1. INTO BATTLE
A game of chess is like a medieval battle where armies lined up to fight, often led by their kings with their knights and infantry attacking the opposition. As the general in charge of your army you have to arrange your troops to both defend against the opposition’s assaults whilst trying to capture or kill the opposing king.
Both sides have the same starting position, but where do your pieces go when you start to advance? Here are our top tips.
Control the Centre
The four squares e4, e5, d4 and d5 are the centre of the board. If you control these squares you will have an advantage: more room to manoeuvre, easy to develop your pieces on their best squares and restricting your opponent. So push an infantryman (pawn) or two, occupy the central squares and develop your pieces on their best squares behind them.
Kingside knights are best placed on f3 (white) and f6 (black). From these squares they have eight possible moves and they control two central squares. A knight on h3 or h6 has only four possible moves and is not contributing to the battle for the centre. Remember: knights on the rim are dim. The same principles apply to the queen knights, c3 and c6 are good squares, but so are d2 and d7 in some openings.
Bishops are at their best on open diagonals looking into the heart of the enemy position though they also have defensive duties to perform, such as breaking a pin or supporting the centre. Don’t allow your bishops to be boxed in by your own pawns.
Rooks are developed after knights and bishops, usually on the central squares e1, d1, e8 and d8, so after castling. If exchanges in the middle open up a file then put your rook on it where it has a clear view into the enemy camp.
It’s vital that you look after your king. It’s not unusual for the central files to be opened up by pawn exchanges which can leave your king exposed. So early castling, usually on the king side, is recommended. So for white the N goes to f3, the B goes to c4, b5, e2 or (if the d pawn has advanced to d4) d3. Then you can castle. The N on f3 defends the potentially weak pawn on h2. Black should adopt a similar plan but is more likely to want the bishop on e7 rather than (say) c5 as it is more likely to be required for defensive duties early on.
Your pieces need to support each other. So try to develop most or all of your pieces before getting too involved with attacking. Do not keep moving the same piece, and especially don’t use your queen to chase around the board rounding up stray pawns.
2. PLAYING ONLINE
Playing chess online can be fun and a useful training aid but can be damaging if done the wrong way. This guide will enable you to get the most out of playing online, both enjoying it and improving your play.
There are two main platforms: chess.com is US based with world-wide reach, lichess is largely European. They have similar functionality and features and allow you to play for free. Both have coaching videos but chess.com requires premium membership (subscription) to access much of this content, along with advertising. Lichess is free of this and is widely used by the English Chess Federation (ECF) for tournaments. (The ratings are also more generous.)
- When playing, don’t overdo it. Set yourself a time limit, for example an hour a couple of times a week, or two games a session, then switch off.
- Use a rapidplay time limit (ideally 15 minutes +10 second increment), or if that is too slow for you, start out with 10+5. Don’t play blitz, you don’t get the benefit of being able to analyse positions or devise plans playing that quickly.
- After your game play through the game again with the analysis engine which will point out your errors, your missed opportunities and alternative strategies. Do this whilst the game is still fresh in your mind, when you can remember what you were thinking during the game.
- After a few weeks your rating will have settled down. You should then make a note of your rating each week so you can measure your improvement.
- Don’t even think about cheating. You are almost certain to be caught, banned from the platform and carry the stigma for a long time (your friends will probably find out). You’d only be cheating yourself anyway, as you’d learn nothing from a game won by cheating.
- And finally . . . . . your online playing experience will be better if you are using a laptop or tablet rather than a smartphone.