An intermediate introduction to chess

This article will assume that you understand the basic moves of each piece, that a pawn can move twice at the beginning, and only once afterward. That the pawn captures diagonal, or that the knight moves in an ‘L’ shape and so on.

The most important shift in thinking about a piece is from how it moves, to how it attacks.

How the Knight Attacks

In this sense, we think of a guard as any piece that is “attacking” one of it’s own pieces. Of course it’s not really attacking, but it is threatening an attack on any piece that attempts to take its compatriot. It is attacking an empty square in the sense that any piece that moves to that square will be attacked.

Next to the Queen, the Knight attacks in the most directions, but it is shorter range than the Bishop. There are differing opinions about which piece is more valuable. The old belief is that the Bishop, which controls a diagonal is more valuable, however you can get stuck with a wrong squared bishop late in the game and his effectiveness becomes 0, whereas a Knight can attack the backrank of the opposing side within four moves.

The Bishop is also powerful because novice players, including myself, have a tendency to think in obvious and straight lines of attack, therefore checkmates like this one are common.

Here of course is another example using both the Bishop and the Knight. But notice that the Knight is the key piece that seals the deal.

Personally I think that Bishops and Knights are underrated, at least at the beginning of the game. Here is the rating commonly accepted, which is good and pragmatic:

Pawn 1
Bishop/Knight 3
Rook 5
Queen 9

I think that these ratings should be logically upgraded and downgraded as the game progresses, but the complex reasons why one Bishop is better than another during the endgame has a lot to do with the queening square of a passed pawn.

A passed pawn is worth more than 1 for sure, and can be worth more than a Bishop or Knight, especially if it can realistically Queen, or any other piece leading to mate. You will often see endgames played where even the King is involved in the protection of a passed pawn. Because it is invaluable if it can be kept alive as a constant threat.

Here is an example, and one of my favorite Fischer Games, Keres vs. Fischer in 1959.

The Qe5# was just out of nowhere. It even surprised the hell out of me when going through the game. Fischer only pretends to care about his pawn Queening, instead he goes right for the kill while Keres is still nursing hope of a win. There are lots of moves in this game, and lots of tactics. There are also some blunders, though small in comparison to us mere mortals. I favor Fischer over modern GMs and world champions because today I think it is much easier to be a GM. If you adjourn a game today, you go back to your hotel room and run it through your chess engine and analyze it with all the tools at your disposal. You can carry around on a USB stick every game in history, and the tools to find similar games and lines. IMHO, Fischer was the last GM. It is probably true that Carlsen, or Kasparov are as good or better, and certainly more highly rated, but there is something Romantic and Impressive about Capablanca, Morphy, Alekhine, Tal and so on. In the same way that Michelangelo is all the more impressive that he did what he did in his era, even though, to be fair there are many Sculptors and Painters who exceed him in ability. da Vinci as well, but considered in their context, in their time period, they were more than giants, they were gods.

The Initiative

In Chess, one of the single most important concepts is “The Initiative” with capitals. This is your position delivering concrete threats, within 1-2 moves against a vulnerable area of the enemy side. The more you can threaten, the more initiative you have, and so always ask yourself: What is threatened by this move, and is it worth threatening?

Now threatening a key piece is usually better than an empty square, but threatening an empty square can be more powerful. Especially when more than 1 piece attacks the empty square and it is dangerously close to the King or Queen.

Here is a game from Garry Kasparov’s Best Attacks With the annotations from the author intact.

With the move 17. Ne4! the game is really on. The King is surrounded with attacks at or near him and black has no significant options to counterattack. We see with 17… Bxb2?! that this threat is irrelevant, that rook can be dropped. The first rule of attacking is: Does the piece you attack matter? Just because it’s a free piece, a Rook for a Bishop point wise is wonderful materially, is meaningless at this stage. All the players who are going to attack the King are already in position, and black is completely hung out to dry by his position.

Mikhail Tal, my second favorite Grand Master, is known for being one of the greatest attacking players of all time, and his motto seems to be:

I like to grasp the initiative and not give my opponent peace of mind. – Mikhail Tal

Tal beat Fischer 4 times in a row, and here is what he said:

Even after losing four games in a row to him I still consider his play unsound. He is always on the lookout for some spectacular sacrifice, that one shot, that dramatic breakthrough to give him the win. – Bobby Fischer (on Tal)

He is right, sound play is better perhaps in the long term, but in the moment, a sound player will lose to a bold one, because, as the saying goes: Fortune favors the bold. If Fischer was the Mozart of Chess, then Tal was its Beethoven.

Janis Mileika vs Mikhail Tal URS (1953)

Sac, sac, sac, SAC!!!! Tal is relentless with tactical complications and bold moves. The final 23. … Nc3 is just too much for Mileika to bear.

Here in Dmitry Osipovich Rovner vs Mikhail Tal, Tal just corners the King and won’t let go!

Here, mainly I have shown you Tal playing as black, mainly to emphasize that just because white starts with The Initiative, doesn’t mean black can’t take it away!.

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