Tag Archives: planning in chess

Chess Tactics: Method Approach to Calculating Combinations

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From the mails received from many beginners, it appears that they are often at a loss in finding the best sequence of moves they should follow in response to a move by the opponent. In effect, they are asking how to make the calculations for a combination (a sequence of moves to achieve a specific purpose like mating the king, winning some material, gaining space etc.).

In the opening phase, they need to understand the strategic ideas and tactical possibilities for the opening or defense they adopt. With regular practice, these can become fairly automatic response, so we presume that the problem is not for this phase of the game.

But after entering the middle game where each has to chart his own path, the aforesaid problem can surely be significant. So how does one proceed?

You must be very clear about the ideas you have been following till you reached such a stage. Whatever move supports or enhances those ideas are good, whatever takes away or counters those ideas are bad – unless the board situation makes it necessary to abandon the earlier plans and formulate new ones.

One thing is certain – you know what you have in your mind! Problem is to guess what your opponent is thinking. But you get clues from the moves that he is making and do not reject any move by opponent as silly or a mistake unless you become sure of it by observing the disposition of his pieces.

This brings us to the essence of analysis – the moves that have been played (you can see those) and moves that are going to be played (you guess those) because those will have some link to the moves played not only by the opponent but by you also. So think about the purposes behind any move and whether those are offensive, defensive or a mixture of both.

Defensive moves should be relatively easy to identify as those will try to counter threats you have posed by your moves or threats that your opponent reasonably expects you to create. When planning your attack, you may have expected these responses and decided on your counter-action. But if the response is unexpected, try to see if there is a hidden agenda of a counter-attack or creation of a new defensive resource (like a stalemate possibility) and prepare your next moves accordingly.

Offensive moves like a direct attack can be seen easily but those hidden behind some combination may often appear innocent. So, all moves other than obviously defensive ones should be analyzed for their inherent ideas.

Why did your opponent make a particular move? It may be for:

  • attacking your piece or pawn (if that is undefended, you can take defensive action but be suspicious if opponent aims at a defended piece, particularly using a piece of higher value as this may be a precursor to a sacrifice or more forces may be on the way)
  • getting a piece to a better position (may be strategic but be sure that it does not pose any immediate offensive possibility)
  • opening the line for another piece (examine if that creates attacking chances)
  • vacating a square for another piece or pawn (see which piece or pawn can occupy that vacated square and what they can achieve)
  • control of some other square (look for the piece or pawn which can occupy that square and their possible aims)
  • providing support to a piece or pawn that is not under your attack (find why he expects some action around that piece)
  • creating a decoy to lure some critical defender away (note which of your defender is targeted and then see which of your pieces or squares will suffer if that defender moves – gives you idea of where the attack may come)
  • driving your pieces away when capture is not possible (see how it can help your opponent if your piece is shifted)
  • starting a long-range pin or skewer (be aware of this whenever you see any opponent piece taking up a line to your King, or a piece of lower value is positioned in the same row, file or diagonal to your piece of higher value. Even though there may be other pieces or pawns interposing at that point of time, examine the possibility of those getting removed in some way to activate the pin.)
  • initiating the process towards discovered or double checks (these are always dangerous and forcing in nature, the presence of a piece capable of delivering check and in line with your King should alert you about such chances)
  • offering a sacrifice (be careful of the possible consequences of accepting the offer unless it is forcing, particularly in the light of possibilities listed above)

Though we have written above assuming you to be the defender, you may keep the same points in mind to plan your own attacking methods and to decide which of these will be most appropriate in a particular situation.

If you have identified some weakness in your opponent’s position and the possibility of gaining an expected advantage, you may even calculate backwards. Visualize the situation you want to achieve with your and opponent’s pieces in required positions. Then work backward on how the pieces concerned can reach those specific positions from their current locations and you have got your desired combination!

It may look simplistic and I do not claim that it is always possible, but if you can discipline yourself to think in those lines and practice such actions, these thought processes will become your second nature over a time.

A simple but concrete example may make the process clearer to you. Take a look at the following position with White to move.

planning a mating attack

You can see that Black has a material advantage of two rooks and a bishop (of course engineered by White to get his attack going)! Black Queen and Bishop, though sitting in White’s base rank, cannot deliver any viable check and has practically been sidelined. Black’s QN is uselessly posted at the wrong edge of the board and his other pieces are still at their home positions! Black’s King is exposed in the center while White’s Knights and Bishop are dangerously close to Black King with the White Queen ready to come up along the semi-open f-file.

Once you have assessed the position and discounted any viable threat by Black, what moves by White can you think of? A closer look at the Black King shows that of the three squares (d8, f8 and e7) accessible to the King, only d8 is viable as f8 is denied by White Bishop and e7 by both Knights and the Bishop as well. Even if the King moves to d8, it cannot go further via c7 as that square is controlled by the Knight at d5.

If you can deliver a check now (Nf can do that from g7 with impunity), King has to move to d8 and check by Bishop at e7 with support from the other Knight would create checkmate – provided Black’s KN could be forced to relinquish its hold on e7. You also realize that once the King moved to d8, White Queen can move up (remember that the Knight has moved to g7) to f6 for a checkmate unless Black’s KN intervenes. But this Knight cannot guard e7 if it captures at f6!

So the sequence of moves becomes clear –

1. Nxg7+     Kd8
2. Qf6+        Nxf6
3. Be7#

If it interests you, this game was played between Anderssen (the best player around that time) and Kieseritzky at London in 1851 and the game has earned the title of “The Immortal Game” because of the way White conducted his attack. I am sure any online chess repository will have this game and you can play through the full game – but try to analyze and predict the moves by White (the game lasted 23 moves).


Chess tactics: vision to combination

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All chess masters have the important ability to visualize a board position after certain moves. Actually, even as a beginner, you are doing the same when you are working out a combination but may not be to a significant depth. Some people seem to have an instinct for it and even if you are not so blessed, you can still improve on this quality with practice, In fact, for great players, even the reverse holds true meaning that they can visualize a winning possibility and then work backward to find the moves that will lead to that visualized position!

Here is a position from a game between two Grandmasters. You would think that with a balance in pieces and pawns, the position looks equal. Though white pieces are more aggressively poised, Black pieces have the mobility to come to the King’s defense. But White visualized a passed pawn that could change the balance in his favor and lead to a win! Can you see that passed pawn?

vision in chess

White saw the possibility of the pawn at f5 to become a passed pawn if the Black pawn at f6 were removed for which it was necessary to remove its support pawn at g7. This is how he proceeded to realize his goal.

1. Rxg7 Rxg7 The support pawn is gone
2. Nxf6 Qe7 The Knight created a fork while removing the “blockader”
3. Nxe8 Qxe8 Only two pawns for a Knight, but White gets his passed pawn and Black’s Knight is pinned
4. Qf4 Re7 The White Queen takes up position to put pressure on e5 and also to occupy f6 if needed
5. f6 Ng6 Now the passed pawn is on March, showing its power! If 5. … Re6 6. Rxe5 Rxe5 7. f7 and Black needs to answer 8. Qf6# or 8. fxe8=Q+ or 8. Qxe5+ Qxe5 9. f8=Q#
6. Rxe7 Nxe7
7. f7 Resigns because of 7. … Qf8 8. Qf6#


Chess Strategy and Chess Tactics in a nutshell: A beginner’s game plan – Part 2

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You learned about chess strategy and chess tactics during the opening phase in Beginner’ chess game plan Part 1. Now we continue with such ideas for middle and end games.

Middle Game : where you win or lose (or settle for a draw)

You have completed your preparations in the opening phase and now you are ready to take the battle to the opponent. In this phase, though the undercurrent of strategy still flows, you depend on your combinatory skills or chess tactics to get the upper hand. Unless you are going for simplification by exchanging pawns and pieces, the positions are often fairly complex. But you will not get deterred by the complexities if you try to take a holistic view of the situation. To best manage the position, you can use the favorite jargon of managers viz. SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. In particular, try to see the positional imbalances Which will guide you to use the best course of action.

Such imbalances come from situations like:

  • pawn majority on one side
  • weaknesses in pawn structures like pawn islands, isolated pawns, doubled pawns
  • strong passed pawns
  • pawn structure allowing a Bishop free movement (strong Bishop) or blocking it (weak bishop)
  • pawns in locked positions (make Knights play better than Bishops)
  • relative values of Knights and Bishops (from above considerations)
  • Bishops against Knights (single or pair or combination)
  • open or semi-open ranks, files and diagonals and who has control on these
  • inequalities in pawns and pieces
  • position of the Kings (castled vs. uncastled, castled on opposite sides)
  • mobility of pieces

You will use tactics and combinations to:

  • build up on your advantages to gain more space and control

  • utilize opportunities for attacking/capturing pawns/pieces or gain in exchange

  • attack opponent King’s position
  • examine the possibility of successful sacrifice or exchange sacrifice to demolish opponent’s resistance
  • identify weaknesses in opponent’s positions (like overloaded piece, most important defensive piece, positional holes, pinned pieces etc.) and selectively target them
  • utilize these tactics to obtain checkmate or material gains that will help in the endgame
  • snatch a draw by repetition of moves if in a defensive situation

End Game : the last resort to win or lose (or settle for a draw)

As told earlier, this phase may not come if a result has been possible during the middle game itself. But if that has not happened, you will most likely be looking at a board from which majority of the pieces and pawns have been removed and for the first time, the King may have some say!

Here, both strategy and tactics go hand in hand. If you think you have what it needs, your main aim is delivering a checkmate. But if your opponent has the upper hand, your aim will be to salvage a draw. Accordingly, your intermediate targets may be:

  • making enough gains in terms of pieces/pawns to force opponent to surrender
  • achieving the above through pawn promotion if direct material gain is not possible
  • snatching a draw by stalemate/perpetual check if in a defensive situation

The tactics you can seek to employ in all phases (but especially in middle game) to achieve your aims:

  • pawn storming
  • achieving pawn majority, particularly on the more active side
  • creating a protected passed pawn
  • creating a blockade
  • creating overload on an important defensive piece
  • identifying and eliminating key defensive piece
  • creating your force majority on a target square or reducing opponent’s forces defending the square
  • use of pins
  • use of skewers
  • use of fork
  • creating and maintaining tension
  • check
  • double check (by employing discovered move)
  • double attack (by employing discovered move)
  • simple sacrifice (of a pawn or piece) to gain tempo or attack
  • exchange sacrifice (giving away more material than received in exchange) with same idea
  • simplification through a series of exchanges to enhance some advantage you may be holding or to blunt an opponent’s attack or to make a complex position more clear
  • traps (not for trap’s sake which often misfires, but only if it fits into your strategy)
  • gaining opposition
  • creating zugzwang (‘compulsion to move’) where the opponent’s best option would be ‘not to move’ if it were possible, as any move that is made becomes self-defeating

Chess Strategy and Chess Tactics in a nutshell: A beginner’s game plan – Part 1

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Like in any other game, chess also offers some ‘tricks of the trade’. The beginners in chess often keep looking for tips in a capsule to help them win against more experienced players. But they are likely to find that even after learning such ‘tips and tricks’, they are unable to progress beyond a certain level.

The reason for such frustration is mainly because of their inability to apply their information effectively during a chess game. They forget that a chess game is comprised of certain stages which cannot be tackled in isolation. Those stages are part of a whole process from start to finish and each of these stages need to be handled in the right way for interlacing smoothly with one another.

In life, people choose their right ways in terms of their resources for reaching their destination. In chess, every player has only one target – to deliver checkmate to the opponent’s King. Problem is that the number of ways to the target are too numerous, even though each way has certain milestones. If you can keep in view the milestones on the chosen path that will take you to your destination, you are less likely to wander around and lose your way!

But you also know that your opponent will try to prevent you from getting to your targets while achieving his own. If you know the milestones on the alternative tracks available to you, it will be easier to bypass your opponent’s efforts and wrong steps on his part may open new paths for you.

So what do you need to do? You know that a chess game can be broadly divided into three phases: the opening phase, the middle game and finally the endings or the end game. But all these three phases may not occur in all games. Sometimes you may be able to reach your target in the middle game or even in the first phase itself if your opponent plays indifferently.

We are giving here the tracks to choose from while passing through the different phases of your game.

Opening Phase : targets to achieve

  • controlling center (d4, d5, e4, e5 squares) with pawns advanced to form an wedge into enemy territory
  • pawns not blocking the movement of your Bishops
  • occupying strategic positions for your pieces (e.g., a Knight on the 5th or 6th rank)
  • development of minor pieces and facilitating free movement of heavy pieces
  • more space, normally gained through well-supported advanced pawns
  • opening files and diagonals and occupying those with Rooks and Bishops
  • achieving and maintaining tempo in development
  • safe-guarding your King by castling (or otherwise – early exchange of heavy pieces, particularly Queens, may remove the need for castling)

Achieving all your targets is rarely possible unless your opponent was somnolent! Normally, you gain in some areas while surrendering others. You should be aware of the likely end results for the kind of opening you choose – each has some thematic issues – and aim to reach its targets.

You try to utilize these gains to launch your attack (you cannot win without it, can you?) in the next phase while taking defensive measures on the weaknesses you have conceded.

For chess strategy and chess tactics during middle and end games, proceed to Beginners’ chess game plan Part 2.