Before the Basics

Jun 26, 2008, 12:00 AM |
6 | For Beginners

I just ran a keyword search for the beginner's section for "territory" and "space", and I did not find a single result. This concerns me. "What is 'territory' or 'space'?" one might ask, and that is why I am concerned.


There are many useful articles in this section, focusing on basic ideas, basic principles, or common strategy or tactics. But, this is not the beginning to understanding the fundamental ideas of what is going on in a game. So in this article I will attempt to clarify a few fundamental fundamental ideas :)

In chess the ultimate goal is to checkmate your opponent's King, and the method you have of doing so is moving your pieces one at a time. This is in fact obvious, but is a necessary premise. So moving pieces is the most important part of the game. The more pieces you can move, and the more places you can move them, the more chances and opportunities you will have to checkmate an opponent's King. If you can capture pieces, you will reduce their ability to move as many places, and if they get yours, your own options are removed. This makes not losing pieces important.

The pieces that can move the most (Queens and Rooks) are the most valuable. Then come Bishops and Knights, and finally pawns. Pawns are not only slow, but they are the one kind of piece that cannot back up. However, pawns have the potentiall to become Queens, so you cannot just get rid of all of them. However, when the game begins, all of you pieces are stuck behind pawns. Each side begins controling 12 spaces on the board (in front of the pawns, and 2 squares for each Knight). Your goal is to make as many of the squares on the board your own. If you can move along a certain line, that means if they move a piece onto it, you can capture it. Being able to move far also means you can control all of those squares.

That is why the main goal in the beginning is to open up as much squares as you can. The most common opening move, for example is 1.e4. This frees a queen and a Bishop at once, giving White control of 22 squares. This has almost doubled the amount of the board you control. If White had deciided to move 1.a3, he would control a grand total of 14. Already this is not as efficient as 1.e4.


After you have moves he pawn to e4, it is undefended. If you have a piece controling vital space, but the piece can be taken, it is not very useful. So even though it is just a pawn, it is a pawn the has claimed half of the 4 centermost squares. letting it get taken gives the center to the opponent. Why is the center even important though? Pieces in the center control more space! A knight posted in the center controls up to eight squares, four of which are on the opponents side. A Bishop in the center can control seven or eight squares in the opponents territory. A queen in the center can control up to 17 squares in the opponent's territory.

In comparision, a knight on the side only controls 2 squares in the opponent's territory. A Bishop on the side only controls 4, and a Queen on the side ony controls 14. In each case they control less than they could be. As an added bonus, if you get early control of the center, you can attack their uncastled King quite easily, and make it hard for them to defend it well. control of the center is very important, and its value can be seen just by looking at it in terms of space in opponent's territory.

So creating a solid pawn skeleton defends useful center squares for your own use, as well protecting your territory. Once they are safe, you control as much as you can with Knight's and Bishops. Once you have a good control, you can move out your heavy hitters like the Queen and Rooks. 

I hope that this has been interesting, and has either clarified some things, or even inspired some new ideas. If you are attempting to understand why something is important, or if you are trying to remember it, try to tie it to these pre-basics. If you can figure out how it fundamentally makes sense, it should be easier to remember :)