Curriculum for 2012 camp

May 13, 2012, 6:27 PM |


Minor Pieces
-General overview of bishops vs. knights

The bishops and knights are often referred to as the "minor pieces".
Bishops and knights are generally thought to be about equal in value, but in some positions one piece is obviously better than another, such as the following position:







In that position it's pretty obvious which minor piece is better, but typically it is very subtle which piece is better, and an enormous part of chess strategy, and in fact the most subtle parts of chess strategy, involve trying to improve the position of your minor pieces and worsen the position of your opponent's.  In general:
-Knights are better in the center of the board, because they have a lot more squares they can move to.  On the edge of the board, knights are limited because they can't use any of the squares that are off the edge.  On the other hand, bishops are better on the edge of the board, because they can point at a lot of squares from far away without having to worry about being threatened.
-Knights are better in positions where the pawns are locked up.  This is because knights can jump over other pieces and move in a way that's strange relative to the other pieces, so while the other pieces may be restricted the knights can excel.
-Bishops are better in positions where there is a lot of open space on the board and a lot of mobility for the pieces.  This is because bishops can move around very fast and can apply pressure without actually being in danger, while if a knight tries to attack it will often be in danger itself because it needs to be close to something to be a threat to it.
-Bishops have the ability to apply long-distance pressure by pointing at things from far across the board.  Knights, on the other hand, tend to be more short-term in their pressure because they can be driven away by pawns or threatened by enemy pieces.
For example:



Here we see the knight applying localized pressure by forcing the queen to remain protecting c2 against the threat of Nc2, winning the rook.  This is only a temporary threat, however, because the knight can be driven away by a3.  On the other hand, the bishop on h3 is applying long-term pressure to the pawn on e6.

-Good bishop vs. bad bishop

A bishop is good when its central pawns are on the opposite color of it.  The reason this makes it good is that it has more mobility and freedom - it can look at more places and can move more.  
On the other hand, a bishop is bad if the central pawns are on the same color.  These pawns block it, and it ends up just staring at the back of them.  It serves a defensive function, but this is unnatural for the bishop and unnecessary.  It has no freedom, which makes it bad.

In this position, the white bishop is bad.  All it is doing is staring at the back of its center pawns.  At best it is performing a defensive function.  The black bishop is good, because its center pawns are not limiting its movement.  The white center pawns are, but that's not too concerning because black can attack those.  We can see that the black bishop has more squares it can go to, while the white bishop doesn't have much useful stuff to do other than sit there.

-Strategies for improving a bishop

 There are two main ways to improve a bishop positionally.  The first is to get it outside the pawn chain.  Then, suddenly, all those pawns that were hindering it become a chain of outposts for it, and it is skating along the edge of them.  The second is to change the pawn structure to make the bishop better.  If the pawns were a hindrance, then change the pawn structure somehow to change the way the pawns are set up and therefore improve the position of the bishop.

Bishops are much more comfortable in open positions.  If you have bishops and your opponent has knights, then you want to open up the position by getting rid of pawns. Then the knights will have less pawns to jump around and cling to, while the bishops can sweep across the board.

-Strategies for defeating your opponent's bishops

With the above dicussion about good and bad bishops in mind, once you see where your opponent has placed his or her bishops you can try to trap them behind pawns.  For instance, you can use your pawns to stop theirs in awkward positions.  You can also push your pawns to create a wall that the bishop can't really do much against.  This is usually only a middlegame advantage, because once we get to the endgame, that wall of pawns suddenly can become weak if the bishop gets behind it.  But it can be a good way to lock a bishop out while grabbing space.

-Knight outposts:  recognizing, creating, and fighting

This is a knight outpost:








The knight is protected by a pawn, so it can hang out on that square without having to worry about getting attacked by all the enemy pieces.  When a knight is on an outpost, it only needs to worry about being attacked by a pawn - in this case, this is a particularly good outpost (called an "infinite knight") because the knight can't be attacked by any of the enemy pawns.  When we talk about knight outposts, we're usually only talking about squares on the opponent's side of the board - squares on your side of the board are usually safe for your pieces, but they are not as helpful because you can't do much with them back there.

When a knight is on an outpost, it also needs to worry about being traded for one of the opponent's knights or bishops.  For this reason, it is sometimes good to keep a knight pointed at an outpost but not on it - as Nimzowitsch said, "the threat is stronger than the execution".  

When a knight is on an outpost, it has a safe point to look at all the squares in the enemy camp.  For this reason it often causes discord and can complicate development and operations.  It is always threatening a variety of forks and attacks and prevents the enemy from using any of the squares it is looking at.

Your goal should be to create outposts for your knights while preventing your opponent from getting these kinds of outposts.  Once you have an outpost, you don't need to occupy it right away - just the fact that you have it forces your opponent to do something about it.  If your opponent does get an outpost, you have to prevent his knights from getting there!

-Knights as blockaders 

Knights are ideal for blockading pawns for several reasons.  First of all, when they are sitting in front of an enemy pawn, they can also attack either of the pawns that try to attack it.  Secondly, they can still remain active from that square while being safe from attack from the front.  

-The corral (bishops and knights interlink) 

The corral is where the bishop and knight prevent each other's movements.  It's usually the bishop preventing the knight's movement.  Here's an example from an endgame:

The knight can't move because all four of the squares it can move to are covered by the bishop.  The king can just walk up and take it.  That's a rather extreme example, but the idea is common in bishop vs. knight endgames.  

It can also be used prophylactically in the middlegame.  Prophylaxis means that you take pre-emptive measures to prevent possible ideas or plans of your opponent.  If a knight is in an aggressive position, a bishop can retreat to the corral square and protect all the squares that the knight might like to go to.

Types of pawns
-Doubled Pawns

Doubled pawns is when two of your pawns are on the same column on top of each other.  Doubled pawns are often bad in the endgame because they can't cover as much space, they can't defend each other, and the one in the back can not be promoted easily because the other pawn is in front of it.  

They are often bad in the middlegame too, but there are also some middlegame advantages to doubled pawns.  Firstly, doubling pawns means that one file has no pawn on it.  This can be good because this file is open for a rook.  Secondly, doubled pawns can protect some critical squares that could not be protected before.  For instance, in the Ruy Lopez, it is common for black's c-pawns to become doubled.  Black usually doesn't care though because the doubled pawns can't be attacked easily, can be defended easily, and can be used to defend the center squares.  Thirdly, sometimes doubled pawns can be good because one of them is going to be traded off, but then the other can take its place.  For instance:








In this position, the doubled pawns on the d-file are not bad because one of them will inevitably be traded off.  Either white will play e4 and black will trade there, or black will play c5 and white will trade there and then advance the second pawn to take the place of the first one.

-Isolated Pawns

Isolated pawns are pawns that can not be defended by other pawns.  This could be either because there are no pawns on the columns to the left and right of it or (to give a less orthodox definition) because the pawn is so far advanced that the other pawns can not help it.  An isolated pawn is usually weak, because it has to be defended with pieces instead of pawns.  In general, the player with the isolated pawn wants to trade it off by advancing it, while the player fighting the isolated pawn wants to blockade it with a knight so that it can't advance and then attack it and try to win it.

-Backwards Pawns 

Backwards pawns are those that are behind the other pawns in a line of pawns.  Usually, they're not a problem, because you can advance them.  They become an issue when they are not able to advance.  Then they are a weakness because they can not be protected by other pawns, but often form the base of pawn chains and are therefore critical to strategic plans.  The square in front of a backwards pawn can become weak and turn into an outpost for a knight or another piece.  Backwards pawns are usually further back and can be hard to move pieces around because they get in the way.  On an open file, backwards pawns are particularly problematic because they can be attacked by rooks that can move in front of them to prevent them from advancing.

-Passed pawns (protected and unprotected) 

Passed pawns are those that have made it through the line of enemy pawns.  There are no pawn exchanges to worry about in their march to promotion, so they are very threatening to the enemy.  They are a latent threat in the endgame, because once more pieces are cleared off they will be more difficult to stop.  A passed pawn is a major advantage to have because it represents a threat that the opponent is forced to respond to.  Passed pawns are also often so far advanced that when they are pushed they will attack enemy pieces, while enemy pieces must mobilize around them, so that they have a cramping effect.

Unprotected passed pawns are often difficult to defend and can therefore become easy targets.  Therefore, passed pawns have to be protected by pieces or (preferably) another pawn.  If you have connected passed pawns (two passed pawns that protect each other), they can become an unstoppable force.

-Definition of space

Space is defined as the area of the board that you have control over.  A player has more space when they have control over a larger area of the board than their opponent.  Space is typically demarcated by pawns, which often mark the outer limits of one player's territory.  When one player has more space, that player has more room to manouevre, and so it is easy to generate attacks and to protect weaknesses.  The player with less space, on the other hand, typically has trouble defending all of their weak points because it is more difficult to manouevre pieces into defensive positions.  It is very difficult to launch an attack with less space because getting the pieces into aggressive positions can be challenging.  Grabbing space can have its downsides, on the other hand - if space is grabbed prematurely or carelessly, it can lead to disadvantages because the large amount of territory may be difficult to maintain.  On the other hand, the player with less space typically has a more compact area, which can be easier to keep a firm grip on.  Space can be looked at from the perspective of the entire board - that is, by saying simply that a player controls more space - or in terms of individual areas of the board.  For instance, one player might grab more space on the queenside while his or her opponent grabs more space on the kingside.

Observe the following situation, from Schlechter - John, Germany 1905:








First take a look at the queenside.  White clearly has a firm grip on the four rows on his side of the board - black has no reasonable way to break down the pawn barrier and has no way to get through to white.  White also has complete control over the fifth rank and some control over the sixth.  Black, meanwhile, is very restricted - he only has pawns on the sixth and seventh ranks.

In the center, as well, white has a firm grip on his side of the board and has planted his knight in the middle, controlling a lot of squares on black's side of the board.  Similarly, white has a solid pawn wall on the kingside.

Black only controls a small area of the board, and as a result it is difficult for him to manouevre his pieces around.  Notice how constricted the knight is, and how difficult it is to engineer the type of breakthrough that would allow his bishop to become a useful piece.  White, meanwhile, is free to move his pieces into whatever formation he likes, all the while pressuring black with the threat of breaking through somewhere.  In conclusion, white has an enormous advantage due to his excellent space advantage, and indeed the white player went on to win easily in this game.

-Grabbing space

Space is grabbed by advancing pawns so that they control a larger area of the board.  The opponent typically prevents this by grabbing space with their own pawns, so that space ends up being roughly equal, so that each player has gained control over about half of the board.  Sometimes, however, a weakness, poor pawn structure or formation, or simply a lack of attention on the behalf of the opponent can allow one player to grab a space advantage.  Grabbing space is also a good long-term goal: pieces can be manouevred so as to support a space-grabbing pawn push.  

It is important to remember that any space grab must be done while ensuring that it creates a maintainable position.  Grabbing space can be harmful if the newfound territory can not be properly supported.  

Here is a position from Saemisch - Nimzowitsch, Copenhagen, 1923:








In this game, Nimzowitsch waas able to find creative and effective ways to grab space.  He manouevred his pieces so that he could safely play a6, b5, b4, and f5, grabbing space on the queenside, and in the center.  Nine moves later, the position was:

Notice how little room white has on the queenside, and how difficult it is to find a reasonable plan for white.  His pieces are stuck and have little to do.  Black, meanwhile, controls almost all the space on the queenside, as well as most of the center.  His pieces can do whatever they want, and he can choose a plan at will and have little difficulty following through on it.  White is almost helpless, and indeed, the game ended six moves later:

White resigned here because he has absolutely nothing he can do.  Black is just going to patiently invade and win.  White only controls a few squares on the back two rows, the rest of the board belongs to black.  An absolutely dominating space advantage.

-What to do once you have space

OK, so you've pushed your pawns and solidified your position and now you have a solid space advantage.  But how are you going to win the game?  There are two options that are directly related to the space advantage:

-Create multiple weaknesses in the opponent's camp

-Invade or break through somehow. 

Creating multiple weaknesses takes advantage of the fact that your pieces have more mobility than those of your opponent.  If there are two weaknesses, then you can attack either one while your opponent has to respond to those threats.  Since it is easier for you to come up with different attacks than it is for your opponent to repsond to them, you can keep switching weaknesses until your opponents pieces get tangled up trying to defend all the threats or he/she is simply unable to protect against your threats. 

An invasion is something that you have to figure out how to engineer.  Typically it involves some sort of critical pawn break or sacrifice that opens lines into a vulnerable part of the enemy camp.  Because your opponent’s position is so cramped, it can be difficult for him/her to respond to an invasion.    The problem with an invasion is that it often opens up the position, which can give the opponent more freedom or chances for counterplay.  Piece also are at risk of becoming trapped behind enemy lines.  The key to an invasion is to imagine how you want it to look or result and make move to bring about that eventuality.  Because you have more freedom than your opponent, you can restrict any freeing or aggressive plans while simultaneously orchestrating your attack.

In both of these strategies, you simply must have patience.  Because you are free while your opponent is restricted, time is one your side.  You can often take as long as you want to try to build up the perfect attacking plan.

In general, when you have a space advantage, you want to avoid making exchanges.  This is because your opponent’s play is hindered by the difficulty he/she has in moving his/her pieces around.  If you take more pieces off the board, the remaining pieces will have more free squares to go to and therefore be less jumbled up.  If you keep pieces on the board, each piece you have constitutes an attacking resource, while your opponent’s pieces often will just get in each others’ way.

-On that note, the principle of two weaknesses

The principle of two weaknesses is the idea that to have two weaknesses is an enormous strategic disadvantage.  The general idea behind this is that one weakness, while bad, can be defended by all of a player’s resources.  An attack on one weakness can often end up just being a race to see who can bring more material to the battleground of that weakness faster.  When a player has two weaknesses, however, this idea doesn’t work because if too many resources are invested in defending one weakness, then the other weakness can be easily taken advantage of.  The defender has to spread himself out to try to defend both of them, and often is unable to survive in the long run. 

When one player is pressing against one weakness, but unable to break through, the correct strategy for that players is almost always to try to open up a second weakness in another area of the board, so as to have two weaknesses to play against.  Then he/she can try to take advantage of this second weakness, and the opponent will have much more difficulty defending the two weaknesses than defending just the one original weakness.

-Overextension and why you can't just keep pushing your pawns

Overextension is what occurs when a player tries to grab too much space and is simply unable to defend or keep track of their entire area of the board.  This allows the opponent to create weaknesses that will, immediately or later on, lead to a counter-attack. 

Every time you push a pawn, the squares it is leaving behind become weak.  Not only are they no longer defended by the pawn, but they can never be defended by it again.  Additionally, the pawn can be attacked from behind if the enemy is able to occupy or reach those squares.  It may look appealing to simply push all your pawns far up the board when given the opportunity, so as to try to grab as much space as possible as quickly as possible.  This strategy, however, often leads to overextension. 

Because your pawns are closer to your opponent’s side of the board, he is able to attack them or play against them relatively easily, and you may have difficulty defending them.  He can also use his own pawns, well defended by his pieces, to try to break up whatever structure you may come up with.

A classic example of overextension is the Four Pawns Attack against the King’s Indian Defence.  On move six, it may look like white controls the entire board and has an enormous space advantage.  Black is able to disrupt his pawn structure, however, and create weaknesses due to white’s overextension.


-Hypermodernism:  How to defeat the overextender 

It is very tempting to overextend, either because you do not see the danger or because you see it but think you can overcome it or may still have an advantage.  Often, in fact, you have no choice but to overextend because otherwise you would have to accept a passive position.

With these principles in mind, there is an entire school of chess thought devoted to the strategy of playing not to gain space but to tempt the opponent into overextending and then counter-attack.  This school of thought is known as hypermodernism.  It stands in contrast to classicalism, which holds that large pawn centers and a respect for basic and traditional structural ideas was correct.  The classical school holds that the center should be occupied and controlled with pawns, while the hypermodern school believes that the center should be controlled by pieces and the threat of counterattacks.

An example of hypermodern play can be found in the opening lines of the exchange variation of the Grunfeld Defence


-How to win with a material advantage

Material is the purest form of an advantage in chess.  When you have a better army than your opponent, either because you have more pieces or because you have more valuable pieces, you have a material disadvantage.  A material advantage, all other things being equal, is typically enough to decide the game.  Material is often sacrificed intentionally, however, for either a positional or tactical advantage. 

When you have a material advantage, there are two main ways to win.  The first, and safest, is just to simplify as quickly as possible into an endgame where your material advantage will truly shine.  When you are up one pawn but both sides still have all their pieces, the extra pawn does not make a huge difference.  However, when you are down to an endgame and have two pawns against your opponent’s one pawn with just the kings on the board, it makes an enormous difference, and decides the game in your favor.  When using this strategy, you have to take care to ensure that you still maintain a good position while trading everything off.  There may be some endgame positions where your extra material does not ensure a win, and they must be avoided.

The second option is to try to use your extra material to overwhelm your opponent.  Because you have more to attack with, you may be able to create threats that your opponent is unable to answer.  If you have more pawns than your opponent, you can use those to control more of the board.  This can be a rewarding and safe strategy at times, but it may also be dangerous, because you might give your opponent opportunities to strike back or to regain material equality.

-How to defend when you have a material disadvantage (either use the extra mobility to attack - that is, pretend it was a sacrifice - or try to build a fortress endgame)

When you unintentionally have a material disadvantage (that is, you did not intentionally sacrifice the material), life may seem hopeless.  However, it is still possible to save the game.  In fact, these kinds of games can be the most rewarding and enjoyable. 

First, realize that you are probably lost.  As a result, radical decision-making and risk-taking are fully justified, because if your risks do not play out then you will lose, but you were going to lose anyway.  On the other hand, such play may give you the opportunity to win or draw. 

Because you are down in material, you probably have higher mobility than before because of the empty space not occupied by your lost material.  This creates an imbalance in the position that you may be able to use to your advantage with aggressive play.  In fact, aggressive play in general is totally justified and a very good strategy when behind on the material in the opening or middlegame.  Remember, there are some openings that intentionally sacrifice material just to be able to engage in more aggressive play!  Just pretend, both to yourself and to your opponent, that your material disadvantage is the result of a very well-calculated sacrifice and that you are about to blow him out of the water with a fiery attack.  How foolish he was to accept your sacrifice!

One key idea to keep in your head is that most attacks involve sacrifice anyway; however, the material disadvantage ends up not making a difference.  Because these are some of the only positions where a material disadvantage does not matter much, they are the kinds of positions that you should be aiming for.  Your attack does not even have to work – if you can confuse your opponent enough by creating an incredibly complicated position, then he may make mistakes and hand you material back.  Alternatively, you could just frighten him enough that if you offer a draw he will accept it.

If an attack is not feasible, the next best option is to try to set up an impenetrable fortress.  If you can make your position super-compact and hard as a rock, your opponent may be frustratingly unable to break through and might even sacrifice material back to try to find a way to avoid a draw.  This works best if you have some kinds of positional advantages in your favor – for instance, if your opponent overextended in his material grab. 

Finally, if you reach the endgame and are still down in material, there are lots of endgame tricks to keep in mind that may help you draw.  For instance, in a bishop vs. pawn and knight endgame, you could sacrifice the bishop for the pawn and leave your opponent with  just a knight, which is impossible to checkmate with.

-How to win material:  basic tactics.  Forks, pins, skewers, revealed attacks.

Material can be won simply by sweeping up your opponent’s hanging pieces, if you are lucky enough to face an opponent who is not able to keep control of their army.  Against stronger players, however, you will have to become increasingly clever in order to obtain a material advantage.  In this case, you will have to use tactics to build a material advantage.  Tactics are short combinations of moves which result in a material gain.  They are based on a set of ideas that form a toolbox which you can use to construct a tactic that will win the game for you.  The successful execution of a tactic is typically enough to win the game, and often the threat of a potential tactic is enough to force your opponent to make decisions they would rather not make, which can give you a better position.

A fork is when one of your pieces attacks two or more of the enemy pieces.  Only one of the enemy pieces can be moved or protected, and then the other one is lost.  A fork will not work if your piece can be taken, or if moving or protecting one of the forked pieces would also result in the protection of the other forked piece.  Knights are often the perpetrators of forks because their strange movement pattern can be difficult to predict.  An open boards, the queen is also often very good at forking pieces that are far-flung across the board.  Note that a fork does not always have to be between two threats of capturing pieces – for instance, you could move your queen so that it is both threatening checkmate and attacking any enemy piece.

Here is an example of a fork:


A  pin is when one piece can not move because then the piece behind it would be taken.  Typically this is matters either because the piece behind it is the king, in which case the pinned piece can not move at all, or because the piece behind it is more valuable, in which case it can still move, although usually this would be inadvisable as it would result in loss of material.  A piece can also be pinned in such a way that there is no piece behind it, but moving it would result in some negative consequence, such as checkmate or a strategic problem. 

A pin may result in immediate gain of material (for instance, if capturing the pinned piece would result in gain of material) or it may represent a long-term problem.  For instance, suppose a bishop is pinning a knight against a king, but the knight is protected by a pawn, as is common in many openings.  Taking the knight right away would not be a problem, since the bishop would be recaptured immediately and bishops and knights are equally valuable.  If, however, the knight were to be attacked by a pawn, then the knight would still not be able to move, but now it would be captured with a pawn instead of a bishop, resulting in a material loss. 

A large number of openings involve pins of knights on c3, f3, c6, or f6 against the king or queen – this is probably the most common example of a pin.


A skewer is like a pin, with one critical difference.  In a pin, a less valuable piece is in front of a more valuable piece.  So the less valuable piece can not move for fear of losing the more valuable piece.  In a skewer, the more valuable piece is in front.  It has to move, and then the less valuable piece is taken.  Whereas a pin typically represents a more long-term threat, a skewer typically results in immediate win of material.


A discovered attack is a very common tactic, and a very useful idea to keep in mind.  In a discovered attack, one piece moves, and as a result of this move, another piece makes a threat.  Discovered attacks can be especially useful if the piece that moves also creates a threat. 

Discovered attacks can make for good long-term tactical plans.  A latent threat may be created that is not immediately effective but could potentially become part of a revealed attack.  Then the opponent must always look out for the revealed attack.  For instance,


It is very common in chess for threats to be nullified by a network of pieces and pawns that protect each other.  For instance, a queen might be attacking a knight, but this is not very threatening because the knight is defended by a pawn, so if the queen took the knight it would be captured by the pawn. 

When this network is disrupted in some way so that material that was not previously hanging is now hanging, or a threat that was not important before is suddenly important, that is called removing the defender.  For instance, in the example given, if the pawn were to be taken or distracted or pinned, then the knight would suddenly be hanging, and the queen could take it.  The pawn is the defender, and by removing it you do not attack it, but rather, you attack the piece it was defending – the knight.

Removing the guard can take a lot of different forms.  The guard might be attacked in such a way that it is forced to move – for instance, a king might be put in check and forced to move out of check, leaving a piece it was defending hanging.  The guard might also be suddenly required to perform another duty, such as protecting the king or defending another piece as the result of another tactic – this is known as distraction.  The guard’s protection of the piece it is guarding – if, for instance, the guard is a rook or bishop or queen and it is protecting a piece from afar – might be disrupted or blocked.  This is known as interposition.  Finally, the guard might simply be captured or pinned.


These basic building blocks are combined with other ideas or considerations to form tactics.  You have to be able to recognize when you might have the opportunity to win material through one of these methods, and then form a plan to bring about that eventuality.  For instance, if you see that a king and queen are stationed in such a way that a knight fork would win the queen, you might start calculating lines where you could either force your opponent to let you make that fork or use the threat of that fork to win something else, such as material by another means or a positional concession.

 -Elements of a tactic:  Loose pieces, king/queen out of place, lack of coordination.

Most tactics incorporate either check or the threat of check in some way.  This is because check is the most forcing move in chess – the king is required by the rules of the game to either move or be protected somehow, and your opponent’s options severely limited.  When check is combined with another threat, the opponent must be very lucky to be able to cover both the check threat and the other threat with one move. 

Because check is so important, a misplaced or vulnerable king is often a catalyst for tactics.  This is why the king is typically nestled in its castle behind a rook and a row of pawns.  If the king is in the open, or can be drawn out into the open somehow, then it might be used as part of a tactical combination.

Similarly, because the queen is such a valuable piece, nearly all threats to it must be answered in a convincing way.  Because of this, a threat against the queen often has the same effect as check – the opponent is not legally required to answer the threat, but disastrous consequences would result if he/she did not.   Unlike the king, the queen usually has a wide variety of moves, and is more than capable of defending itself, so it can be more difficult to create tactics based on attacks on the queen. 

The queen is often the catalyst for a tactic when she is deep in enemy territory.  In this case, the queen can often be trapped through a series of moves.  This series of moves might even result in some temporary or even permanent material loss – it hardly matters, because the queen is such a valuable piece that most material loss will be worth it to capture her.  Furthermore, when the queen is on your side of the board, she doesn’t really have as many squares she can go to because most of those squares are covered by your pieces in some way.  There are many openings that revolve around this idea of luring the queen to your side of the board and attempting to use her awkward positioning as a motif for a tactical combination.

Queen Trap Board

Pieces are called “loose” when they are not defended by anything.  That is, if they were attacked and the opponent did nothing about it, then they could be captured without negative repercurssions.  In general, it is not a good idea to have loose pieces unless they are deep in your territory where their looseness can not possibly be a factor in a tactic.  Loose pieces are particularly vulnerable to tactics because any threat to them must be answered immediately.  This is in contrast to pieces that are protected or guarded somehow, when threats may be made to them but these threats do not always have to be immediately answered.

In general, if the opponent’s pieces are uncoordinated, a tactic is much more likely to be lurking in the position than if they were well-coordinated. 


-Why they need open files

An open file is one that is not blocked by one of your pawns.  When a rook (or queen) is placed on an open file, it is able to control that file, and every square down the board until it encounters either the other end of the board or an enemy piece or pawn.

Rooks need open files to operate because of the horizontal/vertical patterns with which they move.  A rook can not take much aggressive action by moving horizontally – after all, rooks start on the very back rank, furthest from the action, and can only perform a defensive role by moving back and forth on that rank.  It is by taking control of open files, staring down the board and threatening to pierce through the distant enemy shell, that the rooks become energized and powerful. 

An open file is created by trading or moving the pawn that was previously covering it.  Sometimes, particularly in the case of the a- and h- files (since the rooks start out on these files), it is worth capturing with a pawn and accepting doubled pawns in order to have an open file on the file abandoned by that pawn.  An open file may be occupied by one rook, but strength on this file may be increased by doubling rooks, or even by placing the queen behind a pair of doubled rooks (a set-up of pieces known as “Alekhine’s gun”, after the fourth world champion, Alexander Alekhine.


-What to do once they have them:  Rook outposts, doubling, rooks on the seventh rank.

The goal of every rook on an open file is to reach the seventh or eighth rank, most often the seventh.  The reason the seventh rank is so valuable is that any pawn that the opponent has not moved will be hanging out on that rank.  Unless the opponent has moved all eight of his or her pawns, that means that there will be pawns sitting there, waiting to be taken by the rook which, once it has reached the seventh rank, may now move horizontally in either direction.  If one pawn moves up to escape the attack, the pawn behind it may now become a victim of attack by the rook.  Additionally, the king is almost invariably sitting on the eighth rank, which means that if your rook is on the seventh rank then the enemy king will be trapped on the back rank, unable to advance further up the board.  If you double rooks on the seventh rank (placing them both, connected, on that rank), then you represent even more of a threat to the enemy king because you can now capture the pawns in front of him without having to worry about the capturing rook being taken by the king.  This often leads to perpetual check, where the connected rooks continuously threaten the king, and less frequently leads to checkmate when the king is backed into a corner. 

-How to create a rook advantage:  "Covering" (putting a piece in front of them, double/tripling, and then moving it) and building up before a pawn break

Typically, the opponent will not simply allow you to get your rook onto the seventh rank.  If you have control of an open file, the opponent will protect the squares on his or her side of the board, while simultaneously trying to get his/her own rook onto the file to oppose your rook and force a simplifying series of trades.  Because of this, control of an open file with a rook, or the threat of such control, represents a long-term advantage that must be propogated in a sophisticated fashion. 

The best way to maintain control over the file is to create a “battery” of the rooks and/or the queen – that is, to put more than one vertical-traveling piece (the rooks and queen are often called the ‘heavy pieces’) on the file so that your ability to make multiple captures ensures that the opponent is unable to oppose your control of the file by moving one of his/her own rooks to it.  Creating this battery can be a slow process, as it requires at least two moves (moving the first rook up and the second rook behind it).  Because it is so slow, it is often easy for your opponent to counter your plans – moving a rook to the open file only takes one move for your opponent.  So a lot of the time you want to put a piece on the open file in order to temporarily close it while you line your rooks (and queen) up.  Once you have a battery that will be able to maintain control of the open file, you can move the piece, and have a powerful positional advantage.

Often, a file is not open, but you can tell that it will be open in the future and play with this idea in mind.  For instance, you can line your rooks up behind a pawn, and then push that pawn so as to trade it off and create an open file in its place.  The rooks as they stood before the pawn break looked silly since they were pointing at nothing, but once the pawn break was engineered, they were a powerful force controlling an open file.


Closed vs. Open Positions

-Closed positions:  Creating holes, prying open the board, pawn breaks, knight outposts, invasion is the ultimate goal.

A closed position is one in which a lot of pawns remain on the board and they are interlocked in such a way that there is not a lot of open or contested space.  The pieces of the opposing forces are not directly interacting with each other much; rather, the armies are going to spend most of their time manouevring on their respective sides of the board.  Here is an example of a closed position:


In a closed position, time is not as important as simply having a plan.  Any long-term plan will probably do, because immediate threats are often not to something worry about and you will have lots of time to put together whatever idea you are trying to construct.  Closed positions tend to involve lots of shuffling about while both players try to build up their respective plans, ultimately resulting in a strategic explosion where the players’ plans strike against each other. 

When a position is closed, knights tend to be much stronger than bishops.  This is because the pawns are blocking the position up, but knights can jump over pawns, so they have much more freedom than the bishops or any other piece.  Because of this, the considerations typically given to knights have much more consequence – a knight outpost, for instance, represents a very powerful advantage in a closed game. 

A closed position typically leads to positions with a lot of tension surrounding one or more potential pawn breakthroughs.  It is usually pretty obvious what these are going to be, so each player will try to shuffle his/her pieces around so that when the pawn breakthrough finally occurs, he/she will have his/her pieces in an optimal setup to take advantage of the resulting position.

In many closed positions, the center is locked up by pawns and each player has the opportunity to push his/her pawns on the king or queenside.  This often leads to positions where pawn breaks on f5 or c5 will be critical.  Furthermore, closed positions often mean that pawn storms against the king are much safer, because it is difficult for the opponent to create counterplay in other parts of the board.

Example from the King’s Indian Defence

-Open positions:  Initiative and speed matter a lot more.  Controlling as many squares as possible and creating as many threats as possible.

In an open position, there are not a lot of pawns blocking things up – in particular, in the center - and the pieces have a lot of mobility.  In these kinds of positions, the pawns are not used to create strategic breakthroughs, but are instead used in combination with other pieces as part of long- or short-term tactical plans.  Both sides must try to control as many squares as possible and create as many threats as possible.

In open positions, control is a huge factor.  If one player is able to control a large part of the board, that player can prevent his or her opponent from engineering any type of meaningful or aggressive plan, and will have a very strong mandate to execute his or her own plan. 

The initiative is something of a nebulous concept in chess, but it can basically be thought of as the embodiment of time as a factor.  If one player is making moves that are forcing and has an aggressive position, and the other players in a responsive state and is not acting on a plan but rather responding to what the first player does, then the first player can be thought of as having the initiative.  In open positions, the initiative is enormously important – if you have the initiative, then you have a mandate to make what you will of the position and your opponent must respond to your plans.  If your plans are such that you gain some advantage from them, then you have utilized your initiative successfully.  If, however, you fail to get a meaningful advantage, then as your plan dwindles the initiative may pass to your opponent.


In open positions, a good strategy is to create a lot of subtle tactical threats.  This is a complex idea, but basically you want to create a network of threats where you are controlling squares or areas of the board indirectly through tactical threats or ideas.  For instance, you might dictate that your opponent is unable to move to a certain area of the board because, by moving there, he would fall into a tactical trap.  You would now have indirect control over that area of the board.  By combining several different tactical or strategic plans, you can create a network of threats, both strategic and tactical in nature, that allow you to gain control over a large part of the board or to gain the initiative.  Once you have this control or initiative, of course, you have to make something of it, which is often challenging. 

At the grandmaster level, open positions tend to result in draws much more often than closed positions, because the grandmasters are able to use their complete understanding of the game to balance out each other’s tactical and strategic threats and create a series of trades that result in empty positions.  Your opponents, however, are not grandmasters, and by thinking deep into the position and creating threats you will be able to get advantages in open positions and obtain victory.

Attacking and Winning

-Theory of the attack:  Attacking is either creating unanswerable threats or creating a position so complex that your opponent can not figure it out.

The goal of an attack, and indeed the only way it can be successful, is if you create threats that your opponent is unable to answer.  These threats can be either physically unanswerable (that is, there is no possible move that your opponent can take that avoids incurring a disadvantage) or psychologically unanswerable, because the position is so complex and delicate that your opponent will be unable to avoid making a mistake. 

Attacks can come in all shapes and forms.  An attack may be meticulously planned, either in the form of a very long combination that you have seen through to victory or in the form of an initial assault that will result in a position where you are very confident in your attacking prospects.  An attack may also be impulsive, intuitive, and completely unplanned – a sacrifice based on a feeling, a series of aggressive moves in the hope of some result appearing down the line, or a series of confusing and irrational moves that introduce chaos and complexity into the position. 

An attack can not simply appear out of nowhere – certain conditions must either be present in the position already or brought into the position in order to facilitate successful execution.  One such condition is that there have to be weaknesses in the opponent’s position, which can be in the form of an imperfect king position, awkwardly-placed or un-coordinated pieces, structural deficiencies, positional disadvantages – it doesn’t matter, you just have to have something to go with, some reason why you have the right to attack.  Secondly, you have to either already have your pieces aggressively stationed or have the ability to move your pieces into aggressive positions in a timely manner.  An attack can not be conducted successfully unless you have a lot of pieces participating.  Not that this doesn’t mean that your pieces have to be in the immediate vicinity of the king – a bishop stationed all the way across the board but pointed at the enemy king’s position can be a very powerful attacking piece.

Sometimes these conditions are not present in the position, but you want to attack anyway, because either the position on the board or the pyschological situation dictates that attacking is the correct plan.  In this case, you have to create the proper conditions – that is, you must gain the positional advantage or induce the weakness in the enemy position that will give you the justification for launching your attack.  There is no true guide for doing this – attacks are the most diverse part of chess, and pretty much any plan of action, and type of move, any idea can become part of the build-up towards an attack, with the only limits being those imposed by the position and your own ingenuity.  It is worth noting, however, that in empty positions a very common way to launch an attack on the enemy king is to push pawns against the enemy king position, hoping to induce some sort of weakness in the enemy pawn shell that will later give you something to play against with your other pawns or pieces.  We will see examples of this shortly.

It is important to remember that a successful attack is not necessarily the only possible good end result from the build-up.  The moves you are using to build towards your attack may (and, usually, should) do other things to improve your position as well.  Every move in chess has an enormous number of consequences, and you must carefully balance all of these consequences when considering what your plan is going to be and whether or not you should make a particular move.  Additionally, sometimes your opponent can tell that you are formulating an aggressive plan or trying to