A Foundation for Beginners Sixty One

“There’s a lot of tension in that position dude!” I said that to two of my students upon viewing their middle-game. Tension and stress are a killer, both on the chessboard and off the chessboard. In life, if you want to live to a ripe old age, your doctor will tell you to reduce the stress in your life. If you want to work your way out of a potentially damaging middle-game position in which your opponent’s forces are tearing through your side of the board, you have to remove the stress by relieving the tension. Tense positions can leave the beginner paralyzed because there are too many things working against them and they don’t have the skill set to find a positional solution to the problem. They have no orderly way of working towards a solution!

What do I mean by tension or, more appropriately, positional tension? At the start of a game, there isnt any positional tension because the pawns and pieces are on their starting squares. There are no attacks and counter attacks, or strengths and weaknesses to consider. As more and more pawns and pieces enter the game, more and more potential problems arise. Players start worrying about their opponent’s pawns and pieces being able to create problems. When the beginner gets to the middle-game, they often find themselves staring a large number of enemy pieces aimed at their King. This is an example of positional tension. While some middle-games have equal tension for both players, the games of beginners playing more experienced players tend to have a high degree of position tension, all within the beginner’s position.

This week, I am going to introduce you to the concept of positional tension and how to relieve that tension. Next week, we will look at an actual game example and work through it. The reduction of positional tension is a skill that beginners need to learn immediately if they wish to improve. This ability to reduce positional tension is crucial to good middle-game play. Sadly, it’s not spoken about in most beginners books.

A position of tension can be reached within a game when you are faced with more enemy attackers than you have defenders. Or, you can reach a position of tension if your opponent has enough material to inflict a fair amount of damage to your position and clear a line to your King. There are plenty of ways to end up in a state of positional tension. No matter what the case, you are left in a perpetual state of having to defend you position, potentially lose material and make no headway regarding your own mating attacks against your opponent. The solution? Relieve the tension!

That’s right. If you’re facing a great deal of tension, the only way to change things around is to lessen the tension. This is an idea beginners often don’t consider because it doesn’t involve launching daring and exciting attack, although it could! The secret behind reducing positional tension is to determine which pieces are causing the most tension and addressing those pieces, one at a time.

Often, the removal of one enemy piece will weaken the remaining enemy piece’s power. Most strong attacks require multiple pawns and pieces working together (yes, there are a few exceptions). When your opponent’s pieces come over to your side of the board to attack, they generally do so with another piece acting as a body guard. This is especially true if the attack is against your King! Therefore, if you can get rid of either the primary attacking piece or its bodyguard, you can greatly reduce the tension. How do you accomplish this?

You look for ways to trade pieces! Beginners try to go after all their opponent’s pieces involved in an attack at once. Stronger players know that removing just one piece involved in an attack can neutralize that attack. Start by determining whether you can remove the attacker with an exchange or remove the piece (or pawn) defending the attacker. Let’s say that you notice your opponent’s Queen can launch an attack against your King within the next few moves, and that Queen is protected by a Knight. Of course, you want to determine if you have enough protection first by counting attackers and defenders. However, if you don’t, you’re facing some serious positional tension! Now, you have to determine whether you can force a trade of material to eliminate one of these two pieces attacking your position. Can you trade Queens?

Your opponent’s Queen is key to the attack against your King because of the Queen’s great power. If you can trade your Queen for your opponent’s Queen, the tension drops greatly. Don’t be afraid to trade Queens to reduce positional tension. Beginners tend to hang on to their Queens because they think they can’t delivery checkmate without it. If you can’t trade Queens, go after the bodyguard, the Knight. You may have to trade a piece of greater value, such as a Rook, for that Knight but it’s better to be down material than to be mated!

If you see your opponent’s material starting to mass on your side of the board, start thinking about trading the material to avoid a build up of positional tension. Next week, we’ll dig into these ideas with an actual game position and further expand our understanding of reducing positional tension. I just wanted to give you a brief introduction of the concept this week. Here’s a game to enjoy until we meet again!

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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