Chess tactics

Chess tactics are the tools of the middlegame. Chess tactics are used to gain an advantage in material, position, or time (tempo). Once a player has such an advantage, he or she might be able to drive the game towards an endgame solution.

The following is an introduction to the chess player’s arsenal of tactics. The list is fairly comprehensive, but not exhaustive. The best way to become accustomed to their use is to study chess tactics explicitly, either through on-line methods (such as www.chess.com) or through chess puzzle books.

Fork

A fork is a move in which a piece attacks two opponent pieces at the same time. Knights are most often used for a fork, but even pawns can make an effective fork.

Probably the most dreaded fork is the family fork, in which a knight simultaneously attacks the enemy king, queen, and rook.

The knight at e5 is forking the king and a rook.

Discovered Attack

A discovered attack occurs when the movement of one piece allows another piece to attack.

Black moves her knight to a5, putting the white king in check with her queen on c7, while attacking the white queen on b3 with her knight.

Pin

A pin is a tactical move in which an attacked piece is prevented from moving due to a target behind it.

The white bishop at b5 is pinning the knight at c6 to the black king — black is unable to move his knight because that would put his king in check. The black bishop at g4 is also pinning the knight at f3 to white’s queen. If the knight is moved, the bishop takes the queen.

Skewer

A skewer is an attack on a piece that, when it is forced to move, enables the capture of a piece behind it.

When the white king moves to e2, black will capture the rook on h1.

Blockade

A blockade is using a minor piece – such as a bishop, knight, or a pawn – to prevent the progress of a pawn towards promotion by placing it in front of the pawn. The blockaded pawn also shelters the blockading piece from attack somewhat, and, in many cases, can be used to hamper the enemy’s movement.

Blockades are useful in all three stages of the game. In the opening, a successful blockade can redirect enemy piece development. During the middlegame, blockades can be used to force the enemy to change his or her plans. In the endgame, blockades are essential to prevent pawn promotion.

The white knight on c4 is successfully blockading black’s pawn.

Deflection

Deflection is a chess tactic used to repel an enemy piece from a good position. In this way, it is somewhat the opposite of a decoy.

Sometimes deflection is called biffing or kicking.

In the beginning of this variation of the Ruy Lopez opening, the bishop is deflected (or “kicked”) by the pawn at a6.

When the bishop retreats to a4, black kicks it again with b5! The bishop is forced to retreat to b3.

Battery

A battery is an arrangement of two or more pieces that share the same attack line. A battery is used to reinforce a threat that is subject to counterattack.

White has double rooks on the d-file, causing a serious situation for black.

Batteries are also useful in piece exchanges. One famous use of a battery is called Alekhine’s Gun, in which the queen is “stacked” onto a battery of rooks to increase the power of the battery.

The grandmaster Alexander Alekhine used such a battery in the diagram below against Aron Nimzowitsch in 1930. The battery on the c-file gave Alekhine the edge in a massive piece trade. Nimzowitsch resigned four moves later.

Interference

Interference is a chess tactic in which a piece is sacrificially put in the way of the line of attack of an enemy piece. This can be useful to eliminate the protection of an enemy piece or to disrupt a powerful attack combination like a battery.

Black has a powerful battery, but white can use interference with Nd5, eliminating the protection of the black queen.

Overloading

Overloading is a strategy used to coerce a defensive piece (one that is used to guard another piece) to change assignments. By giving that piece too many things to do, we weaken its value as a defender.

White wants to make the move Qxf3 but can’t because the f3 pawn is protected by the rook at f1. Instead, Black overloads that rook by moving Re1 — it cannot defend against the rook and protect the pawn at the same time.

Undermining

Undermining is a chess strategy in which a defensive piece is attacked (either captured or deflected) so that the piece it is guarding is left unprotected. Sometimes undermining is referred to as “removing the guard”.

Black’s knight at a4 is causing considerable problems for white, so white undermines the knight to relieve the pressure: 1. Bxb5 Rxb5 2. Rxa4.

Sacrifice

In chess, a sacrifice is a tactic in which a piece is allowed to be captured by the opponent because the result is an advantage in space, tempo, or attack for the sacrificing player. A pawn sacrifice in an opening is called a gambit.

Black sacrifices her rook with 1. Rxh3 gxh3, but in return seals the win.

Desperado

A desperado is a piece that is in a position such that it will surely be taken on the opponent’s next move; it is essentially lost. Consequently, the best thing to do is to use that piece to greatest advantage before it leaves the board, which usually means capturing a piece.

Black wants to capture the white queen at a8, but if he does, his queen is lost. He decides instead to “go desperado” with 1. … Qxb1. White must recapture with her rook to avoid checkmate, and black follows by capturing the white queen with his bishop.

Decoy

A decoy is a chess tactic used to lure a piece to a square that is part of a trap. A decoy move most often involves a sacrifice of a piece for a more valuable piece or position.

Black makes the seemingly dumb move Rxd4, and white recaptures with the queen. However, the rook was a decoy to setup the fork Nb3+! which wins the white queen!

Passed Pawn

A passed pawn (sometimes called a passer) is a pawn with no pawns in front of it and it cannot be captured by adjacent pawns. This can happen if there are no adjacent pawns, if the pawn is simply beyond the capture squares of its adjacent pawns, or if it is on the edge of the board.

A passed pawn increases in threat value the closer it gets to its promotion square. In fact, many times it is worth sacrificing other pieces to defend (or destroy, if you are the opponent) a passed pawn.

A pair of adjacent passed pawns is called a steamroller. A passed pawn by itself on one side of the board is called a runner.

White sacrifices two pieces make the passed pawn on e6 a winning advantage: 1. Ba3 Qxa3 2. Nh5+ gxh5 3. Qg5+ and black is doomed.

Double Check

A double check attack occurs when the opponent’s king is being put in check by two different pieces. In this case, it is not possible to capture the checking piece, or to block it, because there are two separate threats causing the king to be in check. The only option is to move the king.

White is in real trouble, because black has pinned his rook to his king. However, he can escape with a double check! 1. Bd6+!

Trapping

Attacking an enemy piece and all possible squares to which it could move to escape is called trapping.

With the following sequence: 1. Bxb6 axb6 2. f4, white successfully traps the knight at e5.

Outpost

An outpost is a square that is protected by a pawn and cannot be attacked by an enemy pawn. Most often we want to place our knights on outpost squares as they can jump over other pieces, which gives them the ability to exert greater control on the opponent’s position.

The White knight at c4 is in a very powerful position. Besides protecting the a5 pawn, it hampers the movement of both enemy rooks. The black rook at b5 is not technically on an outpost square, because white’s c2 pawn could eventually attack that square.

Back Rank Trap / Luft for the King

The back rank trap occurs when a castled king gets trapped behind its row of pawns by a rook or queen. One of the best ways to protect against this trap is to provide luft for the king (“luft” means “air” in German) by moving one of the pawns up, thus providing a way of escape.

If black captures the bishop on d3, White can’t recapture with the rook because that would leave him open to a back rank trap at e1. White can prevent this by providing luft for the king with h3.

Suffocation / Smother Mate

A smother mate or suffocation is a checkmate pattern in which the enemy king is surrounded by his own pieces and then attacked by a knight. If the king can’t capture the knight, he suffocates.

White seizes the win with 1. Qg8+ Rxg8 2. Nf7#

Clearance

The clearance tactic is simply a piece movement — often a sacrifice or a desperado — that clears a key diagonal, rank, or file for the main plan of attack.

White sets up a suffocation with a clearance maneuver: 1. Rf8+ Rxf8 2. Qg8+ Rxg8 3. Nf7#.

Perpetual Check

Perpetual check arises when one player can continue to put the other player in check indefinitely. In this case, the game is a draw. This technique is a very useful tool to “steal the win” from an opponent when you are losing.

The white king is trapped, and his pawn can’t promote. However, black is surely poised to win with two pawns that have a high likelihood of promotion. White instead goes for the draw by chasing the black king with 1. Ra5+. It doesn’t matter where black moves her king, white will simply chase her around the board. If black captures the offending rook, it’s stalemate anyway.

Simplification / Trade-off

Simplification is the technique of multiplying a small advantage by trading pieces.

White uses 1. Qd5+ to force the simplification: 1. … Qxd5 2. cxd5 Bxd5. White’s advantage has been multiplied by trading pieces.

Queen in the Face

A queen-in-the-face is a checkmate pattern in which the opponent’s king is trapped against the board edge by the queen, which is protected by another piece. To use this technique, is often best to attack from an unexpected angle.

White sets up the maneuver with 1. Bxb4, which seems to be a blunder: 1. … Nxb4 2. Qc3 Nc6 3. Qxg7#.

X-Ray

An x-ray attack is an attack in which the target is a square beyond an opponent’s piece on the same line of attack. The x-ray can work as an attack or to protect a piece.

Black wins because 1. … Qe1+ has x-ray protection from the Black rook on c1. 2. Rxe1 Rxe1#.

Zugzwang

Zugzwang (TSOOK- zvahng) is a German word meaning “forced to move.” In chess, it is any tactic that forces the opponent to make an undesirable move.

White puts black in zugzwang with Kc3. Now black must move her rook away from her king, and checkmate will be difficult to avoid for very long.

Zwischenzug / Intermezzo

Zwischenzug (ZVEE-zhun-zoog) is a “middle move” that is made instead of the expected move in order to give the opponent a second threat to have to answer. Sometimes this is referred to as an intermezzo, which is the Italian word that means the same thing.

White just captured black’s knight at b8. The expected move is for black to recapture with the rook; this will allow white to move Qa4+ and win the bishop. However, black uses the zwischenzug Nd5!, threatening the king-queen fork at e3 and protecting the bishop.

Greek Gift

The Greek Gift chess tactic is named after the wooden horse the Greeks used to gain entry into the city of Troy in the Trojan War. In this chess maneuver, a bishop is sacrificed to draw the enemy king out from behind his castled defence.

White uses 1. Bxh7+ to draw the enemy king out. Play continues with 1. … Kxh7 2. Qh4+ Kg8 3. Ng5 Re8 4. Qh7+ Kf8 and White has a decisive advantage, despite losing the bishop.

Mating Net

A mating net is a series of moves with several pieces designed to cut off the escape of the enemy king. Later, one or more checks are used to drive the enemy king into the net.

Black escapes checkmate with a mating net: 1. … Bxh2+ 2. Kh1 Bg3+ 3. Kg1 Qh2+ 4. Kf1 Qxf2#.

Pawn Storm

A pawn storm is not a single move, but a series of moves designed to make a several adjacent pawns a powerful attacking force.

Notice how white has created a pawn storm on files d-h! All of white’s pieces are aimed at supporting the advancing wall of pawns, and black has retreated defensively.

Pig on the 7th

Placing your rook on the seventh row from your side — the seventh rank for white, and the second rank for black — is called “putting a pig on the 7th.” Having a rook (or queen) in this position is a considerable advantage, as it limits the movement of the opponent’s king and attacks his pawn structure from behind.

White begins with 1. h5 Rf6 2. hxg6 hxg6 3. Rh1. White will follow with 4. Rh7, gaining a tremendous advantage in position.

Intermediate chess skills

Once you understand how to move the pieces, you are ready to explore the exciting and fascinating world of chess.

We will begin by discussing the three phases of the chess game, followed by endgame solutions. Next, we cover how to evaluate a game in progress, and also how to record the game’s moves. Wrapping up, we say a word about using a chess clock, and offer some pointers for maximizing your chess play.

Game Phases

The game of chess effectively takes place in three general phases:

Opening

The opening is the beginning sequence of moves for a chess game. The opening generally consists of the first 6-12 moves. Openings of certain recognized patterns are given names, such as the Ruy Lopez, the King’s Indian Attack, or Evan’s Gambit.

Learning a few openings can greatly improve your chess play. By studying an opening sequence of moves and your opponent’s possible responses to it, you reduce the possibility of being surprised, which also reduces the chance of making a mistake.

The beginning sequence of moves from White’s perspective is called an opening; the beginning sequence of moves from Black’s point of view is called a defence.

Whichever opening or defence you choose should be reflective of your playing style. Some openings are more defensive, while others are quite aggressive. It is particularly useful to learn a few openings that can be connected through transposition – in other words, you start out doing one opening and then you transpose into another.

For more on specific openings, please see our list of openings and defences.

Middlegame

The middlegame is the transition period between the planned moves of the opening or defence and the endgame. The middlegame is generally the place where the strategy – the overall plan for winning – is accomplished through tactics – maneuvers designed to seize an advantage. Generally speaking, the greater the advantage seized in the middlegame, the easier the endgame will be.

For more information on chess tactics, please see this.

Endgame

The endgame, as the name suggests, is the series of moves leading up to the conclusion of the game. By this point of the game, both players generally have fewer pieces, and as a result, have fewer options available.

The game itself can only have three conclusions: either white wins, black wins, or the game is a draw. The object of the endgame is to drive the game play to the most favorable of these conclusions.

For example, white would like to win, but if he or she does not have either the pieces or opportunities to make that happen, they will want to play for a draw, as that is more favorable than a win for black.

A program of moves used in the endgame to force a desired outcome is called an endgame solution. For example, there is an endgame solution for winning if you have two rooks and a king versus a lone king. If you use this solution in this situation, you are guaranteed to win.

A skilled player will try to drive a game towards an endgame solution by trading pieces. Once the game is effectively reduced to the situation covered by the endgame solution, performing the solution determines the outcome.

For more about endgame solutions, please see this.

Game Evaluation

It is very useful for a chess player to be able to evaluate his or her game in progress. While it is impossible to measure exactly how close you are to winning the game, there are some ways to describe having an advantage. Three different measures that can be helpful for understanding which player has the advantage are material advantage, initiative/tempo, and territory control.

Material

A player has a material advantage if he or she has more pieces than the other player. The following point values are used to describe the relative value of pieces:

  • Queen = 9 points
  • Rook = 5 points
  • Knight = 3 points
  • Bishop = 3 points*
  • Pawn = 1 point

Obviously the king has no point value because loss of the king is loss of the game! According to the point values given, we see that two rooks are slightly better than a queen, and three pawns are roughly equivalent to a bishop or a knight. Sometimes, depending on the situation, a bishop can be slightly more valuable than a knight. For that reason, many chess players give the bishop a point value of 3.5 (*).

Material point values are not thoroughly accurate, because the value of a piece is usually determined by game position. For example, the first bishop captured or lost is effectively more important than the second, because it means the loss of the bishop pair. Also, pawns increase in value towards the endgame.

Initiative and tempo

The player with the initiative is the player whose actions force his or her opponent to respond. For example, placing the opponent in check always seizes the initiative; castling usually gives the initiative away.

Generally speaking, the player with the initiative calls the shots, to some degree, and often players will sacrifice pieces in order to gain the initiative so they can drive their opponent to a particular board position or force a particular piece trade.

Tempo refers to a piece move required to get to some desired position or development. If you can get to that development or position in one less move, you “gain a tempo.” Similarly, if you wind up using more moves, you “lose tempo.”

One way to gain tempo is to put your opponent in check while developing one of your pieces. Another way to gain a tempo is to continuously attack one of your opponent’s pieces with several of your pieces, forcing them to move the same piece over and over.

Sometimes it is desirable to lose a tempo. For example, in the endgame solution of a king and a rook versus a lone king, the player with the rook will sometimes make a move which wastes a tempo – i.e. the “stutter step” – to force the lone king to move into a weakened position.

There are times during the end game when a player can make a pawn move that essentially does not change the critical board position. In this case, that player has a “spare tempo.” In other words, he or she has a move they can waste to force the other player to make a move that weakens their position.

Territory control

Actual positional advantage is always dependent upon the placement of pieces, as well as who has the tempo. However, a player can gauge his or her territory control by counting the number of squares on the opponent’s side of the board that are being attacked by his or her pieces.

For reference, white’s side of the board consists of ranks 1-4 and black’s side of the board contains ranks 5-8.

Chess Notation

Chess notation is a method of recording the sequence of moves in a game of chess. There are several styles of chess notation, but the one we will study and use is algebraic notation.

Learning chess notation has several benefits:

Access to chess knowledge

There are many wonderful books and web sites devoted to the subject of chess. However, all of them are written in chess notation. If you want to be able to learn tactical skills, or study the games of the famous chess masters, you must be able to read chess notation.

Record of games played

Taking notation of the games you play is one of the best ways to improve your chess. If you have a record of the moves of your game, you can go back later and analyze what you did and what you should have done.

Chess tournaments

Most official chess tournaments require that you take chess notation during tournament games.

One piece of advice concerning chess notation: make sure it is legible and accurate! If you can’t read it, or if it is wrong, it cannot help you.

For more information on chess notation, please see this.

Chess Clocks

In official games, such as those played in chess tournaments, players are required to use a chess clock to regulate the amount of time each player has for considering their moves.

A chess clock is basically a pair of timers set-up so that when one player presses the button to stop their clock, the opponent’s clock begins.

For more about chess clocks, time controls, and how they factor into tournament play, check this out.

Maximizing Your Gameplay

Chess is far more than moving pieces around and hoping for a lucky break. Chess involves observation (paying attention), deduction (what is my opponent trying to do?), and planning (preparing your attack or defense).

(Remember the Sherlock Holmes Principle?)

From the chess opening to the endgame, the best way to maximize the success of your gameplay is to think along these four dimensions:

Piece development

A chess piece is developed if it placed in a position that gives it good opportunities to attack or defend. Consequently, the more you develop your pieces, the more opportunities you have for taking control of the game or responding to your opponent.

The best way to develop your pieces is to avoid moving the same piece over and over.

Control of the center

The squares at the center of the board have the most opportunities to attack. Many openings and defences are designed to maximize control of the center.

Chess pieces can control the center either by occupying or by attacking.

Occupying the center has the advantage that no other piece can also occupy that square. The downside of occupation is that the occupying pieces need to be defended. Attacking the center squares can often be equally effective; however, this does not always equal control, because your opponent can also attack the same squares.

The reason for desiring control of the center squares is simple: it restricts the movement of enemy pieces.

Pawn structure

A pawn structure is the formation created by pawn movements. Pawn structure is important in all phases of the game. In the opening, it helps with control of the center and piece development. In the middlegame it helps restrict your opponent’s tactical play through positional control. In the endgame, it can dramatically affect the strategies of both players due to the threat or promise of pawn promotion.

Some pawn structures are good, others are not. Avoiding weaknesses in the pawn structure can have a major impact on the tone of the game.

For more information on pawn structures, you will want to look here.

Safety of the king

It doesn’t matter how good your plan of attack is if you leave your king vulnerable to checkmate. Before you make any move, you should consider what effect, if any, it would have on the safety of your king.

Remember, your opponent can seize control of the game by putting you in check, forcing you to respond to his attack. However, you can guard against this by keeping your king well protected.

One way to keep your king safe is to castle.

These dimensions aren’t the only considerations for increasing the power of your chess play, but a good place to begin the improvement of your chess play is along these lines.

Basic chess skills

To begin to play the game of chess, a player must become familiar with some basic knowledge, such as how to set up the board, how the pieces move and capture, and special moves, among other things.

Board Set Up

The standard chess board is an 8 x 8 grid of alternating light and dark squares. Regardless of color, the lighter squares are called “white” and the darker squares are called “black.”

Horizontal rows on a chess board are called ranks. Vertical rows on a chess board are called files.

The initial placement of the chess board requires that the rightmost square on the rank closest to each player must be white. Take your right thumb and place it on the corner square closest to it — that should be a white square. If not, turn the board 90 degrees.

Official chess boards typically have the files identified by lowercase letters a-h and the ranks numbered 1-8. In the case of a regulation chess board, the first (1st) rank is placed in front of the player playing white and the eighth (8th) rank is placed in front of the player playing black.

Each side has sixteen (16) pieces: two (2) rooks; two (2) knights; two (2) bishops; one (1) king; one (1) queen; and eight (8) pawns.

The initial setup of the board should look like this:

The two rooks are placed at either end of the closest rank. The two knights are each placed next to a rook, followed by each of the bishops being placed next to a knight. In the remaining two squares of that rank, the queen is placed on the square corresponding to her color, and the king is placed on the remaining square. The eight pawns are placed on the next nearest rank.

The player playing the white pieces always moves first.

Piece Movement & Capture

Each of the six different chess pieces has a unique rule for movement, as well as a rule for capturing the opponent’s pieces.

Rook

A rook moves and captures along the rank or file that it is on. A rook may move any number of squares.

Bishop

A bishop moves and captures diagonally. A bishop can move any number of squares.

Whatever color the bishop starts the game on is the color it will stay on for the entire game.

Queen

A queen can move like a bishop or like a rook. A queen can capture any enemy piece that it can reach with its move.

King

A king can move one square in any direction. A king captures the same way that it moves.

A king cannot move into check (see Check below).

Knight

A knight moves in an “L”-shape pattern: either one file (rank) away and then two ranks (files) away or else two files (ranks) away and then one rank (file) away.

A knight captures pieces by landing on them. A knight can jump over pieces that belong to either player.

Pawn

A pawn can only move forward one square, and only if the destination square is empty. If the pawn has not yet moved, it may optionally charge forward two squares, provided the square traveled through and the destination square are empty.

Pawns capture enemy pieces diagonally.

Pawns may be promoted when they reach their last rank (see Promotion below).

Special Moves

Apart from the regular moving and capturing rules for the individual pieces, there are several special rules that apply to the game of chess, such as:

Castling

Castling is primarily a defensive move in which the king moves to the other side of one of the rooks.

In a kingside castle, the king moves two squares towards the kingside rook; the kingside rook moves to the other side of the king. In a queenside castle, the king moves two squares towards the queenside rook; the queenside rook moves to the other side of the king.

Just remember: the king always hops two, and the rook swings around.

Castling can be done only if the following conditions are true:

  • Neither the king nor the castling rook have been moved yet this game
  • The king is not in check at the start of castling
  • The king does not move through check during castling
  • The king does not end up in check after castling
  • There are no pieces between the king and the castling rook

In the example above, white has castled kingside and black has castled queenside.

En Passant

When a pawn is on the first rank in enemy territory, it may capture an enemy pawn that passes its capture square as if the enemy pawn stopped on the capture square. The player making this type of capture announces “en passant,” which is French for “in passing,” and captures the pawn.

For white, the first rank in enemy territory is the fifth (5th) rank. For black, the first rank in enemy territory is the fourth (4th) rank.

In the example below, black wants to move the pawn at d7 forward, but they don’t want the white pawn at e5 to capture it. So, black moves its d-pawn past the capturing square:

However, white is still able to capture the pawn using the en passant rule. White announces “en passant” (this isn’t actually required, but often it is done out of courtesy) and takes the pawn as if it stopped on d6:

After applying the en passant rule, the board looks like this:

Note: white could only use the en passant rule immediately after black moved the pawn to d5. If white had instead made a different move, he or she could not use en passant later to capture the d-pawn.

Promotion

When a pawn is moved to its last rank, it is promoted to another piece. White pawns are promoted when they are moved to the eighth (8th) rank; black pawns promote when they reach the first (1st) rank.

Pawns promote to any piece EXCEPT (a) another pawn or (b) a king. Promotion is not restricted to pieces that have been captured.

In the example below, the black pawn is promoted to a rook, even though black already has two rooks:

Game Status

In chess there are three (3) game states that a player must be able to understand and identify:

Check

A player is in check if his or her king is being attacked by one or more of the opponent’s pieces. If the player is in check, he or she must respond with a move that gets the king out of check; in other words, change the king’s status so that it is no longer being attacked.

A player may respond to check by (a) taking the piece that is attacking the king; (b) blocking the piece that is attacking the king; or (c) move the king to a square in which it is no longer under attack.

A player may not move the king into check, nor can the player make a move with another piece that would result in the king being in check.

Checkmate

A player is in checkmate if his or her king is being attacked by one or more of the opponent’s pieces AND there isn’t any move available to prevent the king from remaining in check. This ends the game, awarding the win to the player who checkmated the king.

Stalemate

A stalemate occurs if a player has no legal moves BUT his or her king is not being attacked. In other words, the player’s king is not currently in check, but he or she has no legal moves available. A stalemate ends the game in a draw.

A stalemate can also occur in officially scored games (i.e., as in a tournament) if:

No Progress Rule – A player makes fifty (50) consecutive moves without a capture or a pawn move by either player

Threefold Repetition Rule – A player faces the same exact board position for the third time (not necessarily consecutive)

Note: The No Progress Rule and the Threefold Repetition Rule can only be enforced if the conditions can be demonstrated by chess notation.

Tournament Scoring

Typically tournaments consist of several rounds of chess play. Players are awarded points based on the outcomes of their games:

A win is awarded one point.

A loss is awarded no points.

A stalemate is awarded a half a point.

At the end of all rounds of play, if multiple players have the same score, tiebreak methods are used to resolve the ambiguity. Read more about tiebreaks here.

Game etiquette

Chess Club members are expected to have proper game etiquette at all times. This is true whether the game is a pick-up game or a serious game, whether the game is in a tournament or in practice, regardless of location.

Before the game, players should shake hands and wish the other player a “good game.” In pick-up games, the players may determine which player plays white. In tournament games, which color each player plays is predetermined. If a chess clock is required, you will be given instructions on the time control. The player with the black pieces chooses on which side of the board the chess clock is placed.

During the game, players must remember to respect their opponent, the other players around them, and game administrators (like tournament directors and the Chess Coach). In pick-up games, players can talk to each other quietly, but talking should be kept to a minimum. In tournament games, talking should be kept to an extreme minimum. Other noises, such as foot-tapping, finger-drumming, etc. are also off limits, as they are distracting.

In a tournament game, you are encouraged to alert the tournament director if your opponent refuses to follow these common sense rules of courtesy.

Tournament games are played according to the official rules of chess as established by the US Chess Federation. You can check out more about the rules here.

It is not necessary to announce “check,” but it is not prohibited.

If you touch a piece, you must move it. This is called the touch move rule. You may adjust a piece on the board only if you announce “adjust” before you touch the piece. Also, when castling, you must move your king first.

If you touch an opponent’s piece in the act of taking it but change your mind, you must take the piece, unless, of course, it would be an illegal move. In the case of an illegal move, raise your hand for the Chess Coach or other referee to come and resolve it.

We will always be using the touch move rule. Also, there are no take-backs, either in pick-up or in tournament games. Once you make a move, unless it is an illegal move, the move stands.

Non-players are not allowed to kibhitz — to make comments on a game in progress. This includes giving advice, reacting to a move just played, or signaling in any way. Non-players are also not allowed to do anything to distract the players playing the game.

Bad attitudes, in either winning or losing, are not welcome in the Chess Club. Also, disrespect to the Chess Coach or other adults, or facilities or property will not be tolerated.

After the game, players should shake hands and congratulate each other on playing a “good game.”

Principles of good chess

Good chess play is built on solid principles that form the foundation of making good chess decisions. Here are some of the principles upon which we build our chess play:

The Principle of Practice

“What you do in practice is what you do in the game.”

You can always tell in a tournament game which player has studied and which one hasn’t; which player takes chess seriously and which one doesn’t; and which player wants to get better and which one is satisfied with where they are.

The player who practices playing the best chess they can will actually play the best chess they can in the tournament game because they have experience playing the best chess they can! The ones that goof off in practice will not be able to play good chess in a tournament game because all they have practiced is goofing off.

The Principle of Character

Chess play is always reflective of your character.”

Your character governs your patterns of behavior. An aggressive person plays aggressive chess. A sloppy person plays sloppy chess. A person who prizes safety will play safe chess. A person who is clever will play clever chess.

Sometimes you may be able to act contrary to your character, but ordinarily, your reflex will be to act according to your character.

Reading your opponent’s character helps you plan your strategy on the chess board.

Some things can override your character:

Lack of emotional control can have a negative impact on your chess play that eclipses your character. If you become overwhelmed by emotions, such as being startled, angry, upset, or pessimistic, your chess play will suffer.

Poor physical condition can also negatively affect your chess play in a way that overpowers your character. If you have too much sugar, not enough sleep, a headache, etc., all of these can make you act out of character.

Training and discipline are intentional, focused ways of improving your character. If you practice doing something positive that is ordinarily outside of your typical behavior, you can bring improvement to your chess play.

A plan can disguise your character. For example, if you are typically a careful and defensive chess player, but you decide to learn an aggressive attack opening, your opponent will have difficulty guessing your plans.

The Principle of Causality

Nothing happens unless something makes it happen…so what does that say about my opponent’s last move?”

Your opponent’s pieces do not move themselves: your opponent causes them to move.

Your opponent’s moves are caused by the interaction of several things:

  • …their character
  • …their plan (or lack of a plan)
  • …their emotional and physical condition
  • …their experience
  • …their opinion of you

By looking at a person’s moves on the chess board, you can gain insight into what they are thinking, and possibly uncover information that will help you guess what they will do next.

The Sherlock Holmes Principle

Our three greatest weapons are observation, deduction, and preparation.”

Perhaps Holmes’ greatest ability is his power of observation. Observation just means “paying attention.” There are no secrets in chess. There are no chance elements, no cards hidden up sleeves. Everything is before you, nothing is hidden. However, observation is an active skill — it requires purposeful searching.

Holmes’ powers of deduction are truly legendary. Deduction is “seeing the unseen from what is seen.” You can deduce your opponent’s mindset from the moves that they make, and by the moves they do not make. From their moves you can gain insight into their plan and their character, which is instrumental in predicting what they may do next.

Possibly the only thing that could rival Holmes’ powers of observation and deduction is his preparation. Preparation is what you do before you get to the chess board. It includes several factors:

  • Physical preparation includes getting plenty of sleep, good nutrition and water intake, and taking care not to get sick
  • Emotional preparation means that you have emotional control — you don’t let pride, fear, or hard feelings affect your chess play — and you have a positive outlook, i.e. you purposefully avoid negativity.
  • Mental preparation for chess equals confidence. Confidence comes from solid study, frequent practice, and disciplined playing habits. Perhaps the most important aspect of disciplined chess play is the ability to ignore distractions and maintain focus.

The Principle of Choice

The first rule of decision-making is this: you cannot control a person’s choices, but you can control their options.”

You cannot enter your opponent’s mind and force him or her to move according to your plan. However, you can affect how many and the attractiveness of their alternatives.

On the chess board, I can influence my opponents options by…

  • …taking away their pieces
  • …moving their targets (my pieces)
  • …changing the landscape (pawn formation)
  • …affecting the consequences of their choices — either by making a choice too expensive, or by sending them an invitation to do something else (decoy)

The Data Reduction Principle

You don’t have to know every possible outcome; you only have to know how your opponent will most likely choose to respond.”

When you start a chess game, there are more than a billion different ways the game can go. As each player makes their moves, the “tree” of move sequences gets “pruned.”

Despite the pruning, there are often a multitude of possible move sequences…some of them favorable, others less so. However, you can make use of what you have observed about your opponent to deduce what possibilities he or she would prefer and which ones they would reject. This is a tremendous help to you in your planning.

If you have some idea of their plan, you can prune the possibilities that do not fit that plan.

In the absence of a plan, a player will react according to their character… so if you have some insight about that, you can often guess how they will respond to unexpected situations.

The Principle of Control

Make your opponent play the game they don’t want to play.”

Chess players, like most people, like to have control. They like to know what’s going to happen next, and they like to be the one who decides what happens next.

When a person has control, they tend to avoid mistakes. The opposite is also true: when a person loses control, they are more likely to make mistakes.

On the chess board, we use this principle to undermine the plan of our opponent. If our opponent likes to play fast and aggressive, we slow the game down and play defensively. If our opponent wants to build up defenses, we quickly aim to take them down. If they favor their queen or their knights, we work to take or trade for those pieces, because those pieces are the seat of their control. We make them play the game they don’t want to play.

Patience, observation, and study will not only help you avoid situations in which you do not have control, but also enable you to seize control at the right opportunity.

The Principle of Entropy

“Disorder is the enemy of control.”

If both players are completely even, chess is a draw. The key is to introduce some sort of imbalance that will increase the likelihood that your opponent will make a mistake. When they do, you pounce on their mistake and turn it into an advantage.

There are several ways to create an imbalance on the chess board: putting your opponent in check; forcing a piece trade; or even threatening key squares. Sometimes using an unorthodox approach can also generate disorder and create the space in which to grab an advantage.

The Best Principle

“You can never do better than your best.”

The Principle of Regret

“Nothing is heavier than regret.”

These two principles go hand in hand. If you always make it a point to do your best, then you know that you will get the best possible outcome. If you do your best and lose, then you know it was impossible to win, because it isn’t possible for a person to do better than their best.

In that case, you learn from the loss and use what you learn to get ready for the next chance to win. However, if you do not try your best and you lose, you will never know if it were actually possible to win, because you didn’t try your best. Instead of the peace of knowing that you tried your best, you will have the regret of not knowing if you could have done better.

And if you don’t try your best and happen to win, you simply are practicing doing less than your best, and that’s something you don’t want to practice!

Reasons to study chess

Chess is a really fun game with a rich history. Not only is chess fun to play, playing chess has many benefits that reward players on and off the chess board.

As we are a scholastic chess club, these reasons will be most relevant for student chess players, but chess can benefit anyone of any any age!

Anyone can play chess.

People of all ages can play chess. You can start playing when you are young, and you can play your whole life.

People from all over the world play chess. In fact, playing chess online and tournament chess are great ways to connect with people from many diverse backgrounds, including other countries.

Getting into chess isn’t very expensive — all you need is a chess set or an internet connection and you can be playing in no time. Also, there are many books and internet resources that can help you become better at chess.

Chess is good for your health.

Playing chess is good for your brain. It helps your memory and your concentration. It also strengthens your logic and procedural thinking (the left side of your brain) and boosts your creativity and pattern recognition (right side of the brain) — and this leads to higher IQ.

Chess is also good for your body. The same good eating and sleeping habits that promote your brain and good chess play are also good for your general health.

Chess makes you think better.

There really isn’t a better laboratory for critical thinking than a game of chess.

Chess teaches you to interpret your situation through analysis (breaking it down into components), to synthesize (or construct) a solution, and to evaluate the results.

Chess helps you think deeper.

Chess doesn’t just help you with problem solving, but it teaches you to go beyond to the next level of thinking.

Chess teaches you the difference between tactics (short-range plans) and strategy (long-range plans). Chess teaches you about balance in regard to material (chess pieces), space (position), and time (initiative). Chess also teaches you the complexities of actions and responses within a joint decision problem. Chess teaches you these things, and much more.

Chess and discipline go hand in hand.

Most of us associate the word “discipline” with “punishment”. Actually, the word “discipline” means “the practice of someone who is serious about learning”.

Improving at chess requires you to study. It requires you to practice. It requires you think about how your ability on the board is connected to what you do off the board.

Chess not only requires discipline, but it teaches it. It teaches you to manage your time and your material. It teaches you to overcome positions of disadvantage. It teaches you patience.

Chess improves your school performance.

Studies have shown that kids who play chess improve in reading and math, get better grades, have greater self-esteem, and have fewer behavioral problems.

Chess leads to success.

Chess helps you understand and connect to people.

Chess teaches you to respect your opponent. Because chess is a joint decision problem, not everything is under your control. To have success you must be able to figure out your opponent’s plan. Very often this requires learning how your opponent thinks, and this comes from observing their actions.

Chess teaches you to respect yourself. In chess there are no teammates to bail you out — you rise or fall based on your own chess play. This inspires independence, which builds confidence.

When you learn to respect how others think, and learn to respect yourself, then you realize that the chess board is flat — we all have equal opportunity to come together and learn from each other, and this makes us all better.

Welcome!

Welcome to the Upshur County Scholastic Chess Club (UCSC)! We have three goals for our Chess Club:

First and foremost, we want to have fun playing chess. After all, chess is a game, and games are meant to be fun. Competition can be a good thing, so long as it adds to the fun rather than subtracting from it.

Secondly, we want to learn to play better chess. The better you are at something, the more fun it is. We will have plenty of fun, but we will be studying to become better at playing chess.

Ultimately, we’d like to participate in tournament chess. This may include traveling to other schools to play in chess tournaments, as well as the possibility of hosting our own tournaments. Tournament play can be a really rewarding experience, but it takes the dedication and teamwork of players and parents to make it happen. The Chess Coach will provide more information about tournaments as necessary.

Membership

Our Chess Club is a scholastic club. That means it’s for school-age kids. Currently, the Chess Club is only open for middle school players, but we are working to get connected with chess players from the elementary and high school level.

The Chess Club is also open to homeschool students. Homeschool players will play other kids in the division appropriate to their grade level.

Membership in the Chess Club is free. All you have to do is come to practice, pay attention during instructional time, and have fun playing chess. Participation in chess tournaments, however, will involve a fee. See the Chess Coach for details.

You don’t need to know how to play chess to join. All you need is the desire to play good chess. However, chess club practices are not recess – we will be studying to play better chess.

You do not need a chess set to participate in the Chess Club. Chess sets, chess clocks, and other materials will be provided as needed. In fact, players are encouraged to leave their personal chess sets at home. We’ve got you covered!

Parent Involvement

Parents are always welcome to be involved in the Chess Club. Our Chess Club is about learning, about having fun, but most of all, it’s about the students. There are many ways parents can be involved in Chess Club activities — from helping with snacks for practice, to helping chaperone a tournament trip — just speak to the Chess Coach if you’d like to be a part.

Meetings

Chess Club meeting schedule is currently TBD.

Questions or Comments

If you have any questions about the Chess Club, or even chess in general, please feel free to contact the Chess Coach. Also, spread the word! If you know kids who might like to be in the chess club, invite them to come. We want as many people playing chess as possible!

Be awesome 🙂