Family.com: Genesee Valley Parent - The Challenge of Chess
Exeter Chess Club : Mini chess games
Tip #1 - The battle lines are drawn
Tip #2 - The importance of the center squares
Tip #3 - Early control of the center squares
Tip #4 - Chess books
Tip #5 - Computers as chess teachers
Tip #6 - Material advantage
Ok you just got started at chess and you really want to improve your play as quickly as possible. Question is what is the most effective and least time consuming way to learn how to play chess well? That is an excellent question and one that has been debated over by different people at a lot of different playing levels for some time, especially now with so many ways to chose from.
Most people would agree that probably the best way to improve is to get a chess coach/teacher. For one, they get to know your playing strengths and weaknesses very well and try to gear their lessons in such a way that not only are you learning something new but in addition , they can try to create lessons where they try to help remove your weaknesses and try to improve upon your strengths. The only problem of course with having a chess coach/teacher is that having a chess teacher can get somewhat expensive and for some people, it might not be very cost effective. Getting a chess teacher is for someone who is looking for a long term investment. You are talking about investing money in yourself in order to improve at chess and hopefully do well at tournaments where the money that you invest in lessons will be recovered by playing well at tournaments which offer prize money. If the teacher you have is a good one, then the investment might be worthwhile.
Now for those who like me would prefer to try on their own first, it is possible to improve your chess skills via studying books, getting various pieces of computer software and playing against strong players or maybe even getting a dedicated chess computer. I will discuss this things in further detail shortly.
Ok before I start giving some tips on how to improve at chess, I want any advanced players reading this text to remember who this section is being written for. I am going to give out general theories behind the ideas of chess but anyone reading this has to remember that it is general. General ideas of chess do not always apply in every situation. For example, you normally would not trade your queen for a pawn but there are times when because of a certain position and the way the pieces are arranged, that might very well be the best move that you can make. This is something which is called a tactic in chess and therefore you need to take the tips that I am about to impart to you with a grain of salt. Always remember that for every rule, there is always a chance that there will be an exception to the rule. With that in mind, let us proceed.
TIP #1 - The battle lines are drawn
First I want you to remove all the pieces from the chess board and start out with a completely empty board. In your mind's eye, I want to divide the board in half. The first 4 rows for the bottom of the board belong to white. The next 4 rows belong to black. Now imagine a rule was created where white could not advance it's pieces beyond the first 4 bottom rows and black could not advance it's pieces beyond the 4 rows from the top of the board. If that were the case, then neither side would be able to win a game because the pawns would get in each other's way and there would be no way to attack through enemy lines. So obviously since no such rule exists in chess, it becomes clear that in order to win a game you must at some point advance your pieces onto the other side of the board. This is done usually be trying to control the center of the board early on in the opening of the game by either occupying it with pawns or attacking the center squares from a distance. Now I am sure you are asking "Why is the center so important?" and that leads us to tip #2
TIP #2 - The importance of the center squares
The reason why the 4 squares in the center of the board are so important is that they act somewhat like a launching pad for your pieces. Before I can begin to explain what I mean, I will need to explain what algebraic notation for chess is. This will make it easier for you to follow when I mention a particular square, you will be able to reference it immediately. In addition, most chess computers programs now use algebraic notation to describe the board.
Ok here we go. Starting from the left side of the board, the first column is called "A". The column next to A is called B. I think you can figure out the rest since the columns go in alphabetical order. Since the normal chess board has 8 columns, the columns are labeled from A to H. The next classification is for the row number.
The row numbers are always classified form the bottom of the board and use a number instead of a letter. Therefore from the bottom of the chess board, the first row number is row number 1. The second row number is 2 and so on until you reach the last row which is 8. When you combine the letter reference and the row reference, this indicates a particular square on the board. Therefore there are 64 individual squares that begin with A1 and go through H8. So let me begin with A1.
This square would be the first column on the left hand side of the chess board and the bottom most row. If I were to move a piece one square to the immediate right of A1, that square would be B1. Therefore the bottom row goes from A1 to H1. Now lets go back to the A1 square. If I were to move one square up the board, that square would be A2. It is called A2 because while it is still in the first column of the chess board, it is no longer on the first row but instead it is on the second row.
With that in mind, let's go back to the square A1. Let's put a knight on that square. Starting from that square, how many squares can the knight move to? Remember that the knight moves in a 3 square L-Shaped pattern. So have you figured it out yet? For those of you who said it could move 2 squares, pat yourselves on the back because you are correct. Starting from A1, a knight could move to the squares B3 and C2. Now let's move the knight to a different starting square. Let's move it to the square known as B2. This square can be reached by starting at A1 and then moving to the right one square and up one square. If you had a knight at B2, how many squares can it be moved to? Look at it very closely. Have you figured it out yet? It is 4 squares. Can you name the 4 squares? They are: A4, C4, D3, D1.
Hopefully by now you have algebraic chess notation down. Let's put the knight at square C3. How many squares can it move to now? If you guessed 4, try again. If you guessed 8 squares, you are correct. The 8 squares are B5, D5, E4, E2, D1, B1, A2, A4. Are you beginning to see a pattern here? As we move closer and closer to the center squares, the knight has more squares that it could move to. Since the knight captures the same way that it moves, this means that from this square, the knight could be capable of capturing 1 out of a possible 8 pieces if there are pieces on each one of those squares.
Let's try the same exercise with the bishop. The bishop is the piece that can only move on a diagonal. Since it begins on one color square and can only move diagonally, it will always wind up on the same color square that it started from. So if a bishop were to start on a white colored square, it must always land on a white colored square. It could never move and land on a black square. This fact sometimes makes the bishop of limited use in some positions and awesome in others. It all depends on the arrangement of the pieces. But back to the exercise.
Starting from A1, how many squares can the bishop move to? Those of you who guessed 7 squares are correct. Let's move the bishop slightly and place it at B2. How many squares could it move to now? If you guessed 7, look again. The correct answer is 9. Move the bishop to C3. How many squares can it move to from here? If you guessed 11 squares, you are correct! Now one last move. Move the bishop to d4 and count the number of squares. Now it can move 13 squares from here. Again as you move your pieces closer and closer to the center, they begin to gain a better scope.
If you do the same exercise with the rook and the queen, you will see that the same rule applies. The closer you are to the center, the more options you create for your pieces. Which leads to tip #3.
TIP #3 - Early control of the center squares
Since you can see that the center is important from the previous tip, you might wonder what is the best way to control the center. This is done by trying to either occupy the center with pawns in the early stages of a match or trying to have pieces attacking the center from a distance. If one player is allowed to control and dominate the center for any entire match, that advantage of greater scope for his/her pieces might prove crushing. Therefore a lot of the openings that are played in chess are done to try to control the center as much as possible and as soon as possible. The player that has better control of the center in the early going needs to use that advantage as soon as possible since at the later stages of the game when there are fewer and fewer pieces, controlling the center might not be so pivotal. Therefore controlling the center is a temporary advantage that the player must use at some point to gain a much more permanent advantage. If you ever watch two chess masters play each other, pay particular attention to the opening of the match. If someone plays the opening of the match poorly, the match could be over before it even has a chance to begin. So this leads to the next tip.
TIP #4 - Chess books
Get a good book on openings geared towards the beginner. Now this point is really, really important. There are lots and lots of chess books out there. Most of them deal with different aspects of chess. The topics tend to be about the opening phases of a match, basic chess strategies that can be applied if conditions are right, chess tactics and some even deal with the other aspects of chess like psychology and how to deal with adversity. The problem is that some of these books are best read by intermediate or stronger players and because of that fact, they tend to lose the reader if that reader is just learning about chess. You have to remember that most of these books are written by chess masters. While they may be very good players, they sometimes have difficulty in explaining why certain moves are chosen over others because they are able to see several moves ahead of the current position that a beginner will most likely not be able to. Therefore you need to be sure that any book that you buy or perhaps borrow from a library is geared towards the beginner.
Myself I happen to think that the series of books written by Yasser Seirawan are not only excellent books for beginners but his writing style puts everyone at ease and makes things enjoyable to read. I have 2 of his books (Winning Chess Tactics and Winning Chess Strategies) and both are excellent. You can get them just about any large book chain or of course since you are on the net, you could get it from Amazon.com if you prefer. Not only do each of the books teach you a specific concept, it has quizzes at the end of each section to see if you have grasped the material. So you can test yourself to see if you really understood what the section was about and if not, you can read it again and try the puzzles again once you have reread the section. In any case, the books are an excellent source of information and will be enjoyed by all levels of players.
If you should ever happen to go beyond the beginner's level and reach intermediate level, I would suggest the following book "The Ideas behind the Chess Openings" by Reuben Fine. It discusses most of the common openings and their variations and why certain moves are played in a particular opening. In addition, it will show some moves that can be played in a particular opening that can be taken advantage of if the other player is aware of what that particular opening is trying to accomplish. So not only are you learning a opening and the variations associated with that opening, you are learning the possible pitfalls that await you if you do not understand the concepts behinds the moves. In that sense, it is excellent reading for an intermediate player. Please note however that given the volume of information presented, it can seem like you are reading a technical manual at times but believe me it will be worth the trouble. And now that you have read a few books, it is time to find someone to practice with to see what you have learned. So you need someone who is always willing to play and will always play at the same strength time and time again. And that leads to the next tip.
TIP #5 - Computers as chess teachers
The best opponent to play against and learn against is a computer. WHAT! You must think that maybe I am nuts or something. :) But I tell you that in all seriousness, a computer makes the most excellent opponent. Think about it for a second. A computer will not get bored, it will not play bad moves because it is tired and will never tell you that it does not want to play now. A computer will always play consistently over and over. In fact, one of my favorite things to do when I play my computer is to play as black and set the skill level to a rating slightly higher than myself. Since I know that the computer will play the strongest moves most of the time, this forces me to concentrate and not allow distractions to get to me. This could be very important when you are playing in tournaments. Tournaments tend to have lots of people playing at once. There are lots of distractions going on and you will need to concentrate in order to do well. That fact applies not only to chess but just about all endeavors. There are times when you need to really stop whatever you are doing and concentrate on the task at hand. And chess can be used as a reminder to that fact.
Another advantage to having a computer playing as white is imagine you are playing as white and the player you are playing makes a mistake as black that you made once before when you played the very same move as black. Hopefully you will remember how the computer punishes a bad move and use it against your opponent. I remember that happened to me once where I had the white pieces and the person that I was playing over the board made a move that I played against my computer. When I saw the move, I immediately recognized it as something that I did wrong and I happened to remember what the computer did to punish me for the bad play. I played the very same move that my computer did to me and I was able to win the match.
So my suggestion is to start with a program or a chess computer and start at it's lowest setting. Keep playing higher and higher settings until you start to have difficulty in winning a match. Once you know what that setting is, keep playing at that setting until you improve and then go on to the next highest setting. It will be frustrating at first. It will seem that no matter what you might try, the computer will have a better response but as time goes by, you will notice that you begin to make less and less mistakes because you learn from your mistakes and then stop repeating them. That is one advantage that humans have over computers. We can always improve upon ourselves. Computers can not improve unless someone re-writes the code for the program or unless you run the software on a faster machine.
As for which program I would suggest, I would recommend Fritz 5.32 . You can find out all about this program at http://www.chessbase.com or their american affiliate http://www.chessbaseusa.com . One of the things that make it great for a beginner is that it has a coach built in that warns you when you make a mistake and can give you both subtle and broad hints as to why a move is bad. It can color the squares that are threatened in different colors so that you can see which pieces are well defended and how well they are defended and which pieces are not. It can display all the moves and give a slight hint as to what that move might be trying to accomplish. Fritz 5.32 also comes with a spy function that shows you what the computer is planning. In addition, it comes with 2 interesting modes of play called sparring and friend mode.
Normally a chess program tries to evaluate the best move from a current position and plays it. Sparring mode is a bit different. Instead of looking for the best move, the computer looks for a move that it can play for itself which will allow the player by playing a clever move to gain something, either a strong attack or a piece. Please note that it does not give pieces away. It plays a move that will allow the player to gain some sort of advantage. In essence, it is trying to mimic human weakness. If the player does not make the move that wins a piece through a clever set of moves, it will display a message "you missed something" and create a training session for you so that the next time that you review the match, it will pause the match and give you about 5 minutes to see the strongest move. By using this technique, a player is able to learn the concept of tactics. Sparring mode has 3 different levels of strength so that once you get good at spotting errors at one strength level, you can always set it to the next level. You can have it set that that a light goes off to let you know that a good move can be played or you can set it to be more realistic and tell the program not to tell you. I prefer not to have the program tell me because if I were playing someone over the board, they would not tell me "Hey guess what, I just made a mistake". So by not having it tell me when a bad move has been played, it is more like when a player makes a tactical error and forces me to have to think to see if it works.
The friend mode is also interesting. In this case, the program tries to evaluate your playing strength and match it exactly as much as possible. In essence, you are playing against yourself and this forces you to try to improve in order to win. In friend mode, the computer will make just enough mistakes so that you will be able to win from time to time.
If you are thinking about a dedicated chess computer, I would suggest to try to find one with lots and lots of playing levels. 100 or more would be best so that you can try a lot of settings and just keep playing higher levels as you go along.
Ok one last tip.
TIP #6 - Material advantage
When you are ahead in a match, it is better to force even exchanges of pieces. You might be wondering as to why. Let us say for argument sake that you are ahead a rook for example. At the beginning of the match, each side has the same number of pieces. If someone were to lose a piece like a rook without having a way to get it back, you have the advantage of having one more attacker than the other side. When someone is down a piece, they have to hope that someone they can draw the match or counterattack to negate the advantage. When you begin to trade pieces, the chances of the other player counter-attacking are reduced. Therefore when you are losing, the last thing that you can do is to keep trading equal value pieces. You are just making things easier for your opponent because your opponent will have less to deal with.
Of course, some advantages are stronger than others. For example, you might be ahead a bishop and yet not be able to win because let's say you have the same number of pawns as the other sides does and you have just an extra bishop. Since the bishop can only move from one color square to the same color square, if the other player places his/her pieces on the color square not covered by the bishop, the advantage of the bishop could in essence be negated. In such a case, a knight might be better even though it is a shorter range piece. The knight is not limited to any one color so in such a scenario, it would have a greater value than a bishop.
Well these are very general tips and while they are not the best chess tips in the world, I hope that they start you thinking and seeing the game of chess in a whole new light. Chess can be a lot of different things. It can be a wonderful game and a great source of entertainment but it can also be frustrating when it seems that you never improve and when you make a mistake to lose a game that you could have won. Just remember that you only get as much out of it as you put in. It takes time to learn this wonderful game and you have to be willing to accept a few setbacks as you go along. Just remember to try to learn from your mistakes and play better the next time.
I hope you enjoyed my section for beginners and best of luck with your matches. Just remember "To error is human, to checkmate divine". Good knight...err.....night! :)
Please email me with your thoughts and suggestions for this section of my page. All suggestions are welcome. My email address is:
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