Learning Chess W-i-t-h-o-u-t Moves First? You OK?

Learning Chess W-i-t-h-o-u-t Moves First? You OK?


I admit it, teaching chess without the moves being shown first, as hinted by Nimzovich, does sound crazy ― after all, everyone of us, ever since the Chess Dark Ages, has started with the moves, so the post's title line must have been something sort of a mighty shock and awe. I heard all of you saying, come on Roaring Pawn, give us a break!

What I am going to do today is to introduce you to the fallacy of how we teach and learn in the very beginnings, or Chess Square One, how I like calling it (="the initial stage or starting point," Merriam Webster).

As a matter of fact, this epic misconception keeps, due to lack of meaning and understanding in the early critical period of learning, millions of entrants out of the game who, too soon, too early lose their initial motivation and interest for the game, and in overwhelming numbers give up altogether, never being able to move beyond the moves and out of the Chess Level One (Dr Tarrasch would put it, "chess that has the power, like love, like music, to make people happy," actually failed them). 

My research on how to address the fallacy started in 2008 when I observed this game between two boys, more than half year in chess at the time: 1.e4 d5 2.Bd3 Bg4 3.exd5, etc. At that exact point I set sail on my journey to try to find a plausible answer to why White failed to see the simple Bg4-Qd1 line contact between the two pieces?

When I came across the below assertion by Nimzovich from his 1929 'How I became a Grandmaster', I realized that there was something really rotten in the Kingdom of Chess, in the Department of Basic education.

Nimzovich's First Hour of Chess: Problem Statement
The article from Russian Shakhmatny listok drew attention in the West for the first time only in 1974 with GM Ray Keene's appearance of Nimzowitsch, The Reappraisal. Interestingly, the most important part of Nimzovich's First Chess Hour for the investigation of the broken Square One was unfortunately omitted. One one hand, it does look trivial, on the other hand, misunderstood, as nobody, I mean nobody ever dared to challenge the "moves first religion."

Then, little time later, I ran across the Russian three-tome edition of My System, Praxis and Blockade, Moscow, Fizkultura and Sport, 1984, in which, in the First Appendix, there was a full version of the 'How I became a Grandmaster' (I later translated this complete version of the First Chess Hour for the first in English for The Chess Journalist of America, Fall 2011, p. 8.

So what was so special in Nimzovich's First Hour? Frankly, I didn't get it at first, and it took me quite some time for things to click. From Nmzovich's 1929 statement we knew that "the moves" were a "fundamentally false" approach, but if not the moves, what else could be the new, and correct starting point in chess?

Bertrand Russell wrote the following paragraph in his Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy, in 1919, while he was in prison for his ant-war activities. If you simply replace math with chess, and integers with the chess moves as a starting point that defines its domain, the entire paragraph makes perfect sense for the chess thinkers too.

"Mathematics is a study which, when we start from its most familiar portions, may be pursued in either of two opposite directions. The more familiar direction is constructive, towards gradually increasing complexity: from integers to fractions, real numbers, complex numbers; from addition and multiplication to differentiation and integration, and on to higher mathematics. The other direction, which is less familiar, proceeds, by analysing, to greater and greater abstractness and logical simplicity; instead of asking what can be defined and deduced from what is assumed to begin with, we ask instead what more general ideas and principles can be found, in terms of which what was our starting-point can be defined or deduced."

So my task was to take the backward direction to greater abstractness and simplicity and try to define the new starting point from which all chess phenomena can be defined. But it was not easy as

"Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains."― Steve Jobs

On the other hand, it was easier for me to make it out as

"Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center. Big, undreamed-of things ― the people on the edge see them first." ― Kurt Vonnegut

I told you already it took me some time to solve the 1,500-year+ chess puzzle. I got the key to the puzzle from the following excerpt of Nimzovich's First Chess Lesson:

Nimzovich's First Hour of Chess: Rook

Imagine you are a chess archeologist and you have a prehistoric artefact in front of you.

What can be that extraordinary in the above passage, what can be a hidden message that can give us an idea why the beginning in chess with the moves first is "fundamentally false?" (we show the moves before introducing the more important key concepts ― obviously the chess educators miss them, otherwise they would teach them first, not the moves***).

Looks pretty naive, even GM Keene did not get it and omitted big parts of the First Lesson (everything after the above "drills and exercises" was left out).

Yet, give it some thought, try to have an open mind and penetrate the place of the deepest chess mystery.

The above passage is The key to the 1,500-plus-year conundrum chess teaching and learning have been living with since time eternal.

So far, only two titled players in the entire World worked through the riddle, in the chronological order, they are:

1. FM Carl Strugnell, Wales board one, aka Karl Ouch (he is a former chessboxer), and

2. GM Jonathan Tisdall.

Now that Simon McNamara @simonMTL, assistant to chess com CEO Daniel Rensch and NM Sam Copeland @samCopeland stripped me of the top blogger status (because of potential liability after I used a copyrighted picture, that was promptly removed from the post), will unfortunately reduce the visibility of the original, unique and different content on this site ("Loved your language and style! Definitely one of the best articles I read on chess.com!" @SlytherinsHeir945
"Very interesting series of articles - looking forward to reading more!" GM Jonathan Tisdall on Twitter, "Excelente articulo!! Seria maravilloso el que tradujera al español todos sus magníficos artículos!!" @Cokycho), so the chances that more titled players and chess educators see and get through the biggest chess fallacy ever, seem slimmerhappy.png




I have shown what concepts a complete beginner should be taught first in my previous posts (primarily in my Principia Scacchorum sequel on the blog). Recently there were two of them where I confronted my Relation-based versus Susan Polgar's and FIDE Senior trainer FM O'Connell's methods (just a heads up, I am going to review, what else, the chesscom's Beginner's Course next).

Here is what GM Jonathan Tisdall said about the New-Age Relation-based approach on Twitter.

GM Tisdall on my teaching method

GM Tisdall on my teching method