The queen is obviously the most powerful piece in chess. Measured in pawns most players learn that it’s worth 9 points (bishop and knights are worth 3 points, and rooks 5 points), but as we’ll see later this is a far too dogmatic approach. Each piece fluctuates in value throughout the game and in different kind of positions, and even a pawn isn’t “just a pawn”. Writing these “obvious” or “basic” lessons is actually with this in mind; to hopefully create a solid foundation for understanding how chess is a game about square control, and not about material or points. It isn’t the pieces that matter, but the squares they cover. You’ve maybe heard this mantra before, but hopefully I’ll manage to illustrate why this is the case throughout my lessons. Far too many players get a bad start and develop materialistic habits, which have shown to be very hard for almost all, but the most talented players, to “unlearn”. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done these mistakes all the time myself. Just counting up material in order to evaluate a position is an easy and lazy habit to fall into. So I’m in no way trying to bad mouth anyone; mainly I’m just trying to improve my own teaching, and own understanding, of the game. Well, that was a long digression, and maybe I’ll move it to the introduction post later… On to the queen!
In diagram 1 we can see how much influence a centralized queen has, by combining the rook’s and bishop’s movement it controls 27 of 64 squares, given that no pieces obstruct its "view". That’s about 42% of the board. Recognize that a piece doesn’t control the square it stands on, with the exception of potentially blocking a pawn; it’s merely its home at the moment.
Compared to the centralized queen, a queen in the corner (diagram 2) is restricted by the edges of the board, and “only” controls 21 squares (about 33% of the board). Unobstucted the queen can reach any square of the board in two moves (via several routes), no matter where it's placed.
Also note the triangular shapes of the squares the queen doesn’t control in both examples. In example 1; three squares on its short sides, and six squares on its long sides. In example 2; both triangles are equally large, 6x6x6 squares and containing 21 squares each. As a small exercise move the queen a bit around the board and visualize the squares it does control (and doesn’t control). For instance no matter where you place it, it is not going to be able to control more than three of the four central squares. Even better if you try to do this exercise blindfolded or with an empty board in front of you. Another great visualization exercise is to name two squares, and all squares a queen can move via, to get there. For instance "b6, g4: e6, g6, d4, b4, g1". Stuff like this might seem irrelevant at the moment, but being aware of patterns like these is going to help your visualization skills, which we are going to work on in later lessons.
Be aware that the queen is a bit of a glass cannon, as it can be chased around by less valuable pieces. It rarely wants to get exchanged for other pieces (unless it leads to a forced win), so it can be quite fragile in the center of the board when a lot of pieces struggle for control. Not to the same degree as the king, of course, but still important to notice. The queen usually shines at it brightest in the late middle game and early endgame, when it is able to tyrannize the board from the center uncontested.
Our next observation is that a queen next to the enemy king covers all but two of the kings escape squares. This is not only important for the endgame, but also later regarding for example mating patterns (imagine having a bishop or knight covering those squares). Also notice that in the first example a king against the edge of the board would be mated in the same kind of scenario, and in the second example the king would be mated if it was in a corner. This is a further example of the king being restricted by the edges of the board, as discussed in the previous post.
Basic mate with king and queen
Mating with a king and a queen is a quite simple procedure, but very common. It happens all the time when one side promotes the last pawn left on the board. The queen is able to force the enemy king to the edge of the board all alone, by moving your queen a knight move away from the opponents king as illustrated below (diagram 5). Then you can follow up by marching your king over to support the final blow. Just be careful to not stalemate the black king in the corner, or by taking away escape squares with you own king when the black king is along an edge!
It is also possible to use a method similar to the one we are going to cover with a rook and a king, or a combination of both. To practice the technique, try to play the position against a computer here. Below are the three most common stalemate situations you really need to avoid (almost all new players will fall for these “traps” a few times, before learning from bitter experience). In the first example (diagram 6) the king just need to cover f7, so having the king on f6, g6, g7 or g8 is stalemate as well. In the second example (diagram 7) it’s stalemate with the king on g7 or g8, and in the third example (diagram 8) it’s stalemate no matter where the white king is!
That’s all for now, but next time we’ll have a look at the basic properties of the rook.
Back to the introduction.