The Very First Thing You Need To Know
The very first thing you should realize about the game of chess is that the goal, (i.e., getting set up to jump on the king with as much grouped force as possible), is really almost incidental to successfully emerging victorious.
As you already know, chess is a game of strategy. And, since you cannot achieve checkmate with your first move, it follows reasonably enough that, if you control useful areas of the board, victory will be assured.
So, learn this, know this, live this: Chess is not about overwhelming forces! Chess is about controlling the application of force, both that of your opponents’ as well as your own.
Here’s a handy example: Assume you have just moved your Bishop to cover a diagonal in the middle of the board that stretches from one of your Rooks on one end to one of their Rooks on the other. Not only has that one move given you control of all eight of the squares between the two Rooks, it actually prevents your opponent from making that same move, as, if he did, he would end up loosing both a Bishop and a Rook.
He may only want to control one square. He may only need to control one square. But, with that one move, you have not only increased your area of control, you have also lessened the number of your opponent’s available choices.
So always think of each and every potential move in terms like this: will this move give me more critical areas on the board? Increase the number of squares this piece will be able to control? Not open up a more valuable piece to attack?
These three questions alone will insure an error-free game, but that is not Victory! That only comes from the controlled application of force! Let’s look at some of those applications now.
Your opening move
Any game of chess can be divided into roughly three parts; opening game, (where you first deploy your forces), mid-game, (where any questions of who controls what are decided), and end game, (where you prevail).
So, Rule #1: All of your opening game deployments should focus on the four squares in the center of the board!
And here’s why: not only are those squares on the columns that contain the king and queen, they are also on the diagonal leading to both Rooks, so, if your opponent “castles”, (moves two squares towards his Rook, and then places the Rook on the square between where he was and where he is), then you will already be controlling some, if not all, of the longest diagonal going into that area!
Which brings us to Rule #2: Unless it gives you a clear and present advantage, (which is rare), never move the same piece twice in a row!
Here’s why: a Knight comes off the back row. Unless you move it to the pawns’ row, it is already controlling as many squares as it can at one time, which is eight. In keeping with rule #1, that first move of each piece should put it where it can most thoroughly control the center squares.
Rule #3: Never block your “back row” pieces in with your own pawns! An example of this would be either of your Bishops’ pawns. If you move either pawn only one square, it delays how soon that Bishop can be deployed, since you would have to move two pawns rather than one, before that diagonal opens up.
Rule #4: Avoid “doubling up” your pawns on any one column! Obviously, the pawn that didn’t just kill a piece would be stuck, which also jams up its’ row, both diagonals it’s on… it is really just a very bad idea.
Rule #5: Maintain balance between the deployment of your “King’s side” pieces and your “Queen’s side” pieces! No, this does not mean you have to move your King’s side Knight if you just moved the other one. What it does mean is this: almost every opening game involves pawns, Knights, and Bishops, and that’s all.
Bishops and Knights reinforce each other, but they can’t do that if they are blocked in by a pawn that hasn’t moved yet! So, if you move a pawn on one side, which creates an opening for one of your back pieces, you should think of your next move in terms of creating another opening.
Some critical areas
The single most critical spot on the board is occupied at the start of the game by the pawn in front of the King’s Bishop. In fact, the fastest way to put an opponent in checkmate is by putting your Queen in that spot, after moving a Bishop into place to protect her, which is referred to derogatorily as a “fool’s mate”.
Most opening games last anywhere from four to eight exchanges, and it is rarely a good idea to bring your Queen out earlier. The only other spot an opponent may try to exploit with an early Queen is that of the King’s Knight’s pawn. Used properly, an “early Queen’s attack” can be devastating! However, you should bear in mind that any early use of the Queen exposes her to risk, and those two squares really are the only places she might do any good.
However, should you be faced with an early Queen’s, if you try moving pieces to positions of direct attack against a Queen, your pieces will be decimated. But, if you block the route the Queen came in through, you get to take out your opponent’s most powerful piece at your leisure. Think of this as “The Containment Principle”.
A final word
As I mentioned at the opening of this article, the mid-game is where any questions of who controls what are decided. But, how the games are decided is determined by the opening game each player commits to, which will determine what options are even available to the player to use!
So I will leave you with a word regarding game pace. At some point, probably between the fourth and the eighth exchanges, you will be asked to make a decision regarding what pieces you are willing to sacrifice, (and in what order), in your quest to establish control of as much of the board as you can. You already know the absolute value of each piece, (a Queen is more valuable than a Rook, which is more valuable than a Bishop or Knight, which is more valuable than a pawn…). Here are a few “relative values” to help guide you into and through your mid-game.
First; Rooks. A Rook is an extremely powerful piece to have during the end game. However, during opening game it is virtually useless. Likewise, a lot of people are under the impression that the Bishop and Knight are of equal value. They are not.
Pacing is what determines that a Knight is much more useful during the opening and mid game, but the Bishop is much more powerful during the end game. Something else you may wish to keep in mind regarding the relationship between Bishops and Knight is this: either Knight can potentially cover two of the four center squares; likewise, either Bishop can cover two of the four as well.
And it is much worse to lose both Knights or both Bishops than it is to lose one of each.
You will want to keep this firmly in mind as, no matter what opening you or your opponent choose, the odds are very high that the middle game will begin on one of those four middle squares.
And if you control all four of those squares, how could you loose?