A Foundation for Beginners Fifty Two

Last week, we started looking at creating combinations of moves that would set up either a pin or skewer. We’ll keep this going next week. This week, I want to share something I learned when I recently went back to school for physical computing, laying out road maps to solve problems. I literally mean a road map, such as one you would use to travel from one location to another. I found this method extremely helpful and will show you how to do it this week and next week, apply it to the work we started last week!

Surprisingly, at least to me, laying out a computer program in terms of how it needs to work and creating tactics in chess are very similar. You start by defining the problem and then look for a solution. Well, it’s not that simple. You have to create a series of steps that help you reach your goal, a workable solution to your problem. The biggest stumbling block for both beginning computer programmers and chess players alike is connecting those individual steps. In computer programming, the steps you take have to be in a specific order or your program will not work (or at least not the way you intended it to work). The same holds true in chess. The problem I had was visualizing the way in which the individual steps connected to one another. In my mind, I’d see the steps, one on top of the other, rather than connected the way in which roads connect to one another. In programming, you have human input that can change the pathway the program takes. In chess, a move you didn’t expect your opponent to make can also change the pathway. Let me give you an example:

Let’s say you write a basic computer game in which the user has to guess the correct number, which you have predetermined to be 5. You program needs to give the user hints such as “you are too low” or “you are too high. ” A simple program without hints would say “game over” after every wrong guess and “you win” upon finding the correct number. In terms of programming, there are two paths, either right or wrong. This would be a simple piece of coding. However, when you hint adds, you add more pathways which complicate things for the novice programmer. I nearly lost my mind trying to work out these simple exercises until my professor had me start drawing out road maps that looked like a map you would use for driving directions. I had a starting point on the left and a finishing point on the right. In between were all the forks and alternative roads I might have to take (depending on the answer given by the programmer’s user).

Of course, I am not suggesting that you start drawing maps on a napkin when you are considering a tactic during a serious game. What I’m suggesting is that you employ this method during your training. Why go this far as a beginner?

I’ve worked through tactical problems with my students in which they clearly understand each step on it’s own. Looking for your opponent’s pieces lined up along a rank, file or diagonal is easy enough. Finding the long distance piece for a pin or skewer, that can execute the tactic is also easy enough. Lastly, finding the square your piece needs to be on to employ the tactic is again, easy enough. However, the ease in which you can successfully use a tactic requires that your opponent makes a series of moves that favor your plan. Chess is a game in which two plans clash, your plan and your opponent’s plan. In beginner’s games, you often have one player get a way with a tactic that would easily be stopped by a more experienced player. When the beginner plays a stronger opponent, tactics become more difficult to use.

Next week, we’ll be adding more pieces to our initial position and that will make creating a tactical opportunity more difficult. However, it’s really just a matter of adding additional steps or moves to our combination. Think of it as a detour in our road map. Here’s how to look at it: Your starting point is the identification of a tactical opportunity. You see two enemy pieces lined up along a rank, file or diagonal. This is where you start. Your end point is the move that puts the piece you’re going to use to deliver the tactic on the square that deals the death blow. Simple enough right?

The problem is that you cannot do this in a single move. You opponent is going to make a move or two and you’re going to have try and factor in those moves. You are going to have to predict those moves, which is difficult for beginners. In computer programming terms, we don’t know what number the user will enter but we have to have a response prepared. This is where drawing out a road map comes in handy. I suggest trying this out while playing a chess app or even a friend willing to sit through this lengthy process.

Try to think about three logical moves you would make if you were your opponent. In other words, if you are playing White, try to think as if you were playing the Black side of the board. From your diagram’s starting point, draw three forks in the road, one for each move. Look at your first move choice and see of you can then come up with a move that allows you reach your destination, executing the tactic. Do the same for the remaining two move choices. Be aware that this may lead to further forks in your pathway. However, keep moving towards the end point by coming up with solutions that allow you to meet your goal, executing your tactic. Why do this at all?

Beginners tend to think in terms of “my opponent will make this move and I’ll make that move, and that will allow me to use my tactic to win material.” The problem is that the beginner is hoping their opponent will make a really bad move. This is unrealistic. Your opponent is also trying to win the game. I promise you that the more you explore forks in your pathway and the more you come up with possible alternative moves to meet your goal, the better you will become at creating complex combinations. Next week, when we add more pieces to our initial position, we will look at some road maps drawn out to help us meet our goal. For now, just contemplate this idea and see if you can start creating pathways that lead to a successful execution of a pin or skewer. Here’s a game to enjoy until then!

Hugh Patterson

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Hugh Patterson

Author: 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). View all posts by Hugh Patterson

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