A Foundation for Beginners Nine

Last week, we explored the further development of your minor pieces (Knights and Bishops) during the opening. We also examined castling, more specifically when to castle. This week, we’re going to look at pawn and piece coordination during the opening as well as three things you should not do during this game phase. In a future article, I’m going to suggest a series of openings you should know as a beginner. However, there are a few more opening principles we need to address. Before we start this week’s examination of the opening, let me answer the question I posed in my previous article. In last week’s position, I asked you why White played 6. Bg5. This is actually a tactic called a pin that we’ll closely look at when we study the middle-game. The idea of a pin is simple. If Black’s Knight on f6 moves, White’s Bishop on g5 will be able to capture Black’s Queen, which would be great for White. Thus, the Black Knight is stuck or pinned on the f6 square. Again, we’ll go into greater detail regarding tactics when we get to the middle-game. Now let’s get down to this week’s lesson, starting with piece coordination.

If you pawns and pieces don’t work with one another, you can’t launch successful attacks or create a strong defense when needed. Beginners tend to either move only their pawns at the game’s start or move a single piece over and over again while neglecting their other pieces. We’ll address these two issues later on in this article. If you’ve followed this series of articles, you’ll know that we’ve brought out our pawns and pieces in a logical order, based on their relative value. We start the game by moving a pawn to a square that allows that pawn to control or attack the center of the board (d4, d5, e4 and e5). Next, we develop or move our minor pieces towards the center of the board. Let’s look at White’s position after 1. e4…e5, 2. Nf3…Nf6, 3. Bc4…Nf6 and 4. Nc3 (see below):

When making opening moves, we want to make sure that they adhere to the game’s opening principles. We know that both player’s moves, in the example above, follow the principles correctly. Just as important is the fact that each move, for both players, complements the previous move, meaning that the pawns and pieces are coordinated with one another. Let’s look at the idea of coordination in more detail. On move two, White plays 2. Nf3, which attacks the Black pawn on e5. Black responds be playing 2…Nc6, defending the e5 pawn. This is an example of piece coordination. The Black Knight on c6 is working with the Black pawn on e5 by defending it. When White plays 3. Bc4, the Bishop is working alongside the White pawn on e4 to attack the d5 square. White’s e4 pawn, Knight and Bishop all work together to control the board’s center. Black’s e5 pawn and c6 Knight are also coordinated in their control of the center and, after Black plays 3…Nf6, a second coordinated piece is aimed towards the center. White continues with the idea of coordination by playing 4. Nc3 to defend the pawn on e4 and further control or attack the board’s center. You should coordinate your pawns and pieces with one another throughout the entire game. Always think about how coordinated your forces (pawns and pieces) are when making a move. Aim to strengthen their coordination. Now to three things you shouldn’t do during the opening.

Beginner’s become intoxicated by the power of the Queen. The Queen is powerful, which is why it has a relative value of nine. It can attack 27 different squares simultaneously when placed in the center (d4, d5, e4 or e5) of an empty chessboard. However, it becomes an easy target when brought into the game early. When beginners bring their Queen out during the opening, they usually end up losing time or tempo having to move this powerful piece out of their opponent’s line of sight. Let’s have a quick look:

On move one, both players move a pawn to a central square. So far so good. White develops the King-side Bishop with 2. Bc4. There’s nothing wrong with this move, although we generally develop our Knight’s first. Black plays 2…Nc6. So far, both players are making decent opening moves that follow the opening principles, although better for Black would be 2…Nf6. White then decides to employ that old chestnut favored by beginner junior level players, Scholar’s Mate, playing 3. Qh5. If Black doesn’t do something about White’s third move, Black will be mated by White on move four. Black plays 3…g6. The Black pawn on g6 attacks the Queen forcing it back. White still wants to attack the weak f7 square with the Queen and plays 4. Qf3. Black stops White’s plans with 4…Nf6. We’ll look at this mating attack for White in more detail when we examine tricks and traps in the opening at the end of our opening studies.

Black has a much greater central presence and therefore greater control of the center squares. White’s g1 Knight no longer has access to f3 which is a big problem. In short, White brought the Queen out early and lost time or tempo as well as the ability to control the center of the board. Don’t bring your Queen out early!

White’s Queen had to move twice and will most likely have to move a third time in this opening example. During the opening, you should move one piece, one time and then move on to another piece. You want to introduce a new piece with each move during the opening. Moving the same piece over and over again will cost you time or tempo and most likely the game. In the above example, Black brought a new pawn or piece into the game with each move, which is why Black has better opening development. The opening is a race to see who controls the board’s center first and you don’t want to come in second place in the opening race.

There’s a logical order in which to introduce your forces into the game. You start with the unit of lowest value, the pawn, and then bring in the minor pieces, the Knights and Bishops. Bringing your most powerful piece into the game early is a big mistake! Use the order of relative value to determine who comes into the game and when. The pawns have the lowest relative value, so they’re first into battle. However, don’t over do it with the pawns which brings me to the next thing you don’t want to do; making too many pawn moves.

Many beginners reason that because the pawns have the lowest relative value, it’s safer to use them at the game’s start rather than risk the more valuable pieces. The problem with this is thinking is that pawns have very limited control of the squares around them while the pieces have much greater control. A pawn can only control one or two squares at a time while a Knight can control up to eight squares at a time. Since you’re trying to control the board’s central squares, and your opponent has the same goal, you need to bring in the pieces (the minor pieces) as soon as possible. Another problem with making too many pawn moves is that it leaves your King exposed and/or unable to castle depending on the position. In short, you should only move one or two centralized pawns during the opening. After your initial pawn move(s), get the minor pieces out!

Next week, we’ll look at activating your Rooks, something most beginners fail to do. Activating your Rooks doesn’t mean you should bring them directly into battle. It means getting them off of their starting squares. We’ll get into this in detail next week. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week. Play through it and apply the principles you’ve learned so far so you can see those principles in action. Enjoy!

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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