A Foundation for Beginners Thirty Four

Last week, we dug into defending weaknesses in your position. Today, I’ll introduce you to this idea via a beginner’s game. I am using beginner’s games rather than the games of masters because, as a beginner, you are more likely to find yourself in the positional situations we’ll examine over the next two weeks as opposed to those positions found in the games of strong players. Let’s review the key points to consider from last week’s article.

Chess is a game that requires your complete attention. This means that you have to focus solely on the game. Beginners must master the skill of focus and deep concentration in order to improve. Beginners lose games for two reasons. First, they are still in the learning phase of their journey, so they don’t know all of the game’s principles. Secondly, beginners have not developed the ability to completely focus on their games. The ability to completely focus on the game is a learned skill that takes time to develop. I should also mention that beginners do not really consider their opponent’s moves when playing. Sure, the beginner looks at their opponent’s move, but they often don’t completely consider the implications of that move, opting to make a move that captures or attacks something. Beginners want excitement on the board!

Defending is a big part of the game! When I first learned to play, all I wanted to do was attack and capture anything that moved. When I found myself having to defend a position, I was at a loss regarding what to do. If there was a weakness in my position, which there always was, my opponent would quickly take advantage of it. As I mentioned last week, the best way to avoid weaknesses was to not create any in your position. However, there is really no way to completely avoid creating weaknesses. Every move you make will have a positive side and a negative side to it. With a really good move, the negative aspects may be so small that they are inconsequential. For example, if White moves the b1 Knight to c3, during the opening, we consider this to be a principled move that places the Knight on a square that allows it to attack the center of the board. What’s the downside? It blocks in the pawn on c2. However, the pros outweigh the cons, so the move is good! If you stick to principled moves (those that follow the game’s many principles), the positive aspects of that move will outweigh the negative aspects (in most cases).

You will always have to deal with weaknesses in your position at some point during the game. The fewer you have to deal with, the easier it will be to launch attacks. Remember, if you are always defending, you won’t get the chance to attack, and attacking leads to winning games. Here is the easiest way for beginners to avoid creating perpetual weaknesses (I mentioned this last week):

Every time your opponent makes a move, and I mean every single move, look at the pawn or piece your opponent moved and determine whether or not it is attacking any of your pawns and pieces. You’d be surprised at how many beginners simply ignore their opponent’s moves in favor of trying to capture or attack material (pawns and pieces) on their opponent’s side of the board. Remember, don’t attack or capture pawns and pieces unless it helps your game). Some of this problem has to do with the beginners inability to focus on the game. After all, there’s a lot going on within a game of chess and it is hard at first to keep a watchful eye on the interaction between all the pawns and pieces in play. The other reason for the beginner not paying attention to their opponent’s move has to do with planning. Beginners think that their plan to win the game is the only plan. They forget that their opponent also has a plan! When your opponent makes a move, look at the pawn or piece that just moved and follow its path of movement to determine if it’s attacking any of your pawns and pieces. If it turns out that one of your pawns and pieces is suddenly under attack, either move the attacked material or defend it. Use the guidelines I gave you in last week’s article. Let’s look at part of a game between two of my eight year old beginning students:

These two students have had roughly eight weeks of chess instruction. The key difference between the two students is easy to see. One player follows the opening principles and watches every move their opponent makes, while the other simply isn’t focused (nor is he following the game’s opening principles). White starts off with 1. e4 and Black responds with 1…d6. White notes that Black has moved the d pawn to a square that allows White to play 2. d4, gaining a two pawn center. White made the second move to also allow both of his Bishops fast access to the board. Black responds with 2…c6. Black’s last pawn move is particularly problematic. Placing a pawn on c6 deprives the Black Knight on b8 of it’s optimal opening square (c6). White’s pawn on e4 can also move to e5, depriving the g8 Knight of the f6 square. These two moves demonstrate that you need to adhere to the game’s opening principles from move one!

Now that White has a good pawn center, he moves onto opening principle two, the development of the minor (Knights and Bishops) pieces and plays 3. Nf3, further bolstering his control of the center. Black makes yet another pawn move, 3…e6. Making too many pawns moves during the opening is a huge mistake. I spoke to the student playing Black in this game to learn why he was making the moves he made. His idea was to create a pawn defense in the center, creating a wall of three pawns to keep White from breaking through and getting to his King. Unfortunately, he didn’t consider the downside to his moves, such as using a pawn to occupy a square (c6) his Knight belonged on.

White continued with good development by playing 4. Nc3. Black response clearly indicates that he was not paying attention to White’s moves from the start of the game. Black plays 4…Nf6. What’s wrong with developing your Knight to f6? Yes, you need to develop your minor pieces during the opening. However, you don’t want to move them to any squares controlled by your opponent’s pawns! The student playing White surprised me with his next move because I was sure he’d go after the Black Knight on f6 with his e pawn. White instead played 5. Bd3, further developing his forces. It should be noted that White did look at each move Black made before considering any moves of his own. Black played 5…Be7.

White castles King-side with 6.0-0 and Black plays 6…b5, making yet another pawn move. Black is creating weaknesses with every move and those weaknesses will come back to haunt him when we play through the middle-game next week. However, we’ll play through a few more moves in this game. White plays 7. Bd2, just getting his Bishop a little more active. Black responds by castling. While a good move, Black is still facing a number of problems due to his series of bad previous moves.

White now plays 8. e5, attacking the Knight on f6. White counted attackers versus defenders before making this move. White also compared attackers to defenders in terms of value. In short, White did everything we have examined in the last two articles. What does Black do? He ignores the attack on the f6 Knight and plays 8…Bb7. If you look at Black’s position, you see a number of weaknesses. While beginners may not see some of the more subtle weaknesses, they should see some of the larger ones, such as minor piece activity. I know we’re looking at the middle-game in this series of articles but your middle-game is built upon the foundation of your opening. If your foundation is weak the rest of your game will crumble! This opening section of the game serves to set up the events of the middle-game, which we’ll play through next week. Back to the weaknesses. White’s minor pieces are active while Black’s are not. Black has also made too many pawn moves which was the cause of Black’s lack of minor piece activity. Now, Black’s f6 Knight is under attack and Black chose to ignore it. Every time your opponent makes a move, determine whether or not the pawn or piece that just moved is attacking any of your material and then do something about it.

Next week, we’ll dig further into this game and you’ll see how things turn out. The outcome may surprise you, so don’t assume that White has this game in pocket. Play through the game below and see if you can find any positional weaknesses and note how each player corrects them (or doesn’t correct them). 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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