Category Archives: Articles

Careful Calculation

The solution to last Monday’s problem is that White can keep a winning advantage with 1. Re1! I missed that move and resigned instead.

This week’s problem shows that careful calculation is needed in even simple positions.

White has to play and draw. It is not difficult, but you have to get the right move.

How does White draw?

Steven Carr

Wednesday in the Pub with Keith

My increasingly busy social life recently took me to the small riverside suburb of Thames Ditton, a short journey from me, to witness the start of a new English Chess Federation initiative to bring chess out of the ghetto and into the community at large by taking chess into local pubs, with a grandmaster taking on all-comers in an informal simul.

The first of these events, run by the ECF Publicity Manager Mark Jordan, took place at the George and Dragon (an appropriately chessy name, I suppose), and the guest grandmaster was none other than one of the heroes of last week’s article, Keith Arkell.

The event took place on a Wednesday, the club night of the local chess club, Surbiton, and their members, including IM Mike Basman, were out in force. Although the event was well enough supported, there were few from other clubs in the area (I was the only one from Richmond) and not a lot of interest from the locals. Not that the organisers weren’t doing their best: there was a placard outside the pub advertising the event (“Free Entry. Beginners Welcome.”). Of course it’s difficult. Chess has not had a high public profile for some time, and although grandiose claims are sometimes made about the number of chess players worldwide, the harsh truth is that most people who claim to play know little more than how the pieces move. They’ll look at you blankly if you try to make an en passant capture or mention Magnus Carlsen.

It was still a great evening, though. The pub was welcoming, the beer was excellent and the company was good. Keith is a perfect ambassador for chess: friendly, easy-going and approachable. I was able to play a game in the simul and get Keith to sign my copy of his book Arkell’s Odyssey, a sometimes painfully honest autobiography and games collection.

I had the chance to play Keith in the simul. Remembering Natasha Regan’s advice, and seeing her sitting two boards away from me, I knew I had to avoid two things: playing black in the QGD exchange and reaching a rook ending. So, as Keith sportingly gave everyone choice of colour, I selected the white pieces. My reaction to his unusual 5th move was pretty feeble (6. cxb5 or 6. c5 would have been more challenging) and I soon felt obliged to offer a queen exchange. I then followed the second part of my plan by trading off rooks as soon as possible. Needless to say, little good came of this. In the resulting minor piece ending Keith used his knights like Capablanca, but I was still in the game until trading off the wrong knight on move 34. It seemed natural to give him doubled pawns rather than a passed pawn but I suspected, correctly as it turned out, that my move was a mistake. In the resulting position his powerfully placed bishop and knight dominated my forces and he soon won a pawn. The engines tell me 34. Nxc4 was equal. This is something that happens time and time again in my games: not trusting my judgement to play the move I think is correct but doing something else instead because it vaguely looks right.

In the final game to finish Keith was left with knight, e and g pawns against his opponent’s knight and f-pawn. It was completely drawn but Keith entertained the spectators by playing on and on, manoeuvring this way and that, before eventually conceding the half point to his doughty opponent. Perhaps this explains one reason why Keith has been so successful over the years. His determination never to give up the fight for victory, allied to his consummate endgame skill, must have converted many drawn games into wins over the past 30 years or more.

You can see some photographs from the event here

Bridging the gap between social players and club players is, of course, very difficult. Perhaps clubs could do more to publicise themselves locally and be more welcoming to newcomers, perhaps offering coaching sessions or more general advice. Some clubs are good at this, others less so. I hope this will be the first of many such events attempting to bring grandmasters, club players and social players together. Congratulations to Mark Jordan and Keith Arkell, and also to the Surbiton members who supported the event, for making this a very enjoyable evening.

Richard James

When to Walk Away

Professional poker players, as the old song goes, “know when to hold them and when to fold them,” meaning that the seasoned card player knows when to stop playing and walk away if lady luck is nowhere to be found. They know when to cut their losses, step away from the poker table and come back to play another time. This is a lesson all chess players should take to heart. Chess players, from beginner to professional, should know when to take a break from playing and come back refreshed and anew, no longer burnt out. It is much easier to burn out by studying and playing too much chess than you might think.

People who really get into the game of chess can easily become obsessed by it. It’s a bit ironic that you can learn the basic rules of the game in an afternoon yet spend a lifetime trying to master it and in the end, never truly master the game. Yet we, who are fully invested in the game, still travel the often rocky road on our journey towards mastery, cherishing every obsessive bump and roadblock. Some people can play the game casually, such as playing when on holiday or a couple of times a month with friends. Then there are those who fall into the blinding allure of the game’s complexities. We are the chess obsessed or near obsessed. For us, it’s an all or nothing love affair!

Of course, everyone who works to get better at chess through study and practice isn’t obsessed. However, it is very easy to fall under the game’s spell to a point at which it’s all you do. Case in point, myself! I’m an obsessive personality. While obsession can be unhealthy, it’s worked to my advantage(so far). When I find something of interest, be it chess, music or language studies, I throw myself into it full throttle. It’s an every waking hour love affair! Becoming consumed with something allows me to make great strides towards mastering that something. Of course chess mastery is still a long ways off but I get closer with each passing week. I suspect my tombstone will read “He was so close, sort of…”

People who master chess have to put a great deal of time or effort into reaching their goal, mastery. This means that they’re studying during every waking hour. While this gets you from point “a” to point “b” fairly quickly, the side effects of constant studying can be terminal burn out which leads to losing interest in the game. The problem with burning out is that you might burn out to a point at which you simply stop playing chess altogether. Even if you still play when burnt out, you’re apt to start losing games because your heart (ability to concentrate) isn’t into it as it once was. Either way, you’ll want to avoid burning out. Therefore, I’d like to offer a few suggestions to avoid being in this situation.

First off, maintain another interest that keeps you from spending all your time at the chessboard. Physical activities are an excellent choice because physical activity, such as anything that provides you with exercise, actually helps your chess playing. This means that you’d be avoiding burn out while helping your game. How do physical activities help your game? Simply put, anything that provides exercise helps to get your brain functioning at a higher level due to your body’s biochemistry. If not a physical activity, try something that takes you away from the chessboard such wood working or any other craft that has your working with your hands and brain. The key point here is not to engage in another interest or hobby that is similar to chess, such as playing Go. If you decide to play Go as your outside interest you’ll be putting yourself into the same frame of mind required for chess and probably still manage to become burnt out (probably three times as fast). Taking up the game of Go while trying to master chess is akin to deciding to stop your obsessive pulling out of scalp hair with your left hand by using your right hand instead. Find a another hobby that isn’t like chess!

If you’ve reached the point at which you’re starting to burn out by overplaying chess, walk away immediately. You don’t have to walk away forever, just for a period of time long enough to regroup. Only you will know how long that is. It could be a month, it could be a year. However, it’s better to take break than loose all interest in the game!

It’s tough to walk away or take a break from something you’ve put so much time into. After all, you feel as if you’ve come this far and giving up now means you loose the ground you’ve gained. However, you’ll loose even more ground if you continue to play because your heart and, more importantly, your mind won’t be into your game. You’ll get extremely frustrated and fall into the downward spiraling void of no return. More often than not, by taking a break from playing, you’ll come back to the game stronger than ever because you’ve relaxed!

Because teaching and coaching chess is what I do for a living, I cannot take long breaks from the game. Therefore, I take short mandatory breaks from playing so I can regroup or re-energize myself. I absolutely take the month of August off, with the exception of writing this weekly column. It doesn’t matter if I’m feeling great chess-wise going into August. When August rolls around, I’m on a chess vacation. During the rest of the year, I take a week off from playing and studying here and there, even though I still teach and coach. Just taking this time off, here and there, keeps me from getting burnt out. Trust me, when your life is consumed by chess it is easy to get burnt out! You really need to take breaks regardless of how you think mastery is achieved!

We often think of the chess player working towards mastery as an individual hunched over the chessboard day in and day out, an image created via the mythology of mastery. Any film or book about the road to mastery will depict the master to be as an individual who has literally sold his or her soul in an effort to reach their goal. Yes, we have to put more time into our journey towards mastery than someone who just wants to casually play chess. However, even the master in training needs to step back from time to time. There are countless examples of chess players who have literally lost their minds in their quest to master the game. While a little obsession is key to mastering any endeavor, you have to be careful walking along the edge of the cliff. One wrong step and you’re over the edge!

When I first started playing guitar, I was obsessed. On one side of the coin, I was able to be performing in clubs a lot faster than those who took a casual approach, I literally gave up everything else in my life. As a teenager, it worked. As an adult with responsibilities, this kind of obsessive thinking would have left me homeless! When you’re an adult, you have to consider other factors such as earning a living and paying your bills. Balance is the key here.

Slow and steady really does win the race. It’s much better to approach your studies in a slower manner, not trying to mentally digest everything at once. Key ideas and complicated concepts are much more easily mastered when you take on one idea or concept at a time. Master a single idea then move onto the next. Take your time and you won’t be apt to burn out. I know it’s been said that it requires 10,000 hours to master something but setting a goal to do 40 of those 10,000 hours each week is unrealistic. First off, if you’re an adult with responsibilities, you’ll not be able to keep this schedule up (although I hear they have great chess in debtor’s prison). Even if you don’t have to work, you’re brain will not be able to concentrate for long periods of time. You have to build up your ability to concentrate, slowly. It’s like going to the gym. You won’t be able to lift the heaviest weights until you build up your muscles on the lighter weights. Take your time. Take breaks. Avoid burning out. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

Amateur Versus Master: Game Twenty Four

NOT the Latvian Gambit

My opponent in this ICCF correspondence chess game lives in Latvia. This was pretty much a standard Sicilian Defense with no gambits involved.

During the course of this correspondence chess game, I offered a draw twice. White took 15 days to decline the first draw offer and 21 days to accept the second draw offer. He was looking for a win that he was hoping that I missed. He failed to find one. I believe that there was no win for him to find in this correspondence chess game.

I drew my previous game with Guntis, but that game is not yet published anywhere. This draw put me into a tie for first place in this section and I now have second place on tie breakers. I expect to win my remaining games In this section, but that still does not guarantee that I will finish in first place.

Mike Serovey

July Sparklers

July in the USA is famous for pyrotechnics, to the delight of children and horror of canines throughout the land. Sometimes the fireworks explode in a cascade of sparkling colors, and sometimes they are duds, or partial duds.

Two of my recent games featured fireworks. One game was a partial dud, whereas the second was a real sparkler.

Amusingly, in both I played Black and in both, the star move was the same move.

The first game was a partial dud. In the opening, I achieved a difficult Grünfeld defensive position, but was fortunate to find the only move 20…Rf8-c8! defending against the threat to Black’s white-square bishop via threats to the White knight and white-square bishop, drawing easily. Actually, I should have put my White opponent, already in mild time pressure, through more pain with 26… Rb2 but, as noted, this was a partial dud.

The second game shone more brightly. White was the amiable Dean Clow, an Englishman from Lincolnshire who has lived in the USA for 7 years now working as a computer programmer. Dean, no doubt still fatigued from having single-handedly directed the Colorado Senior Championship over the weekend, played sort of a Jänisch Gambit reversed, and got nothing much for his pawn sacrifice. His 13. Be4? was a hallucination that he was going to win a piece by pushing the d-pawn, from which he refrained in time, but his position was still lost or close to it after 14. e3. Once again, Black’s 19… Rf8-c8! is the star move that prevents White from winning the e-pawn via 20. Nxe4 Qg4 (forking the rook and knight) 21. Nc3, after which White is almost in zugzwang.

Jacques Delaguerre

Using Chess Strategies in Real Life

It’s quite interesting to see how many chess people are high achievers in real life. Do they use chess strategies to do this? Probably they do, at least in a way.

I would say that when Angela Eagle (at one time a keen chess player) recently challenged for the Labour Party leadership it was good example of an attack on a weakened monarch. There are a number of leading lawyers who have chess as their hobby and law seems to have much in common with chess in that it is an adversarial battle of intellect played according to a set of rules. Also traders of financial markets also seem well represented by chess players.

Of course there are many chess players who just play chess and are not in the least bit interested in other fields. Here’s a prime example, the late great Bobby Fischer before he lost his marbles. But even then it was all about the chess:

Nigel Davies

Seven Questions to Ask Yourself After Each Game

Streamlining the Game Analysis Process

Everyone knows the importance of analyzing your games to improve at chess. World Champions Alekhine, Botvinnik, and Kasparov in particular were known for the deep analysis of their games.

A couple years ago, I created a 4-step process for analyzing your games that involved annotating the game with your thoughts and analysis, identifying key positions to analyze, and checking your analysis with computer engines or stronger players. It typically took two to four hours to analyze one of my games “properly.”

The process worked very well and I learned a lot from my games by using it. However, I found that I was often skipping analyzing my games altogether because I felt I didn’t have enough time to implement the whole process.

Realizing that neglecting this part of my chess study was not a good idea, so I started to find ways to streamline and optimize my analysis process to a reasonable amount of time where I could still discover what I needed to improve while not feeling overwhelmed by the process.

The results are these questions I share with you today. At the end of the article, you can find a link to the seven questions in a printable format.

Question 1: At what point did the game leave opening theory?

At some point, either you or your opponent will play a new move. Unless you are a master who has created an exciting novelty, it is possible that this new move is a slight inaccuracy or maybe even a blunder. Perhaps you just didn’t know what the next move was in theory. Either way, try to find how you could have best dealt with the new move or why theory is better (if you are the one who played the new move.

Question 2: Where did the LAST mistake happen?

Mistakes are going to happen in every game. Try to find the last position at which either you or your opponent could have saved the game (either drawn a lost game or won a drawn game).

In the following example, I demonstrate one of these mistakes that I made during a game. When you are the one who made the mistake, you should try to find out what you should have played, and also try to identify why you didn’t play it as I do in this game.

Question 3: Where did the FIRST mistake happen?

This is similar to the last question, but you try to find the first mistake that was made and try to find what should have been played. If the mistake is your opponent’s, try to see how you would have or should have responded. If you didn’t have a response planned during the game, that is something to note as well.

Repeat Question #2 and #3 for the NEXT mistakes for the time you wish to allocate to this game. You can focus on just your mistakes if pressed for time. This is where you can control how much time you spend on each game. If you don’t have much time, just find the first and last mistakes in your game. I believe the analysis of those positions will bring you 50-60% of the benefit of analyzing your games.

Question 4: What was my best move I made during this game?

The purpose isn’t just to give you something to pat yourself on the back for – although there’s nothing wrong with that either. Instead, I recommend you analyze your thoughts and feelings that you when you played this move and see what elements – e.g. thought process, attitude, etc. – you can replicate in future games to make more moves like this one.

For example, the following game excerpt gave me much encouragement as I had been studying the positional nuances of the Dutch (as White) and was able to apply that knowledge in a game.

Question 5: What can I improve about my thought process during this game?

Based on the answers to the previous questions, what can you improve about your thought process? Perhaps you need to look more deeply into your positions before making an evaluation. Perhaps your need to consider more candidate moves? The answers to this question will give you something to practice in future games.

Question 6: How was my attitude, energy, and focus during this game?

If you had difficulties with these factors, what caused them? If you felt great, what factors can your reproduce – e.g. environment, pre-game routine, diet – to feel that way again in future games?

Question 7: What chess knowledge would have helped me perform better during this game?

See the answers to the previous questions for this one. Where you totally surprised in the opening? Was there a positional theme you never encountered before in your games? What do you need to know that you didn’t know before this game? This is where a good chess coach is very useful, as you may not know where to start and a computer chess engine can’t tell you.

This final example comes from a famous game. After studying this game, I have used the concept of creating an outpost – even at the cost of a pawn – many times.

Conclusion and a Gift

Analyzing your games is important. If we don’t learn from our mistakes, we are bound to repeat them. With this list of questions, I hope game analysis is less burdensome and perhaps more like a treasure hunt, where you are seeking diamonds in the form of new chess knowledge and insights to improve your game.

To help you use this, I have created a google doc with these questions without the examples so you can use when you analyze your games. I hope you will use it and please contact me and let me know what you think of it.

Bryan Castro

Resigning in a Won Position

If you want to improve your chess results, it is very important not to resign when you are winning.

In my last game of chess, I was playing White and resigned in the position in the diagram.

How could I have ensured a winning advantage?

The solution to last Monday’s problem is that White wins with 1. c6! bxc6 2. Kb3 and Black is surprisingly helpless to stop a4 and Nc4+ without losing his Bishop.

Steven Carr

Not Just for Christmas

The day before Nette Robinson’s chess gig you read about last week, I was lucky to be able to attend another great chess evening.

GM Matthew Sadler and WIM Natasha Regan visited my chess club to give a talk based on their new book Chess for Life. Matthew also played some simultaneous blitz chess before and after the talk. This volume looks at how chess players can maintain or even increase their playing strength in their forties, fifties or later in life, and was inspired in part by Matthew’s successful return to the game after a gap of 10 years.

The book features a series of case studies outlining this theme, along with interviews with a variety of players ranging from top grandmasters (Judit Polgar, Nigel Short, John Nunn, Jon Speelman, Yasser Seirawan) to strong amateurs.

Some chapters cover opening choices. We learn how Pia Cramling has made subtle changes in her 1. d4 white repertoire over several decades, and how Sergei Tiviakov developed and modified his pet Black defence to 1. e4: the Scandinavian with 3…Qd6.

Two of the book’s heroes are Capablanca and Keith Arkell, both of whom favour a style involving playing simple moves quickly, putting pieces on good squares and heading for the ending. Such a style will require less energy and be less stressful, leading to fewer time scrambles, and as such will be attractive to many older players.

Here’s Matthew Sadler describing his preparations for the 2013 London Classic Rapid tournament:

“I decided that I needed some inspiration, someone I could try to copy. A player who took decisions quickly, whose style was smooth and effortless who would help me out of the agony I was currently experiencing when trying to formulate a plan. You can imagine that I thought at once of Capablanca!”

Matthew demonstrated this Capablanca game which wasn’t included in the book, making particular reference to the way Capa used his knights. When one knight left a square there was another ready to take its place. This was an interesting idea for me as I’d read elsewhere about having your two knights on different circuits, which seemed like more or less the opposite advice!

What Matthew and Natasha didn’t know was that, for a short time between 1922 and 1923, Edward Guthlac Sergeant, the loser of this game, was living in Teddington, about half a mile from our club venue where the talk was taking place! About five years later, my mother and her family would move to Teddington, running a grocer’s shop just round the corner from Sergeant’s previous address. In 1934 they’d move again, into a house at the far end of Sergeant’s road, which is where I spent the first two years of my life. But that’s a story for another time and place.

In the second half of the evening Natasha spoke about Keith Arkell, and in particular his love of the QGD Exchange Variation and rook endings. Natasha provides some interesting statistics in the book. His results with the QGD exchange against 2400 players between 1987 and 2014 are nothing special: 16½/34, but against players rated 2200-2399 he scored a massive 27/34, and against players rated below 2200, an extraordinary 21/21.

Keith reaches a rook ending in 14.7% of his games compared with an average of 9.1%, well above the other players considered in this book. In comparison, Capablanca’s rook ending score was 11.6% and Karpov, rather surprisingly, slightly below average at 8.8%.

This game has everything: a QGD Exchange leading to a rook ending where Keith has an extra pawn with four pawns against three on the king side: one of his specialities.

You can see some photographs of the event here.

Meanwhile stop for a moment and think about the title of Matthew and Natasha’s book, which, by the way, I’d strongly urge you to buy.

Chess for Life. Chess is a game for all ages, not just a game for small children in primary school chess clubs. You can still play chess, and maintain most of your strength, into middle age and beyond. Think for a moment of the great Viktor Korchnoi, who recently left us. There was an old slogan for people thinking about buying their children a pet for Christmas. A pet is not just for Christmas: a pet is for life. The same is true about chess. Last week we heard how Nette Robinson brought chess into the community through combining a blitz tournament with a jazz concert. Matthew Sadler and Natasha Regan are bringing chess into the community through a series of talks based on their book. Next week you’ll hear about another new idea about how to take chess out of the ghetto: one in which the aforementioned Keith Arkell is playing a part.

Richard James

Geometry and Chess

Chess is a game that relies on geometry, namely lines. The chessboard itself is composed of sixty-four alternating light and dark squares. The board can be further divided into lines, more specifically, ranks, files and diagonals. It is imperative that the beginner become intimately acquainted with these three types of lines in order to play chess well. The beginner often neglects the importance geometry plays regarding the game itself. We’ll start this introduction to the lines found on the chessboard by briefly describing each of the three, starting with the ranks.

Ranks, numbering one through eight, run to the left and right on the chessboard. The first rank starts at the bottom of the board and is where the White pieces start the game. The second rank is directly above the first and is occupied by White’s pawns. The ranks continue sequentially, with the Black pawns occupying the seventh rank and the Black’s pieces occupying the eighth rank. The board is cut in half between the fourth and fifth ranks (Whit’s side being ranks 1 through 4 and Black’s side being ranks 5 through 8). If you’re using a tournament board or mat, you’ll see the rank’s numbers printed on the left and right sides of the board.

Files run up and down the board forming columns and like the ranks, are composed of eight squares each. The files are designated by the letters “a” through “h.” The letters on a typical tournament board are found on the top and bottom edges of the board. Thus ranks run left to right and files run up and down on the chessboard. The “a” file is on the left side of the board and the “h” file is on the right side of the board.

Lastly, we have the diagonal, a line beginners often have trouble with. Simply put, a diagonal is a line of identically colored squares that are grouped together at an angle. An example of a diagonal are the eight squares of identical color that start at the a1 square and end at the h8 square. Just follow the squares; a1, b2, c3, d4, e5, f6, g7 and h8. If you’re new to the game, become accustom to each grouping of identically colored squares that makes up each of the board’s 26 diagonals.

As your chess career develops and you further study the game, you’ll come across the words “open” and “closed” in tandem with the word “line” or “lines.” Let’s take a closer look, starting with an open line:

In the simplest terms, a line (either a rank, file or diagonal) is open if there’s no pawn or piece occupying that line. In the above example, the e file is open. This brings us to an important concept the beginner must embrace, control of the open rank, file or diagonal.

If a rank, file or diagonal is open and you have the ability to take control of it, you absolutely should. In our example, the e file is completely open. The Rook on a1 is not yet activated. Remember, all you material (especially your pieces) needs to be activated early on. Therefore, activating or moving a piece to a square that allows that piece to participate in the game is crucial for victory. Thus, moving the a1 Rook to the open e file gives that Rook something important to do. What’s so important about controlling an open rank, file or diagonal? Controlling, in this case the open e file, means that the opposition (Black) has to think twice about moving any of his or her material onto that file for fear of losing that material. In our example, White, temporarily owns the e file. This brings us to a brief discussion regarding just who can control an open rank, file or diagonal as well as the terms “open” and “closed” games.

Ranks and files are eight squares in length while diagonals run from two to eight squares in length (depending on the diagonal). Note we designate diagonals by their starting and ending squares. The dark squared diagonal starting on a1 and ending on h8 is referred to as the a1-h8 diagonal (eight squares in length) while the diagonal starting on the a7 square and ending on the b8 square is referred to as the a7-b8 diagonal (two squares in length).

Again, it’s important to know just who can control these two to eight square angled lines on the board (diagonals), as well as the ranks and files. Enter our long distance attackers! For diagonals, we have the Bishop and Queen. For the ranks and files it’s the Rooks and Queen. These three pieces are the only material that can control open or semi open lines. It’s all about the long distance attackers. Whats even better about the long distance attacker is that they can control squares on the opposition’s side of the board from the safety of their own side of the board! Short distance fighters, the pawn, Knight and King, don’t have this awesome super power! So, the Rook or Queen can control ranks and files while the Bishop or Queen can control the diagonals. Notice the Queen can control all three, ranks, files and diagonals. No wonder she’s so powerful! Now to the concept of open and closed games.

There are four designations here; open, semi open, closed and semi closed games. It’s important for beginners to understand the four types of games, especially the difference between open and closed games. What’s so important about knowing these four types of games? Within a single game of chess, the position can switch from one type to another within a few moves, so knowing what each of these positions means will help the player to know what to do in a given situation. Each type of game or position requires a different type of strategical or positional thinking. Let’s start by looking at the two most basic types, open and closed games.

In an open game, the board is just that, wide open. This translates to there being a great deal of space (open or empty squares) for the pieces to not only move to but control. Thus, long distance pieces, such as the Bishop, Rook and Queen rule the board. Open games mean open space or squares devoid of pawns and pieces. In an open game you have room to attack from a distance. You also, due to long distance pieces ruling the board, have greater opportunity for tactical plays.

Closed games can be thought of as the opposite of open games. Rather than having open space where your Bishop, Rook and Queen can control the position, the board is shut down or locked up with pawns and pieces. Think of a closed game as being stuck in holiday traffic, a state of gridlock in which only a flying car would solve your problem. Long distance attackers become nearly worthless when there’s no room to move. We call “room to move” mobility is chess and a closed game or position gives our Bishop, Rook and Queen little in the way of mobility. Pieces loose their power when they lack mobility. Fortunately, we have the pawn and Knight to help us out when things are tight or closed.

I just mentioned how great a flying car would be when stuck in traffic. You could simply push a button and your car would rise above the traffic and your problem would be solved. In chess there’s a piece that can do just that and we call him the Knight! Let’s take a closer look at our best friend in a closed game or position.

The Knight is the only piece that moves and captures in a non-linear way. While its “L” shaped movement is difficult for the beginner to learn and master, it is well worth the effort to master it because the Knight has a power no other piece has, the ability to jump over other pieces (and pawns). This ability to jump over traffic on the chessboard makes it a dangerous weapon in closed games. You can see how this would be a great advantage when there’s gridlock on the board!

The pawn is another great weapon in closed games because of its low relative value. No piece is willing to stand by and let the lowly pawn capture it. Considering the pieces range in value from three to nine points, it’s no wonder that our one point friend can push away the the most power pieces! Of course, you need to make sure your little one point friend has some protection when he stands up to a piece. Pawns are a great weapon for closed games.

As for semi open and semi closed games, as beginners you can think about them in terms of positions that share the characteristics of true open and closed games. In these types of positions, use the piece that best suits the position at hand. You can use a closed game piece to open the board up a bit and then bring in your long distance pieces to attack or control lines. I’ll be going into greater detail about piece use in semi open and closed games in future articles.

For now remember, just as a mechanic or carpenter would tell you, you need the right tool for a specific job. Thus, in chess, you need the right tool to control the ranks, files and diagonals in open games and the right tool for those tight positions in closed games. I have a special wrench designed for tight places where a regular wrench wouldn’t fit in my tool kit. Don’t try and use a Rook to fix a tight position. That’s what you have the Knight for. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week. Things get a bit tight in this game but one player’s brought the right wrench, I mean piece, for the job. Enjoy.

Hugh Patterson