Drawing on a Clean Slate

Drawing on a Clean Slate


A new student of mine is a dad of two. The older, his 7 year old, has recently discovered chess at school and was telling him about the pieces and how it works. That was all the motivation he needed to start learning this game. It is very humbling to be approached by a “clean slate” - someone who wants to learn the game and do it the right way. While paying for lessons may not always be the best way to learn chess from day 1, I think in this case it will benefit not only this dad, but impact his child’s development as well. A two for one deal was too good to pass up in my book.

After learning the board and introducing the pieces, we are working on the special moves (en passant and castling). Once we are comfortable with the basic game-play, we will move onto opening ideas from a beginner’s perspective.

Playing a game of chess for someone who has very little background can be overwhelming until you learn some basic concepts. The first one I like to share, above all else, is getting all of your pieces out of their original perch in the home row & working together. If you can do that, you are going to have success against other beginners.

The best way to accomplish this task is by remembering a few general ideas.

1. Try not to move a piece twice in the first 7-10 moves.

You do this by thinking ahead and looking at what square you are going to land on. Is it easily attackable? Are you going to have to move it on the very next move to avoid capture? Of course, there are exceptions to this rule if your opponent is handing over free pieces!

For someone just starting out and still mastering the basic rules, this concept is easier said than done. The best way to illustrate this to a new player is for them to play several games and point out where they can improve on this theory.

2. Do more than one thing with each move.

Think about efficiency. Which pawn will free more than just one lane for your pieces? Can you attack your opponent AND get a piece out of home row on the same move? Can you beat your opponent’s pieces out of home row? Can you develop a piece and open up an attack at the same time (discovered attacks)... Don't forget forks, pins, and skewers! The list is endless.

3. Force your opponent to do something as much as possible.

A common mistake you will see from beginners is bringing the Queen out and placing a big target on her back. How do you protect yourself while springboarding your piece development while attacking the Queen? Watch out for traps and leaving yourself open to a quick checkmate. One thing I encourage a beginner to do is to offer to trade Queens against a stronger opponent to minimize the surprise factor of the opposing Queen.

If you are playing FORCING moves, you will eliminate the element of surprise to a certain degree, and can then build a stronger plan. Don't always take what you think your opponent will do at face value.

4. Develop a plan early on and get every piece working towards that goal.

If you are just moving pieces to get them out of home row, you might not be maximizing your efforts. Look carefully on each and every move and try to find a weakness in your opponents opening. Do you spot a little chink in their armor? How are you going to attack it?

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My beginner dad said he has seen books with hundreds of openings in them and if that was something important to learn. I told him I have yet to look at a book like that and don’t plan on it any time soon. If you can follow the basic ideas I’ve mentioned in this article and get comfortable doing so, then you will be able to minimize those games that you are outplayed and fall behind in development from the very start. Before you know it, openings are no longer something you worry about, and you can focus more of your time on learning patterns and tactics in the mid-game.

If you are a beginner and like working with books to help yourself learn, I STRONGLY encourage you to have a real board and chess set nearby to recreate the diagrams seen within the book and physically work through the problems. This bit of effort will help you translate your study-time into your games much faster than just trying to absorb the 2-D illustrations.