The Organized Army

Throughout history, most battles have been won by the more organized army. Win enough battles and you win the war. The same hold true with chess. An organized chess army is the army that wins the game. When we first learn the rules of this game we love so much, we concentrate on simply making legal moves with our pawns and pieces. We launch attacks that we’re sure will win the game only to become hopelessly lost in the weakest of positions. What started as a promising attack, with our powerful army leading the charge, ends in defeat. We moved the pieces according to the game’s rules, we launched attacks which you’re supposed to do in order to win games. So what went wrong, muses the novice player. Chances are, there was nothing in the way of organization and organization is the key to success on the chessboard and in life.

Organization really comes down to coordination. In life, those individuals who are organized seem to always accomplished things, seldom becoming bogged down and lost when facing any task, large or small. Disorganized individuals tend to take a lot longer to accomplish their goals and often don’t come close to reaching or meeting those goals. Chess requires having a flexible plan, one that isn’t so rigid that it can’t be adjusted to work within the ever changing positional landscape on the board. If you wish to create a plan that works however, you have to be organized!

Any discussion regarding organization should start with defining a plan. Simply put, a plan is a series of smaller steps that allow one to complete a task. Those steps have to follow a specific order. If you paint a room in your house, you don’t slap paint on the walls before you cover your furniture and floors with a drop cloth. You cover things up and then start painting. Thus most successful plans require the employment of a logical series of steps. However, in chess, there’s an added problem and that’s the creation of a plan that is flexible.

Positions on the chessboard can change drastically from move to move, especially in the games of beginners. Rigid chess plans are those that absolutely depend on one’s opponent making very specific moves that adhere to the plan. Of course, this is unrealistic because, one’s opponent is going to have his or her own plans and will not simply let you execute your plans without a fight. Therefore, you have to create a flexible plan that can change with the changing board positions from move to move. This means, when contemplating a move or plan, really thinking about what your opponent’s best response will be.

If you ask a beginner what their plan is they’ll tell you it’s to checkmate their opponent’s King. This is the goal of the game. The question is how you reach your goal through a series of smaller goals accomplished via plans. During the opening phase of the game, your goal is to control the center of the board by activating (moving) your pieces to active squares (those that control the board’s center) and Castle your King to safety. During the middle-game, your goal is to further activate your forces (pawns and pieces) and look for ways in which to reduce your opponent’s forces through exchanges of material. During the endgame, which many beginners never get to, checkmating your opponent’s King is the goal. These goals are met via short term or flexible plans. The point here is that you have to identify the immediate or short term goal in order to create a plan that allows you to achieve that goal. It comes down to organization. I have my students write down things they do in everyday life that require a plan and the steps they take to solve the problem they have to solve. This serves as an analogy they can use to create an organized plan when playing chess.

I say “organized plan” because I know plenty of people who, when faced with a task, take the long disorganized road to achieve their goal. In chess, time works against you so the longer you take to reach a goal via a disorganized plan, the more opportunities you provide you opponent to stop you from reaching your goal. This is where being organized plays a critical role.

Beginners need to think in terms of “what’s the simplest and quickest way to reach my goal?” When I say “quickest,” I don’t mean making fast decisions. Beginners often make quick moves without putting any thought into why they’re making those moves. We have to separate the idea of reaching our goal quickly with that of simply making moves at a break neck speed. Any move you make should have a legitimate reason behind it. I have my students pretend they’re a famous chess player surrounded by newspaper reporters who ask the question “why did you make that move” after the player’s turn. You need to be able to answer that question prior to committing to a move and if you can’t answer it, you have no business making the move in question.

Executing a plan quickly starts with the organizational skill of identifying the immediate goal. In the opening game, it’s control of the board’s center that fuels our plan. We know we have to achieves this goal during the first ten to fifteen moves and we can use the opening principles as a simple guide. We control the center with a pawn or two, further gain control of the board’s center by developing our minor pieces (Knights and Bishops) towards the four central squares (d4, d5, e4 and e5), Castle our King to safety and connect our Rooks. By using those principles we have an organized method for achieving our opening goal. However, it becomes difficult because our opponent is doing the same thing while also trying to stop us from achieving this goal. Therefore, we have adjust our plans slightly (flexibility) and try to foil our opponent’s plans while still trying to achieve our goal. This can become a confusing idea for the novice player.

The trick here is to always aim for our goals. If our opponent stops us from making a developing move we wanted to make during the opening, such as moving a Knight to f3, why not consider moving the other Knight to c3? You were eventually going to make this move so why not make it now since the move you wanted to make can’t be made immediately. To develop this way of thinking, planning in terms of flexibility, always come up with three possible moves you can make and then commit to one. Thus, if you had planned on developing your Knight to f3 but your opponent makes a pawn move that stops this before you had a chance to make that move, you have other moves you can make that fit in with your plan, centralized control during the opening.

When learning the art of planning and organization, I have my students write out their plans while they play practice games so their goals are clearly defined. They create plans with the fewest number of steps needed to achieve their goals in a logical sequence. On the paper they use for notes is written the phrase “what’s your opponent’s best response (counter move) to the move you’re considering?’ This reminds my students that their opponent is going to fight their plans to the bitter end. Try doing this when playing practice games and eventually you’ll find that you won’t need to write your plans down because you have them committed to memory. Take your time when playing and always have a plan that can change at a moments notice. This type of plan is flexible not rigid. Always remember, your opponent is never going to make the move you want them to make. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

This entry was posted in Articles, Children's Chess, Hugh Patterson, Uncategorized on by .

About Hugh Patterson

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