Back Rank, Forward!

Back Rank, Forward!

| 5 | For Beginners

So you've just begun to play chess. You're starting to get the basic idea; however, you're noticing that many things are happening that you just don't see coming. You might get seemingly randomly checkmated by a long-range operator like the Bishop when you least expect it. Perhaps you find yourself wondering how your opponent can put so much pressure on your King when you are nowhere near your first check of the game yet. How is that these players know how to advance upon you so quickly? What's more, how is it that you lose so many pieces unexpectedly when you don't have the ability to even attack yet? Isn't defense the way to go in chess? Many people seem to believe that. In fact, many people teach others to play this way. However, there are many much better strategies. These strategies are quite easy to learn and understand if you'll take the time. If you're willing to do this, then read on. 

Many beginners believe that they must protect the back rank pieces as much as possible. The truth of the matter is, the back rank pieces are your main fighters. Forget about your Pawns. Get them out of the way and develop your back rank pieces as much as possible! Take a look at this position in Diagram A:

Who is winning? The clear answer here is White. White's pieces are throuroughly developed, while Black's pieces are still on the back rank. Even though it's Black's turn, there's not much Black can do to save himself in this case.

In a game of chess, the "winner" cannot always be determined mid-game; however, if the position in Diagram A were to continue like this, White would undoubtedly win. Why?

Well, as you know, Pawns are very straight-forward operators. They can only move forward, and can only attack diagonally (with the exception of en passant). The back rank pieces, on the other hand, each have their own special ability. These abilities can't be utilized unless the pieces are in employment. Thus, the idea is to rush your back rank pieces out from behind the protection of Pawns. 

So what to do? How can you get in the habit of moving the back rank pieces out as soon as possible? Well, there are general rules that govern this. These rules aren't always concrete; that is, they always depend on the situation. However, against the average player, these moves will put you ahead early in the game:

  1. Knights before Bishops - This rule is the basic principle of many openings, including my favourite opening, the Sicilian Defense. Though this doesn't always hold true, it's a good rule to follow generally.
  2. Don't move your Queen out too early - Many people seem to believe that because your Queen is your most powerful piece, you should get it out as soon as possible. This is a critical mistake. Try to save your Queen for the endgame; it may prove the difference between checkmating or being checkmated.
  3. Castle early - Again, as with any rule, this is not always the best desicion. However, castling to the kingside can protect your King from everything except Knights, and those Knights would have to put themselves in danger in order to attack. Keeping your King safe in the early game will help you focus on your other pieces without worry, and when you make the King active in the endgame, it'll be in an ideal position in your favour.
  4. Connect your Rooks - A key and basic rule in the early game is to "connect your Rooks," meaning make a clear way between your two Rooks on the first rank. Part of this involves castling your King away, the other part involves developing all of your pieces as soon as possible. With your Rooks connected, not only is your King completely safe, but you have total control of the centre of the board, which is critical in any game of chess.

With these key concepts in the back of your mind, you'll find that your game will improve dramatically. Give it a try. You'll find yourself lasting a lot longer in games, and what's more, having many more checkmate opportunities.

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