This week, we are going to wrap up the last six weeks of work on tactics. I’m actually spreading out the end of this part of our middle-game studies during the next week because we covered so much information. This week, I’ll summarize what we have covered so far, to give those of you having trouble with determining the best moves for both players in the position we’ve explored a chance refresh your memory regarding the methodology. I’m going to take everything you’ve learned and create a simple positional pathway to use when playing or exploring a position.
From the last week: Set up the following position on the chessboard: Set up the Black Queen on f8, a Black Rook on a8, a Black Bishop on e5, a Black Knight on b4 and the Black King on a6. Set up the White King on e1, the White Queen on e3, a White Rook on h2 and a White Rook on h1. Remember, you’re playing White in this game.
Like any skill set in which you learn a large volume of information, that information needs to be easily accessible when you need to use it for problem solving. Therefore, we’ll look at the past six weeks of material in a condensed manner that can easily be pulled from memory (or a cheat sheet – written down) when you need it. It all starts with look at the chessboard, namely the position!
Not taking a long, hard look at a position on the chessboard (the relationship between all the pawns and pieces on a chessboard) is akin to trying to safely walk blindfolded across a busy street. You need to look at every pawn and piece on a chessboard, each and every time a move is made by either player, and consider the relationship between your pawns and pieces and those belonging to your opponent. This is your starting point. It requires patience and it takes time. It is also a skill set that can only be developed with experience which means over time. The more you do it, the easier and less time consuming it becomes. Just remember, you have to do it! Look for attacks against your own pawns and pieces and attacks you can launch against your opponents pawns and pieces. Consider positional strengths and weaknesses for both players (you and your opponent). Then move onto the next step, coming up with three possible moves.
When I say three possible moves, I mean good moves! Beginners suffer from a bad case of “wishful thinking” when it comes to deciding upon moves. By this, I mean the beginner comes up with a move that will be successful if their opponent makes a relatively bad move, allowing our beginner to win material or mate their opponent easily. Remember, your opponent is also trying to win the game so he or she will be trying to make good moves not bad moves. Beginners can remedy this problem of “wishful thinking” by considering a move to make and then pretending as if they were playing their opponents position and determining the best way to counter that initial move. If your candidate move is an attacking move that leads to an exchange of material, determine whether that exchange wins material by comparing the relative value of the material involved (material belonging to both players). Why three moves and not one?
Humans tend to be impatient and settle on the first reasonable thing that comes their way. In chess, you might see a reasonable move that appears to have no downside to it. Sure, it might be a good move and, after your opponent moves, turn out to be just fine. However, there’s a difference between good moves and great moves. A good move is just that, a good move that helps you. A great move can drastically change the game in your favor. You can only find great moves by doing a deep dive into the position. This occurs when you come up with a few moves and can compare them to one another. By trying to find three potential or candidate moves, you look at the position in greater detail and often see something you missed the first pass through. Look for three good moves, compare them to one another and you’ll find one of them to be better than the others. You might just find that great, game winning move! Of course, before committing to the move, check to make sure you’re not suffering from a lack of board vision!
Board vision means seeing the relationship between all of the material on the board, both belonging to you and your opponent. Beginners tend to look only at the area of the board they wish to attack or control (tunnel vision). This can have deadly consequences! If you focus all of your attention on one part of the board, you might miss a potential counter attack by your opponent that will destroy your position. Also look at the square left behind when a pawn or piece that is part of you candidate move leaves it’s initial square.
Not paying attention to the squares you leave behind when moving a pawn or piece can be ruinous for your position. In the position we’ve been playing through, this is evident for the White Rook on h2, which defends against a potential King and Queen fork (against White) by the Black Knight on b4. You always need to consider the squares a pawn or piece is defending prior to moving that pawn or piece. If that pawn or piece is a critical part of your defense, don’t consider moving it unless doing so creates a threat strong enough that your opponent will have to deal exclusively with the defense and be unable to take advantage of the weakness created by your threat move. With that said, always carefully balance the pros and cons of every move you make.
Even the best moves have a drawback. During the opening, if White develops or moves the b1 Knight to c3, it moves that Knight to a good square that attacks two of the center squares. That’s a good thing. However, in moving to c3, the Knight blocks in the pawn on c2. This is an example of slight drawback. Does blocking in the pawn on c2 mean you shouldn’t move the White Knight to c3? Absolutely not. The benefits greatly outweigh the problem with the pawn. The point I’m trying to make is that you should always consider the pros and cons (the good and the bad) of every move. Don’t be afraid to consider the smallest problems!
The final point I want to make is this: Employ these ideas in a structured way. Beginners are often all over the place with their chess thinking. They focus on one idea and then are suddenly distracted by another. They try to do two things at once or get the order in which they should do things mixed up. This is simply part of learning how to become a better player. It take time and practice. I have my students write down the things I’ve presented here onto an index card or small piece of paper, which they can refer to as they play their practice games. Doing so allows them to follow a plan that is in order and that follows a logical sequence. Try this out and then tackle the position I gave you (see previous articles for more detail on what we’ve looked at here). I suspect you’ll find it a lot easier to find those often elusive good and possibly great moves. I’ll see you next week with some move solutions to the position. Here’s a game to enjoy until then!
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