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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Playing Defense in Chess: Chicken or Fox?

The vast majority of chess players, and beginners in particular, love to play attacking chess. We see the immortal games of Morphy, Alekhine, Tal and Fischer and wish to emulate their style. What we do not necessarily understand, is that these players were also master defenders. If they weren’t, many more of their games would have ended with their kings in checkmate instead of wins or draws against very strong competition. Let’s take a quick look at defensive chess.

1. Always look at the position, and at least as far as your opponent’s best move, before deciding to go on an attacking spree. If he or she is lined up for a head-spinning piece sacrifice that ends in mate or heavy loss of material, we must defend first. Defending is not as easy as attacking in many cases, but is just as, if not more so, necessary. One relatively easy way to defend is a chess term called Prophylactics. You simply decipher what your opponent’s plan is, and try to stop it. If you can attack and defend at the same time, all the better.

2. It is a well-known rule that unless your opponent blunders into a quick checkmate or loss of material during the opening, the best idea is to develop all of your pieces before launching an attack. Get the rooks to the center files or on open files, get the bishops to squares where they can own the most real estate, and castle your king. It stands to reason, then, that someone in a good position out of the opening is intrinsically more difficult to attack. Therefore, simply getting all your forces out into play must be a defense in an of itself.

3. Attack. Yes, we just ascertained that attacking only can be detrimental, but if the attack is solid and successful, then your opponent must either defend or lose the game, and they cannot normally attack while they are doing either. So sometimes, the adage that claims the best defense is a good offense rings very true, especially in chess. Again, set up the attack carefully and execute it with precision, instead of simply allowing your queen and a bishop to be batted around in the opening, losing you a lot of precious time and tempos. One good rule to live by that a master once told me: It takes three pieces to mate. Getting out of the habit of trying it with only two will definitely net better results.

And so, we have decided in three simple paragraphs that defense in chess is indeed not only necessary sometimes, but correct. One simply must learn to defend in certain positions, even though attacking and hoping for checkmate is a lot more fun. Study lines, get to know what squares each opening is playing for, and do your best to stop your opponent’s plans, all the while making plans of your own. Doing that results in a hefty battle usually, and will increase your chess rating quite a bit.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Improving your Chess with a Plan

Have you ever noticed that players (especially on the Internet) with a rating of 1900 or greater seem to move quicker, and more accurately? Even in a long game, they are able to navigate the position with ease compared to the 1500 crowd. Why is that? It’s because they have a plan. Even if they don’t have a complete plan in the particular game, they are able to understand small nuances of the position that other chess players may miss.

One of those is recognizing weak squares, both in your opponent’s camp and yourr own. They work on both defending and attacking at the same time, whereas a lower rated player might only attack, or only defend. A fine-tuned mix of both will increase your rating big time. After each time your opponent moves, ask yourself why he played it, and what, if any, the threat is. Stopping your opponent’s plan is huge in chess.

Another is becoming familiar with a couple openings that work for you. Trying new things is fine, and everyone does it at some point. But a chess player needs to know what his or her “style” is in order to successfully choose an opening repertoire. Ask yourself a few questions before choosing one: Am I an aggressive player, or do I enjoy slow positional bouts? Am I comfortable with an isolated d-pawn in some instances, or would I rather try and grab the whole center? Do I find myself attacked on the king side a lot in games, or am I the one doing the attacking? Once you get definitive answers to those questions, choosing your opening style becomes easier.

Finally, the dreaded endgame. There is simply no way around it; you must study up on endgames if you want to survive into the 1900s and beyond with your chess. You must brush up on the idea of king opposition, of tempo, and know which pawns to try and queen based on the opponent’s king location. And that’s just for starters. Gather as much information as you can on the endgame, and then you’ll find that your middle game improves because you are trying to reach an ending you are comfortable in. Believe it or not, at the Expert/Master level entire openings can be chosen because of how their end games usually work out.

Chess isn’t easy!