Category Archives: Hugh Patterson

Opening Principles Part Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hugh Patterson

Opening Principles Part Four: Castling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hugh Patterson

Opening Principles Part Three: Working Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hugh Patterson

Opening Principles: Part Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hugh Patterson

Opening Principles: Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hugh Patterson

The Importance of Tactics Nine: Putting It All Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hugh Patterson

The Importance of Tactics Eight: Removing the Defender

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hugh Patterson

The Importance of Tactics Seven: Double and Discovered Attacks

In chess, one player takes his or her turn moving a single or pawn or piece. The the opposition moves one pawn or piece in this cycle, turn after turn being repeated until the game ends. The only exception to this rule is castling (when the King and one Rook move at the same time). Each time it’s your turn, you have to decide which pawn or piece to move and follow through with that move since you can’t pass when it’s your turn (we’ve all been in positions where being able to pass on our turn would have helped us but the game’s rules forbid it). The secret to playing good chess is knowing just which pawn or piece to move when it’s your turn! When your opponent attacks one of your pieces, you can either move that piece to a safe square, defend that piece or exchange your piece for your opponent’s attacking piece. However, what if your opponent makes a move that suddenly leaves two of your pieces attacked? You can save one at the cost of the other. How can a single opposition move cause two of your pieces to come under fire? It’s a question I ask members of my beginner’s classes on a regular basis. The answer that my students most often give is by employing a fork. While they’re right in one regard, they’re often surprised when I tell them that there is another tactical method for attacking two pieces at once, a method that can be more devastating than a fork. It’s the double and discovered attack, and many a player has been sent down the road to ruin with this tactical idea.

We’ll look at the discovered attack first. The idea behind the discovered attack is simple. Have a look at the diagram below. Sometimes, a picture (or in this case a positional diagram) can be worth a thousand words when it comes to an explanation!

It should be noted that I use student games for many of my tactical examples because they’re the type of positions most beginners will find themselves in. While studying the tactics of Grandmasters is important, these top level players often set up tactical plays after deep and extensive calculations. Beginners don’t yet have the skill set to make deep calculations, thus I use positional examples in which the tactical play presents itself with little in the way of deep calculations on the part of the beginning tactician. In other words, poor positioning of the opposition’s pieces. In our example from a student game, the White Rook on e1 would pin the Black Queen on e7 to the Black King on e8 if it weren’t for the White Bishop on e3. It’s White’s move. White plays 1. Bd4, unleashing a discovered attack by the White Rook on the Black Queen. Black is all but forced to trade his Queen for the White Rook on e1 with 1…Qxe1. White plays 2. Rxe1+ and now Black makes a fatal mistake, blocking the check with 2…Be7. Why is this a mistake? Because White now plays 3. Bxg7 and Black’s King-side Rook will be captured.

In a discovered attack, the attacking piece is stuck behind another piece, unable to attack until the piece blocking it moves. In our example, the Bishop moved to d4 and the Black Queen was suddenly pinned to her King, attacked by the Rook. There’s another important consideration here, namely where to move the blocking piece. In our example the Bishop moved to d4 where it eyed the g7 pawn. When Black used his Bishop to block the check by White’s Rook, the White Bishop was able to capture the now unguarded g7 pawn and then go on to win the trapped Rook. The point here is to carefully consider where you’re going to move the piece that unleashes the discovered attack. You want to move that piece to a square that attacks another piece or pawn. Remember, when two pieces are under attack, often only one can be defended. In our example, our discovered attack works because the Rook was of less value than the Queen which means White won the exchange. Had it been a Rook pinning a Rook rather than a Rook pinning a Queen to the opposition King, it would have been an even exchange. However, what really made this discovered attack work was Black’s poor choice of pieces to block the Rook check on move two for White. Had Black used his Knight, the Bishop would have been able to defend g7. If you’re the victim of a discovered attack, carefully examine the squares the piece that moved (the e3 Bishop) is attacking, because in our example, the Bishop was able to do further damage. Now we’ll look at the double attack.

With a double attack, one player makes a move that allows the attack of two opposition pieces at the same time. It’s very similar to the discovered attack but with a double attack, two specific pieces are attacked at the same time and at least one of those pieces is undefended and/or the attackers are worth less than the attacked pieces. In our student example of a discovered attack, the second victim of the attack was the g7 pawn which was defended. Unfortunately, Black removed the pawn’s defender which allowed the pawn (and then Rook) to fall. In the above example, it’s White to move. White plays 1.d4. Which attacks the undefended Black Bishop on e5. The Bishop could move except there’s a discovered attack on the Black Queen by the now freed White Bishop on c1. While the Queen is defended, she is worth far more than the Bishop, so she has to move. Black plays 1…Qh5 and White wins the Black Bishop with 2. dxe5. Black tries to mate the White King with 2…Ng4, but White stops this potential checkmate with 3. h3, which attacks the Black Knight.

The differences between discovered and double attacks is not that great because often a discovered attack leads to a double attack. The point you should remember, as a beginner, is that one piece can be saved (in most cases) and one piece will be lost. The trick to executing this tactic is to, as in the case of other tactics, constantly examine, the ranks, files and diagonals on which your opponent’s material sits. This also means that you have to watch your own ranks, files and diagonals because your opponent might just use this tactic on you! Next week, we’re going to look at this topic in greater detail. I chose to give you a very simplified look at this tactical concept just to introduce you to the discovered and double attacks. There’s more to it but as they say, you have to walk before you can run. Next week we’ll learn how to calculate tactics 234 moves in advance. Just kidding! Even Magnus Carlsen couldn’t do that. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance of Tactics Six

In the last few articles, we looked at a tactic called the pin in which a piece of lesser value was stuck in front of a piece of greater value along a rank, file or diagonal. Should the piece of lesser value move, the piece doing the pinning, the attacker, swoops in and captures the piece of greater value. With a skewer, the piece of greater value switches places with the piece of lesser value. A typical pin might be composed of a Black Bishop on g4 pinning a White Knight on f3 to the White Queen on d1. With a skewer, we’d have the Bishop still on g4 but the White Queen would be on f3 and the White Knight on d1. Of course, this rearrangement wouldn’t work for the Black Bishop unless that Bishop was protected with, for example, a Black pawn on h5 to back the Bishop up. While there are similarities between a pin and a Skewer, there are definite differences between the two.

As with the pin, the pieces able to partake in a skewer are your long distance attackers, the Bishops, Rooks and Queen. As I’ve said before, tactics are important and can turn a game around in your favor when used wisely. I say “when used wisely” because many beginning and intermediate players depend on tactics too much. They play solely around the idea of setting up tactical positions in order to gain a material advantage. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with employing tactics, you have to be careful when setting a tactical play up. Why? Because you may have to weaken your position when making the first move or two in a tactical combination, setting the tactic up. Of course, if your opponent is oblivious your plan, you’re fine and the tactical play is successful. However, if your opponent spots the potential tactical play, you’ll end up trying to correct your positional weaknesses. Use your tactics wisely, allowing the opportunity to present itself through poor opposition moves (especially if you’re a beginner) rather trying to set up complicated positions that force tactics. As you improve, so will your ability to spot tactical opportunities and set up combinations. Remember, we first learn to walk before learning to run. Here’s an extremely simple example of a skewer:

As I mentioned earlier, a skewer takes place when a piece of higher value is pinned in front of a piece of lower value along a rank, file or diagonal. In our example, White’s Queen is stuck in front of the White Rook along the f1-a6 diagonal. The Queen is worth nine points or dollars (I use money because everyone, both young and old, can relate to the value of a dollar) and the Rook behind it on the diagonal is worth five points or dollars. Again, the set up is like a pin but the more valuable piece is in front of the piece of lesser value (the reverse is true for a pin). The piece attacking the Queen, Black’s light squared Bishop, is worth three points or dollars. It’s important at this juncture to remember that ideally, the piece attacking the skewered piece should be of lesser value than the piece stuck at the tail end of the rank, file or diagonal where this tactic takes place. However, the value of the pieces involved in a skewer can have varying values but we’ll get into that later on. In our first example, the Queen will have to move, otherwise Black will end up with an even greater material gain. When the Queen moves, 1.Qd1, Black snaps up the Rook with 1…Rxf1 followed by 2. Qxf1. Black has traded a three dollar Bishop for a five dollar Rook netting two dollars. Always consider the value of any exchange before engaging in one!

This skewer for Black was only profitable because Black’s Bishop had protection, namely the pawn on b5. If the pawn wasn’t there then White would simply capture the Bishop! This would be a problem for Black! Now let’s look at skewers in which the piece at the tail end of the skewer is of equal or lesser value that the attacking piece. In our first example, the Bishop was worth less than the Rook trapped behind the Queen. Therefore, trading itself for the Rook makes sense. However, what if a Queen is skewering a piece of greater value, such as the opposition King to a piece of lesser value such as a Rook. Take a look at the example below:

In the above student game example, White plays 1. Qh7+ which directly attacks the Black King. However, this is more than just a check because when the Black King moves, 1. Kc8, the Rook behind it on the seventh rank is then captured by the White Queen after 2. Qxa7! This greatly changes the balance of material in favor of White. While White had more material that Black going into this endgame position, the loss of Black’s Rook is a game changer! While the piece being captured (the Black Rook) was worth less than the Queen, it’s capture eliminated an opposition piece making it much easier for White to win the game. During endgame play, the loss of material is devastating since you have fewer pawns and pieces with which to deliver checkmate. Therefore, using a skewer to create a deficit in opposition material can be a winning tactical play for you.

In the above example, the skewer worked because of two factors. The first factor is that the black King was positioned two squares away from the Rook. To protect the Rook, the Black King would have to be on an adjacent square to the now captured piece, but this leads me to point two, the Bishop on f3. White’s light squared Bishop was on a square that allowed coordinated play between both White pieces. The White Bishop on f3 covered the c6, b7 and a8 squares which means the Black King had no access to those squares and couldn’t protect his Rook. Piece coordination is critical when creating or employing tactics.

When looking for potential skewers, as in the case of the pin, you want to keep an eye on any rank, file or diagonal on which there are pieces. Tactical plays can often fall into your lap when playing against opponents who don’t followed principled play. To avoid falling victim to a skewer, you should always look at any rank, file or diagonal on which you have pieces. The last example of a skewer is a common tactical theme during the endgame. To avoid such a loss you want to make sure you have, your pieces protected. During this student game, Black had an opportunity earlier in the endgame to protect his Rook but didn’t. While our last example used the White Queen to Skewer the Black King and Rook, a White Rook could have done the same job. The advantage the Queen has is her ability to cover diagonals as well. If you’re a beginner or just became an intermediate player, I’d suggest looking for potential skewers rather than trying to set them up with a series of moves. After you’ve developed better chess vision, being able to see the entire board and spot potential problems for both you and your opponent, then consider creating combinations that lead to skewers. Also, remember that tactics are a two way street which means your opponent might skewer you if you’re not keeping a watchful eye over the ranks, files and diagonals your pieces sit on. We’ll continue our examination of tactics next week but until then, here’s a game to enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

The Game Gangster Style

We’re going to take a break from tactics to look at one of the many places I teach chess but will return to our tactical studies next week. Teaching chess to children is only part of my chess teaching career. I teach teenagers, adults, coach chess teams and teach chess to extremely hardened criminals, both young and old. Many of my incarcerated students are members of violent street gangs. I put my personal feeling about people who commit crimes aside when I teach the game of chess to these men. My job is not to pass moral judgment on these students but to teach them how to make better life decisions through chess. Imagine being in a room with four to six men, some of whom have committed acts of terrible violence, with the guards standing outside the classroom, close but not close enough to save my life if need be. Surprisingly, I am comfortable there because these men know I’m there for them, working pro bono as their lawyers would say. I don’t charge for my services when working in the jails. I work without pay because if I can get just one of these men to make better life decisions and not end up back in jail, I’ve succeeded and that’s reward enough! When I explain the game of chess, I do so in their terms, terms they can relate too. They don’t need another smart guy in a suit and tie using large words that they don’t understand. They need to hear it in the language of the streets, gang-speak. Here’s how I explain the game of chess:

“The streets are owned by those who take them. Gangs own the streets and the more streets you own, the more power you have. When one gang wants to increase its power they take control of streets belonging to another gang. Of course, the gang losing their hard fought for streets are not going to give them up without a fight. The gang trying to expand their territory sometimes decide to take out the other gang’s leader, their King. Chess is about taking out the other gang’s King, plain and simple. However, you have to play it smart because you only have so many soldiers in your army. Lose those soldiers and you’ve got no one to fight for you and worse yet, no one to protect you. While you might think yourself strong and tough, one man can’t hold back an army.”

When I introduce each player’s army, I do so using street hierarchy, the pecking order within the chain of command. I also introduce them to the word hierarchy, pointing out that you get a lot farther in life when you sound smart because in the end words hold more power than fists. Here’s my introduction of each player’s army:

“In the game of chess, both players start with an equal number of gang members. In other words, you start the fight with the same number of soldiers and firepower. This means you both enter the war with no real advantage.” At this point, someone will yell out “well then, how the #%$# am I going to win?” This is a great question since most of these guys win street wars by going into the fight with a superior force or firepower. It brings up an important point: All things being equal, you win by being smart, knowing where and when to fight your battles, not just jumping in with all guns blazing. We talk about a few historical battles in which the side that one was greatly outnumbered. How did they do it, my students want to know. They become engaged very quickly, often thinking they can use this information on the hard and unforgiving streets. I make a point to remind them that our goal, via chess, is to make better life decisions or life choices and it was bad decision making that landed them behind bars. Now we meet the gang:

“You are the Kingpin and with that title comes power and respect. However, being the Kingpin also means that other Kingpins are out to get you any chance they have. You’re worth more dead than alive to your enemies. This means you have to have protection for if the King falls, so does his empire. On the flip-side, you’re trying to topple your sworn enemy’s empire so your gang needs to divide it’s activities between protecting you and taking down your rival Kingpin! You life as Kingpin is one of constant offense and defense, always carefully balancing the two.”

We then meet the gang or army, starting with the Corner Boys. “The Corner Boy is a loyal soldier who dreams of being the Kingpin’s top lieutenant on day. It’s an entry level position which means he has to do all the dirty work, such as being the first into battle. In chess, we call this soldier the pawn. The pawn is first into the fight and, if he can reach the other side of the board, he is promoted. He’s no coward which is why he can only move forward. However, don’t think that just because you have eight pawns at the games start you can carelessly throw you foot soldiers, the pawns, into the meat grinder of battle. You’re going to need these troops until the bitter end. Those Kingpins who keep more Corner Boys around when the battle winds down will stand a better chance of winning. Remember, every pawn that can cross the board and reach it’s end can promote to the deadliest of assassins, the Queen. We’ll get to her later.”

We talk about a bit about war and how armies work together to win the battle. It’s important to understand that you have to use your army in a coordinated fashion.

“Next we meet the up and comers who are a few rungs up the chain of command ladder. These soldiers, the Knights and Bishops, have their own individual fighting skills and follow closely behind the Corner Boys or pawns. They don’t stand around waiting for the fight to come to them. They get into the fight early on during the opening but pick where they fight very carefully. Their power is strongest when they’re in the thick of the fight, the middle of the board. Bishops are soldiers armed with a sniper rifle, meaning they can attack and do great damage from long distances. When you can’t get a clear shot with your snipers, you bring in the Knights who, because of their ability to jump over other pieces and pawns, can drop into an attack like a special forces soldier parachutes into battle behind enemy lines. We call this special group, the minor pieces and like the army’s special forces, you have a limited number of these highly trained fighters. Use them wisely because they rule the beginning of any fight on the chessboard. Now we’ll look at the game’s big guns, the major pieces the Rooks and the Queen.”

I usually give a pop quiz regarding the pawn, Bishops and Knights as well as the chessboard itself. You’d be surprised at how well my students retain the information I’ve presented them thus far. Their strong retention might come as a surprise though. Most of these students, no matter how bad their criminal activities have been, are not stupid and when you present the game in terms of the street, they get it. I continue:

“Rooks are seasoned warriors. They’ve survived as long as they have because they know just when to come into the fight. They know better than to jump into the fight as soon as it starts. They let the youngsters, the pawns, Knights and Bishops, tear into the enemy and wear them down. The Rooks are like powerful cannons that mow down everything in a straight line. They can blast across the ranks and files of the board so standing in their way can be a deadly affair. They like to have a clear shot, especially at the enemy King so give them a clear line of sight. Remember though, you have to bring your army into battle carefully. The pawns start things off, followed by the Knights and Bishops. Once this part of your army gains control of the board’s center, then you can bring the heavy hitters into the mix. However, you don’t want to throw your Rooks directly into the fight but instead, use them for holding down lines of attack, the ranks and files.”

I introduce the Queen next. In the male dominated culture of gangs, woman are not considered to be equals. However, as I explain, “ The Queen is the deadliest of killers, combining the powers of the Bishop and Rook. She’s the toughest member of the gang. She can destroy all who walk across her path. Yet as powerful as she is, you must take care with her not because she’s a lady but because as dangerous as she is, she will be mercilessly hunted down if she enters the fight too soon. Her power is so strong that she can make a threat and the enemy will stand up and take notice. The queen is often the assassin that goes after the enemy King. However, she often only gets one chance so use her powers wisely.”

That is how I get tough guys interesting in chess. The game not only helps them with making better life decisions but I’ve seen rival gang members form friendships through the game. Speaking of games, here’s one to enjoy until next week when we resume our tactical studies. Enjoy!

Hugh Patterson