More and more people are spending a significant amount of time at home, indoors. This has been brought on by a number of factors. Many seek an escape from their busy work-lives and so, may lie in late over the weekend and binge-watch a series on Netflix or ShowMax.

The Covid-19 pandemic (late 2019 onwards) has seen millions restricted to their homes by curfews, which limited outdoor activities. Whole families, who have been confined to their homes, have had to turn to activities to keep themselves and their off-spring gainfully occupied. Besides watching TV or spending time on your cell-phone, what could you do? Some turned to board games, such as Monopoly and others to the centuries-old game of chess. It was time to brush up on their chess opening strategy and chess technique.

You may have been encouraged to head in that direction by the series The Queen’s Gambit or after having seen The Master Game (in the 70s) or an anime series, where chess (or its Japanese equivalent, Shogi) play a pivotal role. One such series is Code Geass, an anime series where the character designs have been created by an all-female manga artist group, Clamp. The show gained great popularity after its launch in 2006, in Japan and North America.

If you have ever wanted to learn to play chess, all you have to do is turn to Superprof, which has numerous chess tutors who are waiting to instruct you in chess strategy basics.

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How does Chess Work?

Before you even pick up a chess piece, you need to know how to arrange all the pieces on the board. If you don’t have a handy guide, consult the Internet, where there are an endless number of sites to assist you.

You will also need to know how the game works, what the value of pieces are and how the pieces are allowed to move. This is not checkers (draughts), where pieces move diagonally and skip over a piece which is to be ‘eaten’ (captured). Chess pieces move in a totally different way and this is the first important part of the game that you have to learn and memorise.

No matter the size of the board, you have to know how to set it up
Whether for lawn chess or a standard tabletop model, you have to know the power of each piece on your chessboard. Photo credit: cold_penguin1952 on VisualHunt.com

Pawns, the lowest valued pieces (besides the king, which has no value), move one space at a time in a straight forward direction. The may only move two spaces on their first move, but are limited to one space subsequently. Pawns, which only move diagonally when they capture an opposing piece, are assigned one point.

The ultimate aim of the game is to trap the opposing king in a move called checkmate. The game ends as soon as this is achieved and, thus, there is no point in assigning the king any value, although the function of all the other pieces is to protect that particular piece. The king is very limited in the way it can move, namely, one space at a time in any direction, except when castling, a manoeuvre discussed later.

A bishop and knight have a three-point value. The bishop moves diagonally in any direction and for any number of spaces, to position itself in an attacking or defensive position.

The knight is the only chess piece which can ‘jump’ over other pieces. It moves in an L, either 2 spaces forward (or backwards) and one right or left, or vice versa.A rook (looks like a castle) is worth five points and is able to move in a straight line for any number of spaces.

These three pieces [bishop (3 points), knight (3) and rook (5)] are great pieces to have on the board, because of their long-range attacking and defensive capabilities. They are only surpassed by the queen, in terms of manoeuvrability.

The queen enjoys unfettered movement across the board. She can move in any direction for any number of spaces. So, as a long-range attacker or defender, this piece is priceless and has a point value of nine (9).

Although the point values don’t regulate who wins a game, they do give one an idea of who is in a better position to win, is leading or if the players are even. The points give you a good idea of how you’re doing when you are playing against a computer, for example. Of course, you should try not to lose a high-value piece to a lower-valued one, unless it is part of a calculated move to gain an advantage.

Now that you know how the different chess pieces move and what their values are you are ready to start playing. Or are you?

Starting out blindly can lead to your early demise.

Let’s talk strategy!

Opening Gambits

To be successful, when playing, you must have a chess opening strategy. Your first series of moves, called an opening gambit, is crucial to how well you do during the rest of the game. This is where the not-very-valued pawn becomes very important. One important point to remember is that you should never play in a way which isolates your pawns; always try to offer them some form of protection. Someone once said, “No pawn should be an island.”

Always consider game strategy whether playing western or Chinese chess
Opening moves and game strategy are of great interest to spectators and players of  chess and xiangqi (the Chinese precursor to chess).  Photo credit: LezlieN on Visualhunt.com

The way White (which always the first to play) leads with pawns will help you gain control of the centre of the board (which is ideal), or not. You are more likely to win the game if you take up a commanding position right at the start of the game.

There are several openings led by pawns. These pawn structures are known by various names, such as:

  • Botvinnik System
  • D5 chain; also e5 chain
  • Hanging pawns
  • Modern Benoni formation
  • Panoy formation
  • Queen’s Gambit
  • Stonewall formation

These are just a couple of pawn structures you may possibly wish to employ as part of your chess opening strategy. Each has its own advantages, as well as disadvantages. Which openings you choose are also dependent on which side of the board you are playing (white or black). Black's opening moves are very often dictated by how White opens!

Let’s take a look at one of the most popular of these openings.

The Queen’s Gambit, one of the oldest known openings, is referred to as far back as 1490 in the Göttingen manuscript. In this opening, three pawns are moved, one directly after the other. White moves his/ her King’s pawn two spaces forward (to square d4), to dominate the centre of the board. Black may respond by moving his first piece, a pawn, to d5. White may then advance the Bishop’s pawn two spaces (to c4), landing it right next to King’s pawn.

There are several strategies which Black can utilise to counter the Queen’s gambit. One of them is the Albin Counter-Gambit. This is a very aggressive defence which Black can employ against the Queen’s Gambit. Black responds to white’s pawn move to d4 by moving his first pawn to d5. White follows with a pawn to c4, which is countered by black moving a pawn to e5. Black sacrifices the pawn on e5 to give his pawn a commanding position on d4. At this stage, white has to be very cautious as black now has a number of approaches at his disposal. One of the traps that white has to be aware of is called the Lasker Trap, where White will be punished if he attacks black’s pawn on d4 with e3.

Countering White with this opening, immediately has him re-evaluating his attack and gives black many attacking options. The Albin Counter is a great opener for both sides to know and, especially so for an aggressive player with black.

Chess is a very interesting game and your chess technique will improve the more you spend time playing. The more regularly, the better!

Algebraic notation used today is very simple compared to a century ago
Fortunately, todays' algebraic notation is much simpler than the notation on this 1909 notation! Photo credit: Internet Archive Book Images on Visualhunt.com

What is Chess Notation?

If, as a novice, you consult a book on chess, you may encounter chess notation. This is the way that chess moves are written down to show the sequence of play. Since explaining everything in ‘long hand’ would be quite cumbersome, chess notation was developed to show the steps followed in a game, as well as its outcome. The squares of the board are allocated a grid reference. The columns (files), running bottom to top are denoted by one of the letters a to h and the rows, running left to right are numbered 1 to 8.

The following opening moves, written out in full, would read, “White moves the second pawn from the left one square forward (or up); Black responds by moving the fourth pawn from the left up to spaces.  In notation terms this will simply be written as 1. B3 e5. 2. Bb2 Nc6. The number two introduces the second move for each player, with White moving his bishop to b2 and Black moving his knight to c6. There are also some unusual notation codes which you should know:

  • a capture is denoted by an ‘x’, as in bxc3;
  • check is written as +: Bb5 (bishop moves to b5 putting the king in check);
  • checkmate is reflected as #: Qh4#.
  • Castling is a very unusual move and so is its notation:

Kingside: 0 – 0; Queenside: 0 – 0 – 0.

In closing, let’s look at this unusual move, viz. castling. Castling allows the rook and the king to swap places. At no other time are two pieces allowed to move simultaneously.

There are four rules which govern castling in chess:

  • The rook and king must have remained in their starting positions.
  • The spaces between the rook and the king must be empty.
  • The king must not be in check.
  • The square that the king lands on, and those he moves across, cannot be under attack.

Once you know chess notation and various strategies, as explained above, chess instructions or the study of previous games will start to make greater sense to you! Get going! Think carefully … then make your move.

It’s your turn!

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Trevor

Career teacher turned writer. Passionate about family, running, and the great outdoors.