My first contact with Chess studies

Sebastian Strauchler

The purpose of this article is to give a small but consistent and robust door to the study of this as beautiful as hard game. I want to emphasize that this is an inexhaustible work, and all the great players study all day as a full time dedication, but you will also notice as soon as a flash, how you can improve your chess, following this few recommendations.

02/01/2007

"Every chess master was once a beginner"
Chernev

I will leave here the more important things, which from my point of view will facilitate the initiation of new-interested players. In this text, I suppose that you know the rules and you have played chess in a totally amateur manner, I won’t explain how to castle or the pawn en passant, and although this is written for the ones making their first steps in this crucial path, I think it could help some intermediate players to organize their chess studies.

Please, be sure to take these ideas as general and not dogmatic rules, because they can change in different contexts (some of the beauty in this science-art-game is when you break one of this statements and, for example, sacrifice a queen for a pawn, giving a check mate).

Virtual points for the pieces

"Capture of the adverse King is the ultimate but not the first object of the game"
William Steinitz

In the basis of their movement possibilities on the board, the chess pieces are usually assigned certain point values that help determine how valuable a piece is strategically, and calculations of this kind provides an objective but only a rough idea of the state of play. For example, the queen is more valuable than the pawn, because it can move in different ways and long distances.

Queen = 9, Rook = 5, Bishop = 3,5, Knight = 3, Pawn = 1

Of course, these values must be taken as an idea, because in some positions a pawn giving a mate in a move has more power than any other piece on the board.

Other situations give the pieces different strength. In a close game, the knights will be better than the bishops, because they can jump between pawns, but in an open position, the bishops will go from one side to the other in only one move, and for the knights it will take more time.

Note that the king has no value, because without it you can’t go on playing.

Phases of the game

The chess games are divided into three stages: opening, middle-game and end-game. Each stage must be identified because the strategy and plans depends on it. Note also that the game can finish at any of these stages.

Opening

"Chess is a terrible game. If you have no center, your opponent has a freer position. If you do have a center, then you really have something to worry about!"
Siegbert Tarrasch

A chess opening is the group of initial moves of a game. Recognized sequences of opening moves are referred to as openings and have been given names such as the Ruy Lopez or Sicilian Defense. They are catalogued in reference works such as the "Encyclopedia of Chess Openings".

There are dozens of different openings, varying widely in character from quiet positional play (e.g. the Réti Opening) to very aggressive (e.g. the Latvian Gambit). In some opening lines, the exact sequence considered best for both sides has been worked out to 30-35 moves or more. Professional players spend years studying openings, and continue doing so throughout their careers, as opening theory continues to evolve. Uncovering one novelty in opening theory can be the key for success in a high level tournament. Here in SchemingMind, you can read in the Game Explorer the great annotations for each different opening done by Hansjürgen Baum.

There are three basic line guides for the opening: development (to place the pieces on useful squares where they will have an impact on the game.), control of the center (this allows pieces to be moved to any part of the board relatively easily and can also have a cramping effect on the opponent) and king safety (which is often enhanced by castling).

Middle-game

"Even a poor plan is better than no plan at all"
Mikhail Chigorin

After the procession of moves that make up the opening, when the pieces are out of their initial squares, the middle-game begins. Typical plans or strategical themes (for example the minority attack, which is the attack of queenside pawns against an opponent who has more pawns on the queenside) are often appropriate just for some pawn structures, resulting from a specific group of openings. The study of openings should therefore be connected with the preparation of plans typical for resulting middle-games.

There are a number of elementary tactics that help with taking your opponent's pieces. Examples include forking, skewering, pinning, and discovered attacks, though there are more and more. Another important strategical point in the middle-game is whether and how to reduce material and transform into an endgame. For instance, minor material advantages can generally be transformed into victory only in an end-game, and therefore the stronger side must choose an appropriate way to achieve an ending. Not every reduction of material is good for this purpose, for example, if one side keeps a light-squared bishop and the opponent has a dark-squared one, the transformation into a bishops and pawns ending is usually advantageous for the weaker side only, because an endgame with bishops on opposite colors is likely to be a draw, even with an advantage of one or two pawns.

End-game

"Openings teach you openings. Endgames teach you chess!"
Stephan Gerzadowicz

The end-game is the stage of the game when there are few pieces left on the board, two or three at most. There are three main strategic differences between earlier stages of the game and endgame:

  •  During the end-game, pawns become more important; endgames often revolve around attempting to promote a pawn by advancing it to the eighth rank.
  • The king, which has to be protected in the middle-game owing to the threat of checkmate, becomes a strong piece in the endgame and it is often advisable to bring it to the center of the board where it can protect its own pawns and attack the pawns of opposite color.
  • Zugzwang, a disadvantage because the player has to make a move, is often a factor in endgames and rarely in other stages of the game.

Endgames can be classified according to the type of pieces that remain on board. Basic checkmates must be studied (positions in which one side has only a king and the other side has one or two pieces). Other more complicated endings are classified according to the pieces on board other than kings, e.g. "rook and pawn versus rook", "heavy artillery (rook and queen)", "bishop versus rook", etc. Every different kind of endgame has to be checked in detail for years and years to understand the possible difficulties behind them.

Where to put the pieces

"Bobby Fischer just drops the pieces and they fall on the right squares"
Miguel Najdorf

I will leave here some "obvious" tips, which may not be frequently so obvious. It’s often said that the pieces are better positioned in the middle, but why?

The answer is very simple, if you have a knight in a1, it only can move to c2 or b3, but if you put it on e4, it has f2, g3, g5, f6, d6, c5, c3 and d2. That’s why the knights are usually developed to f3 and c3 instead of h3 or a3 with whites, and f6 or c6 instead of h6 or a6 with blacks.

Another good tip apply to the rooks: "Move the rooks to the open, semi-open or to-open columns". The aim of this is that the rook have more possibilities and space to run and dance in an open line (without pawns), in a semi-open one (with only one pawn) or in a column that will be opened soon. By the way, it’s not a good idea to take a walk with the queen or the king at the beginning, it’s very dangerous. Note that the pawns are the better army to gain space and the center, but it’s not recommendable to move them too much because they don’t have reverse march to fill the holes left.

As a last typical amateur move, I’ll say that, as always in general, is not a good idea to put the bishop in d3, (or d6 for the black side) because then you can’t move the d pawn, letting the other bishop to be free.

Tactics vs. Strategies

"The tactician knows what to do when there is something to do, whereas the strategian knows what to do when there is nothing to do"
Gerald Abrahams

Chess strategy consists of setting and achieving long-term goals during the game while tactics concentrate on immediate maneuvers. These two sides of chess thinking cannot be completely separated, because strategic goals are mostly achieved by the means of tactics, while the tactical opportunities are based on the previous sound strategy of play.

It’s very important the evaluation of chess positions for future play, and during this evaluation, a player must take into account the value of pieces on the board, pawn structure, king safety, positioning, and control of key squares and groups of squares (e.g. diagonals, open-files, dark or light squares, etc.).

Having great significance there’s the factor of the pawn structure (sometimes known as the pawn skeleton), that is the configuration of pawns on the chessboard. Since pawns are the most immobile of the chess pieces, the pawn structure is relatively static and largely determines the strategic nature of the position. There are weaknesses in the pawn structure, such as isolated, doubled or backward pawns and holes once created are usually permanent. Care must therefore be taken to avoid them unless they are compensated by another valuable asset (for instance by the possibility to develop an attack to the king).

Tactics refers to a short sequence of moves which limits the opponent's options and results in tangible gain. Tactics are usually contrasted to strategy, in which advantages take longer to be realized, and the opponent is less constrained in responding. The fundamental classes includes forks, skewers, discovered attacks, undermining, overloading, and interference. A pin is therefore sometimes more strategic than tactical. Every one of these categories must be studied separately.

Often tactics of several types are joined in a combination. A combination, while still constraining the opponent's responses, takes several moves to obtain advantage, and thus is considered deeper and more spectacular than the basic tactics listed above.

Doing the homework

"Life is too short for chess"
Byron

After this global view of the different kind of basic studies I will advice you in how to organize them, listed below in the five most important topics:

  1.  Solve a lot of problems every week, it will give you the tactic strength (here in SchemingMind you have the puzzle forum or you can search for the middle-game encyclopedia with thousands of problems in order).
  2. Read books with different kinds of plans for the middle-game, it will give you the strength in strategy.
  3. Look for commented finals and study them in order, there is also a gorgeous encyclopedia of end-games ordered.
  4. Choose one or two openings and defenses and study them as deep as you can, search in databases for games played by grandmasters and check the famous encyclopedia of openings.
  5. 5. It’s very important to analyze your games once there are finished. Use a computer software to help you at that point and make annotations for future games.

"You may learn much more from a game you lose than from a game you win, and you will have to lose hundreds of games before becoming a good player."
Jose Capablanca

I can go on digging in this infinite universe, but I think it's a good moment to end at this point what I intended to make, the very first contact with a more serious chess study.

I hope you get not only some new ideas from this article, but more interest and energy to enjoy this wonderful game we have.

Any suggestions to add, criticism or whatever you want to tell me would be appreciate. The door now is open, it’s on you to trespass it.

Sebastian Strauchler
Sebastian@Strauchler.com.ar
January 2007

Comments

AuthorComment
nasmichael
04/17/2007 03:37
Many thanks for your contribution. I remember when I was new to the online search for a chess home. I would have been quite pleased to get some quick pointers from this article. The key to advice, which you used, is to keep it useable and digestible. I appreciate the offering.
texasgirl04/26/2007 04:30thanks for writing this article. When you hear about the long hours of study the great players have done you dont feel so bad about losing a million games and it gives hope maybe I really can improve
Tahur
05/23/2007 04:09
Very good article Johann, very interesting, is of much help for which just we began in this like I. Thanks!
steffex
12/10/2008 08:22
Thanks for the brief overlook. Assigning different values to pieces at different times was a new idea for me.
PaddyPatzer
02/28/2010 06:55
"Read books with different kinds of plans for the middle-game, it will give you the strength in strategy."

Which books would you suggest?
pjl101504/02/2011 18:40Very good points! Excellent!

 
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