, Black is threatening to capture the a2 pawn. White could simply move the Queen to b1 or c2 to defend it. However, wouldn’t it be better to win the Rook outright? White can further improve upon his material advantage by employing a fork. Using a Queen fork, White plays 1. Qb3+ which forks the Black King and the annoying Black Rook. After black blocks with 1…Rf7, White plays 2. Qxa2 equalizing the material balance. Of course, if the Black Knight was on b4, this fork wouldn’t work. You should always make sure the pieces you’re planning on capturing after employing the fork aren’t protected.

When using Rooks and Queens for forks, you have to take care because these are your major pieces, having the highest material value. Therefore, you need to make sure they can’t be recaptured after you execute the fork. As I mentioned in the previous two articles, the way to find potential forks is to look for pieces that share a rank, file or diagonal. Rooks fork on the ranks and files. Queens have an advantage in that they can fork on the ranks, files and diagonals. Their disadvantage is that they’re at the top of the relative value scale so if you lose your Queen due to a faulty tactical execution, you’re down a lot of material. Next week we’ll start our examination of pins, a deadly tactic you should know how use. Until then, here’s a great gambit game from the romantic era of the game we all love. Enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance of Tactics Two

As promised, we’re going to continue our examination of tactics for the beginner. Last week, we looked at the power of the Knight fork. Because a Knight cannot be blocked when attacking, the opposition is left with one less choice (the other two being capturing or running/moving out of the attack) when dealing with the Knight. Also the Knight’s “L” shaped movement makes it difficult for the beginner to clearly see this piece’s target squares when compared to the linear movement of the other pieces. Now we’ll look at how the pawn and Bishop can be used in tactical forks to win material. Remember, everyone in your chess army can fork.

As I mentioned last week, forking opportunities rarely just present themselves when you play against an experienced opponent. You have to set them up with a combination of moves which is the hard part of learning how to become a tactician! Some of these combinations require a move or two while some may take three or more moves to set up. With forks involving pieces other than the Knight, the trick to setting up a tactical play is to look for lines (ranks, files or diagonals) on which opposition material sits. We’ll start by looking a a pawn fork. This example is a simple tactical trick employed by many savvy young players and requires setting the tactic up with a combination of moves:

So our game starts off with a typical e pawn opening, 1. e4…e5. No tricks here, just the simple application of opening principles, controlling the board’s center with a pawn. On move two, White attacks the e5 pawn with 2. Nf3 and Black properly defends with 2…Nc6. White plays the Italian Opening with 3. Bc4 and Black responds with 3…Nf6. Both players are employing sound opening moves that fight for the center of the board. White develops another minor piece with 4. Nc3. Now Black looks at the position and spots an opportunity for a fork. Obviously, there’s no immediate fork but, as I mentioned earlier, tactical plays more often than not, have to be set up. Black sees that by advancing the d pawn from d7 to d5, he’d be forking the Bishop on c4 and the e4 pawn. While the Black Queen protects the Black pawn, White’s pawn on e4 that would capture the Black pawn and that would be that. However, Black has an idea. What if there was a White Knight on e4 rather than a pawn? In this case, a Black pawn on d5 (protected by the Queen) would be forking both the c4 Bishop and the e4 Knight. This would be a worthwhile fork since White would lose one of his pieces. How does Black lure the Knight to e4? By temporarily sacrificing his own Knight with 4…Nxe4. White, being inexperienced thinks that Black has blundered by capturing the pawn and happily captures the Knight with 5. Nxe4. Black advances his d pawn, 5…d5, forking the Bishop and Knight, winning a pawn at the end of this tactical exchange!

Note that in the above example, the fork works because the pawn had a defender, the Black Queen, and it was attacking two pieces of greater value. Pawns are excellent at forking because of their low relative value in relationship to the pieces. It’s important to remember that forks are most effective when the unit forking is worth less than the material being forked (unless one of the forked pieces cannot be defended)!

Now let’s look at a Bishop fork. You’ll want to keep in mind that Bishop forks requires more thought when setting up. What do I mean by this? Any attack by a Knight cannot be blocked due to it’s ability to jump over other pieces. The Knight also has the ability to fork up to eight pieces at the same time (in theory as compared to actual positional practice). With the pawn, because of its having the lowest relative value, any pair of pieces (it can only fork two pieces at a time) being forked are at a disadvantage because those pieces are worth more than the pawn. With Bishops, Rooks and especially the Queen, you have additional details to address before forking with these pieces. We’ll look at Rook and Queen forks next week.

At the start of the game, you have two Bishops, one that travels along the light colored squares and one that travels along the dark colored squares. Because of this, a Bishop of one color (square) will only be able to fork pieces that sit on squares of that Bishop’s color. Thus, a dark squared Bishop can only attack or fork pieces on dark colored squares. Now we’re going to look at a series of forks in a single game, employing both Knight and Bishop working together, that leave the player of the White pieces in ruins just ten moves into the game. The key point here is that only a specific combination of coordinated pieces and a carefully thought out series of moves makes this devastating tactical play work. Let’s take a look:

The opening used in the above example is the Queen’s Gambit Declined. The Queen’s Gambit is a very solid opening played by many of the world’s top players. However, as we shall see, just because it’s played by top players with ensuing good results doesn’t mean that less experienced players will have successful results employing it. There are a few noteworthy ideas or concepts to consider regarding this example.

First off, we see two well timed Knight and Bishop forks, almost back to back, that have devastating results. Secondly, the minor pieces involved in this tactical slaughter work together, with one minor piece supporting the other. When you seriously study tactics, you’ll find that pieces work with one another in a balanced or harmonious way. One pawn or piece protects the forking piece, which allows that piece to execute the tactical play. Sometimes, a piece will be temporarily sacrificed in order to clear a line (rank, file or diagonal), allowing another piece to deliver the tactical play. Thus, in order to successfully employ a tactic, pawns and pieces must work together. Material harmony is the phrase of the day! Let’s get to our example.

The game starts with a d pawn opening which can lead to a semi-closed or closed game. In closed games, where pawns and pieces tend to render long distance attackers such as the Bishops, Rooks and Queen powerless due to a lack of open squares ( but not completely powerless), the Knights are often the stars of the show. However, in this game, Black uses a combination of a long distance attacker, in this case the Bishop, and the Knight who rules in closed positions harmoniously. After 1. d4…d5, White plays 2. c4, indicating The Queen’s Gambit. Now it’s up to Black to either accept or decline the gambit. When Black plays 2…Bf5, he states that he’s not accepting the gambit. The Black Bishop on f5 is following the opening principles, attacking a central square. White now plants the Queen-side Knight on it’s own active square with 3. Nc3 which attacks the Black d5 pawn. Black defends the pawn with 3…e6. White develops his King-side Knight with 4. Nf3, a principled opening move. Black develops his Queen-side Knight with 4…Nc6. White follows with 5. Qb3. It’s here that White’s game starts to weaken. While the White Queen is targeting the Black pawn on b7, is it a good idea to bring one’s Queen out early to attack a pawn that can easily be defended? In short, the answer is no. The Queen should never be used to hunt down pawns during the opening!

How does Black defend the seemingly hanging pawn? He doesn’t. Instead, Black plays 5…Nb4, literally depositing the Knight on the Queen’s head. The reason this works is because of piece coordination. The f8 Bishop protects the Knight so the Queen cannot capture the b4 Knight! White makes an essentially pointless check with 6. Qa4+. I say pointless because this move actually helps Black’s game, allowing Black to make a move he was already considering, 6…c6. Never makes moves that help your opponent!

White decides to attack Black’s pawn structure with 7. cxd5. Since the Black pawn on c6 is pinned to Black’s King by the White Queen, Black has to capture back with the e pawn, right? Absolutely not! Black instead plays the nasty fork, 7…Nc2+, attacking the White King and Queen-side Rook. Hold on because it gets worse! After White moves his King with 8. Kd1, Black responds with 8…Nxa1. What’s worse than losing the Rook on a1? After White goes about the business of pawn grabbing with 9. dxc6, Black unleashes another devastating fork with 9…Bc2+, forking Queen and King. Needless to say it’s all downhill for White after this. We can learn a few valuable lessons regarding forks from this example.

In the above example, we saw the power of piece coordination when employing a fork. White’s mistake was wasting time by bringing his Queen out early and sniping at Black’s pawns. Had White looked more closely at the Black Knight and Black’s light squared Bishop, he wouldn’t have ended up losing so much material early on. Of course, you’ll rarely get to employ two tactical forks back to back but this example demonstrates the power of a well timed and coordinated tactical play. Next week we’ll end our examination of forks and move on to the mighty pin. Here’s a game to enjoy until then!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance of Tactics One

It’s been said that chess is 99% tactics. While this isn’t completely true when it comes to more experienced players, it’s often true when it comes to the games of junior players! More experienced players, both young and old, know how to shut down potential tactical plays attempted by their opponents. If a more experienced player is faced with an opponent who is better at tactical play, they know how to create a closed position that reduces the opposition’s tactical opportunities greatly. However, the beginner often doesn’t has enough experience to follow suit. Many beginners, again both old and young alike, lose games because of a well timed tactical play. This doesn’t mean that this tactical play solely determines the game’s outcome. It does however give the tactician an advantage, one that creates a positional weakness that can fester into a losing game over the long run.

Over the next few articles we’re going to explore a number of basic tactics that the beginning player can employ in their own games. However, it should be noted that, as a beginner, you shouldn’t expect these exact positions to suddenly appear on the board when you play chess. Our examples serve as positional motifs or ideas/concepts rather than exacting positions that you must reach in a specific move order.

We’ll start with the fork. A fork has a completely different meaning within the world of chess as opposed to it’s meaning in the world of culinary arts. A fork in chess leads to a gain of material while a fork in the culinary arts is a utensil you use to either eat with or serve food with! In chess, a fork is one pawn or piece attacking two or more pieces at the same time. Yes, I said pawn because even this seemingly lowly little fellow can engage in tactical forks. Even the King can fork other pieces but not until you reach an endgame position! Everyone in your chess army can fork material which is why the fork is such a powerful tactical weapon!

Perhaps the greatest forking piece is the Knight who, if positioned on a central square, can simultaneously fork or attack up to eight pieces. While the Queen (who travels along ranks, files or diagonals) can also fork up to eight pieces at once , she’s your most powerful piece (in general) which means employing her for tactical duty can be more dangerous that using a Knight! Considering the value of the pieces, it’s better to risk a minor piece for a tactical play than a major piece. You have two Knights but only one Queen! The Knight also has a special power that stops the opposition from blocking a Knight attack or fork and that’s the Knight’s ability to jump over other pieces. This special ability means that you cannot block a Knight when it attacks. This being the case, we’ll concentrate on Knight forks in this first article on tactics.

The Knight is perhaps the most difficult piece for the beginner to master. Remember, the Knight moves in an “L” shape which makes it difficult to follow visually (for the beginner) since the other pieces move in a more linear fashion (straight lines along ranks, files or diagonals). This non-linear pattern of movement can be a bit tricky at first for both the player employing the Knight in a game and the player having to defend against the Knight. However, it’s well worth mastering our horsey friend because of it’s very unique abilities. Let’s take a look at an example of a Knight fork. It’s important for you to keep in mind that forks require being set up. While forks do sometimes present themselves seemingly out of the blue, more often than not, they require being set up. We call this set up a combination. A combination is a series of moves that align opposition pieces on specific squares that allow a tactical play, in this case a fork, to occur. Take a look at the example below:

In the above example, Black makes a move, 1…Qxc3, that the beginner might think is terrible, trading a Queen for a Knight. From a monetary viewpoint (assigning a dollar value to the pawns and pieces rather than relative point values), Black appears to have just traded nine dollars for three dollars. You wouldn’t walk up to a stranger and say “I’ll give you nine dollars if you give me three dollars back” unless you had a really good reason (insanity doesn’t count)! In our example, White jumps at this seemingly lopsided exchange of material with 2. Qxc3. White is certainly happy to have won a Queen for a minor piece, in this case a Knight! However, this is a “set up” move for Black’s tactical play, 2…Ne2+ which turns out to be a fork. Black is simultaneously attacking the White King and Queen at the same time. Because White must get out of check and the forking Knight can’t be captured nor blocked, the King has to move and the Queen is lost with 3. Kf1…Nxc3. Black has employed a fork and is up a minor piece for his efforts. It’s important to remember that this tactical play, a fork, had to be set up employing a combination of moves. Let’s look at another example:

Our first tactical example was more advanced than the type of forks you find in the games of beginners. I included it because it involved an idea we’ll look at in later articles, the concept of temporarily sacrificing material as part of a tactical play. In our second example, we meet a Knight fork that occurs a great deal in the games of beginners, one that involves the King-side Knight and Bishop. This is a forking pattern you’re likely to see quite a bit as a novice player. Why does this fork appear in many games? Because the target square, f7, is the weakest square on the board at the start of the game (White’s counterpart is f2). The f7 and f2 squares are weak because the square’s only defender is the King at the game’s start. If one piece attacks one of these two squares, such as a lone Bishop capturing the f7 or f2 pawn, the King whose job to protect that square either has to move, because he’s in check, or capture the Bishop. Either way he loses the right to castle. When the Bishop attacks the same square but has a piece protecting it, the King cannot capture the attacking piece. In our example, the Bishop supports or protects the Knight who has captured the f7 pawn so the Black King can’t do a thing about it. The Knight has not only captured the f7 pawn but is forking the Black Queen and Rook. Let’s play it through!

The first two moves, 1. e4…e5 and 2. Nf3…Nc6 are standard opening fare. Both players stake out a claim in the center with their initial pawn moves. White attacks the e5 pawn with his King-side Knight and Black develops the Queen-side Knight to defend it. White plays 3. Bc4, the start of the Italian Game. White also targets the f7 pawn with this Bishop move. Black makes a seemingly good move, 3…Nf6. Black’s last move makes sense since both Knights attack all four of the center squares. Since control of the board’s center is a key opening game principle, Black has little to worry about, right? Wrong! When White plays 4. Ng5 a problem suddenly appears for Black! There are now two attackers aimed at the f7 pawn and only one defender, the King! Black plays 4…Be7, hoping to escape his troubles by castling on the next move. However, it’s too late because White plays 5. Nxf7, winning the pawn and forking both the Black Queen and Rook. Worse, yet, the Black Queen is trapped so she’ll be captured on the next move.

This was a simple introduction to one of the many great tactics you should learn in order to improve your game. We’ll look at other forks in greater detail over the weeks to come but rather than provide you with a game to mull over this week, I’ll give you an exercise to do. Set up a chessboard with the pieces randomly placed about the board. Place them on the board very quickly without thinking about where they’re going. After removing any illegal positions such as a King in check, see if you can find any potential forks, either immediately or by using a combination of moves to achieve. You’ll start to develop an eye for forks. Since you’re playing both sides of the board, make sure to try and stop potential forks as well. You’ll learn a great deal about creating and defending against forks doing this. Get ready for another round of forks next week.

Hugh Patterson

Taking Advantage

We see many beginner games in which our novice player launches an attack only to see it fall apart, often leaving a weak position in its wake. Yet the experienced player will launch an attack and the results will be positive. What’s the difference between attacks? Knowing when to launch an attack by taking advantage of the situation, which is usually a weak opposition position. This means you have to look at your opponent’s position and attack only when you can take advantage of it!

Beginner’s tend to launch two kinds of attacks. The first attack usually involves a couple of pieces working independently of one another. In other words, those pieces are not working as a team. To work as a team, pieces have to support one another or protect one another when launching any attack. We often see early checkmates in the games of junior players that use a Queen and Bishop (Scholar’s Mate) or a Queen and Knight. These mating attacks work because the Bishop or Knight supports (protects) the Queen. The pieces work with one another through coordination. The minor piece protects the Queen which keeps the opponent’s King from capturing the her when the attack is launched. Notice the minor piece supporting the major piece, the Queen. Because the Queen can attack along the ranks, files and diagonals, she is the piece best suited to attacking the opposition King because she can cut off any escape squares

Imagine now, the the Knight or Bishop previously mentioned isn’t positioned to protect the Queen and her majesty goes in for the attack. The opposition King would then capture her and you’d be down your most powerful attacking piece. Piece coordination is therefore critical to any successful attack.

The other beginner’s attack is what I call the kitchen sink attack in which everything is thrown at the opposition King. This sounds great in theory but if our beginner doesn’t have his or her pieces protecting one another (piece coordination), then material will be lost and their position ruined. As a chess teacher, I teach the idea that the more pieces you have attacking the opposition, the better your chances of a successful attack. However, I point out that those pieces must be coordinated, otherwise you’ll lose material. I repeat this point over and over because beginning students will hear “the more pieces you have attacking the opposition King, the faster you’ll checkmate that King,” missing the key point regarding piece coordination. The beginning student will often throw their entire army at the opposition King and watch in horror as their army is captured. So how does the beginner launch a successful attack?

The first idea any beginner should embrace is patience. Junior players tend to be very impatient, only wanting to make moves that do something spectacular, such as capturing a piece or checking the opposition’s King. Beginners want to win and win fast. While beginner’s games tend to be short and fast, when playing other beginners, there will come a time when they’re playing strong players who can easily repel impatient attacks and usually turn the position around in their favor. Patient is a necessary skill all chess players must develop if they want to improve! Being patients means slowing building up your attack rather than launching a slap dash guaranteed to fail fiasco.

Of course, simply being patient isn’t enough to win the game. You have to be doing something while being patient, namely developing your pieces to their most active squares when preparing for your attack. The idea here is that the more material you have on active squares, those around the board’s center during the opening or those that give you attacking lines when preparing to attack your opponent’s King, the more attacking options you have and the fewer defensive choices your opponent has. The player will greater options has greater control of the board and the game!

Active squares in the opening are fairly straight forward. They’re squares that control the board’s center. However, when preparing a middle-game attack on the opposition’s position you have to develop material to specific squares. In the case of a mating attack, those squares will be those nearest the opposition King. However, you often have to do some additional work before attacking the King. Where do you move pawns and pieces then?

During the middle-game, you want to exploit weaknesses in your opponent’s position. Weakness include, doubled and isolated pawns, undefended pieces, pieces trapped on their starting ranks, defenders of squares that, if those pieces weren’t there, would give you an open line (rank, file or diagonal) to the enemy King or weak squares themselves. Of course, beginners will always try to look for tactical plays such as forks, pins, skewers, etc. However, you often are deprived of any immediate tactical plays so you have to look for weaknesses. The key idea here is to take advantage of opposition weaknesses. Often, those weakness create tactical plays.

For example, if your opponent’s pawn structure is plagued with problems such a doubled pawns, isolated pawns and too many pawn islands, your opponent will have to use some of his or her pieces to defend those problem pawns. If you put pressure on those pawns, such as threatening to attack them, your opponent will have to defend them or lose them. I say threat because a threat can be better than simply capturing the material being threatened. The point here is that opposition material becomes tied down when having to defend against attacks on poorly placed pawns and pieces. This means there are fewer opposition pieces able to repel your attack when you launch it because they’re tied down to the defense of their own poorly placed pawns and pieces. Another idea or concept beginners should learn is the notion of removing the defender of a key square. Removing that key defender makes it easier to open attacking and mating lines.

Multiple threats are a benefit from the patient development of your pawns and pieces. If you have multiple threats across the board, your opponent often can only deal with one of those threats leaving you the opportunity to take advantage of the position your opponent has left undefended. Multiple threats also lead to overloaded material, pieces that have to protect multiple pawns and pieces at the same time.

Timing is the key to a good attack. Only attack when the time is right. When is that? When there’s a weakness in your opponent’s position that gives you the opportunity to attack. When you and your opponent make moves, even the the best moves can leave you or your opponent with a weakness, namely the squares you leave behind. In simple terms, a White Knight on f3, controls the g5 and h4 squares so the Black Queen can’t move to these squares without being captured. Let’s say White hasn’t castled his or her King KIng-side and decides to capture an undefended Black pawn on e5 with the f3 Knight. After doing so, White has given up the defense of or left behind two important squares which the Black Queen takes advantage of by, in this case moving to g5. Now White’s Knight is under attack and so is the g2 pawn. While this example brings the Queen out early, something you shouldn’t do, it makes a good point. Black took advantage of a bad move on White’s part, only launching this early attack when the timing was right. Of course, experienced players would never take the pawn in our example, but beginners are know to do such things!

Wait for your opponent to create a weakness in their position before attacking. Even when playing principled chess, there comes a time when you or your opponent will have to make a move that may weaken their position. If you’re paying close attention, you’ll spot it and take advantage of it by either building up an attack or launching into one. Be patient and wait for an opportunity to arise and only then consider an attack after carefully building up your forces. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week. You have to love a guy named Pal Benko.

Hugh Patterson

Avoiding Opening Traps

A fellow coach came up to me during a tournament my student’s were playing in recently and said “Hugh, you better watch that team you’re guys are about to face. They specialize in opening traps and win a great deal of their games because of it.” My reply, “I don’t teach my students to use opening traps to win games.” My fellow coach looked at me sadly and said, “well, best of luck to you.” I smiled and walked away. What I didn’t tell him was that while I don’t teach my students to use opening traps to win games, I do teach them how to avoid traps and, when faced with opening traps, how to shut their opponent’s position down so quickly that the opposition will wish they never tried to employ their traps in the first place. Junior chess is overflowing with young players who (due to what I consider to be bad coaching) try to win their games early on, relying heavily on tricks and traps to give them the advantage. Therefore, any junior player will have to know about tricks and traps to avoid getting themselves into real trouble during the opening. Does this mean young players have to employ tricks and traps to survive? Absolutely not.

As I mentioned earlier, opening tricks and traps are a mainstay of junior chess. The level and degree of sophistication of these traps increases with the junior player’s age. Scholar’s Mate, for example, is the first opening trap young players learn. Why not, since it allows you to checkmate your opponent in four moves. I’ve seen countless tournament games won using Scholar’s Mate by the youngest members of the junior tournament circuit. The problem with this four move checkmate is that it requires your opponent to make a specific set of bad moves for it to succeed. If the person you’re playing against spots the potential attack, they can develop their pawns and pieces correctly while pushing the attacking Queen back. Below, we see the mate but also some simple developmental moves can thwart White’s mating attempt. This example brings up an important point.

Setting any opening trick or trap up requires that you make moves that go against sound opening principles. Since the opening phase of the game is a race to see who gains control of the board’s center first, making moves that don’t aim to reach that goal allow your opponent reach his or her goal before you do. Since the opening is the foundation upon which the rest of the game is built, setting up a trap early on can work against you when that trap fails. Setting traps costs time or tempo you cannot afford to lose.

I teach my students how to defend against opening tricks and traps. We approach it from a defensive viewpoint. Teaching this way does a number of important things. First of all, it teaches students to see the warning signs that a trap is being set. With Scholar’s Mate, the warning sign is that the Queen is being brought out early and is aimed towards the weakest square on the board, f7 (f2 for White). Sneakier players will often bring their light squared Bishop out to c4 which also serves as a warning sign since we usually develop our King-side Knight before our King-side Bishop. The point here is that warning signs are given that alert us to the potential trap.

The second point my method introduces is that principled play during the opening, trumps a trick or trap every time. You have to set up the trap which means doing things you shouldn’t do during the opening, such as bringing the Queen out early or moving the same pieces twice with no valid reason for doing so. A great lesson can be learned here about how important it is to not fall behind in development or time. If your opponent has to move the same piece two times while you move two different pieces once, such as two minor pieces towards the board’s center, you’re gaining time while your opponent is losing time.

Lastly, my students see just how fragile opening traps are, especially when they don’t work. Of course, this doesn’t mean my students are forbidden from ever employing a trap. However, if they employ a trap, they know the consequences that arise from doing so.

Knowing a trap is coming is the basis of a good defense because you can prepare for that trap. The Costage Trap is a simple opening trap I’ve described before in previous articles. However, we’ll look at it again because it demonstrates one of those opposition moves that should set the alarm bells ringing in your head when you see the key move.

In the above example, the first two moves for both players are standard fare as far as opening play is concerned. Both players fight for control of the center with a pawn on move one, 1. e4…e5. White plays 2. Nf3, attacking the e5 pawn and black defends with 2…Nc6. White then develops his King-side Bishop with 3. Bc4, which attacks the center and Black’s weak f7 pawn. Now Black makes a move that should warn White that something is amiss, 3…Nd4. This is where the unsuspecting beginner gets into trouble. They see a hanging pawn on e5. The opening principles tell us we should continue with development, such as castling or bringing another minor piece into the game, maybe moving the Queen-side Knight to c3. However the beginner grabs the pawn on e5 with 4. Nxe5 and now Black springs the trap. Remember, these are traps employed by young players so the traps themselves are not very sophisticated. When Black plays 4…Qg5, White is suddenly faced with losing the Knight on e5 or the g2 pawn. Many younger players will try to hang onto the Knight by taking the f7 pawn with 5. Nxf7, forking the Black Queen and King-side Rook. However, Black is playing to win so he simply takes the g2 pawn with 5…Qxg2 and White’s King-side Rook runs to f1 (6. Rf1). White’s days are numbered after Black plays 6…Qxe4+! White thinks “I’ll just block the Queen’s attack on my King by playing 7. Be2 and everything will be alright.” Wrong. Black plays 7…Nf3# and delivers a smothered mate. Castling on move four, 4. 0-0, would have solved the problem early on.

In the above example, the move 3…Nd4 was the indicator that Black was up to something. Knowing this, would have helped White in the above example. There is always a sign, in the form of a suspicious move, that tells us a trap is afoot! Here’s another example of an opening trap, called the fishing pole trap:

Moves one and two for both players are standard at junior level, 1. e4…e5, 2. Nf3…Nc6. White then plays 3. Bb5, signifying the start of The Ruy Lopez opening. Rather than play 3…a6, the standard response to 3. Bb5, Black plays 3…Nf6, attacking White’s e4 pawn. White castles with 4. 0-0, preparing to move the Rook to e1 to attack the Black Knight should it take the e4 pawn. So far, White is making good moves. Black plays 4…Ng4. Remember, there is always a move that tells us a trap may be afoot. However, White sees that there’s no Bishop on c5 to support the Knight’s attack on f2 (White’s weakest square at the start of the game) and continues with 5. h3, attempting to kick the Knight off of the g4 square. Black’s next move should set off a loud alarm bell in White’s head, 5…h6! Why would Black give up his Knight for a pawn? My students would immediately look up the h file and see that trading Knight for pawn would give the Black Rook an open file on which it would be aimed at the White King. White takes the bait with 6. hxg4. Black happily captures back with 6…hxg4 and White is in huge trouble. Never capture pawns and pieces unless it helps your position! White moves his Knight out of trouble with 7. Ne1 and Black plays 7…Qh4! White plays mechanically (something you should avoid) and plays 8. f3, hoping to trade pawns and create an escape square for his King. Black knows not to capture unless it helps his position and simply plays 8…g3 and now checkmate is unavoidable. White plays 9. Nc3 and Black delivers mate with 9. Qh2#.

You should know the basics of opening traps but know them from a defense viewpoint, rather than in terms of a tool you can use to win games. Experienced players will not fall for these traps and usually can turn the tables on the player employing them. Look for the the warning signs, such as unprincipled moves, and you’ll avoid falling victim. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week. No cheap tricks and traps from these two players!

Hugh Patterson

Three Strategic Concepts for Beginners

One of the most difficult ideas beginners must understand in order to improve is the concept of strategy. It’s difficult because it’s not as cut and dry as other forms of principled game play. With the opening principles, we know we have a specific goal to accomplish during the first ten to fifteen moves and a relatively easy (well, at least for more seasoned players) way to meet our goal. During the opening, we know that the three key tasks we must undertake to reach our goal of a sound opening game are controlling the board’s center early on with a pawn or two, developing our minor pieces towards the center and castling. We’re even given a list of things we don’t want to do such as making too many pawn moves, moving the same piece twice during the opening (unless absolutely necessary) and bringing our Queen out early. The point here is simple; we have an easy to grasp list of what to do and what not to do. The same holds true with middle-game play; further piece activation, tactics and good exchanges of material, and endgame play (pawn promotion, mating with specific pawn and/or piece combinations). However, the idea of strategy and maintaining a strategic plan throughout the game baffles our intrepid beginner. If you’re a beginner and you find yourself a bit in the dark when it comes to strategy, fret not because this concept alluded me for a long time (due to embarrassment, I won’t tell you how old I was when it finally sunk in, but I did have gray hair at the time). Let’s see if we can’t sort this out and shine a bright light on strategy and strategic thinking. It will help your game greatly.

Three words, actually concepts, can be employed during any phase within a game of chess and those words are material, safety and freedom. While these might be commonplace words to non chess players, they become important strategic ideas or concepts to those wishing to play quality chess. I use these three ideas when I introduce beginners to strategic thinking. However, before we delve into these three key concepts, lets start by defining the word “strategy” and compare it to the definition of “tactics.”

While seasoned players know the difference between strategy and tactics, many beginners don’t understand the difference which is critical to good chess playing. Strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve a major or long-term goal. In military terms, strategy is the art of planning and directing the overall operations and movements of an army’s troops. It’s the greater plan used to win the battle. Tactics, on the other hand, are the methods employed or actions used to achieve a specific goal or plan. In a military example, the strategy might be to cut off the enemy’s supply line, forcing them to retreat or starve. However, the way in which you do so, such a as carefully orchestrated attack on the supply line itself, undertaken by special forces late at night when enemy security is at its weakest, is a tactical effort. The strategic plan that meets your goal (taking out the enemy supply line) is executed through a series of tactical efforts.

Now to our three key ideas or concepts, material, safety and freedom. These are ideas to keep in mind throughout the game, meaning they should be considered during the opening, middle and endgame, thus why they’re strategic in nature. These three things help you to maintain strategic goals from start to finish.

Material is just that! When we say material, we’re talking about the pawns and pieces. To see who has the material advantage or the larger army of pawns and pieces, we should always do a pawn and piece count throughout the game. Unlike a real army who might not miss a foot soldier or two, our chess army can be greatly weakened even when we have one or two fewer pawns (foot soldiers) than our opponent.

While experienced players know the relative values of the pawns and pieces and keep a constant tally of just how much material both players have, the beginner often doesn’t understand the idea of the relative value of material. When you can can add up the value of your forces with the ease of an accountant, you’ll always know where you stand, materially speaking!

Our foot soldiers, the pawns, have a relative value of one. The minor pieces, the Knights and Bishops, have a value of three each. The Rooks have a relative value of five, while the Queen has a relative value of nine. The King’s priceless! The value of the pawns and pieces are based on their power. Therefore, the Queen is your most powerful piece and your pawn the least valuable of your material. However, it should be noted that these values are relative which means they can fluctuate depending on their relationship to the position at hand. Pawns, for example, might start off the game with a relative value of one. Yet pawns, upon reaching the opposite side of the board, can promote into a Queen, Rook, Knight or Bishop. Therefore. A pawn one square away from promotion is worth far more than one on its starting square!

You can compare pawns and pieces you’ve captured to those captured by your opponent and know where you stand, materially speaking. You can also add up the value of the pawns and pieces still on the board, both yours and those of your opponent. The bottom line, however, is that you should always know where you stand regarding material because this greatly effects the strategic decisions you make from one move to the next. I say this because strategic thinking and planning can change from move to move depending on what your opponent does. Your strategic thinking or planning should always be flexible because the game can change from one move to the next, meaning plans often have to change and change quickly.

Being able to put a value on the material on and off the board allows you know where you stand in regards to your planning. If you’re down a lot of material, you don’t want to sacrifice your Queen (unless of course it leads to checkmate). Remember though, just because you have more material than your opponent doesn’t mean you’re winning. You have to deliver checkmate to win the game! Having less material means you have to wisely use what you have left in the game. Knowing where you stand from a material viewpoint allows you to employ a smarter strategy, such as not throwing everything you have left at the opponent’s King but trying to use tactics to even the balance of material left in the game! When planning an attack, add up the values of the pawns and pieces being exchanged. The value of the material you capture should be greater than that of your opponent.

Now for safety. Safety really comes down to the position of both your pieces and those of your opponent! The most important piece regarding safety is the King! With your pawns and pieces, not including the King, you might lose some material but the game will continue (at least for a while). However, if you follow a few guidelines, you won’t lose pawns and pieces as easily. Since an attack from which the King cannot escape, checkmate, ends the game immediately, King safety is a crucial task from the game’s start to its finish. Kings who are left in the open are doomed to be checkmated. Therefore, castling is part of our overall game strategy, more specifically when and where to castle. The reason castling is such a fantastic idea is because our King is surrounded by pawns and pieces that keep the opposition from getting within striking distance (when done right).

With some openings, such as The Italian Opening, white has the opportunity to castle on move four. However, should white castle or continue building up forces in or around the board’s center? If the King is safe, castling can be delayed. You just don’t want to delay it until it’s too late. To know whether or not you’re reaching that point, you need to examine the opposition’s pawns and pieces and see if they’re making any threats. Doing this throughout the game has the added bonus of allowing you to see if any of your pawns and pieces are being attacked. All you have to do to determine your material’s safety, is to simply look at each opposition pawn and piece and see if it’s attacking anything of yours either immediately or in another move or two.

If you suddenly realize, after looking at your position, that there’s a great deal of material bearing down on a valuable piece such as the Queen, or worse yet, the King, you need to change your plans (your strategy) and fight off the assault. Of course, if, after every opposition move, you’re looking at each of your opponent’s pawns and pieces to see what threats they’re making, you’ll avoid being in this situation! This situation, being suddenly assaulted, is why you have to have a flexible strategy. A seemingly winning position can change violently against you in a matter of a few moves. Therefore, keep your strategy flexible. Beginners too often have rigid plans base on what they want their opponent to do, not what the opponent actually is doing which is employing their own plans.

Lastly let’s touch upon the concept of Freedom. If you had to spend twenty four hours in either a small box in which you could barely move or a large room with a comfortable couch and lots of room to move, which would you chose? The bigger space. You’re pieces feel the same way. They want and need room to move. There’s a term we use in chess to describe a pawn or piece’s room to move and that term is mobility!

In chess, freedom is mobility and pieces with no mobility might as well not be in the game! For a piece to be active, the key ingredient when it comes to attacking, it must be able to move to an active square and this requires mobility. Beginners tend to move pawns and pieces to awkward squares. By awkward squares, I mean squares, upon which moving a pawn or piece to, block in other pawns and pieces. This creates a traffic jam and, like real life traffic jams on the motorway or freeway, it takes time to extricate yourself from the problem. Time, especially at the start of the game, can work against you in the most vicious of ways. After all, the player who gains control of the board first can not only launch great attacks but keep their opponent from launching any attacks of their own. When considering a move, always check to see of moving a pawn or piece to your target square will hamper the efforts of your other pawns or pieces. Mobile pieces are happy pieces.

So keep these three ideas in mind when creating your game plans and you’ll be playing better chess. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week. Boris is a brilliant strategic planner!

Hugh Patterson

Are Databases Important for the Beginner?

There was a time in the not so distant past, when we had to keep track of important games, both our own and the games of others, by carefully copying each move into a paper notebook. If you were serious about improving, you’d often find yourself copying dozens of games into that notebook that were centered around a specific opening you were trying to learn or a tactical idea you were trying to master. This was a daunting task at best. Incorrectly writing down a move from one of those games made the game worthless! Thanks to huge advances in technology, you can now purchase software that gives you immediate access to millions of games with the click of a mouse or the swipe of a finger. You can easily have ten thousand examples of a specific opening or a huge collection of games representing many different openings neatly stored on your computer. You can compare an individual move you might be considering to hundreds of thousands of previously played games to see if that move has any merit. The database is an extremely powerful and useful tool for anyone wishing to improve their game. However, do you really need a database as a beginner and when should you invest in one?

Before investing in a database program, which can be quite costly, you have to determine whether or not it’s really going to help your game, in other words, help you improve. While the database is an essential tool for serious/professional players as well as coaches and instructors, the beginner should understand that a database is not an instructional tool in the way a training DVD or software program is. With a training DVD or software program, actual lessons are being taught aimed at helping you learn the topic at hand. For example, a DVD on how to play the Ruy Lopez is just that. The DVD teaches you how to play this opening and is written and presented by an individual who has expertise with the Ruy Lopez. A database, on the other hand, might have a collection of ten thousand games featuring the Ruy Lopez opening, which is far greater than the number of example games featured in the DVD. However, there’s no instruction within the database so you just have the games themselves with perhaps a little annotation that is far above the beginner’s comprehension level. Therefore, the database expects you to already know the opening, or at least a bit of it’s mainline and variations. If you’re new to chess and don’t fully understand the opening principles, for example, you’ll quickly become lost and frustrated trying to figure out what’s going on within the database’s games. A database may show the opening principles in action but it doesn’t teach them.

Now, this isn’t to say that beginner’s can’t benefit from a database, but the beginner is better off spending their hard earned money on instructional material and, once they’ve improved, acquire a database program. I rely on my database program for teaching and coaching for very obvious reasons. I give at least ten chess lectures per week. I give roughly four hundred lectures per year (I work year round). Since I rarely show the same game twice during an academic year, I need to have easy access to a large number of games. All I have to do is consult my trusty database to find the games I use. The other advantage to databases, such as ChessBase 14 which I rely upon, is that it allows me to compare lines from a plethora of other games to the game I’m presenting to my students. For a teacher or coach, it’s an indispensable teaching tool. It should be noted that in order to get the most out of a database such as the one I use, you have to do a lot of reading and tinkering with the database. The user manual for ChessBase 14 is 487 pages long and you have to read quite a bit of the manual to get the most out of the software program. This alone, is too much for the beginner to deal with. Is there a happy medium for our intrepid beginner regarding the database? There sure is!

Cost is very prohibitive for many of us who love the game. I can write all chess related chess equipment off on my taxes. However, if you’re not teaching chess for a living and don’t have a good accountant, spending three or four hundred dollars on software can take food off the tables of many of my fellow chess players. Would you be happy if I told you you could either download a free database program or spend roughly twenty to fourty American dollars on an all in one chess program? I’d be happy!

Let’s look at the free database program first. It’s called ChessDB and can be found here: http://chessdb.sourceforge.net/ This is the homepage, so read the page and follow the instructions for downloading, which is a link button in the upper right hand corner of the page. The Beta version with the endgame tables is only 36 megabytes in size so it won’t put a strain on your computer’s available memory.

ChessDB is a great little database program because not only is it free, but it comes with a small database of 27, 681 games. I say small because my latest database has over 6,800,000 games. However, the beginner doesn’t really need six million games to have a decent database (I don’t even need that many games). Beginner’s just need games that they use for a reference for their own studies. If you want to add a larger database of games, you can add an additional 3.5 million games (see the ChessDB website for more on this) The only real downside to this program is that you’ll have to do a bit of studying to learn how to navigate the program and take advantage of its many features. However, you’d have to do that with any database and the good news is that you don’t have to pay any money for this program.

If you’re willing to pay around twenty to fourty American dollars for a program that not only has a large database (600,000 plus games), but a built in playing program and roughly one hundred hours of training and instructional material, try Chessmaster’s Grandmaster Edition or Chessmaster 10th Edition (both are essentially the same with the Grandmaster Edition having one additional section, Josh Waitzkin analyzing a series of games). This is an excellent program for the beginner wishing to not only improve but to have access to a decent database. I highly recommend this program to all my beginning students. It’s a great all in one program. Seldom do you find all in one programs that are great all around programs since most of these tend to be be weak in one area or another. While this is not the best program for more experienced players, it’s first rate for those new to the game. You can’t beat the price either! While not free, it’s close to it considering the fact that a beginner will be able to get a great deal of training in a single software package. Note, you’ll have to do a bit of searching online to find it for the price listed above because, original versions of this program, brand new, in the box and unsealed can sell for as high as three hundred American dollars. Just search around and you’ll find one for a decent price. The company that put out the game no longer makes it so you’ll have to buy it used or find a new copy someone has lying around in their closet. However, the search is well worth it. You can find free demo downloads (do not download full versions online because it’s internet piracy which is illegal) online to try it out. However, always exercise caution when downloading any program onto your computer (which is why I will not provide a downloading source. That risk is yours and yours alone).

So there you have it, a few ideas on acquiring a database should you feel the need for one. As a beginner, don’t worry about having a fancy database even if all your chess playing friends have one. It’s better to invest your money into training materials because, after all, if you really improve your game and beat your friend who’s always bragging about their fancy database program, you’ll have the last laugh. You might find yourself thinking, after beating your friend, “I guess those six million games didn’t do as much for you as my wise investment in my own training.” However, if you want to delve into the world of databases, try one of the above suggestions. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week. These guys are old school. They had to write down thousands of games into their notebooks which just goes to show you that technology doesn’t necessarily mean you have the advantage on the chessboard or off the chessboard in life!

Hugh Patterson

Why Teach Chess?

It’s a question I’m asked often by people who know me from my other career, music. I suspect they ask this question because they know me from one world, a world in which chaos and living on the edge are king while logic and reason are foggy notions. People tend to think that musicians have one interest and one interest only, music. They don’t consider the idea that, like every other human on the planet, musicians have multiple interests. I’m fortunate in that the two things that interest me the most are both careers and,more importantly, those careers pay the bills. A professor once said to me “Find something you passionately love to do, find someone to pay you for doing it and you’ll always love your job and your life.” However, there’s much more to it than simply making money via something you love to do. It’s the end result of what I do that’s my real reason for teaching chess to children.

When I first starting teaching chess in the schools, I was attracted to the pay, the hours (I could sleep in until ten in the morning if it were not for the sad reality that I’m a workaholic) and the fact that I’d be getting paid to do something I love. I wish I could tell you that it was my life long mission to teach chess to children but I’d be lying. The job literally fell into my lap when a friend called me with a teaching opportunity. The same thing happened with my musical career which was accidental at best. With music, I was in the right place at the right time. With chess, it was a similar story.

It wasn’t until after I started teaching that I realized how important my new career was. It wasn’t important regarding the training of a new generation of chess players, even though that was part of it. What was crucial was the idea that I was helping my students develop logic and reasoning skills. Why is this so important?

I’m 56 years old (or young, as I like to think) and I’ve had my chance to make my mark on the world through my music. I had my day in the sun and, while I still write new songs and push the boundaries of music (mostly through a lack of talent), I know in my heart that it’s up to a younger generation to really turn music on it’s head and take it into uncharted waters. This idea holds true for everything from science to the arts. It’s the children that I teach who will take up the torch and move civilization forward. By teaching chess, I’m able to give my students the tools they’ll need to change the world. What are these tools? Simply put, the thought process. To change the world, you need to think differently than others and this requires a well honed thought process.

Chess is a fantastic tool for developing and honing your thought process. Too often as adults, we’re encapsulated by a myriad of problems, all demanding our attention at once. It can be work related or personal. In either case, we sometimes freeze like a deer suddenly faced with the glare of a car’s headlights. We get stuck and can’t find a way out, a solution to a seemingly endless parade of problems. We try to take on everything at once rather than one problem at a time. While children rarely have this dilemma, as they grow older, they will face the same situation. Too many problems hitting them all at once. Chess teaches us how to tackle problems in a logical manner. We learn how to look at a series of problems and determine which one needs to be solved first. We learn to deal with things with order and reason. Chess also teaches us patience, something that’s in short supply these days among the human species. Patience is key to problem solving. To prepare children to face life’s problems I teach them logic and reasoning skills. Employing logic and reason helps them to avoid that dreadful feeling of helplessness you get when it seems you can’t find a way out of the plethora of problems we often face in our day to day lives. These skills cut straight through the situation like a hot knife cuts through butter.

Chess also helps children develop the basic skills needed to do well in school. These skills include problem solving and discipline. Chess is a great introduction to big picture problem solving. A little picture problem, for example, is doing a simple arithmetic problem such as adding numbers together. A big picture problem is having homework in multiple subjects, such as math, science and writing, and determining which subject to work on first and managing your time to finish them all on schedule. Chess helps develop big picture thinking. Chess is also a good way to develop the type of thinking required for advanced mathematics such as algebra. Just remember, chess will not make you smarter. You’re stuck with the brain you were born with but chess will help it function at maximum efficiency.

One of the things I’ve done in my teaching program is to incorporate my student’s classroom curriculum into their chess class. We look at ideas their regular teachers present to them and create analogies on the chess board. This allows students to think about a particularly difficult problem they’re tasked with solving in terms of chess. When they can visually see the problem via the chessboard they often have an easier time solving it.

I look at my chess classes as a way to not only teach my students a game they can play and enjoy for the rest of their lives but as preparation for the many problems they’re apt to face in life. If they have a method of problem solving that is based on logic and reason they’ll be ahead of everyone else. Chess really does help develop young minds and helping them to do so is my contribution to the future of civilization. Remember, that little kid sitting at a table in a restaurant across from you, making a rude face in your general direction, may become the surgeon that saves your live one day. You better hope he studied chess. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

Thank You

I spoke to a childhood friend last night for the first time in decades. He knew about my career as a musician. However, a great deal of time had passed since we last spoke and he had no idea that I had carved out a modest career teaching chess. We both played in our youth. He had aspirations of becoming a Grandmaster while I was more keen on a life of rock and roll. He became a successful scientist and has raised a small army of kids. His dreams of becoming a professional chess player were traded in for a fascinating career and wonderful family. He was amazed that I had managed to figure out how to make a living through the game of chess. Of course, I’m as amazed as he was regarding my chess career! While talking about what I do and how I do it, I was reminded, once again, at how fortunate I am. I was also reminded that any success I’ve had can be attributed to those who support my efforts, my students, the readers of my weekly column at The Chess Improver and my wife who also plays. To those who have supported and helped me with turning my passion for chess into a career I love, I thank you!

I often wonder why anyone in their right mind would consider seriously studying the game of chess. It’s an extremely ironic game in that you can learn its rules in an afternoon but spend a lifetime not even coming close to mastering it. It’s a maddening game at times, drawing your every thought into an obsessive mindset while purposely tripping you up so you fall headlong into the rabbit hole of its complexity. It’s a world within itself and only those who delve head on into its alluring waters will understand just how obsessed you can become. Yet there are those of us who take the plunge and find the waters warm and inviting.

We who love the game to the point of spending countless nights hunched over a computer screen or chess book think this type of behavior as normal. Why do we do it? To get better of course! However, if it were just that, many of us would have given up long ago! I think what keeps us going is the simple fact that chess reveals its deepest mysteries to those who delve deepest! Every once in a while, after long hours of study, I’ll have one of those insightful moments, suddenly understanding a concept that had been elusive and mysterious up until that point. This in itself is greatly satisfying!

Chess is a game that rewards hard work. Of course, you can play casually when on vacation or at a family get together, or you can aim for the stars and attempt to master the game. I say aim for the stars because I don’t think anyone can completely master a game with so many possible positions on the board at any given time. However, like those who choose to climb mountains that claim human lives on a regular basis, lovers of chess love a challenge and chess certainly is that.

I want to thank everyone who plays chess, both casually and professionally because it’s you that inspire me to improve my game and write these articles. Through the game of chess, I’ve made literally thousands of friends, some of whom I actually like (just kidding – I have to live up to my snarky reputation after all). Those friends come from all over the globe and have taught me a great deal about their country’s customs and traditions. My global friends make life interesting and our common bond is chess. Thank you global chess friends for being you, lovers of chess.

I’d like to personally thank the game of chess for keeping me in check (no pun intended). I tend to be an over achieving type and used to have a problem with losing. Of course, nobody likes to lose but some people take it better than others. I discovered through chess that one can learn a great deal from their losses. Chess also keeps my ego in check. It humbles me on a regular basis which makes me a better human being.

Then there’s Nigel Davies! He is one of my favorite chess players and instructors. Prior to meeting Nigel on Facebook, I knew him only through his DVDs. He’s got a warm way of presenting ideas and concepts that makes you feel comfortable when delving into the murky waters of theory. I have to thank him for giving me the opportunity to write about chess. Social media has allowed me to connect with some amazing chess players, Nigel being on the top of my list, so thanks social media sites.

This holiday season, I’m very thankful for all that chess has done for me and will continue to do for me as I sail off into my twilight years (whatever that means). I wish everyone, even non chess players (ha ha ha), the happiest of holidays. Here’s a tip for those doomed to have political discussions during Christmas dinner (especially in the United States): Avoid the conversation and instead, fight with your family members on the chessboard with a nice glass of Brandy. Nothing says “your candidate is one step above the village idiot” more than “Checkmate Uncle Bob.” Happy Holidays everyone and here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

Online Learning

Learning online, be it earning a college degree or learning how to fix a leaky pipe in your bathroom, has become a mainstay in our lives. Prior to the introduction of the internet, those who wished to improve their personal knowledge base were forced to seek education via a traditional system, such as books or schools. Now, from the comfort of our homes, we can learn how to do anything easily because online learning works around our schedule. In the case of chess, you once had to acquire chess books to improve your game, many of which had text and diagrams that required a PhD in code breaking and linguistics to understand. Now, you can simply go to Youtube and get visual instruction that takes the mystery out of learning. However, the negative side to online learning via sites like Youtube is that anyone can fancy themselves a chess teacher. This means, you’re apt to get some very bad advice regarding chess improvement if you’re not careful.

When learning the game of chess and using the internet to do so, you need to weed out bad teaching from good teaching. In other words, you need to find qualified instructors! What qualifies a person as a great chess instructor? You might think that a great chess instructor has to be a highly rated, well known player. However, this isn’t always the case. There are plenty of brilliant chess players who are terrible teachers and plenty of great teachers who are mediocre chess players. Then there’s the dreadful though looming over online learners; anyone can call themselves an expert in a specific field and, because of the anonymity factor (you don’t really know who you’re dealing with online). How do we determine who really is good at helping beginning chess players improve?

We’ll start by looking at Youtube. If you enter “chess instruction” into the site’s search bar, you’ll be given roughly 68,100 results. These results will not give you a series of video titles such “How Beginners Can Improve at Chess.” You’re more likely to see titles such as “The Sicilian Defense” or “Intermediate School Chess Lessons The Three Golden Rules.” I entered the above search and these are two video lessons that came up. First of all, The Sicilian Defense is an extremely complicated opening for black, one that beginners shouldn’t be learning immediately. Yet a beginner might not know this and decide to watch the video only to feel as if chess is game far above their intellectual pay grade after viewing it. The second video, which I watched, was something I might teach to my intermediate students but not to beginners. This problem of ending up with videos that won’t help you can be avoided by narrowing down the search (I’m doing this as I write).

Try typing in “Chess Lessons for Beginners.” The results are now narrowed down to roughly 39,100 results, but “The Sicilian Defense” is now found as the first offered video. Are you starting to see that there’s a problem here? Further down the Youtube list is a series of videos entitled “ Lessons 1-10 Chess for Beginners. I started to click the link to the videos but suddenly noticed one of the videos titled “Blindfold Chess for Beginners.” Blindfold Chess requires a great deal of skill, since you’re playing chess without a physical board and pieces using your mind only, and beginners simply are not at this skill level. Next?

Then I saw Grandmaster Varuzhan Akobian’s video, “Beginner’s Openings and Tactics.” Upon clicking the video link, I pleasantly found that the video is part of a series produced by the St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center’s “Sunday Kids’ Class”. That’s right, a kids’ chess class. If you’re an adult thinking “I don’t need a video geared towards kids, you’re absolutely wrong. The most effective chess teaching I’ve done with adults uses chess lessons designed for kids. Why does this work (I really do know what I’m doing when it comes to this topic)? Because the lessons simplify complex ideas and concepts by using very easy to understand (so easy a child could fathom it) examples. Trust me, when learning the finer points of chess, you want things simplified.

As it turns out, The St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center has an excellent if not brilliant series of video chess lessons for children that I have all my adult students watch. If you want to improve, this is the way to go. Of course, there are plenty of other choices regarding videos to be found under this Youtube search but, as they say in Latin, caveat emptor, which roughly translates to “let the buyer beware!” I’ll spare you the horrors of watching an instructional video only to ponder whether or not the video poster/host is out of their mind or just doesn’t know how to play chess. As a coach and instructor, I can tell the difference between a good instructional video and a poor one very quickly. If you’re new to the game, you might not be able to tell the difference and worse yet, commit the video’s ideas to memory and find yourself losing games and having people around you wondering if you’ve lost your mind.

Watching videos geared towards children is a safe bet for the most part. However, remember, that anyone can claim to be a chess teaching guru. Therefore, try researching the presenter’s name before investing time in watching the video. Of course, it takes time to do the research but you’ll be better off in the end! If you want to save yourself grief, watch the plethora of beginner’s videos offered by The St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center. They use top notch players who are great at teaching children. If you want to venture into the unknown realm of Youtube, stick with names known for great teaching such as Andrew Martin and any of the ChessBase DVD authors. In fact, you can often find samples of their teaching on Youtube.

The point here is to shop carefully for online instruction. Here’s a link to one of the many Saint Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center’s Youtube channels. I think you’ll enjoy the great lessons from Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan. Again, they’re lessons geared towards children but you’ll get a lot of them as a beginner. You could spend a few years just going through the club’s amazing collection of videos.

There’s no game to enjoy until next week because I’d like you to watch the videos instead. I challenge any novice players reading this to watch each of the beginner’s videos over the next few months and let me know how they helped you. I have! You’ll improve your playing immensely and the only cost to you is a little time. Now that’s a bargain! See you next week!

Hugh patterson