Move Every Piece Once...

Move Every Piece Once...

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"Move every piece once before you move any piece twice, unless there is a tactic" is the most important principle (not goal!) in the opening.

This principle is ancient. I found an almost identical one in Emanuel Lasker's book Common Sense in Chess, based on lectures he gave in London well over a century ago in 1895: "II. Do not move any piece twice in the opening, but put it at once upon the right square" and it was probably not original there!

Yes, there are many exceptions, but as Kasparov wrote in My Great Predecessors, these type of guidelines...

"...are not eternal truisms, but mere instructional material presented in an accessible and witty form, those necessary rudiments from which one can begin to grasp the secrets of chess."

I emphasize the word "necessary", for it doesn't make a lot of sense to spend time and energy learning the exceptions to principles if you have not learned to follow them quite well and regularly.

When I first started instructing chess full-time in 1996, I was under the misconception that most of my students who did not know how to efficiently develop their pieces would, upon learning "Move every piece once before you move every piece twice..." then be able to do so without too much difficultly.

How wrong I was!

Of course my stronger students knew how to do this already but, of the ones that did not, it turned out that almost all were seduced "by the Dark Side" in the opening and continued to move pieces multiple times unnecessarily while, say, leaving otherwise good rooks sitting in the corner.

I call this lure to break this principle "Having a better idea" in that players knew the principle, knew it dated back to Lasker and earlier, yet chose to purposely ignore it because "I really wanted the knight on e5" or "I wanted to see how he would defend the pawn after Ng5", etc. Therefore, those players were "having a better idea" of what to do than the sage advice of Lasker, Capablanca, Fischer, and Kasparov!

When I say almost all continued to break the "Move every piece once..." principle, well...

Of the first ~300 students I taught where were either not aware of this principle, or were not following it, all 300 - that's right, all 300 - failed to follow it regularly after being taught .

Oh sure, many followed the principle eventually or they would not have become strong players (which many did...), but no one followed it immediately "just because it is a good idea". They all continued making this error until some of them realized it just wasn't in their best interests. But then...

One day, many years ago, I was coaching a young professor from Temple University in a live lesson. As expected, he was moving the same pieces unnecessarily in the opening and I gave him "Move every piece once..." I usually follow this with an analogy like "Would a basketball coach want to run plays for fewer than 5 players on the court? How many basketball coaches start the game with less than the maximum allowed (and in chess you are allowed "ALL", so use "ALL").

Lo and behold, in each game the professor showed me after that, he "moved every piece once..." He did not think this was a big feat, but I was amazed. He did it! So I told my future students "1 for 301"...

A couple years later I was teaching another adult student live and told him this story. He banged on the table and said "I will be #2!"

However, in the next lesson he showed me a game where he was Black and he played the curious move Bd7-a4, attacking a white pawn on c2.

"Why did you make that move?" I inquired.

"It's very clever," he replied, "No matter how he saves the pawn something bad happens: if he guards it, he ties down a piece; if he moves it to c3, he weakens d3; if he plays b2-b3 he weakens the squares on the queenside!"

"So you think that was worth the tempo it took you to play Bd7-a4?"

"Of course. Why else would I do it?"

"1 for 302".

In the intervening dozen years or so, I continued to have many students eventually learn to develop their pieces efficiently, but not one has followed the lead of the professor and started doing so just because it is a good idea. I continue to use the sports analogies ("Would a football coach want to start running plays without putting 11 players on the field...?") and none of my students disagree with Lasker or Capablanca or Kasparov - they just need to learn it for themselves...eventually.

Meanwhile, my count is now up to about 600 or so. And every time I teach it, I tell the stories that are in this blog, hoping they will hit home and shorten the time it takes for a student to "get it". Ironically, if you play others at your level who also don't develop all their pieces, the game seems "fair" and "competitive" and you don't feel the need so much to change (even though it would get you more superior positions earlier). But once you start playing competent opponents regularly who do develop their pieces efficiently, then the lack of development is punished more often and that punishment is a compelling teacher.

And yes, once you do regularly develop your pieces efficiently, you will run into all those exceptions where you could not or should not develop this piece or that quite so quickly, but that's a different story. Walk before you can run...

PS: I wrote a previous blog about the same subject!