Strategy vs. Tactics
There are many different aspects to Chess that are worth studying in order to become a better player. I don’t think you can really get better until you cover most of them. The three that get mentioned the most, I think, are Openings, Endgames, and Tactics. Some of endgame study covers Checkmate, as well, but it’s amazing how many players can’t spot even the easiest checkmates. It’s also pretty amazing that so many players attack the minor pieces instead of the king. If you can fork rooks, pin knights, and skewer queens, shouldn’t you be able to carry out a basic checkmate as well? Or is there something else going on here?
I think that at some point, we all get obsessed with the idea of tactical superiority – the thrill of the fight, the value of the material we win, the upper hand of our position. But the name of the game, i.e., the whole purpose of the enterprise, is to checkmate our opponent. That, by itself, should be strategy enough, yet it doesn’t always pan out that way. I’ve come to see that there are many different strategies that people employ on their way to dominating the game, and although a basic understanding of tactics is sometimes enough to appreciate a person’s style of play, I think it also helps to understand the big picture, i.e., Strategy, as well.
So what exactly is Strategy and how is it different from Tactics? One way to think of strategy is like a map of the chessboard, with different colors for each of the squares on the board. This map is always changing with every move, but it really starts out as just two squares, one for your king, and one for your opponent’s king. You can draw this same sort of map for Tactics, as well, but the tactical map of the same situation will be very different. Each piece on the board will have arrows that point away from and to themselves, showing the threats to the pieces and the pieces of the opponent’s that are threatened.
Some of the better chess software out there uses maps like these for analysis, but very often, the strategic map will be missing. Why? Because not everyone will want to employ the same strategy, even if the tactics involved are identical. It’s ludicrous to think that anyone wouldn’t want to checkmate their opponent, yet game-after-game, everyday, people are deviating from their course in order to carry out a complex strategy that underlies every position.
This is a basic tenet of battle, yet most of us don’t see or think on the strategic level, so we don’t even know we’re doing it. Or we might follow a well-versed rule about what is “right” to do in the situation. If you study a lot of Openings, you become aware of the traps in certain positions and just take it at face value that your course of action is correct. Yet it would be helpful to understand the reasoning behind your moves, and also how you could set new traps yourself. This is where Strategy comes in.
I think I would like to give an example – this is something I’ve been working on in my head, but I’m fairly close to carrying it out over the board, at least in my newer games, as I’ve continued to explore various strategies over the last few months, some with better degrees of success than others. But my latest one involves a dramatic strategy and its “evil twin”. We’ll call these two strategies Paladin and Anti-Paladin. I’ll introduce you to these two colorful entities in my next blog…
(to be continued)