Monthly Archives: March 2009

Ye all non-believers, have faith: Chess is an easy game!

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Capablanca (1888 – 1942) was a World Champion from Cuba during 1921 to 1927. In his heyday, he used to play such deceptively simple chess that the game seemed to move ahead all by itself. Capablanca himself probably realized this aspect when he lost his touch in the later period of his life.

But if you play through his games from his better period, you will appreciate the sheer beauty of his play.

Here is a sample from 1935 with Capablanca playing as Black. The first 15 moves were as follows.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 e6
3. Nc3 d5
4. Bg5 Be7
5. e3 0-0
6. cxd5 Nxd5
7. Bxe7 Qxe7
8. Nf3 Nxc3
9. bxc3 b6
10. Be2 Bb7
11. 0-0 c5
12. Ne5 Nc6
13. Nxc6 Bxc6
14. Bf3 Rac8
15. a4 cxd4

 

The position after 15 moves looked like this.
 

fig5

So far things appear to have moved along fairly expected lines though White has played some strategically wrong moves e.g. his KN has made 3 moves to capture Black’s QN which has just made its first move, losing opportunity to retain initiative or to challenge Black’s intended control of c-file with one of his rooks at c1.

But apparently, the position looks equal with neither player having a decided advantage. Would you agree?

But there is some ‘tension’ in the position with the central pawns and the bishops facing each other. The idea of tension as a chess strategy is something we could add to the list of 50 chess strategies as creating and maintaining tension is fairly common when a player defers a possible exchange. The opponent will keep worrying about your intentions or timing and has to keep an eye on the attacked piece lest he loses it at a wrong time. Once the exchange has taken place, the tension in the position is resolved and your opponent is relieved of some burden. Thus maintaining tension is a strategy whereby you inhibit free play by your opponent but go for the exchange when it suits you.

White probably had a plan to move his queen to attack on the left (or did he have weaker nerves?) but by going for the exchange of bishops, he again handed over a tempo to Black who advanced his rook on the go and could now have his rooks doubled on the open c-file, a chess strategy we have discussed.

In line with another chess strategy, Black later takes possession of the 7th row (from his angle) due to White’s unwise Queen moves away from the battle area.

Another defensive strategy we did not discuss is the creation of an escape square for the king when the big guns (Queen and Rooks) start having free play. This is to avoid getting caught on the wrong foot when these pieces can deliver a baseline check. Black’s advance of KNP to g6 takes care of it and without any worries on the weakness created as there is no enemy bishop to take advantage along the black diagonal.

All these take place duting the following moves.

16. cxd4 g6
17. Bxc6 Rxc6
18. Qd3 Qb7
19. Rfb1 Rfc8
20. h3 a6
21. Qa3 Rc2

 

The position now looks like this.
 

fig6

Black gave an illustrative demonstration of chess strategies (discussed in 50 chess strategies ) for controlling an open file, controlling the 7th row (from his angle), and control of long diagonal (a8-h1) to enemy king’s position by his Queen.

In the above position, White played 22. Qd6 with plans to attack black pawns on a7 and b6, but Black was one step ahead because of earlier gains in tempo. He had also followed the strategy of safeguarding those pawns before launching his attack. While White was concentrating on Black’s pawns, Black’s 22nd move came as a bolt from the blue even though it was a natural outcome of his positional advantages and White should have seen it coming.

22. Qd6 Rxf2
23. Qg3 Re2
24. Resigns

 

23. Kxf2 only brings 23. … Rc2+ followed by 24. … Qxg2 with mate to follow soon. But the text play only delays the inevitable as White will be forced to exchange rooks to prevent doubling of black rooks on row 2 (by Rc2) which would keep pressure on KNP. Once Black exchanges the big powers, his pawn superiority and White’s scattered pawns in three islands will make Black’s win a technicality!

Was there anything complicated about this chess game?

 

Elements of Chess and their importance Part 2

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You can read Elements of Chess Part 1 here

elements_of_chess1

You may recall that each player is provided with 16 pieces at the beginning of the game. The sixteen pieces are as follows:

  • One King
  • One Queen
  • Two Bishops – one in white and one in black
  • Two Knights
  • Two Rooks
  • Eight pawns

Before going further, I would like to state that not all chess pieces are created to be equal. Some pieces are more valuable than the other pieces and these pieces gain their importance or strength depending upon their mobility. Except the King, which is of infinite importance, all the other pieces have been assigned some value depending upon their significance and mobility.

Let me now explain each of these pieces, their scope of movement in the chessboard, their value in the chessboard and their notation in chess parlance.

kings
King

The King is the supreme power in the game of chess and the mission of the game in chess is to capture the king of the opposite player and vice versa. The King is the slowest moving piece, even slower than the pawns, but the most valuable one in that if King is lost, then the game is over. As the king is the important piece in the game and the capture of the king ends the game, there is no point assigning a special value to the King to signify the importance of that piece. Hence, the King has no specific value to assign. All other pieces have some value depending upon their importance and capability of movement

In the chessboard, the white king is placed in the “first” rank of “e” file – that is “e1”. Similarly, the black king is placed at the “eighth” rank of “e” file – that is “e8”. You may notice that the white king is at the black square and the black king is at the white square.

In chess parlance, the King is assigned the capital letter “K”. You know that the white king is placed at “e1”. If you move the King one step forward to the second rank, it will be denoted as “Ke2” – indicating that the King has moved from the existing position to “e2”.

The King can move only one square in any direction. It cannot move more than one square in any direction in the normal course of the game. There is only one exception to this rule. When a player resorts to Castling, which I will explain to you a little later, the king is allowed to move either two spaces to the left or three spaces to the right depending on the side on which castling is resorted to by the player.

queens

Queen

The most powerful piece in the chessboard is the Queen. The Queen has been assigned a value of 9, the highest value for any piece in the chessboard. Since Queen is the most important piece other than the King, it has more capabilities that other pieces and as such needs to be handled very carefully. Losing the queen will not result in the loss of game as such, but the capabilities to attack as well as defend in case of counter-attack will be greatly reduced if you lose the queen in the course of the game.

Before knowing about the movements of the game, let me explain to you where it should be placed in the chessboard at the time of starting the game.

The Queen is placed adjacent to the King on the left hand side. The white Queen, as such, will be placed at the “first” rank of file “d” – that is “d1”. The black Queen will be placed at the “eighth” rank of file “d” – that is “d8”. The White queen is placed in the white square and the black queen is placed at the black square.

The queen is one piece in the chessboard that can move in any number of unoccupied squares vertically, horizontally or diagonally. None of the pieces, except the Knight, can jump on top of the other pieces. They can move only on unoccupied squares. The queen, starting from “d1” can move either horizontally to “a1” or “h1”, move vertically up to “d8” or move diagonally to “c2”, “b3”, or “a4” on the left hand side or to “e2”, “f3”, “g4”, and “h5” on the right hand side, provided there are no pieces on any of these squares.

In chess notation, the queen is assigned capital letter Q. For example, if queen moves from “d1” to say “g4” diagonally, then it is represented as Qg4.

rooks

Rook

The second important piece in the chess board, next to the king and queen, is the rook. In fact, each player is provided with two rooks. Each rook has been assigned a value of 5, the second highest value for a piece in the chess board.

In the beginning, the two rooks are placed at two corners in the first rank for a player using white pieces and at the two corners of eighth rank for the player using black pieces. In other words, the white rooks are placed at “a1” and “h1” respectively, while the black rooks are placed at “a8” and “h8” respectively.

The rook can move any number of unoccupied squared either vertically or horizontally only. It cannot move diagonally. For example, if the rook is in fourth rank of “d” file, it can vertically move anywhere along the “d” file or horizontally across the fourth rank.

In chess notation, the rook is assigned capital letter R.

bishops

Bishop

The next piece in the game of chess, which is not as important as the Rook or the Queen, is the Bishop. Each player is provided with two Bishops. The specialty of these bishops is that they can move only in that color which is assigned to them at the beginning. As such, they cannot move into the square in the other color. Each bishop is assigned a value of 3, lesser than the value of a rook.

In the beginning, the two bishops are placed adjacent to the King and the Queen, in the first rank and eighth rank for the white and black pieces respectively. You might recall that the White King will occupy the black square and the black king will occupy the white square. As such, for the white pieces, the bishop adjacent to the King will be placed in the white square at “f1”, and for black pieces, the bishop will be placed in the black square adjacent to the King at “f8”. Similarly, for white pieces, the second bishop will be placed to the left of Queen in the black square at “c1”, and for black pieces, the second bishop will be placed in the white square at “c8”.

Now, here comes the specialty of the bishops. The bishops can move any number of unoccupied squares, either forward or backward, only diagonally. They cannot move either horizontally or vertically. For the white pieces, the bishop adjacent to the king in the white square at “f1” can move only in the white diagonals and cannot move in diagonals of the other color. Similarly, the bishop adjacent to the Queen at “c1” can move only through the black diagonals. The same thing applies to the black pieces and the two bishops placed at “c8” and “f8” respectively can move diagonally only in squares of the same color.

In chess notation, the bishop is assigned capital letter B.

knights

Knight

The next piece in the game of chess is the Knight. Each player is provided with two knights. In terms of value, each knight is treated at par with the bishop and as such is assigned a value of 3. Just as the rook and the bishop have special features, the knight also has special features as well.

In the beginning, the two knights are placed in between the rook and the bishop on either side of the King and Queen, which occupy the two centre places in the first and eighth ranks respectively. For a player using white pieces, the two knights are placed respectively at “b1” and “g1” respectively in the first rank, while for the player using black pieces, the knights are placed respectively at “b8” and “g8” respectively at the eighth rank.

The moves of the knight are very peculiar. It can move neither diagonally as do the bishops, nor move horizontally or vertically as can the rooks do. The movement of the knight can be best described as a one-two approach. Either the knight can, in one single move, either move one square horizontally and two squares vertically adjacent to the horizontal square, or move one square vertically and two moves horizontally adjacent to the vertical square. Let me make it clear with an example. We know that one knight is placed at “b1” in the beginning. The first move of Knight can be to “c3” – that is one move vertical, which is “b2”, and two moves horizontal – “c2” and “c3” – the third square being the destination square – that is “c3”. The knight may be also moved to “d2” if there is no piece in “d2”. In this case, the knight moves one move horizontal – that is ”c”, and the next two moves are horizontal – “c2” and “d2”.

For the move to be completed, it is essential that the destination square must be an unoccupied one. The knight is the only piece that can jump over the other pieces that lie in between the original square and the destination square. One more important thing to be noted is that while moving the knight, the color of square is important. If the knight is presently in a white square, it can move only to a black square and cannot move to another white square.

In chess notation, the knight is assigned capital letter N. Some people also refer to the knight as ”Kt”, but I prefer using “N”.

pawns

Pawn

The last of the different types of pieces in the chessboard is the “Pawn”. Eight such pieces are assigned to each player. The player using white pieces must use the second rank, while the player using the black pieces can use the seventh rank, to place the eight pawns given to each of them. Each pawn is assigned a value of 1.

Though pawn is the least powerful piece in the chessboard, it has some unique characteristics. Pawn is the only piece that cannot move backwards. All other pieces can move either forward or backward. The pawn may move either one or two squares forwards on its first turn, but afterwards it can move only one square at a time. Another interesting feature of the pawn is that it captures the opposite side piece in a way different from the way it moves. In other words, the pawn captures enemy pieces only diagonally.

For example, if there is a pawn in e4, it can capture any piece lying at “d5” or “f5” only and cannot capture a piece in “e5”. Hope I have made it clear to you now.

No letter is assigned to the pawns, while recording chess notation. Only the designation of the square, such as e5, d3, is mentioned in the notation. If only the designation is mentioned, we can presume it to be the pawn movement.

Conclusion

Now, we have understood the basic elements of chess and their relative importance.

Elements of Chess Part 1

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elements_of_chess
Chess is a board game played between two players with 32 pieces distributed equally between them. The pieces include one King, one Queen, 2 bishops, 2 knights, 2 rooks and 8 pawns, thus making 16 pieces. One set of 16 pieces are in white color, while the other set of pieces will be in black. The primary objective of the game is to capture the King of the other member through the means of checkmate. In other words, the objective of the person using the White pieces is to capture the black king, while the objective of the person using the black pieces is to capture the White king

Before going further about the concepts of king, checkmate and such other things, let us dwell on the basic elements to have a better understanding of the game. The basic requirement for playing chess is a square board with 64 squares in it. The 64 squares are arranged in equal number of rows and columns. In other words, the chessboard has eight rows and eight columns, thus making it 64 squares in all. The 64 squares are alternatively colored in black and white, which makes it easier for distinguishing the moves of the pieces. The columns, or vertical rows as otherwise called, are referred to as “files” and the horizontal rows or simply rows are called as “ranks”, in chess parlance.

The “files” are named in alphabets such as “a”, “b”, “c”, up to “h”, and the “ranks” are given the numbers from 1 to 8. The concepts of the board and the nomenclature are very essential for any person aspiring to learn chess and gain mastery over it. Each square is referred as a combination of the “rank” and the “file”. Thus, “a1” refers to the first square on the left hand bottom corner of the board, while “h8” refers to the top right corner of the board.

Now, we have the chessboard in front of us and we understood what does the columns and rows there refer to and how we should call them. The next thing we should know is “how to place the board in the table?” Before starting to play chess, one should know where and how to place the chessboard in the table. I have already stated that the columns and rows in the board are filled with alternative colors – white and black. The board should be placed in the middle of the table with the two players facing each other. The board should be placed such that there is a white square in the corner on each player’s right hand side. Using the nomenclature above to identify the squares, we can say that the respective white squares at the right corners of the players would be “h1” and “a8”.

The next thing is the arrangement of the pieces in the board. As already stated, two sets of 16 pieces, in alternate colors, are used for playing chess. One player uses the white pieces while the other has to use the other color. Recall that the chessboard has 64 squares. Each player now has 16 pieces at his/her disposal. The person using white pieces has to use the ranks 1 and 2 to arrange the pieces while the player sitting on the other side will have to use the ranks 7 and 8 to arrange the pieces.

The ranks in the middle, viz., 3, 4, 5 and 6 are left empty before starting the gaming or after arranging the pieces in a set order. The empty squares or the “space” left blank has its own relevance. For the person playing white, the ranks 1 and 2 having pieces in them and the empty spaces in ranks 3 and 4 are his/her territory, or “white territory”, and for the person playing black, the ranks 7 and 8 with pieces and empty space in ranks 5 and 6 are his/her territory, or “black territory”.

Let me share with you one interesting concept at this stage. Chess is also referred to as a game of “spatial conquest”. At the start of play, both the players start with the same number of pieces and the same amount of empty space. Depending on the skill with which you maneuver the empty space, the probability of your success over the opponent is determined. Assuming that you are playing white, the ranks 5, 6, 7 and 8 will be somewhat like enemy territory in a battlefield, while for the player using black pieces, ranks, 1, 2, 3, and 4, used by you, will be the enemy territory for him.

Imagine yourself as the king of an army and you are entering into a war with another king having an army of similar strength as yours and both of you are entering into a battlefield to settle the issue. Here your army is the 16 pieces and the battlefield is the chessboard.

How does the idea sound? It is for this very reason, Chess is considered one of the most fascinating board games opening up more and more avenues for innovation as you experiment and gain adequate experience.

Having briefed about the basic elements about the game of chess, let me turn my attention to the details of the pieces, their positions, relative value and importance and their scope of movement in the game.

Check and Checkmate in Chess

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check

What is a check?

In the game of chess, any move of a piece that attacks the opponent’s King is called as a Check. Similarly, if an enemy piece attacks your king, then your King is in check.

One important point worth noting is that of the 16 pieces, any of the 15 pieces only can enforce a check on the opponent’s King and the Chief piece, the King cannot directly enforce a Check on the opponent’s King. If it attempts to do so, the opponent king will simply capture the attacking king immediately and the game is lost at once by the attacking king.

The immediate response for a check enforced on the King should be to protect the King and all other things need to wait before the check is released.

An attack on the King can be tackled in any one of the following three ways.

  • Move the king to a safer square away from the check
  • Place a different piece in between the king and the opponent piece that enforced the check, or
  • Either capture the attacking piece by the king if it has no other consequences or use any of the other pieces to capture the attacking piece of the opponent, wherever possible and feasible.

A check need not be enforced by a direct attack on the opponent’s king all the time.  There are other means of enforcing a check on the opponent’s king.

Discovered Check

A Discovered check results when you remove a piece that has been standing in between an attacking piece or a checking piece and the opponent’s king.  In such cases, the checking piece or the piece that attacks the opponent’s king has not been moved from its position.  Another piece, which was standing between the King and the checking piece, is removed, and thus a Check is enforced on the opponent’s King.

Double check

Another form of check is Double Check.  The double check comes about when the unmasking piece also gives check.  In that way, the opponent king is attacked from two pieces, one by the piece that opens up the check from the other square, and the unmasking piece itself.

When a double check is enforced on the opponent king, the opponent player has to move the King only and the two other options discussed earlier would not become applicable, as the King is attacked from two sides.  As such, Double Check is a unique form of check in which only the King has to move to a safer position.

checkmate

What is a checkmate?

A checkmate is a stage in chess where, in response to a check, the King has no squares to safeguard and has to succumb to the attack.

When the King could not be moved to any square away from the attack, he is said to be checkmated and that is the end of the game, with one player emerging winner over the other.

Checkmating the opponent is the strongest move in the game of chess as it wins the game for you against your opponent.

All about Castling in Chess

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One of the special moves in the game of Chess is the “Castling”. Not only is “Castling” special in that the King is allowed to move two squares in a single move, it is the only move in Chess where two pieces of the same color are moved at the same time in a single move. Is this not a special case? The other piece involved in Castling is the Rook, either on the queen-side or on the king-side.

Some basic conditions, however, need to be fulfilled in order to effect Castling. The primary requirements for castling are –

  • 1.The king is on the original square and has not moved – White king should be in e1 and black king should be in e8.
  • 2.The rook with which you want to castle is on its original square and has not moved – For white, queenside rook at “a1” and kingside rook is at “h1”. For black, queenside rook is at “a8” and kingside rook is at “h8”.
  • 3.The squares between the King and the Rook with which you want to castle are free and not occupied by any other pieces.

If any of the above conditions are not met, Castling cannot be done during the course of the game permanently.

Once the above conditions have been fulfilled, you can resort to Castling, either on the queenside or on the king side.

If you are using white pieces and prefer to do the Castling on the queenside that is with the rook at “a1”, then the king at “e1” will be moved to “c1” and the rook will be moved to “d1”. In Chess Lingo, this is referred to as “castling long”. The notation records this castling as “0-0-0”.

Instead, if you prefer to do the castling on the kingside that is with the rook at “h1”, then the king at “e1” will be moved to “g1” and the rook will be moved to “f1”. This kingside castling is called as “castling short” in chess lingo. The notation for this castling is “0-0”.

In addition to the above primary conditions, some minor conditions are there that will not allow Castling for a brief period.

  • You cannot castle in reply to a check. That is, if your opponent attacks your King with a check, then you cannot reply that check with a castling.
  • Castling cannot take place if the destination square of the King, upon castle, is under the attack of opponent’s piece.
  • If there are any pieces in between the King and the Rook, castling cannot be done. However, if those pieces are removed, you are free to do castling.

Now comes the vital point. Is castling compulsory or only optional? Why should one castle in the first instance?

Castling is a means of protecting your King. You might be aware that the primary objective in a game of chess is to checkmate the King of the opponent. The greatest mobility in the game takes place at the centre of the board, while the mobility is somewhat less in comparison to the centre. Since the King is at one of the central files, he is likely to find himself in the crossfire of the enemy pieces. By castling, the King is moved to any one of the sides and is adequately protected. Another important reason for castling is that the move opens up the Rook and brings it to the centre.

It is advisable that Castling is done at the earliest possible period, preferably as part of the opening moves, to have better control over the game, while at the same time, providing safety and security to the King from enemy attacks.