Category Archives: Hugh Patterson

Writing a Chess Book

After writing a number of articles for The Chess Improver, I was offered the chance, thanks to Nigel’s recommendation, to write a chess book. Within weeks, I had signed a publishing contract. Of course, I did little thinking before jumping into the project because I didn’t want to lose this opportunity. I was given six weeks to write the entire book because the publisher need one written quickly. The book would be 176 pages. I’ve written this article to give other budding chess writers an idea of what they’re getting into should they decide to write a book.

Having written for many years, I’ve come to the conclusion that the hardest part of writing is actually sitting down and doing it. I know many people who claim to be writers yet spend more time talking about being writers than actually putting words to paper. Writing doesn’t count for anything unless the words find their way to the page. Being contracted means you have to write or you’ll be sued for any advance money if you don’t produce something. The prospects of ending up in an English Court (the publishing company is based in the UK) for doing absolutely no writing served as a great incentive to get busy (while I’d like to experience the English court system, I’d rather do so as a spectator). Given the short period of time in which I had to write my first book, I knew I had to sit down everyday and commit words to paper. I write best in the mornings, so each morning I’d be writing by 6:30 am, stopping only to go teach classes. On that first day, I sat down in front of my laptop, staring at what seemed like the world’s largest blank page.

The hardest thing to face when writing any type of book is that first page, knowing hundreds of blank pages sit behind it. You can’t think about all the pages that haven’t been written. You have to think about the single page your writing. Otherwise, you’ll become overwhelmed and unable to move forward. However, before you start writing, you need a plan. I created an outline, laying out what needed to be covered in the book. Create an outline before typing a single word. The outline provides a guide you can follow and helps ensure you don’t leave anything out.

Fortunately, having taught chess for many years, I was able to use my own teaching program the to form the outline. I started with a broader outline first. The book was broken down into four parts: The Rules, The Opening Game, The Middle Game and The Endgame. I moved on to what would be included in these four sections. It’s fairly easy, if you read a lot of chess books, to know what to include in each section. If you’re not a chess teacher, consider looking at chess books, especially those that you’ve enjoyed, to see how they’re laid out. Don’t worry, you haven’t crossed the plagiarism line yet. You’re merely looking for a template to base your outline on. It’s important to use other chess books to create an outline because you want to make sure you don’t leave anything out. However, if you’re writing a book for beginners, don’t use a book geared for advanced players to create your outline. This brings me to another important point, don’t write above your audiences comprehension level. When you get really good at something (not that I know what I’m doing), it comes easily to you. Too many teachers assume their students will understand their explanations because they understand their own explanations. The reason the teacher understand the words coming out of his or her mouth is because they know the subject inside and out. Meanwhile, their students sit silently, becoming more glassy eyed with each passing minute. Assume your reader has no prior knowledge of the game.

Surprisingly, the hardest part of writing this book was explaining the rules. I teach chess visually, with a board and pieces. My students can see how the pieces move in a three dimensional environment. Explaining how the pieces move using only words to do so, isn’t easy. It’s as if you’re suddenly reduced to one dimension. Here’s where you dig through your collection of chess books. Read five or more authors and see how they describe pawn and piece movement. Then sit down and write an explanation of pawn and piece movement, in your own words. Castling was a challenge because there are many conditions that must be met in order to castle. I had to create a very simple explanation for each condition and group them in a logical order. I wrote, edited, wrote some more, edited some more, and eventually came up with a clear explanation of castling and it’s rules. Editing is what makes a book flow fluidly.

Edit each section as you go along. Write freely without editing and then go back and edit when you’ve finished a single section or chapter! Remove redundant or repetitive sentences and statements. Often, we say the same thing twice when trying to make a point. This wastes space. Cut the fat and your writing will thank you for it! Don’t get too wordy, a problem that’s a terminal condition for this writer. Your readers want to know how to play the game of chess and probably don’t have the time or patience to listen to your old college stories that you use as analogies. Analogies are great, but only use those that everyone can relate to. Planning your vacation to Fiji is not a good analogy for middle game planning unless your travel plans are undefined and prone to chaos.

Limit your use of sophisticated or “big” words. That’s what we have academics for. If your readers have to use a dictionary to figure out what your saying, they’re not learning chess! Of course, there’s nothing wrong with throwing in a few big words now and again, but don’t overdo it. Keep your explanations as simple as possible. Your readers will love you for it, or at least not mutter four letter words when hearing your name. Always assume your reader has never played chess. Keep it simple because the more complicated you make an explanation, the more lost your readers become. It’s not that your readers are simpletons. Far from it. They’re new to chess. Even if one of your readers is a genius, he or she will want an easy to understand explanation of the game not a PhD dissertation.

Always write from your heart. Share your passion for chess with your audience. Readers want to share your passionate for chess or they wouldn’t be reading your book. Always be truthful. Don’t tell your readers that they’ll become brilliant chess players in seven days. Don’t make any other guarantee than with hard work, their game will improve. Honesty is important. Encourage readers to achieve their goals as long as they’re realistic. Think of your reader a family member your helping with their studies (a family member you like). The best thing I got out of writing my book? It made me a better chess teacher. Be a teacher. The world needs them desperately. Try writing a chess book. You learn a lot about chess by doing so. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

Love Thy Gambit

With the exception of sacrificing material to gain a positional advantage, it’s generally not a good idea to give away pawns and pieces, especially during the opening. However, a gambit asks you to do just that, give up material at the start of the game. The player employing a gambit will give up material within the first few moves. The material given are pawns. The majority of gambits are executed by white. While most gambits involve sacrificing one pawn, the Danish Gambit sacrifices three. Gambits can be very effective but must be played carefully. All gambits have the same goal, gaining a positional advantage. A positional advantage in the opening is the ability to develop your pieces rapidly. The player who controls the center first has the advantage. Let’s look at the King’s Gambit first. After the moves 1. e4…e5, 2. f4, we reach this position.

White offers black the f pawn. This is the gambit. Black can either except the gambit or decline it. If black captures the pawn, exf4, black gains a slight material advantage but gains doubled “f” pawns and now has only one central pawn. However, taking the pawn doesn’t mean you’ll lose the game. As for white, at some point the “d” pawn will be move to d4, giving white a classical pawn center. With a pawn on d4, white will be able to rapidly develop the minor pieces to active squares. Play continues with 2…exf4, 3. Nf3…g5, 4. d4. We reach the following position.

Black has taken the pawn with 2…exf4. It’s tempting for white to play 2. d4 instead of 2. Nf3. However, doing so would create problems for white. After 2. d4, black would play 2…Qh4+, forcing the white King to move. Trying to block the check with 3. g3, would lead to a heavy loss of material for white. The black pawn on f4 becomes dangerous when the black Queen is on h4, which is why 2.N3 is played. The f3 Knight stops the Queen from moving to h4. After 4. d4, white has a strong pawn center and can develop the minor pieces quickly. Now let’s look at the Danish Gambit, which starts with 1. e4…e5, 2. d4.

Here, white offers the d4 pawn to black. Rather than trying to defend it, which would lead to positional complications, black accepts the gambit with 2…exd4. In the Danish Gambit, white offers the “c” and “b” pawns as well. Play continues with 3. c3…dxc3, 4. Bc4…cxb2, 5. Bxb2, arriving at the following position.

White’s down two pawns, leaving black ahead in material. However, black is behind in development. None of black’s minor pieces have moved, nor does black have a centralized pawn. White, on the other hand, has a pawn controlling the center and two Bishops that control central squares as well. The Bishops are also aimed at black’s King-side pawns, making the prospect of King-side castling risky for black. By giving up a few pawns, white has gained a huge lead in development and has the positional advantage. White has followed the opening principles while black has ignored them, hunting pawns instead. Our Last example is the Evan’s Gambit. The key position is reached after 1. e4…e5, 2. Nf3…Nc6, 3. Bc4…Bc5, 4. b4.

Here, white offers black the b4 pawn. Time is critical during the opening. Chess players refer to time as tempo. The player that gains tempo has an advantage over the player who loses tempo. During the opening, you want to gain control of the center before your opponent does, making it a race whose winner is the first player to achieve this. One thing you don’t want to do during the opening is to move the same piece over and over again. Doing so will cause you to lose tempo. In the above position, black has to move the Bishop because it’s being attacked by a pawn. Since the Bishop has to move, costing black tempo, it captures the pawn with 4…Bxb4. Black captures the pawn as compensation for this loss of time. However, white plays 5. c3, and the black Bishop has to move once more. Play continues with. 5…Bc5, 6. O-O…Nf6, 7. d4…exd4, 8. cxd4…Be7, arriving at the following position.

White has strong central pawns, two minor pieces in play, and has castled. Black, on the other hand, has lost tempo and doesn’t have a strong presence in the center. His King hasn’t castled and black’s position needs improvement. Studying gambits will teach you a great deal about development during the opening. They also lead to exciting and sometimes dangerous games. I encourage you to try them. However, precise play is required.

It’s well worth exploring gambits as a beginner because you’ll learn a great deal about development and tempo. Gambits can lead to exciting games that keep you on your positional toes, so to speak. Of course, you don’t see gambits played at a professional level, but as a beginner or improving player, don’t let the stop you. I’m sure the opening theory snobs will have a few things to say about my love of gambits, such as “what a rotten idea, and you call your self a chess teacher.” As the old saying goes, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” It’s a good day for me when I can simply please Mrs. Patterson! See you next week.

Hugh Patterson

Middlegame Principles

During the middle-game the number of possible positions is so large that well defined principles won’t work. The opening principles literally tell us what to move, where to move it and when to move it. During the middle-game, we rely on generalized principles that give us a broader idea of what to do in a given situation. The goal of the middle-game is to gain a material and positional advantage going into the the endgame. There are many ways to reach this goal and how you achieve it depends completely on the position. As with the opening, any move made during this phase of the game should be guided by a middle-game principle. Refer to these principles until you have them committed to memory.

Evaluation Before Planning

Always evaluate a position before creating a plan. You need to know exactly what’s going on within a position before you can create a plan of action.

King Safety and Mobility Come First

If your King is safe, your pieces can go on the offensive and attack. However, pieces need mobility to attack, so always mobilize your pieces. Always make sure your King is safe before attacking your opponent’s position.

The More Active a Piece, The More Power it Has

When a piece is active, it controls or attacks a large number of squares. The greater the level of activity, the more power a piece has. Pieces are most active when positioned centrally. Always look for ways to activate and further activate your pieces, especially towards the center.

Be Ready to Develop Rapidly to Any Part of the Board

One of the reasons pieces have greater power when centrally located is because they have greater mobility. Centralized mobility gives a piece the ability to move to one side of the board or the other quickly. If it’s needed to suddenly help with an attack or defend a position elsewhere, it can rapidly respond. Move pieces to squares that allow them access to to any part of the board.

Always Count Attackers and Defenders and Compare Their Relative Value

Always count the number of attackers and defenders before committing to an attack. Then compare their individual relative values. You’ll want to have more attackers than defenders when attacking and more defenders than attackers when defending. However, compare the relative value of the individual pieces involved to make sure you’re not going to lose material when the exchanges start.

Start the Exchange of Material with the Unit of Least Value

When exchanging material during an attack, start the exchange with a piece of lesser or equal value first. Never start an attack with a piece worth more than the target piece unless you’re sacrificing that piece.

Never Capture Pawns and Pieces Unless it Helps Your Position

Never consider attacking or capturing a piece, regardless of the material gain, if it weakens your position. A weakened position is harder to correct than a material imbalance.

Repair Weaknesses Before Attacking

If you have a weak point in your position, try to strengthen it before considering an attack. Weaknesses are a long term liability.

Exchange Pieces When it Helps Your Defense

Sometimes, you’ll end up with a middle-game position in which your own pieces get in each other’s way. This means that some of your pieces have limited mobility. If you exchange the blocking pieces with enemy pieces (as long as the exchange is balanced) you free your blocked in pieces and remove a few potential enemy attackers from the fight.

Put Rooks on Open Files

Rooks are great for controlling open files. If you see an open files and have an available Rook, put that Rook on the open file.

Consider Your Pawn Structure Before Making Any Pawn Move

Before moving a pawn, determine if doing so will weaken that pawn or weaken the surrounding pawn structure. Weak pawns have to be defended by pieces, which takes those pieces out of the fight.

Make Pawn Moves to Open Up Lines

The opening principles tell us not to make too many pawn moves at the start of the game. While we’ve mobilized our pieces during the opening, we want to be able to further mobilize our pieces during the middle-game. Make pawn moves that open up lines for your pieces.

Be Aware of Counterattacks

Beginner’s often build up what looks like a winning attack. All their pieces are correctly lined up and they’ve carefully thought things through. However, they’ve forgotten to do one thing, look at their own position to see if their opponent has a counterattack that will do more damage. Always examine your opponent’s position for possible counterattacks before launching your own attack.

Exchange Material to relieve Positional Pressure

There are times when your opponent will have a large number of pieces amassed on your side of the board, giving your opponent attacking options. You may not be able create an adequate defense in time to stop the attack. However, if you could immediately exchange some of your pieces for theirs, you’d weaken the attack and relieve the positional pressure. When enemy pieces are putting your position under pressure, exchange material to relieve that pressure.

Use Knights in Closed Positions and Bishops in Open Positions

Bishops are long distance pieces and need mobility to be useful during the game. When the position is open, with diagonals void of pawns and pieces, the Bishop should be used over the Knight. When the position is closed, there’s not a lot of room for long distance attackers to move. This is where the Knight is extremely powerful because of its ability to jump over pawns and pieces. In close positions, the Knight is more valuable than the Bishop.

Don’t Defend a Weak Point if it Ruins Your Game

The are time when you simply cannot defend a weak point in your position. There may be too many attackers or defending the weak point might create additional weak points. If a defensive position is hopeless, move on and further strengthen the rest of your position.

Hugh Patterson

Pawn Types and Pawn Structure

The pawn has the lowest relative value and because of this, it can keep a piece off of any square the pawn controls. Pawns also have the ability to promote into a piece when reaching the other side of the board. These two factors make the pawn a valuable asset. However, pawns cannot move backwards, have a limited attacking range and are easily subject to capture if not protected, which can make them a liability. Whether a pawn is an asset or a liability depends on what type of pawn it is. While pawns share the same relative value, some pawns are stronger than others. A pawn’s strength or weakness depends on its relationship to other pawns in your army.

When pawns are on their starting squares at the beginning of the game, they’re equal in both relative value and strength. However, to give your pieces mobility, you have to move a few of those pawns. When you move a pawn, it’s strength changes in value because it’s relationship to the other pawns in your army changes. Whether or not a pawn is protected determines it’s strength. Unprotected pawns are weak because they need to be defended. While pieces can be used to defend pawns, those pieces become tied down to defensive duties and cannot participate in any attacks. With a few exceptions, when a piece is tied down to the defense of a pawn it’s lost it’s power. The best way to defend a pawn is with another pawn using pawn chains. Before we examine pawn chains, let’s explore pawn strengths and weaknesses based on pawn type.

Doubled Pawns

Doubled pawns are two friendly pawns ( belonging to the same army) who occupy the same file, leaving them unable to defend one another. In the diagram below, white has doubled pawns on the “c” file and no pawns on the “b” or “d” files to defend them. If it’s black to move, the Bishop could capture the c3 pawn. If it’s white’s turn, white would have to move either the c3 pawn to c4 or the Knight to a4 to defend the c3 pawn. Doubled pawns occur after an exchange of material in which one player is forced to capture back using a pawn adjacent to another pawn. Doubling your opponent’s pawn is a good way to weaken their position.

Isolated Pawns

An isolated pawn, is a pawn with no friendly pawns on the adjacent files. Without friendly pawns on the files immediately to the left and right of the isolated pawn, it will have to be defended by a piece should an attack occur. In the diagram above, the c3 pawn is isolated. Isolated pawns are considered extremely weak. Often, players will turn one of their opponent’s pawns into an isolated pawn and attack it, forcing an enemy piece to be tied down to it’s defense.

Backwards Pawns

A backwards pawn is one whose neighboring friendly pawns have moved too far ahead of it along the adjacent files to defend it should an attack occur. If a backwards pawn is attacked, a piece will have to come to its defense. As with doubled and isolated pawns, your opponent will always try to attack the pawn, forcing you to use piece to defend it. Backwards pawns are weak.

In the above diagram, the c4 pawn is the backwards pawn. White’s “b” and “d” pawns are ahead of the\is backwards pawn and cannot defend it. Meanwhile, the black Knight is attacking the c4 and b5 pawns. White has no piece that can immediately defend the attacked pawns, so black will win one of them. If white leaves the pawn on c4 the Knight will capture it. If white moves the c4 pawn to c5, the Knight will capture the b5 pawn because the c4 pawn is no longer protecting it.

Passed Pawns

The pawns we’ve looked at have all been weak and can thus damage an otherwise good position. However, there is a type of pawn that’s extremely powerful, so much so, that an opponent facing this type of pawn will do anything to stop it. This is the passed pawn. A passed pawn is one that can reach it’s promotion square because they’re no enemy pawns that can block it or capture it on adjacent squares. Therefore, a piece will have to be used stop this dangerous pawn. While having isolated, backwards or doubled pawns forces you to use a piece for defensive purposes, the passed pawn forces your opponent to stop the promotion by tying up one of their pieces!

In the above diagram, white has a passed “d” pawn. Black’s Rook is going to have to stop the promotion by moving to d8. Black won’t be able to use the Rook for attacking puposes until the passed pawn is dealt with. To make matters worse, both the c2 pawn and white Rook can help the passed pawn reach its destination square. There’s a saying, “Rooks belong behind passed pawns”, and doing just that will help white win the game! Strive to create a passed pawn because you’ll either promote the pawn, which adds to your material or tie up one or more of your opponent’s pieces.

Pawn Structure and Pawn Formations

Pawn structure is the geometric relationship of pawns to one another. Certain geometric arrangements strengthen pawns associated with those arrangements while others weaken them. We call these arrangements pawn formations. The weak pawn types we’ve looked at result from poor pawn structure. Therefore, when moving a pawn, always consider the outcome of your actions in terms of it’s effect on your pawn structure. The same holds true when capturing with a pawn.

Pawn Islands

A pawn island is a pawn or group of pawns separated from other pawns or groups of pawns by at least one file. Pawn islands can be strong or weak, depending on how the pawns within each island are structured. The more pawn islands you have, the more difficult it is to defend them simultaneously. Conversely, the fewer pawn islands you have, the easier their overall defense.

In the above diagram, white has two pawn islands while black has four. In addition to having fewer pawn islands, white’s two pawn islands are strong. The white King protects the three pawns on f2, g2 and h2. The pawns on the “a,” “b” and “c” files form a pawn chain in which the pawns protect one another (we’ll look at pawn chains next). What about black’s pawn islands? They’re weak. While the King protects the h7 pawn who is otherwise isolated, black has doubled pawns on the “f” file, another isolated pawn on the “d” file and two pawns that will have little chance of moving past white’s three Queen-side pawns. Black has a number of pawn problems, while white has none.

Pawn Chains

A pawn chain is a group of pawns that are lined up along a diagonal with each pawn supporting the one in front of it. Pawn chains have a starting and ending point, the base and head. The base of a pawn chain is the pawn at the bottom of the chain closest to the player. The head of the pawn chain is the pawn that is furthest out on the board, away from the player. Pawn chains typically range in size from two to four pawns in length. In the above diagram, white’s pawn chain is three pawns in length. The chain’s base is the a2 pawn while the head is the c4 pawn.

Pawn chains provide an excellent way to strengthen your centrally located pawns. It’s a good idea to create pawn chains early in the game. However, piece mobility is crucial during the opening. Thus, before creating a pawn chain, make sure doing so doesn’t block your piece’s ability to enter the game.

Pawn Barrier

A pawn barrier is a wall of three pawns along the same file that shield the King after castling. The barrier provides the King both safety and defensive options for preventing potential checkmates. However, when any of these pawns are moved off of their shared rank, the barrier can be weakened and King safety declines.

Pawn Storm

A pawn storm is a coordinated grouping of pawns, often sharing the same rank. Pawn storms are used to open lines that lead to the enemy King. Pawns in this type of formation can bulldoze their way across the board, pushing pieces out of their way due to the pawn’s low relative value . The only drawback to a pawn storm is having to maintain the protection of the pawns in this formation, primarily by using using pieces.

Pawn Duo

A pawn duo is a pair of pawns aligned on adjacent files. Their strength lies in their ability to protect one another as they move across the board.

In the above diagram, white’s f2, g2 and h2 pawns form a pawn barrier, while the b3 and c3 pawns make up a pawn duo. Black has a pawn storm along the sixth rank. However, black’s Queen has to protect the “c,” “d” and “e” pawns while the Bishop protects the f6 pawn. Both black pieces are tied down to defending these pawns.
There you have a brief introduction to pawn type and structure. Strong pawns and pawn structure must be maintained throughout the game from start to finish. Remember, the weaker your pawns, the weaker your position. A healthy pawn is a winning pawn.

Now that we have a better understanding of pawn types and structures, we can better determine the course we must take in order to have a winning middle-game. As with the other phases of the game, we have to create a plan that allows us to successfully launch attacks and gain a material advantage. Having a material advantage, having more material than your opponent, helps greatly going into the endgame! To create a strong plan, you first have to evaluate the position which we’ll look at next!

Hugh Patterson

Connect Your Rooks

Rooks are the second most powerful attacker in your army, yet beginners tend to neglect them as if they didn’t exist! Too often, the novice player will leave their Rooks sitting in the corners on their starting squares. A piece on its starting square has little value until it enters the game. A trapped Rook has no value until it gains it’s freedom. We want to activate our Rooks and doing so means getting them out of the corners. We have to get our Rooks into the game. However, getting into the game doesn’t mean that Rooks should be thrust onto the board during the opening. Remember, minor pieces before major pieces. It means that both Rooks should have the freedom to patrol their starting ranks in order to offer protection to pawns and pieces during the opening as well as controlling any open files or half open files, especially the “e” and “d” files.

The idea of coordination between the pawns and pieces is a concept beginners should embrace. While pawns and pieces should be coordinated throughout the entire game, it’s extremely important during the opening phase. Pawns and pieces working together make it much more difficult for your opponent to gain centralized control or build up attacks that subsequently weaken your position. We know that one of the reasons for castling our King is to get one of the Rooks into the game. It’s a mistake to think that the Rook that was just released from the corner thanks to castling is now active. A Rook on f1, after castling King-side, isn’t doing anything during the opening but helping the King guard the f2 pawn. This Rook is almost active. Then there’s the white Rook on a1. He’s usually trapped as well because our astute beginner knows the dangers of bringing your Queen out early and avoid moving her even one rank up. While both of white’s Rooks are close to being active, they haven’t reached their full opening potential. How do they reach that full potential?

We know that castling gets one Rook out of the corner. However, there’s a second Rook that needs greater access to his starting rank. We know to develop our minor pieces, which gives the Rook access to those squares vacated by the Knights and Bishops. However, there’s the Queen to deal with. The Queen is on her starting square at the beginning of the opening. She stands between one Rook and the other (after castling). To provide freedom for the trapped Rook, we have to move the Queen. Wait a minute, didn’t I say moving the Queen was a bad idea during the opening in previous articles? Actually, I said bringing the Queen our early (towards the center of the board) was a bad idea. Moving the Queen up one rank, either from the first to second rank for white or from the eighth to seventh rank for black, is called for. You’re not bringing your Queen out early, only providing additional mobility for both Rooks. This is called connecting the Rooks and generally serves as the final step of your opening. Take a look at the diagram below.

Whose Rooks have greater mobility or freedom of movement? Knowing what you now do about the power Rooks have when they have an open rank to operate on, the answer should be clear. White’s minor pieces have developed and are no longer occupying their starting squares. White has castled King-side, freeing the trapped h1 Rook and moved the Queen up a rank to d2 which frees the a1 Rook. The white Rooks can now go back and forth along the first rank and lend support where needed. In addition to supporting pawns and pieces throughout the game, Rooks have another important job during the opening.

Take a look at black’s position. Both of black’s Rooks are trapped. Black’s King-side Rook can get into the game when black castles on that side of the board. However, the Queen-side Rook on a8 is going to have to wait until, the Knight, Bishop and Queen move in order to become active. This brings us back to white’s Rooks. If it’s white to move, either the a1 or f1 Rook can move to e1 and check the black King. Since you cannot castle to get out of check, black will have to block the check by moving the c8 Bishop to e6, pinning the Bishop to the King. Rooks have great power of open or half open files.

An open file is one that has no pawns or pieces on it. When a Rook controls an open file, enemy pawns and pieces have to be very careful to avoid moving onto unprotected squares along that file. If they do, the Rook would be able to capture them. A half open file is one that is partially open. Take a look at the diagram below.

Here, the white Rook on e1 controls the open “e” file while the black Rook on b8 controls the half open “b” file. Because white’s Rook controls the “e” file, black cannot move his Rook to e8, otherwise, white’s Rook would capture it and checkmate the black King. Had Black been able to control the “e” file first, white’s Rook would not be able to move to e1 for the same reason. This is why it’s extremely important to gain control of open files before your opponent does. Let’s look at the black Rook. The black Rook is controlling the half open “b” file. The Rook is also attacking the undefended b3 pawn. Should black’s Rook capture this pawn? Absolutely not! If black plays Rxb2, then white plays Re8# (checkmate). Again, always try to take control of open files. Rooks serve many purposes throughout the entire game, especially the endgame. For now, get your Rooks out of the corners and connect them for better opening play. No game to enjoy this week because next week there will be a really long one!

Hugh Patterson

Always Fight for the Center

The three most important tasks we must accomplish during the opening are developing a central pawn, activating our minor pieces (Knights and Bishops) centrally and castling. We know not to make too many pawn moves, move the same piece twice nor bring our Queen out early (all during the opening). The astute beginner who embraces these principles will immediately start playing better chess. However, there’s more work to do during the opening including fighting for the center of the board. “Always fight for the center” should be our mantra all the way into the middle-game. The player who controls the center first, exercising greater control of its immediate and surrounding squares will have greater options going forward. However, what happens when both players have equal central control? When both players share in control of the center, the player who fights for greater control comes out ahead. Take a look at the diagram below.

After 1. e4…e5, 2. Nf3…Nc6, 3. Bc4…Bc5, 4. c3…Nf6, we reach the position above. Black’s Knight on f6 is threatening the white e4 pawn. Do we defend it with 5. d3 or do we attack black’s center with 5. d4? During the opening, we want to develop our pawns and pieces towards the center of the board but we also want to further attack the center, especially if doing so prevents our opponent from gaining a stronger position. Although black is making a threat against the e4 pawn, the position is still relatively balanced. The threat to the e4 pawn by black’s f6 Knight can be problematic for black if white decides to castle on move five (5. O-O). Should black then play 5…Nxe4, white can play 6. Re1 and the Knight must retreat. To capture the pawn on e4 and retreat would mean that black moved the Knight three times, something principled play tells us not to do during the opening!

The problem with 5. d3 is that it’s a passive move. Since white is a turn ahead of black due to making the first move, the player commanding the white army should always aim for more aggressive moves, provided those moves follow the opening principles. Don’t play defensively unless you absolutely have to! Therefore, 5. d4 attacks the center, stopping black from gaining further control. After 5. d4…exd4, 6. O-O…O-O, white is slightly better. After 7. cxd4…Be7, white is definitely better. Why? Because white fought for the center rather than playing defensively.

Of course, there will be times when you have to make defensive moves. After all, your opponent might make a move you weren’t prepared for. However, if you have the opportunity to do so, always fight for the center. Let’s look at the position after move seven.

White has established a classical pawn center with pawns on d4 and e4. What’s so great about these two pawns? Since pawns have the lowest relative value, either of the two white pawns can move one square forward and chase either black Knight off of it’s optimal opening square (c6 or f6). This is a good example of how principles are bent (not broken). Principled play tells us we shouldn’t move the same piece (or pawn) multiple times during the opening. However, bending this principle would force one of black’s Knights off of an active square, causing a weakening of black’s central control.

White’s b1 Knight can still develop to c3, while the c1 Bishop has mobility along the c1-h6 diagonal. Black’s Queen-side counterpart, the c8 Bishop is completely blocked in. Black’s position is somewhat weak while white’s is strong. This came about by white fighting for the center. How did white know that 5. d4 would work? Let me introduce you to a concept called board vision.

Board Vision

Board vision is the ability to see all the pawns and pieces, both yours and your opponents, on the chessboard. Seeing all the pawns and pieces means first looking at each of your opponent’s pawns and pieces and determining if there are any threats being made against your pawns and pieces. Then look at your pawns and pieces and see if you can make any threats against your opponent’s pawns and pieces. Only after you’ve exercised good board vision, can you then think about possible moves. Beginners tend to look only where the action is. During the opening, they’ll only look at the pawns and pieces closest to the center squares. They miss a potential attacker outside their immediate line of site. Experienced players examine the entire board before considering any moves.

With 5. d4, white challenged black’s control of the center but only after examining the entire board. After carefully looking at the pawns and pieces belonging to both players, white was able to create an attack and subsequent series of moves that allowed the position to favor white. Even though the majority of the pawns and pieces for both sides were still on their starting squares, white still double checked to make sure it was safe to execute his plan. Always fight for the center during the opening.

Piece Activity

Just because you’ve followed the big three opening principles and acquired a good centralized position, doesn’t mean you can’t further develop or activate your pawns and pieces. Always remember that the person your playing has a plan of their own. That plan can sometimes force you to develop a minor piece to a square that isn’t active. When a piece is active, it’s on a square that allows it to have more control of specific squares, such as the board’s central squares. Before claiming you’re finished with your opening, look at your pieces as see if they can move to more active squares. The principle regarding not moving the same piece multiple times during the opening can be bent (not broken) to increase a piece’s activity during the opening. However, you should only do so after you’ve initially developed your other pieces. The same holds true for pawns. After you’ve completed your opening development, you can consider making a few additional pawn moves if they serve a purpose. Often, a player will move the white h2 pawn to h3 to stop the black c8 Bishop from moving to g4 and pinning the white Knight on f3 to the white Queen (d1). Non centralized pawns can also be used to keep your opponent’s pieces off of key squares on your side of the board. The key here is control the center with a pawn or two and only later in the opening make additional pawn moves. As for the Queen, she should only move one square forward in order to connect our Rooks. Fear not, this isn’t bringing your Queen out early! Make sure that your Rooks have the freedom to move back and forth along their starting rank. Rooks trapped in the corners of the board are not in the game. While you don’t want to bring a Rook out onto the board during the opening, they can certainly help to control central squares by being posted on the e and d files. They can also support pawns being pushed towards the enemy. Play for control by fighting for the center. Better to be an attacker than a defender and fighting for the center makes you the aggressor. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

Why the Center?

When I teach my students the opening principles, we talk a great deal about the center of the board because that’s the name of the game when it comes to the opening. My more astute students pay close attention, making mental notes regarding the center of the board. Yet rarely does one of them ask “why the center?” The majority of chess students will simply accept the statement “you must control the center of the board during the opening” as a hard fast rule, a law not to be broken unless you want to lose your game quickly. While I can appreciate the idea of simply taking in such a statement without argument, a great deal more can be learned when you question such a statement. I am overjoyed when a student raises his or her hand and asks me why the center of the board is so crucial to good opening play. Asking questions is a fantastic way to improve one’s knowledge but sadly few students ask questions, even when encouraging them to do so.

Beginner’s too often confuse the game’s principles with the game’s rules, thinking a principle to be another rule of the game. Therefore, I make a point, long before teaching any principles to explain the difference between the two. Rules cannot be broken in chess. However, principles are merely guidelines (albeit great guidelines) that provide us with a way to make informed or sound decisions when considering moves. The principles have been around for centuries and have stood the test of time. They’ve survived this test of time because they work. Of course, students will first ignore the opening principles, trying it their way instead. When they’ve suffered one too many agonizing defeats, they’ll try it the principled way and suddenly see positive results.

To hone in on why opening principles are so important, you have to realize just how important the opening is. For you beginners, the opening comprises roughly the first 12 to 16 moves made in a chess game. Some openings are shorter while some are longer. The opening allows you to build a foundation for the rest of your game. When building a house, if the foundation is weak that house will eventually collapse. The same holds true in chess. If your foundation, the opening, is poorly constructed, your game will collapse.

There are three phases to a chess game, the opening, middle and endgames. The opening sets you up for the middle-game and the middle-game sets you up for the endgame. Therefore, your middle-game is only as good as your opening and your endgame is only as good as your middle-game. They all depend on one another. However, you might not see a middle or endgame if your opening is weak. One question beginners will ask is “I never make it to the middle or endgame because I get checkmated early. What am I doing wrong?” The answer? Not playing a proper opening!

To play properly during the opening, you have to use the opening principles to guide the moves you make. You cannot waste time (tempo) because the goal of the opening is control the center of the board before your opponent does. Remembering that your opponent is trying to achieve the same goals as you during the opening means that every move you make must be principled and not waste time. Wasted moves, such as moving the same piece twice during the opening or bringing your Queen out early allows your opponent to continue their principled moves which furthers their control of the board’s center. When you waste moves you might as well be giving your opponent a free turn.

Before I can even start teaching the opening principles, I have to solidify the importance of the board’s center in the minds of my students. Unless you know why the center of the board is so critical during the opening, you’ll not fully appreciate the importance of the opening principles and might ignore them, opted for wasted moves instead. With that said, let’s look at why the center of the board is so important.

The center of the board is comprised of four squares, e4, e5, d4 and d5. During the opening, both players fight to control these four squares and the squares immediately surrounding them. Why control the center and not one side of the board or the other? Two reasons. First, pieces have greater power or control of squares elsewhere on the board when those pieces are centrally located. A Knight in the center of the board (d4, d5, e4 or e5) controls eight squares while a Knight on the edge of the board (a4 or h4, for example) controls only four squares (a half Knight) and finally, a Knight on a corner square (a1, a8, h1 or h8) controls only two squares (a quarter Knight). The opening is all about having greater control of the board’s center than your opponent. Therefore centrally positioned pieces have greater control and greater options due to controlling more squares.

The second reason for centralized control? the enemy King is on a central file and if you want to get to him, it’s a lot faster to attack through the center than the flanks or sides of the board. Remember, the first person to checkmate their opponent’s King wins the game. Therefore, you want to get to the opposition King as quickly as possible. However, this doesn’t mean you should attack the opposition King the first chance you get. Attacks are built up, often slowly. What I mean by “quickly” is that you should choose the most direct approach when attacking. Why make two moves to get to a square you can reach in one move? This brings me to another important point, time or tempo.

The opening is a race to see who gets control of the board’s center first. The player who makes good opening moves that follow the opening principles will be the winner. The player who wastes time making moves that do nothing to control the board’s center will fall hopelessly behind. In chess terms, we call time tempo and every time you make an unprincipled move that does nothing to help you achieve your goal, control of the board’s center, you lose tempo. Unprincipled moves are wasted moves and every time you make one of these unprincipled moves, you might as well be giving your opponent a free move. Wasted moves waste time and wasting time losses games.

Since the opening comes down to who can control the center first, with greater force, we can see that using the opening principles to guide our moves doesn’t waste time. The player that wastes time or tempo falls behind the player who doesn’t. We now know the reasons for the center of the board being so important, so employing the opening principles should make more sense. Our job during the opening is to control the center of the board with a pawn (or two), develop our minor pieces (Knights and Bishop) to squares that allow them to control the center, castle our King to safety, connect our Rooks and last, continue to improve the activity of our pawns and pieces in order to go into the middle-game with a strong position.

I mentioned that principles are not rules at the beginning of this article. This means they don’t have to be adhered to. There are time when you may have to make a move that goes against these principles because you have no choice. The principles suggest we don’t move the same piece twice during the opening but what if a black pawn suddenly moves to b4 when you have a Knight on c3. Do you leave the Knight there because you don’t want to move the same piece twice during the opening? No! You move the Knight rather than lose it. Leaving the Knight to be captured would be treating principles as rules and they’re not. In fact, great chess players sometimes bend the opening principles if they have a really good reason. However, they don’t break those principles completely, they only bend them slightly. For now though, as a beginner, don’t bend the opening principles until you’ve fully mastered them. Speaking of opening principles, here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

The Value of the Pawns and Pieces

I’m currently writing a chess book for beginners and thought I’d give you a sample from that book regarding the value of the pawns and pieces. This article is based on discussions I’ve had with my students over the years regarding this topic and is based on those conversations. Knowing how much the individual members of your army are worth helps you make good decisions regarding the exchange of material as well as the order in which to bring your forces into play.

To denote the importance of the pawns and pieces in terms of power, we assign a relative value to them. We use the term relative rather than absolute because the term absolute indicates that the value is unchanging. The term relative tells us that this value is approximate and might change slightly depending on circumstances within the game. We’ll explore that later on. For now, let’s concentrate on the initial relative value of the pawns and pieces. Again, we’ll discuss possible value changes later on. We’ll start with the pawn.

The pawn has a relative value of one. I teach students to think of the relative value of the pawns and pieces in terms of money. Since most of us, both young and old alike, can better understand valuation when we think in terms of money, making the pawns and pieces worth a dollar amount makes understanding their value much easier. This monetary understanding also makes it easier to determine whether or not to trade or exchange material (pawns and pieces). Using our money analogy, the pawn is worth $1.00. Beginners tend to think of the pawn as somewhat worthless since they have the lowest relative value and each player starts the game with eight of them. While the pawn does have the lowest relative value when compared to the pieces (we don’t refer to pawns as pieces but as pawns) it has the ability to promote into a Queen, Rook, Knight or Bishop when it reaches its promotion square on the other side of the board. This means its value will change upon promotion, increasing from $1.00. Because pawns are worth less than the Knight, Bishop, Rook and Queen, they can prevent these pieces from occupying squares the pawn controls. Remember, just because the pawn has the lowest relative value doesn’t mean it has less value in terms of what it can do. The reason the pawn has a low relative value has to do with its slow or limited movement and its limited control of squares on the board (it can only attack or control the adjacent diagonal squares in front of it. Now let’s look at the minor pieces.

We’ll start with the Knight. The Knight has a relative value of three ($3.00). Because the Knight can move a bit further and control a greater number of squares than the pawn, its value is greater. Knights are the only piece that have the ability to jump over other pieces (and pawns). If the chessboard has a lot of pawns and pieces in play or off of their starting squares, pieces such as the Bishops, Rooks and Queen will have trouble moving around. However, the Knight, due to its ability to jump over pawns and pieces, will have greater freedom of movement and is worth slightly more than $3.00 in such a situation. Now let’s look at the other minor piece, the Bishop.

The Bishop also has a relative value of three ($3.00). However, unlike the Knight, the Bishop is a long distance attacker. Therefore, when the board has few pieces in play or open diagonals (devoid of pawns and pieces), the Bishop has a slightly higher relative value than the Knight. Why do the Knight and Bishop share the same value, after all they have very different ways of moving? While the Knight has the ability to jump over other pieces, it’s range is short. Because of the way in which it moves (an “L” shape), getting to an adjacent square can take a number moves. While the Bishop can control great distances along the diagonals, it is tied down to a specific color square, which is why you have two of them. Both minor pieces have limits to their power and this is reflected in their relative value. Now to the major pieces, the Rook and Queen, starting with the Rook.

The Rook has a relative value of five or $5.00. Like the Bishop, the Rook is a long distance attacker, able to control a greater number of squares than the minor pieces or pawns. The Bishop is also a long distance attacker so why is it worth less than the Rook? Bishops are tied down to a single color square for movement. Thus, the Bishop that starts on a light square can only move along and control light squares while the Bishop that starts on a dark square can only move along and control dark squares. A light squared Bishop has no control over enemy pawns and pieces sitting on dark squares. On the flip-side, a dark squared Bishop has no control over enemy pawns and pieces positioned on light squares. The Rook, because he can freely move along the ranks and files, controls both light and dark squares. This is why he’s worth more that the Bishop.

The Queen has a relative value of nine or $9.00. Why so much? Because she can move like both the Bishop and Rook, giving her the ability to control or attack more squares than any other piece. She moves along the ranks, files or diagonals. This ability to travel along the ranks, files or diagonals makes her extremely powerful. She can control a large number of squares from a single location (square). You should respect this great power and not bring her into the game too early. If you do, she’ll become a target for enemy pieces of lesser value. What about the King? If he’s the most valuable piece in the game, he must be worth a great deal.

The King is priceless because if the King becomes trapped (remember you cannot capture the King is chess) the game ends in checkmate and the player whose King is trapped loses. I do give my students a dollar value for the King to emphasize his importance and that dollar figure is $197,635! This drives home the point that the King is worth a great deal! The reason we can’t really assign a realistic value to the King is because we have to protect him for the majority of the game, so early on he has no attacking value. If the King tries to engage in battle early on, he’ll end up being trapped by enemy pawns and pieces and the game will end in checkmate. However, once the majority of the pawns and pieces are off the board, the endgame (more on that later on in this book), the King can be an extremely valuable attacker and defender. However, always remember that the King needs to stay safe for the majority of the game.

There are two things to take away from this concept of relative value. The first has to do with capturing pawns and pieces. Playing chess requires you to capture your opponents pawns and pieces. You don’t have to capture them all but the more opposition pieces you capture, the harder it is for your opponent to attack your King. However, there’s more to capturing than simply trading one piece for another and this is due to their relative value. You want to make profitable exchanges of material. For example, if you traded your $9.00 Queen for a $3.00 Knight, would you profit from the exchange? Absolutely not! You’d be trading your most powerful major piece for a minor piece. Always try to exchange material if it’s profitable or the trade is even as in the case of trading a Knight for a Knight or a Knight for a Bishop (both having a relative value of three). While there are times when making seemingly bad trades works to your advantage because they lead to checkmate, stick to profitable or even trades for now.

The second thing to take away from this relative value system is that it provides an order in which to bring your forces into the battle. You start with the material (pawns and pieces) of lowest value being developed first followed by material of greater value. Thus, the order in which material enters that game is; pawns followed by the minor pieces (Knights and Bishops) followed by the Rooks and then the Queen. Of course, there are a few exceptions to this order but for now use this system when deciding on who to bring into the fight and when.

Well, there you have it, a brief introduction to the relative value system used in chess. Make sure you know it and always use it as guide when considering an exchange or trade of material as well as creating an order for bringing pawns and pieces into the game. Speaking of games, here’s one to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

Avoiding Pressure

Let’s face it, we all have to deal with pressure. Whether at home, school or work, we’re all under some sort of pressure. Try as we may to avoid it, something always occurs that puts us under the gun, so to speak. While chess is wonderful way to exercise the mind, playing it can be stressful, especially during tournaments. Chess is a challenge in which two minds face off against one another and where the mind does battle so does the ego. When losing a game of chess, we often feel an emotional sting, perhaps the bruising of our ego? Add to this equation the idea that people generally like to win rather than lose and you create a recipe for pressure.

While pressure is a fact of life for nearly everyone and a little pressure can have positive effects, too much pressure can actually lead to health problems. The game of chess should be enjoyed whether you win, lose or draw. However, some people get really wound up before they play the game and it becomes a slightly nerve-racking experience. If you feel pressure before playing and that pressure is taking away from enjoying the game, read further for some tips on removing stress before playing.

Tip number one, and this should be apparent to everyone, be prepared! Be prepared to play. What do I mean by this? You need to be warmed up and in the zone. Before I play shows with my various bands, I spend a lot of time prior to those shows warming up. This means practicing. Sure, I could not practice and play songs I’ve played for years without making any mistakes. However, I might feel a little stress for not having warmed up. I might not play as well as I would had I practiced. Stress equals pressure. As for chess, if you’re about to play an important match, be it against a rival or at a tournament, you need to warm up. You have to play a lot of chess prior to that important game so that you’re in a strong mental state. Playing a lot of chess doesn’t mean playing as many games as humanly possible as quickly as possible. This is a matter of quality over quantity. It’s better to play ten games of chess in which you’re concentrating and making good moves than fifty games in which your simply playing as fast as you can which equates to less concentration and bad moves. If you have a few months before that important game or match, use than time to prepare yourself by simply playing chess.

Avoid suddenly changing your opening right before an important game or match. If you decide to change things up at the last minute, you’ll pay a dreadful price. Concentrate on what you already know. Consider variations against your opening that you haven’t already explored. By doing so, you’ll be less likely to freeze up when your opponent makes that unexpected move. If your opponent makes an opening move you were not prepared for, don’t panic. Use the opening principles to guide your decision making process. These principles will steer you in the right direction.

Another tip, get a lot of rest. Not just the night before your game or match but during the weeks leading up to it. If you stay up late and get up early, operating on little sleep, three weeks prior to the game or match and then decide to go to bed early the night before, you’ll gain no benefit. The effects of good sleeping habits are cumulative so you have to start resting up at least a month before your game or match. Getting a good night’s sleep also helps to reduce your stress levels. Think of your brain as an engine. If you try and run an engine twenty four hours a day, day after day, week after week, the engine will break down. Give your brain a break. This means not playing chess constantly but allotting a period of time each day for your practice. Too much playing will cause you to start losing focus. As I previously mentioned, you want to play lot of chess but it’s quality over quantity.

Of course, engines require fuel to run and so does your brain. Eat healthy and do so way in advance of your game or match. Eating healthily is also a cumulative process. If you live on junk food and then eat a bunch of fresh fruit and vegetables the night before your game or match, you’ll receive no benefits. Start eating healthy at least two weeks prior to the game or match. Avoid sugar based products because sugar will give you a sudden surge or energy that quickly goes away leaving you feeling tired. The same things goes for caffeine. I’m not saying give up coffee or tea (I wouldn’t). I’m saying to keep your caffeine intake to a minimum. The problem with caffeine is that it amps you up with artificial energy and what goes up must come down. You don’t want to suffer a caffeine crash in the middle of a chess game.

Probably the biggest stress reducer is exercise. It’s also the one thing most people don’t want to do. However, you don’t have to go to a gym and pump iron until you look like a body builder. Try taking walks which are an excellent way of getting the blood flowing. Your brain needs oxygen and that oxygen is carried in the blood stream. Walking gets the blood pumping to where you need it, namely the brain! Walking is a great way to relieve stress (unless you choose to walk in a demilitarized zone). Tai Chi is a great way to improve both body and mind. Try bicycling or anything that gets the blood flowing. Start exercising at least a month prior to playing.

So there are some tips for relieving the pressure of life and the pressure of chess. Chess can be stressful no matter how much you love the game. It’s a mental workout but it doesn’t have to be a stressful wokout. Speaking of workouts, here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

When to Take Lessons

The question is not should my child take chess lessons but when should the lessons start. The reason we’re seeing so many highly rated and talented young players has a great deal to with when they start studying under a qualified coach or instructor. Many professionals believe the target age for starting chess lessons is between five and eight years old. The reason for this has to do with a child’s ability to absorb information. However, we should explore this notion in greater detail. Young children tend to spend less time second guessing instructional information and are more open to accepting guidelines as fact. I know this seems counter intuitive to the way children think, exploring ideas by testing them, but in the right hands (a good teacher), young children will absorb the information with little intellectual resistance which develops good habits from the start.

Many parents will have a chess coach or teacher handle the entire process, meaning the coach or teacher teaches the rules of the game. As much as I’d enjoy collecting a high hourly wage for explaining the rules, I tell parents not to waste their hard earned money on something they can do on their own. Thus, parents should teach their children the rules of the game before starting them with a coach or teacher. Parents should keep their expectations low, meaning they should set realistic goals such as the child simply being able to move the pieces correctly. Too many parents jump into specific game principles before their child has a basic command of pawn and piece movement which is frustrating for both child and parent alike. Children learn at different speeds so patience is an absolute must. Just because your child’s friend learned to correctly move the pawns and pieces very quickly, doesn’t mean your child will do likewise. It also doesn’t mean your child isn’t going to be a good chess player. He or she make just take a bit longer to catch up. On the flip side, just because your child picks the rules up quickly doesn’t mean he or she will be the next Magnus Carlsen. Take your time and set small realistic goals. Make it fun by telling stories about each piece and define the piece’s special way of moving as the piece’s super power (as if that piece was a comic book hero). If it isn’t fun, your child will be less likely to enjoy the game. If you’re new to chess, pick up a copy of Richard James’ book, The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids.

As for which person to choose for your child, coach or teacher, go with a teacher because there’s a difference. Coaches tend to work with children who already play chess and play it well. Coaches have to prepare their students for tournaments which means they have to cover a lot of conceptual ground and quickly. They often don’t have the patience needed to work with an absolute beginner. Teachers, on the other hand, have more patience and specialize in the basics. Choose a teacher over a coach unless your candidate does both. Finding one depends on your location. If you’re in a big city or near one, you can generally find a chess club. Many schools offer after school chess programs. The important thing is to find someone who works well with kids. Why? Because kids require a teaching program that is on par with their intellectual level. A good chess teacher needs to explain complex ideas employing simple analogies. A teacher who speaks as if presenting a dissertation on particle physics to a room full of rocket scientists is probably going to sound as if they’re speaking ancient Sanskrit to your child. Teachers who specialize in teaching chess to children know how to simplify explanations and more importantly, make those explanations fun.

Of course, there are a lot of people who fancy themselves chess teachers but in reality couldn’t teach well if their life depended on it. Therefore, interview the teacher. Better yet, ask them to define a chess concept for you. See if their explanation makes sense, not only to you but your child. Is that explanation suitable for a child? Remember, you’re hiring this person as a teacher so they better be able to teach. Put them on the spot, After all, you’re paying them for a service. Another good source for finding chess teachers is on college campuses. Put up a flier in the mathematics and science departments (not the music department or you’ll get a roguish character such as myself). College students are generally excited and passionate and this will translate to passionate teaching. Some of the most passionate chess teachers we have at Academic Chess are college students and the kids love them!

You should start your child off learning chess at a young age but the younger the age, the more patient you’ll have to be. As your child gets older, they’ll be more apt to question everything. While there’s nothing wrong with this, in fact I tell my students that questioning everything is their youthful job, it can make the learning process a bit slower. However, there is no age maximum for learning chess. While we’re on the subject of questioning things, there’s nothing wrong with this idea. In fact, most children who learn the game even at an early age will question why they should do something, such as following the opening principles. Let them ignore those principles because they’ll quickly learn via experience that the principles do work. Again, it comes down to being patient. Start your child off young, be patient and let them learn at their own pace. After they learn the game’s rules, hand over the job of teaching to a professional but be proactive. Ask your child what he or she learned during their chess lesson. Have them explain it to you. You’ll know if the teacher is earning his or her keep and if your child is progressing by your child’s response. Don’t be afraid to switch teachers if your current teacher isn’t working out. It’s not a marriage, it’s a paid position! Speaking of positions, here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson