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Sometimes my mom and I stop by a local bar to enjoy a hot chocolate and a game of chess. The ambience is lots of old-style records (mostly 45s, some 78s) and it is calm, at least at the times we visit.

There was a day when this game happened:

I don't know, everything just fell into the right place so I could checkmate in about six moves. I think I annoyed mom, she played a more combative game afterwards, and the next time, beat me, which was an event worth celebrating.

I'm no expert chess player, however for what it is worth I will dispense some strategy here. This might seem comical to chess masters, however neither of us are playing at anything remotely near that level. For us, it is for enjoyment that we play.

  1. Position your important pieces in strategic locations early. Pieces aren't terribly useful on the back lines. You shouldn't move your pawns too much (moving one in the centre helps you occupy the centre but don't move many early). You should take time to develop the strategic positions of your Bishops and Knights. Knights move slowly so need more time to be developed, and keep them away from the edges. Try not to move the same piece in two consecutive moves (that delays bringing out other pieces). Don't bring out the Queen too early.
  2. To (mis)quote Alex Salmond, always have a Plan B. If you are moving your Bishop into position to take the opponent's Rook, you should also have another piece in a place where a single move will make it available for action, so if the opponent defends against your Bishop, you can drop that attack (for now?) and come at them from a different direction. This is part of the above advice on bringing your pieces out and not concentrating on a single line of attack.
    here's the hard one:
  3. Whenever you look at a chess board, evaluate all the pieces. What movements are available to them? When you do that, what further moves may that piece make? Estimate all of the pieces that can weaken your position, and work out how to block or attack those pieces. Pay specific attention to the Knights, their movement is more complicated.
  4. When evaluating, consider every step along the path that the piece may take. Yes, that Bishop could traverse half the board and take out your Knight. Or it could stop halfway and put you in check.
    Note, however, that there is no value in putting the opponent in check simply for the sake of it. If you want to force a King move or another piece to move, then check can be used as a weapon to force the defending of the King. Otherwise, don't concentrate on check, concentrate on checkmate.
  5. When you have pieces on the board, you should put supplementary pieces (Pawns) or other important pieces in such a position that if your opponent takes your piece, their piece will be taken. To take a piece to lose a piece weakens both sides; unless a gambit is being played.
    Be careful of gambits. While a player may make a mistake, if you see an opportunity arise where a piece can be taken you should ask yourself why. The best approach you can take is to assume that your opponent knows exactly what they are doing. This may not always be true, but to take your opponent for a fool makes you an even bigger fool. So when a piece appears in your sights, don't gloat and think "sucker!" for it may be that the piece is being offered in order to weaken your position and allow something to be developed that you will regret later on. Only take the piece if you cannot see any reason why doing so can harm you. [Mom, pay attention, you fall for this a lot ☺]
  6. Remember, the Queen may be your most powerful piece, but she is not the most important. The most important piece is the King. If you let the Queen fall, the game is difficult. If you let the King fall, the game is over.
    I am not going to specify the "importance" ranking of the playing pieces. You will find it typically given in this order: Queen, Rook, Bishop, Knight, Pawn ... however the actual importance of any piece depends not on what it is, but rather what it can do. A trapped Knight is useless. A Knight that can checkmate the King is the most important piece you have.
    Do not disregard the Pawns as being useless. They increase in importance as the game progresses. They are a line of defence against an attack, and a Pawn that crosses the board can be promoted. Having multiple Queens is a massive advantage.
  7. Don't bother to memorise a long list of opening variations. Your game will come apart if you play somebody who knows the same opening. Instead, develop your tactical abilities so that you can respond to the game as it progresses instead of stressing when the opponent isn't following the script. Play games (even if against a computer) and try to spot tactical opportunities as they present themselves. Most normal people do not play perfect chess, they will make mistakes, as will you. Try to recognise these mistakes in others to take advantage, and in yourself to avoid giving away your King.
    Don't get lost in study. It is no point studying all manner of chess games if you play none. You can buy portable inexpensive chess sets which, while not good quality, contain all that is necessary to win or lose a game with somebody who is willing to play you. Any time. Any where.
  8. Understand how you pay. There are four kinds of chess player:
    • a. Those who play defensively.
    • b. Those who attack.
    • c. Those who alternate.
    • d. Those who alternate but like to play gambits such as sacrificing a piece to develop an opportunity to attack.
    I would rank myself as a 'd' type player. I think mom is an 'a' type player (she says she is a c type). It is harder to defend than to attack.
    Chess is not Poker. It is highly deterministic and entirely non-random. So ignore your opponent's behaviour. Don't look at their eyes, if they smirk, ignore it. In Poker, there are many things that you do not know (your opponent's hand, for instance) and the cards are supposed to be randomly shuffled, so a lot of success in Poker depends upon luck and judgement and good old fashioned faking out the other players. Chess is not like that. From the first move, every single further move is right there in front of you and all information is available. Your opponent is not the person sitting opposite you, your opponent is the opposite colour on the battlefield of the chess board between you.
  9. My mother likes to play White and go first. Traditionally White is believed to have a winning advantage by taking the first move, and this may be true at chessmaster level. In lower level games, taking the first move is not necessarily an advantage. As touched upon above, chess is what is known as a "complete information" game which means that while Black does not have the advantage of the first play, it does have the advantage of always having one move more information on the state of play than White. For both attack and defence, it can aid Black in responding to White's actions.
  10. You will win. You will lose. These are the two inevitabilities. Both are opportunities to develop your understanding of the game.
    When I play my mother (and frequently win), there is no stigma on her loss - I don't make her pay for the hot chocolate (we take it in turns). I hope that as she plays she observes what she did wrong and learns from it. The important thing is to keep playing. She has beaten me, and I'm no ace at the game, so I hope with more games played the wins and losses will even out to be about equal on both sides.
    And, finally, don't be afraid to experiment. The best kind of chess is the one where you can take your time to evaluate each move available, however...
    There is also something called "Blitz chess" where you have to play rapidly. You either have to finish a game within a certain amount of time, or you have a certain amount of time to make a move. For an informal game, it can be fun to specify that a move must be made within 30 seconds. Both sides will probably make loads of mistakes, but it can help you work on basic strategy by requiring you to strip away all of the possibilities and concentrate on a few specific plays. Lastly, for fun, there is a type of chess called "Suicide Chess". As the name implies, the goal is to lose pieces. There are numerous variations, but generally the game progresses with a lot of sacrifice until either the King is in check or the player has lost every piece except the King. Alternative rules are that every piece must be lost, or that the King has no privilege and can be taken like a regular piece, etc etc. Work out a rule set with your opponent, and massacre your own army with glee. It is useful to help you think a little differently about the pieces and the board.
    Plus, it helps you lighten up a little.

Whatever sort of chess you play, and however you play it, the most important thing is to enjoy the game unfolding before you.



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