Learning Chess Patterns Is Easy

Learning Chess Patterns Is Easy

| 67 | Other

I recently noticed an article that tried to clarify what a pattern is. I found it quite agonizing since the writer didn’t understand patterns but was trying hard to isolate exactly what it was (a noble try but quite futile). Unfortunately, he was taking something that wasn’t complicated and making it into something mysterious (or hard, or profound, or even something that doesn’t really exist).

None of these things are true. It really is as easy as easy can be.

A pattern can be a basic tactic, or a piece or pawn setup that occurs quite often. It’s that simple. The idea of learning patterns is that instead of looking at a certain pawn structure and asking yourself, “What in the world am I supposed to do here,” a mere glance will tell you what the usual ideas and plans are.

In other words, patterns stop you from reinventing the wheel every time you sit at a chessboard.


Smothered mate and back-rank mate:

A typical version of the smothered mate is shown here:

This pattern is important because it occurs quite often. 

Back-rank mate is another tactical pattern, and it really is seen all the time!
Let’s see a more complex version of back-rank mate:
Okay, that’s beginner stuff. But the beauty of knowing these very basic patterns allows you to make use of them even if things are chaotic and very complicated.
White’s in trouble since his rook is hanging, ...Nc3+ is a huge threat, and other tactics against White’s king are also looming (a well-timed ...c4-c3 for example). However, because he is well-acquainted with back-rank mate and smothered mate, he is able to find a way out.
You would not be able to find White’s salvation if you were not acquainted with both patterns.

There are also many attacking patterns. One very important pattern is the “pawn on g6 so the queen can mate by Qh7 setup.”
Clearly, having a pawn on g6 if the opponent has castled kingside is often the nail in the enemy king’s coffin. It’s a powerful pattern that you will use all through your chess-playing days. And it will allow you to play some very nice tactics based on that mating pattern.
Of course, if you just learned how to play chess and you never saw the pawn on g6 and queen on h7 mating pattern, you might not be able to solve our last position.

Okay, so far we have glances at basic tactical patterns and attacking patterns. As you saw, those could be extremely simple or quite complex. The point is that if you don’t know the pattern in its simplest form, you’ll be unable to understand more interesting and exciting things.

And this brings up the most important thing about patterns: you can’t learn them without seeing them in every form over and over again. Like basketball (or any other sport), where you have to practice a particular shot over and over, or a language, which also needs constant repetition, you need to see as many patterns as you can as many times as you can.
Once, five times, or even 50 times might not be enough for you to make that pattern part of your chess psyche. In other words, once the see a pattern, seek other examples of that same pattern again and again until you know it as well as you do your name.

Now let’s look at another pattern, this time based on pawn structure. Most experienced amateurs have a good grasp of basic tactical and attacking patterns, but pawn structure, which is overwhelmingly important, doesn’t seem to be on their “menu.”
Why is pawn structure so important? Because the pawns usually tell you where your pieces should be, where your opponent’s pieces should be, and the plans which that particular structure is crying out for you to employ.

Here’s a well-known pawn formation. Of course, this structure is usually filled with pieces from both sides. This pawn structure is a pattern. And those that have studied it know all the various pawn and piece configurations that this starting-off point offers.
This in turn also enables the player to know all the correct plans at a glance.
Take a moment and imagine where both sides' pieces should be based on the pawn structure.

For me, when I see this (or a very similar) structure I instantly know the following setups and plans: White has more central space, but the battle will usually have White trying to break through on the kingside (usually with f2-f4-f5) while Black, who has hungry eyes staring at White’s weak pawn on c4, will seek play in that sector. In some cases White might try and crack the center (with a well-timed e4-e5) and get his two bishops into the game (White has the two bishops since it’s clear that the doubled c-pawn occurred after Black played ...Bf8-b4xc3).

Black knows that his b8-knight will not go to d7 since it has nothing to do with the c4 weakness. Instead that knight will migrate (via ...Nb8-c6-a5) to a5 where it puts pressure on c4. Also, Black’s bishop will end up on a6 and, in some cases, Black’s queen might even get to a4—all those pieces are taking aim at c4. 

Another move, which many might view as an oddity, is Black moving his knight on f6 to e8. Why would Black do that? The reason is that it frees the f7-pawn and when White is ready to push his f-pawn to f5 Black stops it in its tracks with ...f7-f5.
There is actually a good deal more to discuss about that position, but I hope this was enough for you to understand why patterns are so incredibly important if you wish to become a good player.
Here’s a classic game that illustrates this pattern:
Naturally, the more tactical, attacking, defensive, and pawn-structure patterns you master, the better you’ll be. And, some good news: All of the players (except beginners) on know some patterns, even if they don’t know that they know! (wrap your mind around that!).

Once again, the key to mastering patterns is repetition! Isolate a pattern for study, then look for dozens and dozens (or in many cases, hundreds and hundreds) of examples of that pattern and in time you’ll discover that a pattern that was once an enigma is now a piece of cake.
More from IM Silman
The Downs And Ups Of GM Elmars Zemgalis (Silman's Last Article)

The Downs And Ups Of GM Elmars Zemgalis (Silman's Last Article)

How To Build Winning Chess Positions

How To Build Winning Chess Positions