Playing your Opponent, Not just the Board... by Jeddah / CheddaCheese
I find that when I am playing chess I play the person just as much as the board and there are some distinct playing types that I have to work out before they can be used to my advantage. I will outline a few, the strengths and weaknesses that I see and talk about the benefit of playing a person of a particular type. Of course all people will be a little different and each game is unique, but here are some of the more general types I’ve encountered and perhaps by looking at the game this way one can come to view their own approach and move to improve it.
Favoured Pieces: Bishop vrs Knight
Often when playing I will realise that a person has a favoured piece out of the bishop or the knight, in that they will favour their attack to suit one or the other and often they will be reluctant to lose this piece, even in an equal exchange.
Some players favour the bishop, they will often get these two pieces together, their positions supported by the knights and they will try and instigate long range attacks and defence. The problems with this can be many, firstly, the bishops are sometimes a favoured piece of the novice or beginner as they seem to be the easiest to move and utilise around the board. However, when a novice favours the bishop it is often as a solo piece, they fail to establish good pawn formations, they let their bishops go out too early and as lone unsupported pieces, which makes them vulnerable to attack. Then, because they are a piece they favour when the bishop is under attack they will waste time and resources in saving/retrieving it. The strength of a bishop lies in when it is used in conjunction with other pieces, especially a supporting queen. Also a bishop is actually very good at supporting other pieces and being ‘behind’ in the battle, which is something that a player who favours the bishop often misses out on. A game has to be layered, if you are always and only using your pieces in one way then you lack the layers needed for a good development.
Those that favour the knight seem to be slightly less aggressive players (than those that favour the bishop) and when I say this I mean overtly aggressive as those that favour the knight also favour cunning. The knight player is often a little more experienced and plans further ahead than the player who relies on the bishop and some more experienced players who have mastered the strength of two knights working together can be deadly and cause havoc on the board. However, players who favour knights seem to do so with even more fervour than those who favour bishops, as if the time it takes to become skilled at using the knights has been to be determent of learning to successfully use other pieces in the same way. Whereas the loss of a bishop can be problematic and unwanted it is not always crushing for those who favour the bishop as one piece can work well in isolation. However, the loss of a knight, as their real strength lies in paired play, can be devastating (or at least appears to be devastating to those that like their knights). What this means is that threatening one knight threatens the very foundation of that person’s perceived strength and they will go to great lengths to avoid the loss of a knight. What it also means is that if a knight is won then the player’s moral will be shaken as they now have to work their knight in with other pieces and this is something they are not as confident at doing. I suppose to a knight person losing one is like losing one of the two castles, the piece is still strong but that combined power cannot be regained.
There is clear advantage to the opposing player in both cases, but probably especially in the case of the knight favourer, as this type of player will be reluctant to swap off pieces even in the instance of a balanced exchange. What this means is that you may able to sneak pieces up further, bypassing an exchange or threaten a favoured piece to gain time and space on the board.
The other type of style that I see a lot is whether the person is an initiator (an aggressor) or more of a reluctant aggressor. I am not sure what really to call these styles, but it is the difference between the player who will take a piece and exchange material, one who is not shy about some bloodshed and ‘mess’ and the type of player who likes to retain pieces, not to lose material unless forced to and who will look for other ways to respond to an invitation to swap off material.
You know the type, you start the game, put a few pieces out there, think, they won’t take that for that, or put pawns against pawns and think, we’ll hold these positions for a while and then – it is an all out battle from the get go. If any of your pieces can be taken they will take them, exchange or otherwise and in the end after such a quick onslaught, which you have responded to with “well if you are attacking then I will attack too” attitude you are both left with a handful of major pieces and some pawns. What it comes down to then is who was fasted at having good pawn formations and who is in the best position now the dust has settled and if you weren’t the instigator then this means you have probably been left with disparate satellite pieces and a few pawns all bent out of shape and your control of the game has been thoroughly roughed up. This type of player can be a real problem for a much slower paced and less aggressive player and you can often find yourself being mentally disrupted, with all your lovely ‘plans’ thrown to the wayside. If you too are an aggressor and it is aggressor vrs aggressor then you are probably fine, a quick game is a good game right?
But if you are a slower reluctant player then this type of opponent can be a real problem. Unfortunately the first time you play an aggressor you probably won’t realise until it is too late and you might claw back victory but it will be a harrowing experience. But if you have the opportunity to play that person again I would suggest a few tactics to help stave off the aggressor’s onslaught on your pieces and on your moral constitution. Firstly (as long as you are not playing a timed game) just remember that just because someone is faster than you are deciding moves that doesn’t mean you have to match their pace. Indeed slow and thoughtful can be an advantage in this setting, one, because it gives you time to plan but also because if the aggressor is used to making quick moves making them wait for you might break their concentration and flow. Secondly, what you can do to try and stop the onslaught is to really consolidate your pieces, make sure your pieces are doublely backed up and really network them together, as an aggressor might be quick or confronting but they are not often stupid or suicidal, if the exchange is not going to be an equal one an aggressor will often not instigate it.
The Reluctant Aggressor:
This is the sort of player who likes to plan their advances and who waits to make significant piece loss until later in the game. Although this might sound like a lot of ‘regular players’ the main difference is that the reluctant player will not usually initiate exchanges or swaps, they will avoid forcing exchanges and they will protect and defend rather than push an attack. The problem with being a reluctant aggressor is that if you are always responding to attacks then the way that the board progresses in terms of space, time and material is not in your control. Often also in some exchanges the benefit is gained from initiating and you will lose this opportunity because of your reluctance. A reluctant player needs to recognise that defending positions can also be attacking ones, so be on the lookout for moves that defend and attack in one rather than just defend. Also look at initiating exchanges not as giving in to the attacking pressures of your opponent but as a way to maintain overall control and not placing the control back in the hands of your opponent. Look at exchanges in terms of outcomes, not just the loss of material, think, who gains time, space, position or opportunity from this exchange, is it better if I initiate it, is it better if I force them to initiate it? Never assume your opponent will initiate an exchange, it you want them to initiate it then you have to force their hand.
All of these styles are generalised and won’t apply to all, but what I do think is important is to recognise that you might have a particular way of playing which someone else can exploit or which may be hampering your advancement in the game. Chess is about combinations of pieces, space and time on the board as well as knowing your opponent. Be aware of yourself and others while playing and you might find more layers coming out in your game.