Since the beginning of time everyone had an opinion, whether or not they had a clue about the subject being discussed. However, in the past opinions usually stayed in one’s own mind or went no further than your friends or acquaintances. Now that’s changed.
I’m a boxing fan and, as you might imagine, opinions flow freely. Most are by people who know nothing about boxing history or true boxing skills/nuances. And, to top off their ignorant comments, aggressive attacks against the boxers themselves are plentiful. If this is progress then I pity humanity.
Another problem is that people confuse words like “theory,” “fact,” and “opinion”. Climate change is a great example of this, where many voices that have zero scientific training insist that their opinions on the subject are at least as valid as the scientists’ facts. While watching Senators of both parties go at each other on C-Span, I gagged when one Senator showed graphs and voiced views that were 100% made up, and insisted they were reality. Another Senator took him to task by saying, “You can make up whatever you want, but you can’t make up facts.”
Apparently, quite a few people no longer know what facts are, nor do they appreciate educated opinions vs. completely made up pie in the sky.
And this takes us into the world of chess, where facts are often ignored and educated opinions should be cherished but instead are spat on. Unfortunately, quite a few chess buffs who really want to learn confuse facts and educated opinions with the masses’ nonstop bluster. It’s easy to be confused, since many people that don’t know the truth about a subject tend to speak very loudly and insist they are right.
When it comes to opinion, I show deference to those that have sacrificed time, blood, sweat, and tears. (They might be wrong — we all are from time to time — but their opinions are based on a lifetime of knowledge. Thus right or wrong, there’s usually something to learn if you keep your mind open.) There are very low rated players who have made deep studies into chess history, and these individuals deserve enormous respect and everything they say on the subject should be pondered and taken to heart. Others have studied one particular opening their whole life and know a lot about its evolving theory. I’ve run into people who specialize in certain endgames. I know one gentleman with a 1500 rating that is one of the finest chess teachers I’ve ever seen. (He teaches lower rated players, but does it with such love and verve that people can’t wait for his next class.)
Notice how I mentioned the word “love”. Love of the game. Love of chess culture. Love of chess history. Love of a simple strategic idea that works to perfection. Love of a deep combination. Love of the pursuit of truth. Sadly, many players are unaware of this view of chess. These people use chess as a pursuit of ego.
I’m going to address these ego-driven players today not because they don’t have a right to lord it over any small pond they find (to each his own), but because they often give very bad advice to people that actually want to improve.
When I write an instructive article, I’m doing it to help those that want to get the maximum pleasure from chess. So it’s annoying when loud “voices” (comments under an article) try and put a spanner in the works by insults or by simply acting like they actually know what they are talking about. I’m not annoyed that they wish to ignore what I’m saying, I’m annoyed by the negative tone they often create and the false “truths” they insist are gospel. This tends to confuse the overall issue and hurts those that are actually open to listening and learning.
Some of my stances:
- Amateur games are often more instructive for amateurs than grandmaster games IF you have a knowledgeable chess teacher who can deconstruct the games in a useful manner.
- The chess experience is far richer if you add chess history to the mix.
- Beginners that just learned the moves need to study basic piece interactions (like when captures are okay, the value of the various pieces, what is and isn’t safe, etc.), then study basic mating patterns, basic tactics (pins, forks, etc.), while (to a lesser degree) also being given very simple but important strategic building blocks like, “Play in the center” and “Develop all your pieces” and “Castle quickly!” etc. It’s important to put these positional ideas in a beginner’s head since it creates good form, brings up instructive questions, and will in time make them far better and well rounded than someone who did nothing but study tactics.
- Once basic mating patterns, basic tactics (pins, forks, etc.), and basic strategy (play in the center, etc.) are absorbed, the “new” chess player needs to be introduced to the concept of weak pawns and weak squares. Once again, it might not be easy to fully understand, but stuffing it in the brain will help somewhere down the line. Of course, constant tactical puzzles starting with mate in one and moving on to slightly more complex situations should be an ongoing project.
- When a player reaches the 1000 level, balance takes on greater importance and (though tactical practice is always ongoing) more and more (very simple) positional ideas AND a few basic endgame ideas (how to mate with queen and king vs. lone king) should be added to his studies.
Here’s a caveat:
IF your goal is to win quickly in any way possible, IF you’re the kind of guy that thinks it’s great if your opponent hangs his queen on move three, IF quick wins and the worship of cheap shots and the beating of players worse than yourself is all your want and need, then just study tactics and revel in being a one trick pony.
So, after all of this, I’m going to once again address the “chess is 99% tactics” waste of ink (this statement has no practical value and ultimately leads you down a dead end path) and implore you to embrace positional chess along with tactical study (If you’re rated over 1000 and can only afford one hour of study a week, that’s fine! Use 20 minutes to look at mating patterns and tactical tricks, use 10 minutes to learn a new basic endgame, use 20 minutes to study positional concepts, and use the remaining 10 minutes to glance at tactical puzzles whenever a few free seconds presents itself). It WILL make you enjoy the game a lot more, it WILL help you understand master games, and it WILL make your overall chess experience far, far richer.
Here's a great example of positional understanding:
Igor Bondarevsky - Vassily Smyslov
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.Re1 Nd7 8.d4 exd4 9.Qxd4 (Black has two bishops but White has the better pawn structure — he’s hoping his central, spacing gaining pawn majority will prove advantageous.) 9...0-0 10.Bf4
10...Nc5! 11.Qxd8 Bxd8 12.Nc3 f5! 13.e5 Ne6 (White's c3-knight doesn't have access to b5, d5, or e4.) 14.Bd2 g5 (Now White's pieces don't have access to f4.) 15.Ne2 c5 (and now d4 is off limits to White's pieces) and Black is better.
The e5-pawn is a traitor!
Why? Because the e5-pawn is going nowhere and (since it blocks White’s rooks from putting pressure on the e-file) is actually allowing Black’s knight to rest safely on the powerful e6-square (note how this knight reaches in all directions — it’s a dream blockading piece!). In fact, White’s e5-pawn not only deprives White’s rooks from using the e-file, but it also blocks White’s knight and his bishop. In other words, instead of the passed e-pawn being a plus, it’s actually a traitor!
This idea (the move and resulting position after 12...f5!) has been seen many times in varying types of situations, and now any chess player who is well versed in strategic kung-fu will make a point of avoiding it from White’s side and create it from Black’s. All the tactical study in the world won’t allow you to learn this or avoid it from hitting you head-on in a serious game.
Of course, if you’re the “I don’t care about learning or beauty in chess or any of that nonsense, I just want to win some games” kind of person, then do whatever you want. Understand that you’re not alone! There are tons of people just like you in tournaments. These folks usually max out with ratings between 1200 to 1600 (once in a great while a tactics-only guy can reach low 2000 before stalling permanently, but that's very rare) and get great enjoyment from “whack a mole chess”. They don’t get better, but if they are having a wonderful time, then all the more power to them. Good luck!
I’ll repeat my main message from Puzzle Potpourri Part 1: If you only have eyes for tactics, you’re missing out on something very, very special.
Finally, for those who will insist I’m wrong and they are right, I’ll leave you with these words by arguably the greatest player (and one of the greatest tacticians) of all time, Emanuel Lasker:
“In the beginning of the game ignore the search for combinations, abstain from violent moves, aim for small advantages, accumulate them, and only after having attained these ends search for the combination with all the power of will and intellect, because then the combination must exist, however deeply hidden.”
Most of the puzzles are positional, though I’ve tossed in a few tactical ones for your amusement.
You’ll find lots of instructive prose hidden in the puzzles, so after trying to solve them, please click SOLUTION followed by MOVE LIST and turn the puzzle into a learning experience.
Positional mastery, endgame knowledge, and the ability to calculate are all equally important. In this game strategy earned Black a winning position, and the ability to calculate makes sure that the final moves don’t toss the victory away.
In our next puzzle White played intelligent positional chess and, as a result, finds himself with that fantastic bishop on e5 (poor Black doesn’t have a dark-squared bishop to challenge it), more central space (which has left the black army passively placed), and an open g-file for the rooks. How can he make use of these advantages?
White enjoys a clear advantage based on simple positional factors: Black’s bishop isn’t very good, White controls the only open file, Black has a hole on e5. This position was reached by clear-cut, almost basic, positional play with minimal calculations being made. And, at the moment, more positional play with almost no calculation is called for, though this might change at any moment.