A Foundation for Beginners Forty Two

The time has come to put everything we have looked at over the last two or three months together. While it seems like a lot to cover in a single article, I’m gong to present a simple method for employing the most important of these concepts into your middle-game transition into the endgame. I spent a great deal of time on the subject of pawns during the middle-game rather than tactics, which is an important part of the middle-game, because the transition from the middle to endgame is often neglected. It is crucial that you are able to transition smoothly into the endgame because, as we shall see later in this series of articles, the endgame can be very difficult. While tactics are a wonderful way to win material and turn the tables on your opponent, many players can make the use of tactics difficult for their opponents by creating a closed position that denies tactical opportunities. Let’s take what we’ve learned over the last two or three months and simplify it so it’s easy to remember:

The first thing to remember is that pawn structure is everything when it comes to the endgame and you will eventually find yourself playing a true endgame. You may find yourself winning games early or being checkmated by your opponent early, but there will come a time as you become a better player that you’ll find yourself in an endgame. To avoid having to deal with a messy pawn structure during the endgame, consider your pawn structure from the games start!

As a beginner, you have a lot to consider every time you make a move. It can be difficult to remember the plethora of things you need to do. However, there a few concepts you should keep in the forefront of your thoughts. Pawn structure is one of those things! Simply put, when considering any move, ask yourself how that move effects your pawn structure? Of course, there will be moves that you’ll have to make that can create problems for your pawns. When you move the White Knight from b1 to c3 at the game’s start (for the Black Knight, from b8 to c6), you block in the c2 pawn. Remember when I suggested that you want to avoid moves that block in your pawns and pieces? This is an example of that. However, this move is still a good move during the opening because it puts the Queen-side Knight on a great square that attacks the board’s center. While the pawn on c2 is blocked in, it’s temporary. When making a move that blocks a pawn’s access to the board, examine the pros and cons. In this case, the pro, developing the Knight to an active square, outweighs the con, blocking in the pawn. The pawn on c2 is fine and, once the Knight moves from c3, the c2 pawn is free to get into the game. Closely examine any move in which a pawn will be blocked in by a piece and weigh the pros and cons!

Keep in mind that pawns need to have the ability to work with one another, meaning you want your pawns to have other friendly pawns on adjacent files. As White, if you have a pawn on a2, b2, c4 and d2, and the pawn on c4 suddenly comes under attack by a Black piece, you can defend that pawn by moving either the b2 or d2 pawn to b3 or d3. If the c4 pawn was an isolated pawn, it would have no friendly pawns on either the b or d files to come to its aid. This would mean having to tie one of your pieces down to the c pawn’s defense. Pawns work best when they work together!

Sometimes, you end up with a problematic pawn structure, such as doubled pawns. Let’s say your opponent trades one of their minor pieces for one of your minor pieces and the only way to make the exchange an even trade is to use a pawn to capture back. You end up with doubled pawns. You have to incur this weakness or you’ll be giving your opponent free material and a potential advantage. Sometimes your opponent will exchange material just to saddle you with a weakened pawn structure. If this happens, don’t panic! As I mentioned kin a previous article, you can use that weak pawn to your advantage, How? You might be able to march it up the board, sacrifice it, and give your opponent an isolated or doubled pawn.

Check your pawn structure going into every move. You’d be surprised at how many players don’t check their pawn structure until it’s too late and they have a structural mess on their hands. Beginners have a tendency to develop tunnel vision in which they only see potential capturing and mating moves. They only see their opponent’s side of the board and moves that damage their opponent’s position. Meanwhile, they ignore the weaknesses building up on their own side of the board. There’s an old adage, “check yourself before you wreck yourself,” meaning check your own position before attacking your opponent’s position.

Use your pawns to push away your opponent’s pieces, but only do so if the pawns you use can be protected by other friendly pawns. You might march a pawn out onto the board to push away one of your opponent’s pieces and think you’ve used your pawn wisely. However, if that pawn comes under attack and cannot be defended by other friendly pawns, you’ll have to take a piece out of the fight and use it to babysit the wayward pawn.

Don’t waste your pawns. Beginners think that because you start the game with eight pawns and pawns have the lowest relative value, those pawns are expendable. The opposite is true. During the endgame, the player with the greater number of pawns has an advantage, generally speaking. Of course, they only have an advantage if those pawns are connected, which brings me to the next concept, pawn islands.

Pawn islands are groupings of friendly pawns (those belonging to the same side) separated from one another by an empty file. The more pawns islands you have, the more defenders you’ll need. The more pieces you need to protect your pawn islands, the fewer pieces are partaking in attacks. You cannot checkmate your opponent’s King unless you attack it. In most mating patterns, you need more than one piece to deliver checkmate. If all your pieces are defending pawns, it is going to be next to impossible to deliver a mating attack! The fewer pawn islands you have, the fewer defenders (pieces) you’ll need to protect those islands. This means more pieces are available for delivering mating attacks.

In the end, it comes down to considering your pawns structure from the games start and monitoring that structure throughout the game. You move decisions should involve a consideration of the effect that move has on your pawn structure. However, keep in mind that you will have to make moves that may temporarily weaken or restrict your pawn structure. Weigh the pros and cons and then make a decision. If your good points outweigh the bad points, make the move. Make sure your pawns can always support one another. When moving a pawn, ask yourself whether or not that pawn can be supported by other friendly pawns. Don’t trade pawns without a good reason. The fewer pawns you have going into the endgame, the harder a possible promotion will be.

Most importantly, don’t capture material unless it helps your game and don’t make a move unless you have a really good reason for doing so. Of course, you have to make a move when it’s your turn, but don’t just make a random move. This should go without saying! Following the principles of the game and you’ll make better moves.

We will finish the student game next week, and I want you to play through the entire game to determine whether or not both players incorporated any of these ideas in their games. These concepts will go a long way towards improving your middle and endgame. Speaking of games, here’s one to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

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Hugh Patterson

Author: Hugh Patterson

Prior to teaching chess, Hugh Patterson was a professional guitarist for nearly three decades, playing in a number of well known San Francisco bands including KGB, The Offs, No Alternative, The Swinging Possums and The Watchmen. After recording a number of albums and CDs he retired from music to teach chess. He currently teaches ten chess classes a week through Academic Chess. He also created and runs a chess program for at-risk teenagers incarcerated in juvenile correctional facilities. In addition to writing a weekly column for The Chess Improver, Hugh also writes a weekly blog for the United States Chess League team, The Seattle Sluggers. He teaches chess privately as well, giving instruction to many well known musicians who are only now discovering the joys of chess. Hugh is an Correspondence Chess player with the ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation). He studied chemistry in college but has worked in fields ranging from Investment Banking and commodities trading to Plastics design and fabrication. However, Hugh prefers chess to all else (except Mrs. Patterson and his beloved dog and cat). View all posts by Hugh Patterson

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