A Foundation for Beginners Sixty

I was going to play out our long running endgame from the last few months this week. However, I decided to discuss some additional middle-game principles instead. The reason for this is because you should have enough information at hand to play last week’s position out yourself. At some point, I will play through the conclusion of that game. Another reason for postponing it is because there are some important additional middle-game ideas to consider, ideas that pertain to both the middle and endgame, and will play a part in our game’s conclusion. Let’s get started examining those ideas, starting with the role material value plays.

Beginners, once they learn the value of the pawns and pieces, consider those values to be absolute. While the values don’t really waver, they shouldn’t be looked at too rigidly. What do I mean by this? The Queen has a relative value of nine points. When you add the value of a Rook, Bishop and single pawn up, you also have nine points. Does this mean that a Queen is equal in power, rather than point value, to the combination of Rook, Bishop and pawn? Yes and no!

The Queen is the most powerful piece because it can move like the Rook and Bishop. Students often ask me why the Queen isn’t worth only eight points rather than nine. I tell them that the extra point is a reward for have the combined power of two pieces. Alright, we know the Queen is more powerful than either the Rook or Bishop on it’s own. However, is the Queen, on her own, more powerful than the trio of Rook, Bishop (or Knight) and pawn? This is where things get a bit tricky! First of all, it depends upon the position. Is the position open or closed? When a position is open, there are a lot of empty squares available for pieces to occupy or control. Long distance pieces such as the Queen, Rook and Bishop love open positions because it affords them the room to move they desire. Long distance pieces have greater power when they have greater mobility or room to move. If the position is closed, meaning there are not a lot of squares devoid of pawns and pieces, the long distance members of your army lose a great deal of power. In a closed position, Knights are the Kings of the battlefield. Then there’s the question of the power of three versus the power of one!

A Queen against a Rook, Bishop and pawn is a case of one against three. Sure, the Queen has a lot more options regarding movement (assuming an open position) when compared to the Rook, Bishop and pawn. However, if the Queen is facing off against those three members of the opposing army, the Queen has to do three times the work compared to facing off against a single pawn or piece. Things become difficult when you have just a Queen facing off against a Rook, Bishop and pawn, especially if the player with the two pieces and pawn is highly skilled! Here’s why?

The Rook, Bishop and pawn can work together, protecting one another. The Queen might have to be exchanged with a piece of lesser value (the Bishop or Rook) in order to prevent a checkmate. The Queen can become stuck in a state of perpetual defense. The Rook and Bishop also double the opportunities to deliver a pin or skewer that might lead to the Queen’s loss. Then there’s the potential for pawn promotion. A well protected pawn working it’s way towards it’s promotion square is, as the credit card commercial says “priceless!” In the material combination we’ve been talking today about this week, the player with the Queen might have to give up that Queen to stop the other player’s pawn from promoting. This would leave that player with no Queen and a losing game.

The point is simple: don’t count on relative value as an indicator of potential success. Just because both players material relative value is equal doesn’t mean their chances of winning are equal!

One idea I haven’t mentioned is the idea that the fewer pieces you have left in the game, the deeper your calculations have to be and the more unforgiving the loss of material becomes. At the start of the game, you have plenty of material to work with. If you lose a pawn or piece, at least in the games of beginners, you can recover. However, as you work towards the end game, the loss of material becomes more painful and is more detrimental to your success. You also decrease your ability to create and deliver meaningful attacks. While we haven’t talked about the endgame much, the endgame is the phase of the game in which both players have far less material in play than they did at the game’s start. In the endgame, every pawn and piece counts and losing just one pawn can destroy your game. Calculations are also deeper as you approach the endgame. What do I mean by calculations?

You’ve already been doing calculations if you’ve been applying the “think three moves ahead” strategy. Calculation in chess is simply determining the outcome of your move, then extended that out multiple moves into the game’s future. In other words, if I do this, what is the best response my opponent can make. As you work through the middle-game and head towards the endgame, calculations become longer. Instead of thinking three moves ahead, you have to think six or seven moves ahead!

If you have more material than your opponent, you have more opportunities for attacks and mating attempts. With more material than your opponent, your opponent has to make more overall calculations than you do since your opponent’s calculations have to include the extra material you have. Think of it like this. If you have three pieces and two pawns and your opponent has one piece and two pawns, your opponent is going to have to consider those two additional pieces when calculating the effects of any candidate move. We’ll look at calculation tips and tricks next week because there’s a great deal to examine. Just keep the ideas I’ve just mentioned regarding material value and calculations in mind until then. While tactics play a big role in the middle-game, there are plenty of other principles that are equally important. While they are not a glamorous as tactics, they are just as important. While we will come back to tactics soon, we need to cover some other middle-game concepts first. Here’s a game 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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