How To Learn Chess Patterns
Chess patterns are crucial to winning.

How To Learn Chess Patterns

IM Silman
Feb 16, 2018, 12:00 AM |
77 | Other

The member Kurniadigautama said:

“I am currently trying to improve my understanding of positional play. The engine told Black to castle kingside while White is threatening to double take on c6. If White does take after Black castles, how would you know that White is in trouble? Of course, I looked at some of the lines where White will be in trouble after taking. But all the lines are too long to calculate. Is there a simpler way to evaluate the position and tell that White is in trouble or are we forced to learn to calculate like 10-15 moves ahead of every line possible?”

JS: Here is the position she was asking about:

I will look at this position later in the article, but for now let me set the stage with something that might blow your mind: In this position and in many others, you don’t need to calculate at all. Zero. Nada.

brain thinking

I’ve written a lot about patterns, with some saying that it’s rubbish (it’s amazing how many people don’t want to learn), and others feeling mystified (I understand your confusion!), and others excited by the idea but don’t really know how to go about it (I also understand your confusion!).

In this article, I’m going to show you how to start your adventure down the road of patterns.

The one thing you have to accept is that real chess improvement is dependent on repetition. LOTS and LOTS of repetition. Seeing a pattern once won’t help you. But seeing examples of a particular pattern dozens and dozens of times (even hundreds of times) eventually makes it a part of you. Once you absorb the pattern you will, of course, use it quite often, you will have a good idea where both sides' pieces should be placed, and you’ll understand how to deal with it if an opponent is using that pattern. Even better, you will often be able to see all these things at a glance.

That’s right, you’ll find that understanding the position and knowing what to do will often need very little or no calculation.

Clearly, all this takes work and dedication. If you have no desire to study chess, and you’re happy playing blitz and having a great time, then who cares about patterns and study! But if you really want to be as good as you can be, mastering patterns is essential.

Let’s take another look at Kurniadigautama’s position:

The pattern in the diagram is weak light-squares. This pattern (weak squares) is common, so mastering it is very important. In fact, this whole article is going to be about weak squares, and after you go through the positions I’ll offer, you should look at a lot more weak square situations (in books and in databases).

A Basic Situation

White sees that Black’s kingside is full of holes. This allows White’s pieces to make use of those squares. Thus:

Okay, let’s look at some puzzles that deal with weak holes.

Please read the hidden prose in the puzzles. After you go through the moves, press the “?” and all the prose, often full of wonder (I hope), will appear


Don’t Wish Your Opponent’s Squares Were Weak, MAKE THEM WEAK!


More Dark-Square Holes

Black has seven pawns to White’s five. Also, Black has two minor pieces and two rooks vs. White’s three minor pieces and just one rook. However, the weakness of Black’s kingside squares and the fact that White can aim all his pieces at Black’s king takes precedence over Black’s material advantage.


Black’s Weak Dark Squares Lead to Doom

[Another solution is 1 move faster, but White decided to go with beauty instead]


Positional Chess Creates a Weak Hole


Another Positional Smack Down

This is what I did when I was a kid. I would go over this kind of pattern endlessly until I felt that I had mastered it. Then I would do the same thing with another pattern, and another. Try it, and you’ll suddenly find that you are much stronger than you ever were before.

Kurniadigautama’s Position

Finally we come to the position that Kurniadigautama asked about. For a person that has studied weak squares, it would be kid-stuff to castle and beg that White takes on c6 since the weak light-squares are clearly an accident waiting to happen. No analysis, no thinking about it, just castle and let the party begin!

Furthermore, White is behind in development and after Bxc6 the h1, g2, and f3 squares aren’t the only weaknesses; the d3-square will also be a near-fatal problem. To put it simply, anyone conversant with weak squares would take one look and view 2.Bxc6 as an act of suicide.

Here’s a possible sequence:

White Takes The Bait
White Doesn’t Take The Bait

Fischer’s Weak Square Agony

Got a weak light-square? What if the person with the light-square is Fischer? Here’s a game of Fischer’s (in his prime!) that showed his love of material. However, his greed led to a lot of pain for Bobby since domination of an important square, more often than you might think, is better than material.

It looks like Fischer is toast, but it turns out that there is quite a bit of fight left in White.

A Masterpiece

Our final example of weak squares is a famous game of Fischer’s. One might say, “Well, I’ve seen this game many times.” But did you realize that most of the damage was made possible by White’s weak kingside light-squares?

Here’s what Robert Byrne had to say in My 60 Memorable Games:

“And as I sat pondering why Fischer would choose such a line, because it was so obviously lost for Black, there suddenly came 18…Nxg2. This dazzling move came as the shocker…The culminating combination is of such depth that, even at the very moment at which I resigned, both grandmasters who were commenting on the play for the spectators in a separate room believed that I had a won game!”

Black leaves himself with an isolated d-pawn. Why would he do that? Because the opening of files and diagonals turn Black’s pieces into dynamic monsters. Take a look at this:

BEFORE …e5: Black’s dark-squared bishop hits granite on d4. Black’s e8-rook is doing nothing. Black’s c6-knight is also lounging about as if it’s on vacation.

AFTER …e5: Black’s g7-bishop dominates the whole a1-h8 diagonal. Black’s e8-rook will enjoy a half-open file. And Black’s c6-knight will, after White takes on e5, recapture the pawn on e5 when the knight suddenly is looking at the f3-square, the g4-square, and most importantly, the d3-square.

Here’s the rest of this amazing game:

Let me explain how to learn a pattern one more time: You see a certain pawn structure that you like, you see a tactical pattern that thrills you, you see how to beat down weak squares, you fall in love with the idea of blocking an enemy passed pawn with a knight. All these things and many more can be mastered by simply finding examples of one of them, study that pattern over and over (look for dozens of examples or more), and once you understand its nuances you should step to another pattern and master that too.

Thanks to Kurniadigautama for showing me that interesting position and also asking your questions. Hopefully this article answered your queries and also helped other readers who had trouble understanding patterns and how to study them.
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