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Q&A with Coach Heisman Aug 30, 2013

Aug 30, 2013, 12:00 AM 19 Other

"How do you know which candidate move(s) to analyze first, especially in non-tactical situations?"

This is the kind of question that you can write an entire book (or at least a big chapter) about, such as Soltis' How to Choose a Chess Move. However, let's start out by saying in analytical positions you likely start out by examining the most forcing moves:

  • Checks,
  • Threats of mate,
  • Captures, and
  • Other threats.

I usually shorten this to the catchy "Checks, Captures, and Threats" such as seen on the logo of this cap that I have. (In general you can buy chess merchandise in the store at the Chess.com Dan Heisman Learning Center and the net proceeds go to our chess charity).

If it's a mating attack we can suggest starting your candidate search with the following:

  • Safe checks that bring the queen closest to the king, and
  • Checks that bring a new piece into the attack,
  • other checks which bring pieces to cover more squares around the king, and
  • Moves which don't check but block all (or almost all) the opposing king's escape squares, promising a quick mate on following moves.

For non-analytic positions it is more tricky. Let's over-simplify and say:

  • In openings which piece is next to activate and how do I best get it into the game? 
  • In the middlegame, what are my and my opponent's strengths and weaknesses (imbalances) and which (safe) moves I maximize my strengths and his weaknesses while minimizing my weaknesses and his strengths?
  • In the endgame, am I playing for a win or a draw? Which (safe) move(s) best accomplishes the goals to do that, such as threatening to promote a pawn, activate the king, tie down the opponent's pieces, etc.?
  • Someone asked how fast one's game deteriorates with age. Firstly, that's a much bigger issue for someone who became a GM at a young age and is trying to make a living playing chess. They hit their peak in their mid-20's as the brain deterioration curve (peaks about age 19 for males) hits the increasing knowledge curve. But for the average amateur it's not much of an issue. You can begin at 90 and be much better by age 93. Kasparov retired in his early 40's but Korchnoi played in big events til he was almost 80. What are some of the factors that determine what the curve might look like?
  • Genetics - some age faster than others
  • Diet: Food and drug intake - oxidation, etc.
  • Physical Exercise - more is better
  • Mental Exercise - more is better
  • Environmental factors like exposure to toxins, stress, etc.
  • Effect of disease - some are more unlucky than others and catch illness that may affect the brain
A viewer asked if my online videos were free. The answer is partly - the first five minutes of each of my 225+ videos are free to anyone via this link (just click on "Preview" - you would be surprised how much you can learn from the first five minutes of 225+ videos even if each averages about 25 minutes!). However, the ultimate answer is yes, you have to be a member of a rival internet server to see the entire videos for free, and, like Voldemort, that remains He Who Must Not Be Named here at Chess.com Smile.

A viewer asked about learning the endgame. As I have stated repeatedly on the show, learning most things about chess, including endgames, is expedited if you hang out with strong players, or at least stronger than yourself. Going over your games with your opponents is important, even if your opponent is slightly weaker. Reading endgame books is certainly part of the equation. On the show, I decided to show a typical set of knowledge one might learn via the example King and Pawn vs King.

Showing the King and Pawn vs King example did raise a relevant, interesting question I have talked about quite frequently (the situation occurs often in actual play) but never written, which is the differing use of the term "opposition". I think everyone uses that term to describe what is happening when you have a king directly in front of a pawn that is on the fourth rank or lower, with the opposing king across (Diagram 1):



     However, if the pawn is similarly not far advanced and the offensive king is not in front of the pawn (Diagram 2), I think most authors realize it does not matter who is to move, and again are fairly unanimous in not using the term "opposition":



     The third diagram might result from Black moving back diagonally 1...Kc7-Kd8? once the pawn reached the sixth rank. Yet many authors will write that this is an error because "it gives White the opposition" after 2.Kc5-Kd6 (Diagram 3) and Black loses after 2...Kc8 3.c7 zugzwang 3...Kb7 4.Kd7.

    However, I feel calling this situation "the opposition" is incorrect since those same authors, faced with Diagram 2 and a similar situation with the pawn lower than the 6th rank, don't call it the opposition! This is due to the fact that in Diagram 3 it matters who is to move and in Diagram 2 it does not. I think calling the situation in Diagram 3 "getting the opposition" is confusing and inconsistent. I would prefer to reserve "opposition" to only those cases where offensive king is in front of the pawn. In positions like Diagram 3 where it matters who is to play, but the king is not in front of the pawn, then it is a matter of tempos but not (IMHO) "the opposition" since then we would have to extend the definition of "opposition" to include those times the king is beside a pawn but it matters whose move it is - and possibly other situations as well.

     So it's all a matter of semantics but, whenever I see someone explain Diagram 3 as Black "giving up the opposition", I grimace a little since they would not say that if Black had moved back diagonally earlier. I think my definition is more consistent for the reasons stated above. Check it out with your local author and/or master and see what he says Smile.


     Thanks again to the Chess.com staff for inviting me to NY this past Wednesday. They took wife Shelly and I to lunch and then to the Stature of Liberty - I had never been there despite my age and living only 90 miles away! Great to meet the owners and developers.


     The next show, Friday Sep 13 (superstitious?) will be Open to All. Cya there.

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