A Foundation for Beginner’s Seventy

Last week, we examined the idea of studying the games of master level players from the 1800s. To recap, this specific period of time works well for beginners because the games demonstrate basic principles more clearly than games in which computer software was used to train the players. They also tend to be more exciting which keeps the beginning student engaged. There are also many games that are shorter in length, so they fit into lesson planning better. This week, we will take what we’ve learned from day one and try analyzing a game through the eyes of a beginner.

I say “eyes of a beginner” because that’s who these articles are written for. Beginner’s are not going to be able to pick up on the subtleties of more advanced moves, instead only being able to determine whether or not they can be defined in terms of basic principled play. Eventually, they’ll be able to execute more advanced analysis the more they play through other people’s games. I will address the importance of analyzing your own games in another article. What game are we going to go through? The game from the end of last week’s article. Let’s get started!

The game is played between a young Paul Morphy and a Morphy family friend, James Mac Connel Sr. Morphy’s opponent makes a huge mistake before the game even starts by assuming that young Morphy can’t play good chess due to is age. Never assume that age will give you a playing advantage!

The game starts with White (Morphy) playing 1. e4. We know this is a good move because it applies opening principle number one, control the board’s center with a pawn. Black (Mac Connel) responds with 1…e5, another good first move!. Morphy was know for his attacking style and plays 2. Nf3. This introduces opening principle two developing your minor pieces (Knights and Bishops) towards the center. This is the way you should think, as a beginner, when playing through the games moves: What principle does this move (and every other move) demonstrate. 2. Nf3 also brings White one step closer to King-side castling and, more importantly, attacks the Black pawn on e5. The question a beginner should ask when studying this move by White is, how will Black defend? We know, from our examination of principle two in this series of articles, that we develop our minor pieces towards the board’s center. Therefore, Black’s next move should come as a complete surprise. Black plays 2…Qf6.

Remember when I wrote about the dangers of bringing your Queen out early? Black does just that. A beginner studying this game should question this move. However, before just writing off Black’s second move as bad, carefully examine the move to ensure there isn’t a trick or trap coming up. To get the most out of studying games, you need to dig deep into each move. Obviously, 1. e4…e5 and 2. Nf3 are standard opening fare, needing little analysis. However, as the game progresses you need to examine each move in more detail. How does White respond to 2…Qf6?

White plays 3. Nc3, following principle two. When you opponent makes a provocative move, examine it carefully to make sure it’s not a trick or trap. However, don’t counter that move with a provocative move of your own. Stick to principled play, which Morphy does. Principled play will save the day when facing the odd or provocative move. Black plays 3…c6, another move that seems to go against principled play. By placing a pawn on c6, Black denies the Queen-side Knight from it’s best opening perch. White follows with 4. d4, attacking Black’s center. Again, White hits back with a principled move, although the beginner may find this attack premature.

This is a point at which the beginner analyzing the game, needs to look at Morphy’s forth move and work through the possible outcomes based on Black’s potential forth move. What do I mean? While I said that White is attacking the center with 4. d4, it’s now Black’s turn, so Black can now become the attacker. Therefore, you have to examine this move in terms of attackers and defenders. Since it’s Black’s turn, you have to count White’s defenders and compare them to Black’s attackers. White has the Knight on f3 and the Queen on d1, a total of two defenders. Black has the pawn on e5 and the…oh wait, there’s no Knight on c6 to aid in the attack. Black plays 4…exd4, which allows Black to capture White’s Knight on c3 if White doesn’t move it. Well, Morphy does not move the Knight, but plays 5. e5, attacking Black’s Queen on f6. This is a case of Black making a threat, attacking the White Knight on c3 and White making a bigger threat, attacking the Black Queen on f6. Black is forced to move his Queen because he’d lose too much material if he didn’t. This is why you don’t bring your Queen out early!

We’re going to work through the rest of this game over the next three weeks. I’m taking it slow because there is a lot to talk about regarding each move and I want this to be a template for beginners playing through the games of masters. The real secret to learning from the games of master level players is in the details. There’s an old adage, “the devil is on the details,” and nowhere is this truer than in chess. You want to really dive deeply into each move of a game, taking your time and making an effort to thoroughly understand each move. While this takes a lot of time and patience at first, the process will become faster as you gain experience with analysis.

These first few moves we went over should give you an idea of how you should be thinking in terms of analysis. Try to not only determine why a move was made, but alternative moves as well. Yes, you’re a beginner playing through the games of stronger players, but that doesn’t mean those stronger players couldn’t have made a better move. You might find that move! This is how you become a better chess player. Play through the next six moves of this game and try to apply as many principles as you can to each move. Take your time and if you get frustrated, take a break. Don’t try to push your analysis when you’re frustrated because it will often make the solution harder to find. Come back at it with a fresh set of eyes. See you 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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