The game of chess offers almost endless opportunities to study tactics, try out strategies and thus move the chess pieces across the board. All with the aim of checkmating the opponent's king. But not all moves lead to success and mistakes are rarely forgiven in a game of chess. Every chess player regularly experiences that his move is followed by a unpleasant surprise. The seemingly perfect move of the knight into the attack, the diagonal supposedly safely covered by the bishop, the castled king, the safely considered piece position. With one move, everything starts to falter and instead of a victory that was thought to be certain, a quick defeat follows. The reason: a blunder. But how can a blunder be distinguished from a good move? Is it really necessary to think several moves ahead? Is there a golden rule for a safe move? In the following, I would like to show you a few guidelines to enable a better orientation in chess and especially in prioritising learning processes.
To give you a better overview, we will look at the three main phases of the game and use these to derive lessons that will give you orientation. These three phases are the opening, the middlegame and the endgame.
The opening lays the foundation of the game strategy. During this phase, the players bring their pawns into play and try to achieve an advantageous position from which they can make further tactical decisions. As a rule, the white player decides the rough direction of the game with his first move, which gives him a small strategic advantage. Due to the high number of defensive options, however, the black player has many opportunities to determine the further course of the game. But how can mistakes be avoided in this phase of the game?
There are two important lessons that we will look at and that you must internalise in order not to fall behind already in the opening. These are, firstly, the six opening rules and, secondly, an overview of well-known chess openings that are played regularly and according to a fixed pattern. Let us first take a brief look at the opening rules.
These are as follows:
- Occupy the centre with your pieces to control the game
- Avoid pawn moves whenever possible to avoid falling behind
- First develop your light and heavy pieces to get into the game
- Ideally move your pieces only once, so as not to give away moves
- Move your king to safety as quickly as possible by castling
- Do not put your knights in an unfavourable position on the edge
These rules are the basics of tactical play in the opening and offer a first orientation. If you follow them, they give you the advantage that your opponent has few possibilities to attack or trap you. Feel free to have a look at my detailed explanation of the opening rules in another article. Once you have internalised the rules, a look at common chess openings is recommended.
Chess has been around for almost 1,400 years and in that time both the game and the ways of playing it have changed constantly. Moreover, since the 15th/16th century, chess openings in particular have been documented and, since the 20th century, analysed in detail with the help of computers. As a result, many openings have been calculated so precisely that the best possible decisions for the first moves are already known and these logically have only a low tendency to errors.
In order to optimise one's own game, it therefore makes sense to look at a few openings and learn them in order to have a rough idea of the respective move sequences. In the following, I have prepared an overview of well-known chess openings with some variations and classified them according to player colours. Please note that the chess notation at the edge of the board is mirrored for Black.
White: Spanish Game (also called Ruy Lopez)
1. e4 e5 | 2. ♘f3 ♘c6 | 3. ♗b5
The Spanish Game, named after the Spanish priest Ruy López de Segura, is an opening that was already described in 1561 in the book "Libro de la invención liberal y arte del juego del ajedrez". It is one of the most popular openings and offers the white player good options for conquering the centre, while at the same time building up a threat against a black knight.
White: Italian Game
1. e4 e5 | 2. ♘f3 ♘c6 | 3. ♗c4
The Italian Game seems very similar to the Spanish Game, but it produces entirely different lines of play. In the direct comparison, the bishop is a little further back on c4. Instead of directing a threat against the knight, White here relies on an attacking structure that targets the king's side.
White: Queen's Gambit
1. d4 d5 | 2. c4
Also known from the famous TV series "Queen's Gambit", this opening is a popular game strategy for White. But the black player can also respond to this opening in different ways and thus steer the game in completely different directions. Black can either accept the gambit (Queen's Gambit accepted) or reject it (Queen's Gambit declined). If Black accepts the gambit, he captures with his pawn on c4, wins material, but in return weakens his centre. If he declines, he moves either one of his pawns to c6 (Slav defence) or to e6 for defence.
Black: Caro Kann Defence
Chess moves opening:
1. e4 c6
Possible chess moves to the middlegame:
1. e4 c6 | 2. d4 d5 | 3. exd5 cxd5 | 4. ♘c3 ♘f6 |
5. ♗f4 ♘c6 | 6. ♘f3 ♗f5 | 7. ♗e2 e6 | 8. O-O ♗e7 | 9. ♖e1 O-O
The Caro-Kann Defence is a very aggressive defensive strategy that creates a highly contested centre. Here is only one of many variations of the defence. But it shows very well that even with a slight deviation from the opening rules (not too many pawn moves / not moving pieces several times) a good development of all pieces is still possible.
Black: Sicilian Defence
Chess moves opening:
1. e4 c5
Possible chess moves to the middlegame:
1. e4 c5 | 2. ♘f3 d6 | 3. d4 cxd4 | 4. ♘xd4 ♘f6 | 5. ♘c3 g6
The Sicilian Defence gives Black the possibility to open the queenside by an early pawn attack and to prepare an attack on the c-file. This attack can be supported by the bishop if it covers the diagonal on g7.
Black: French Defence
Chess moves opening:
1. e4 e6 | 2. d4 d5
Possible chess moves to the middlegame:
1. e4 e6 | 2. d4 d5 | 3. e5 c5 | 4. ♘f3 ♘c6 | 5. c3 ♕b6
In this variation, the French Defence is characterised by a consolidation of the pawn structure in the centre. The further course of the game can take many forms. The next moves for Black often focus on activating the knight on the kingside (in this strategy on h6, ignoring the knight's opening rule) and activating the bishops.
These openings are only a small number of all popular openings and the variations shown are also only a few of many. However, they are suitable for doing the first exercises and thus internalising them. With the openings in mind, you don't have to worry about the first moves in the future, you save time for the subsequent moves and, in a way, you don't start tactical play until the middlegame. During your games, you will also notice that many game sequences follow the patterns of well-known chess openings and that the initial phase of your game is always faster.
The middlegame is a crucial phase of chess. While the opening moves are aimed at getting each player's chess pieces into position, the middlegame is the phase where players demonstrate their tactical skills and where even experienced players can run into difficulties. In what follows, we will look at some of the most common challenges posed by the middlegame mechanics of chess.
While opening moves can be learned by heart and accordingly proceed swiftly, the middlegame requires constant adaptation to the opponent's moves and his tactical motives. The focus is on recognising one's own strengths and weaknesses and identifying the opponent's weak points. Since there is usually time pressure, many move variations must be calculated and evaluated as quickly as possible in advance in order to be able to assess the consequences of one's own decisions. Since there are countless game situations that can occur in the middlegame, there is no collection of optimal solutions. But there are a few tips:
Pay Attention to Your Weak Points and Identify Weak Squares
Your weak points are primarily chess squares or chess pieces that are not defended by you, but are tactically valuable and attackable for the opponent. If you do not succeed in covering the named weak points, you will be directly under pressure in an attack and in the worst case even under zugzwang. In such a situation it is important that you react. Do not ignore any threat and do not blindly pursue your tactical motive without keeping an eye on your opponent's actions and evaluating them. Look at the possibilities of the other side and what dangers their pieces pose. Often a simple pawn move forward can ward off a threat if it defends an attacked square.
Connect Your Rooks and Take an Open Line
Castling gives you the tactical option of protecting your king and connecting your rooks at the same time. The important thing here is that you have brought your pieces into play and thus cleared your base row. This allows your rooks to cover each other and reinforce an attack. In many cases, as soon as rooks enter the middlegame, they try to occupy an open or half-open line to the opposite side, thus cutting a swathe across the board. If you succeed in occupying such a line with a covered rook, or even with both, this creates a serious threat for your opponent.
Do Not Neglect Your Pawn Structure
While pawns only form the foray in the initial phase, they become more and more important as the game progresses. Since they can usually cover each other well, they are difficult to attack and essentially determine the game structure on the board. Moreover, they become dangerous as soon as the chessboard becomes emptier, since they can push forward relentlessly and develop into queens. However, since pawn structures are difficult to correct afterwards, attention must be paid to them early on.
This example shows a game situation with a so-called doubled pawn. Black has two consecutive pawns on e6 and e5. In addition, the square e4 is well defended by White. For Black there is a great danger here that his pawns act like a wall on the freedom of movement of his own chess pieces. For example, the queen on g6 is under pressure and the knight on c6 cannot easily change sides. This results in many attack patterns for White, especially since he can also break up the structure at any time with an attack by his knight on e5.
So don't neglect your pawns and study opening variations well, because many pawn structures break up already in the first moves because a stable defence is neglected or the pawn structure is sacrificed without significant countervalue.
Evaluate Exchange Possibilities Carefully
Each chess piece has different strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, the pieces also have inherently different valences. Knight and bishop can be weighed in three pawns, rooks in five, a queen even in nine. So calculate the exchange of pieces carefully so as not to give away one piece too many or pieces with a higher total value. Also important, although more for advanced players: Depending on the course of the game, pieces lose and gain value. On a full board, a knight often has more freedom due to its jumping mechanics than a bishop, which is blocked by intact pawn structures. On an empty board, on the other hand, the range of the bishop often carries more weight than the limited interaction radius of the knight. I have also written a detailed article on the topic of "trading pieces", feel free to have a look at it.
The middlegame always symbolises the supreme discipline of chess. It is the exciting phase of the competition and often the game is decided here with a single move, without a real endgame occurring. Most chess puzzles are also set in this phase of the game, which is why they can be quite suitable for practising the middlegame. However, if both opponents are equally strong and compete in a balanced manner, the game moves on to the final phase, the endgame, after the exchange of pieces.
The endgame is the final phase of the game of chess. But it is not possible to determine exactly when the endgame occurs, as it is fluid. However, it is characterised by the fact that only a few types of pieces are left on the board and pawns gain in value. Players are much more concerned with calculating their moves in this phase, as the board becomes more manageable and blunders are more serious. But here, too, there are a few recommendations that are promising in the endgame and at least show you what to look out for.
Attacking Your Opponent's Pawns and Preventing Promotion to Queen
Pawns can become a great danger in the endgame, as they quickly outnumber the remaining light and heavy pieces. While it is unthinkable in the middlegame for a pawn to move all the way to the baseline, pawns can easily cover three to four squares in the endgame if the defence is not carefully thought out. But this danger also creates an opportunity. The other side also has fewer possibilities to defend its own pawns. Therefore, look for your opponent's weakness primarily in his pawn structure and weaken it. In this way, your own pawns automatically become stronger and can support your remaining light and heavy pieces.
Advance Pawns and Threaten Promotion to Queen
Your pawns are also a danger for your opponent. Calculate well how your pawn structure would fare against that of the other side. Could it break through without support? Then move your pawns and attack your opponent's weak points with the other pieces. Do your pawns need support? Then focus your attack and support your pawn with all the pieces in the attack. Another possibility is to support your pawns with the king itself.
Activate the King and Actively Bring it into Play as an Attacker
Even though the king must always be protected, it unleashes a dangerous attacking potential in the endgame. Often there are so few light or heavy pieces left on the board that the danger of a quick checkmate is rather small. In that case, the king can become active and, for example, help the pawn structure to break through. Or it defends the important squares for the opponent in its own half and thus prevents a counterattack. The use of the king can take many forms and when it comes to the showdown, it must create a checkmate situation together with the other pieces. You should know these so-called mate patterns by heart in order not to get into a stalemate situation on the home straight.
The so-called mate patterns are recurring game structures that occur frequently in the endgame and are therefore always played in the same way. However, it is important that the player knows these patterns and makes his moves accordingly. Depending on the remaining chess pieces, there are many combinations; here is an overview of the most popular patterns:
Mate Pattern with the Light Pieces: Bishop & Knight
If you are in the comfortable situation of playing mate with two light pieces, there is still something to consider. You need a coordinated interplay between the two light pieces. Because if no piece has been captured after 50 moves (per player), the game ends in a draw.
This example shows only one of several positions that can be aimed at in order to set mate with bishop and knight. The king plays a decisive role here, as it can shield three squares horizontally or vertically and thus guide the opponent's king. Bishop and knight must coordinate in such a way that on the one hand they push the king to the edge and on the other hand they do not become vulnerable themselves. Care must also be taken here not to create a stalemate situation. The mate pattern with knight and bishop is considered the most complicated pattern among endgame constellations and requires a lot of practice and a distinct understanding of the coordinated movement patterns of light pieces.
Mate Pattern with the Light Pieces: Two bishops
The mating with two bishops takes place on a corner square or an edge square directly next to it.
Here, too, it should be noted that the king must take an active part in the attack, since the two bishops cannot cover each other due to their opposing background colours. If the king moves too far away from them, the opponent's king can go on the offensive itself and push the bishops away and in the worst case even capture them. As soon as a bishop is lost, the game ends in a draw, so be careful to keep bishop and king together.
Mate Pattern with the Heavy Pieces: Rook
In the mate pattern of the rook, the opponent's king must also be pushed to the edge.
The simplest procedure here is to keep your own king and rook together and to move closer and closer to the king of the other side. As soon as the king reaches the edge, it is pressed by the own king until the rook can move to the edge and set mate.
Mate Pattern with the Heavy Pieces: Queen
The mate pattern with the queen is one of the simpler patterns.
Here the king and the queen he is protecting move closer and closer to each other until mate occurs on the border square. Of course, the queen must always be protected by the king and you must take care not to create a stalemate situation in the corner of the board.
I hope that these instructions have helped you in your game and in the development of your chess tactics. The scope is of course quite large, which is why the instructions mentioned here cannot be learned overnight. As is so often the case, internalisation only takes place with regular play against other players or artificial intelligences. If you are looking for a more detailed description of the game positions mentioned here, take a look at the published studies on www.lichess.org.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me via my contact form.
I wish you a lot of fun with the game, much success and rapid progress in your learning.
See you soon.