Learning Chess Patterns (and a cool game I played)

Learning Chess Patterns (and a cool game I played)


Chess is a game of patterns. Over time, players learn patterns for every aspect of chess: opening traps, checkmates, tactics, endgames, and strategies. It is very pleasing and satisfying as a player when we recognize one of these patterns in our game and use it.

For example, perhaps one of my favorite patterns is the following:

I've had this type of smothered mate many times - mostly in blitz - but every time I get it a smile crosses my face.
One of the goals of chess training is to collect and practice many of these patterns so that when they show up in your games, you can use them - or at least consider them as an option. One of the reasons strong players are strong is that they have more of these patterns at their disposal. Of course, chess would be incredibly easy if we could just increase the storehouse of patterns and pull them out on demand. However, not only do we have to understand and recognize when a pattern is present, we also need to consider when it is appropriate to the specific position. This is both the burden and the beauty of chess.
A general progression of learning patterns and mastery might look like this:
1. Learn the pattern. "I get it!"
2. Use the pattern. "I can do it when I see it!"
3. Discern when the pattern is appropriate and not appropriate. "I see the pattern, but does it work here?"
4. Combine the pattern with other patterns. "I see the pattern, but my opponent can stop it, but by stoppin it, it allows me to do this other pattern!"
5. I am Magnus Carlsen. The inevitable pinnacle of any chess learning progression is Magnus Carlsen, right??

Okay Bryan, I get it...patterns good! No patterns bad! I was going to go on an epic discussion on how to best capture, catalog, and practice these patterns but thought it best to offer a few useful suggestions and then show you an example from a recent games how I used my knowledge of a pattern to win.

The first step is recognizing when a pattern is at hand. Luckily, a lot of chess books do this for you. For example, Chess Structures by Mauricio Flores Rios is an example of a compendium of pawn structures and examples of the typical strategies involved. You can just look up the structures that match up with your openings and study the examples in detail. That is more for strategies, but similar books exist for tactics, endgames, and checkmates.

Next, you want to capture the patterns in a trusted place. As I get older, I realize that I can't remember everything without reviewing it. A couple places you can store the patterns include chess databases (such as Chessbase), Chessable, or an old-fashioned notebook or index card system. 

Finally, you need to regularly review the patterns. I had a nice online conversation with Barry Hyman, who wrote Chess Improvement: It's in the MIndset (along with GM Peter Wells). He called reviewing chess patterns (in this case using a tool like Chessable) "choosing to remember something." Another way to do this is to make sure you are noting the places in your games when a pattern occurred and you were able to apply this. Not only will it reinforce the pattern in your mind, it will also give you confidence.

With that in mind, I was recently training GM Daniel King's excellent Chessable Course How Good is Your ChessOne of the games was the following attacking gem:

I can highly recommend the course if you want to watch GM King's instructive commentary on the game. This idea of pushing the h-pawn to open the file was not a new one for me, but I was delighted when I had a chance to apply the lesson in my own game. I work to trade off the bishop, push the h-pawn, and at the right moment open up the position with ...hxg3. Admittedly, my opponent didn't provide the best resistance, but knowing the pattern and method of attack was easy having seen and studied the Firouzja game recently. 

A fun game (for me) and even had a note of congrats on Twitter from the GM King himself:

So as you can see, having the knowledge of patterns helped me to conduct a successful attack in my game. Although the concept of collecting patterns in chess is not new, I hope this post will inspire you to continue in your efforts and perhaps give you a few good ideas on how to go about it.

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