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Ten Tips to Winning Chess

by International Grandmaster Arthur Bisguier

Getting Started

Chess is a game of strategy and tactics. Each player commands an army of 16 chessmen --- pawns and other pieces (the king, queen, bishops, knights, and rooks).

A well-played chess game has three stages. In the opening . the players bring out their forces in preparation for combat. The middlegame begins as the players maneuver for position and carry out attacks and counterattacks. The final stage is the endgame when, with fewer pawns and pieces left on the board, it is safer for the kings to come out and join the final battle.

As play proceeds, each player will capture some of the opponent's men; often, the capturing pieces are immediately recaptured. As long as the piece a player gives up is generally equal to the piece he gets in return, we say the players are exchanging. If you unintentionally place a piece where it can be captured without getting a piece of equal value in return, we say that you put that piece en prise. (This is a French term that literally means "in take.") Sometimes a player may place a piece en prise in order to trick an opponent. If the opponent captures the offered man, it may leave him open to attack.

You're Ready to Go!

It's time for you to take a look at these ten tips to help you learn some simple ways to win more games:

  1. Look at your opponent's move.
  2. Make the best possible move.
  3. Have a plan.
  4. Know what the pieces are worth.
  5. Develop quickly and well.
  6. Control the center.
  7. Keep your king safe.
  8. Know when to trade pieces.
  9. Think about the endgame.
  10. Always be alert.

Don't rush. Take your time and be sure to study the examples carefully. Then go out and practice - and have some fun! If you have trouble reading chess notation, look at "How to Read and Write Chess ."

1. Look at your opponent's move!

Every time your opponent makes a move, you should stop and think: Why was that move chosen? Is a piece in danger? Are there any other threats I should watch out for? What sort of plan does my opponent have in mind?

Only by defending against your opponent's threats will you be able to successfully carry out your own strategies. Once you figure out what your opponent is attempting to do, you can play to nip those plans in the bud.

Example A

Black to move

Pretend you're playing black in this position. White has just moved his queen to f3. What's the threat? How should you move to meet his threat?

2. Make the best possible move.

When you are considering a move, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Will the piece I'm moving go to a better square than the one it's on now?
  2. Can I improve my position even more by increasing the effectiveness of a different piece?
  3. Does this move help to defend against my opponent's threats?
  4. Will the piece I move be safe on its new square?
    1. If it's a pawn, consider: Can I keep it protected from attack?
    2. If it's another piece, consider: Can the enemy drive itaway, thus making me lose valuable time?

Even if your intended move has good points, it may not be the best move at that moment. Emanuel Lasker, a former world champion, said: "When you see a good move, wait---look for a better one!" Following this advice is bound to improve your chess.

You're white in this position. Black has just played cxd4 and is temporarily a pawn ahead. What's the best move you can make? Don't be too hasty!

3. Have a plan.

If you threaten something here in one move, something over there in the next move, and so forth, your opponent will have an easy time defending. Your pieces have to work together to be effective. Just imagine each instrument in an orchestra playing a different tune!

When you develop a plan, your men can work in harmony. For example, you might plan to attack your opponent's king; one piece alone probably wouldn't be able to do much, but the combined strength of several pieces makes a powerful attacking force. Another plan could be taking control of all the squares in a particular area of the board.

The chess men are your "team"; to be a good "coach," you have to use

all of their strengths together.

Example C

White to move

Look at this position carefully. What would be a good plan for white? What moves would be involved in carrying out this plan?

4. Know what the pieces are worth.

When you are considering giving up some of your pieces for some of your opponent's, you should think about the values of the men, and not just how many each player possesses. The player whose men add up to a greater value will usually have the advantage. So a crucial step in making decisions is to add up the material, or value, of each player's men.

The pawn is the least valuable piece, so it is a convenient unit of measure. It moves slowly, and can never go backward.

Knights and bishops are approximately equal, worth about three pawns each. The knight is the only piece that can jump over other men. The bishops are speedier, but each one can reach only half the squares.

A rook moves quickly and can reach every square; its value is five pawns. A combination of two minor pieces (knights and bishops) can often subdue a rook.

A queen is worth nine pawns, almost as much as two rooks. It can move to the greatest number of squares in most positions.

The king can be a valuable fighter, too, but we do not evaluate its strength because it cannot be traded.

Example D

Black to move

Here's a harder problem that requires you to use several of the tips you've read about so far. Pretend you're playing black in this position. First of all, what is white's threat? Second, what move should you make to meet this threat? Finally, if white went ahead with his "threat" even after you move, what would be the result?

White to move

White is about to make a move here. Is the black knight strong or weak? Would it be better or worse to have a bishop on that square?

5. Develop quickly and well.

Time is a very important element of chess. The player whose men are ready for action sooner will be able to control the course of the game. If you want to be that player, you have to develop your men efficiently to powerful posts.

Many inexperienced players like to move a lot of pawns at the beginning of the game to control space on the chessboard. But you can't win with pawns alone! Since knights, bishops, rooks, and queens can move farther than pawns and threaten more distant targets, it's a good idea to bring them out soon, after you've moved enough pawns to guarantee that your stronger pieces won't be chased back by your opponent's pawns. After all the other pieces are developed, it's easier to see what pawns you should move to fit in with your plans.

It's tempting to bring the queen out very early, because it's the most powerful piece. But your opponent can chase your queen back by threatening it with less valuable pieces. Look at Example A: after 1. Nf6, black threatens to drive the white queen away with either 2. Nd4 or 2. d6 and 3. Bg4.

Instead of just moving pieces out, try to determine the best square for each piece and bring it there in as few moves as possible. This may save you from wasting moves later in the game.

6. Control the center.

In many cases, the person who controls the four squares at the center of the board will have the better game. There are simple reasons for this.

First, a piece in the center controls more of the board than one that is somewhere else. As an example, place one knight on a center square and another in one of the corners of the board. The knight in the center can move to eight different squares, while the "cornered" one only has two possible moves!

Second, control of the center provides an avenue for your pieces to travel from one side of the board to the other. To move a piece across the board, you will often have to take it through the center. If your pieces can get to the other side faster than your opponent's pieces, you will often be able to mount a successful attack there before he can bring over enough pieces to defend.

Example G

Each player has moved two knights and two pawns. Which side has better control of the center?

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