For the typical Patzer, a knight is a knight and a bishop a bishop, they’re worth three points, and trading a knight for bishop is pretty much always an equal exchange.

While a knight and bishop are nominally worth three points, they actually become more or less valuable depending on their position on the board and the overall board layout. The next time you have a chance to exchange minor pieces to accomplish some goal, take the entire board into account when making your decision. Here are some elements to watch out for when valuing your minor pieces:

1. Knights become more valuable as they make their way toward the center and up the board. A knight on the back row is virtually worthless (“A Knight on the Rim is Dim”), because it can only attack a few squares. A knight in the center can attack up to eight squares. As a knight makes its way to the 5th and 6th ranks, it becomes a real thorn in the opponent’s side. If a knight is approaching your back ranks, look to trade one of your minor pieces to eliminate it, or chase it off with a pawn.

2. Knights on outposts can be devastating. Look for outposts (squares on the 5th or 6th rank that are protected from enemy pawns or other pieces) to plant your knights on. From a protected outpost, a knight can really hinder your opponent’s development.

3. Knights are more valuable in closed games, bishops in open games. If you are in a closed game, with the center locked up by many pawns, hold on to your knights if appropriate, and avoid knight-for-bishop exchanges. Knights can leap over the clutter in the center of the board, where they are relatively more mobile than bishops, queens, and rooks. On the other hand, in an open game bishops can fly up and down the board unhindered.

4. In the same way, knights are more valuable earlier in the game, when the board is cluttered with material, and bishops become more valuable toward the endgame, as material is removed from the board.

5. The bishop’s main weakness is its inability to attack pieces on a color other than its own. That is why it is valuable to maintain a “bishop pair” if at all possible – a white and a colored bishop that can work in tandem to attack all squares on the board. This is especially true if your opponent does not have a bishop pair.

6. Finally, a bishop that is trapped behind its own pawns (especially when the center pawns prevent it from moving along the long diagonals) is called a “bad bishop.” Look to exchange this bishop for another minor piece, move the pawns, or work to get the bishop outside of the pawn chain, so it is at least active.

Keeping these tenets in mind can help any patzer make smarter decisions about exchanging the minor pieces.

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I’ve been reading Zuke ‘Em – The Colle-Zukertort Revolutionized, and I have to say I’m learning a great deal from the book.  Normally Patzers don’t benefit much from studying openings.  Usually a tremendous amount of work goes into memorizing obscure opening lines in order to gain some small advantage: a pawn or a slightly better position.  This doesn’t benefit patzers much, since most games are a series of blunders (big or small) on both sides.

The Colle, however, is an opening system.  It generally describes a sequence of moves (for white only, in this case) that can be played against many different responses by black.  This dramatically cuts down the amount of memorization that is needed, since the same moves by white can robustly respond to moves by black and generally set up white for a strong kingside attack.

Setting aside black’s moves for a moment, white moves d4, e3, Bd3, Nf3, Nbd2, b3, Bb2, 0-0, a3, Ne5.  Those ten moves set white up with two bishops aiming at the kingside corner where black’s king is likely hiding in terror.  Two knights are also ready to pounce into action, quickly galloping to the 5th rank where they can cause huge trouble and protect each other.  Additionally, this opening system often leads to the Greek gift bishop sacrifice, in which white sacrifices a bishop in order to bring the black king out into the open, where he is quickly torn to pieces.  It makes for some really fun chess with lots of tactical opportunities.

Anyway, check it out.  You probably won’t hear me recommending many opening books, but this one is well worth your while.

Do you have a favorite opening or opening system?  Have you found it worthwhile to study?  Has studying openings improved your game?

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On a TLC show named “Little Chocolatiers,” Steve and Katie Hatch, the two little chocolatiers, make a giant chess set out of chocolate. They’re raising money for Kayden Troff, the #1 player in his 11-year-old age group in the US, to play in the World Youth Championships in Greece in October.

You can follow this young national master’s fundraising attempts to reach $7,000 on his blog.

(via Gambit Blog)

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If you haven’t been following the world chess championship, you’re missing out on a tight battle for the top spot.  After 11 games, Anand and Topalov are 5 1/2 to 5 1/2.  The final game is tomorrow morning.  Analysts are predicting that Anand (playing black tomorrow) will do whatever he can to draw the game, leading to a series of sudden-death games.  Anand is very strong at quick chess and would do quite well in the series of 25-minute games that make up a tie breaker.  The skill differential is even greater for blitz chess.

To avoid this, Topalov will have to go for the kill tomorrow morning.  He has a history of playing well in final games, especially as white.  It should make for an exciting game.  Unfortunately it starts at 5 am here.  I’ll be sneaking a peek at work, I guess.

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Development of your pieces is the process of moving the pieces from the back row into positions from which they can attack the opponent much more easily. Without getting too much into opening theory, the purpose of the opening moves is to develop your pieces. Ideally, you will only move each piece once for the first several moves of the game, and make only enough pawn moves to enable your major and minor pieces (the back row) to move into position. Usually the rough order of this is to attack the center with a central pawn (e4 or d4), then move the knights out, then the bishops (this may require another central pawn move), then the queen, and then castle the king. Of course, development rarely progresses exactly this way.  You’ll have to react to your opponent as you develop as quickly as possible.

A lead in development is a temporary lead. It’s easy to spot: Do you have more material developed than your opponent? Has your opponent spent several moves shuffling pawns around, or moving individual pieces repeatedly?

Chess Development

White has a huge lead in development.

In the diagram to the right, it may look like both sides are on about equal footing.  After all, both sides have equal material.  White has a huge lead in development, though.  All of white’s back row pieces are poised to attack.  The knights and pawns are attacking the center, the bishops have been moved to areas from which they can move along diagonals, and the queen has moved forward, allowing the king to castle to safety behind a row of pawns (which also lines up the rook and queen, another advantage).

From this point, white should focus on blasting up the center before black has a chance to move out many of his attacking pieces.  White should also try not to move the pawns in front of the king, in order to protect the king from attack.

Especially in open games (where the center isn’t clogged up with pawns), you will want to take advantage of a lead in development as quickly as possible.  Lean forward and attack aggressively.  These attacks need not necessarily focus on the enemy king.  If you can blast away several pawns, gain a minor piece, and/or line up several attackers against the enemy king, you will have a huge advantage going into the middlegame.

One goal may be to prevent the opponent from castling.  If you can castle your king, and also prevent the opponent from castling, you will have an advantage that will last throughout the game.  How is this accomplished?  The rules of castling stipulate that a player cannot castle when his king is in check, when castling would move the king through check (any of the squares between the king and rook are being attacked), or if either the king or rook have moved.

There are sometimes cases in which a path through the d-file is opened up.  If you can send your queen across the board to capture the enemy queen, sacrificing your own queen to a capture by the enemy king, you will have forced the enemy king to move, eliminating his ability to castle.

So to review: In the opening, try to move each piece only once, developing all the pieces from your back row.  Castle early and try to prevent your opponent from castling.  If you have a lead in development, attack aggressively and quickly, because a development lead is only temporary.

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You “pin” an opponents piece when you use a queen, rook, or bishop to attack a valuable piece “through” a less valuable “interposing” piece.  This forces the pinned, interposing piece to remain still: moving it would expose the piece behind it to attack.  Once a piece is pinned, it is often worthwhile to pile more attackers on the helplessly immobile piece.

Here’s an example:

This is a position that emerges from an opening called the Riga variation of the Ruy Lopez.  No need to remember that – we won’t be studying openings in depth here at Patzer Chess.  For the curious, though, it’s worth Googling.

Here moving the rook to e1 (Re1) pins black’s knight at e4.  The knight can’t move, because moving the knight would expose the king to an attack from white’s rook.  This pin, in fact, is called a “royal pin” or an “absolute pin,” because it is actually illegal for black to move in such a way that would expose its king to an attack.

Now black can pile the attacks on black’s knight (say, moving the Queen to d3, or the knight to d3) , which must remain helplessly still until the pin is removed (say, by moving black’s bishop to e7, putting another piece between the knight and king).







Let’s look at some other examples:

In this diagram, white has a royal pin on the knight at e6.  At the same time, black has a “relative” pin (or just a “pin”) on white’s knight at f4.  Moving the knight would expose white’s rook to an attack from black’s bishop.

















Pins emerge quite often in chess. A pin can often help you remove an attack threat from one of your pieces by holding the attacking piece immobile. Combined with the other tactics we’ll cover over the next several weeks, pins can be one of the most valuable tactical elements in your repertoire.

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While studying tactics is a great way to improve rapidly as a beginner, it’s important to ladder your tactics to an overall strategy.  Tactics should help you achieve a higher-level goal that will bring you closer to your ultimate goal of checkmating the opponent’s king.

Here are some examples:

Tactics: “I’ll move my knight to e4, forking her bishop and queen.”  “If he moves his rook to d5, I can go for a discovered attack on his bishop.”

Strategy: “The board is wide open (pawns aren’t clogging up the center).  I’ll use my bishops in tandem to clear a path on the kingside so that my pawns can storm his already-cramped position.”  “She hasn’t castled yet, so I’m going to aggresively attack her king on the center files and try to prevent her from castling at all.”

Strategies are a bit more difficult to teach, to learn, and to implement, but they are nonetheless very important to winning chess games, especially as you begin to improve your game.

This series of articles will highlight different elements of chess strategy, especially studying imbalances on the board and how they can be utilized to win games.  We’ll be studying the following imbalances over the next few weeks:

  1. Development: Has your opponent opened by moving each piece only once, toward the center of the board?  A delay in development can be a hindrance that you can exploit.
  2. Space: Controlling a greater area of the board can give you the breathing room needed to carry out your attacks.
  3. Initiative: A temporary imbalance – Are you reacting to your opponent with your moves, or is he using his moves to react to your actions?  You should always be trying to achieve the latter situation.
  4. Open Files and Protected Squares: Files, ranks, and diagonals are the pathways along which your pieces move.  Entire games can hinge on an open file, or a protected outpost square for a knight to land on.
  5. Minor Pieces: Two bishops (the “bishop pair”) can be deadly working together.  Knights are more valuable when the board is clogged up.  Look at the balance of minor pieces, searching for opportunities to use your pieces to their full potential.
  6. Pawn Structure: Entire books have been written on pawn structure.  Imbalances can result from doubled pawns, isolated pawns, passed pawns, backward pawns, etc.
  7. Material: Do you own more material than your opponent?  How are you taking advantage of that fact?

Over the next few months we’ll look at each of these in turn and explore ways to use them to your advantage.  As a fellow patzer I have to admit that I’m only scratching the surface of strategy myself, but upon reviewing games that I’ve won (and lost), it becomes clear that having a strategy that is both solidly thought out and yet infinitely flexible can yield great results.

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When you’re just starting to study chess, it can be difficult to know where to focus your efforts.  Chess study can be broken down into several different fields:

  • Openings
  • Middlegame
  • Endgame
  • Tactics
  • Strategy
  • Positioning


For beginners, the most rapid improvement comes from studying tactics.  In this series of articles, I will explore a new tactic every Tuesday.  By learning these tactics and looking for opportunities to use them in your games, you will see rapid improvement.

The important concept to understand here is that unless you’re playing against an absolute beginner who leaves pieces undefended (hanging), you will need to use your pieces in combination to capture enemy material.  That is, you will need to attack multiple pieces at a time, or attack an enemy piece with multiple pieces of your own, in order to capture material.

We’ll be looking at the following tactics:

  1. Pins – Hold an enemy piece immobile while you pile on the attacks
  2. Skewers – Threaten a valuable piece, and when that piece escapes, strike the piece behind it.
  3. Forks - Attack multiple pieces at once.  Your opponent can’t defend them all.
  4. Discovered Attacks – Move a piece to reveal a deadly attack coming from behind it.
  5. Remove the Defender – Chase off the defender of your target piece, leaving it helpless.


Stay tuned as we explore these tactics over the next few weeks.

Which of these tactics sounds the most useful?  Do you see these patterns emerging in your play, even if you didn’t know the name of them?

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The 5th Grade Tournament

I started playing chess when I was 10 years old.  My 5th grade teacher, Mr. Connor, held a chess tournament every year.  It wasn’t until many years later that I realized that this set a really high bar for his students, especially considering that the majority of students had never played chess before.

A group of us stuck around after class for several days learning how to play chess from Mr. Connor.  My friend Ryan and I really got into it.  We played after school at his house, and on the weekends I’d play against my father or brother out on our patio.  Of course, at the time I knew nothing of tactics or strategy.  Just learning the rules and how the pieces moved was a big accomplishment.

The first time I beat my father at chess, I went to my room and cried.  It was the first time I had beat Dad at anything, and I was overcome with a sense that I was growing up.  It was really bittersweet.  I felt accomplished, scared, proud, and uncertain all at the same time.

The tournament wasn’t “seeded” in the sense that Mr. Connor didn’t build our tournament bracket by finding out our respective skill levels in the game.  At this point Ryan and I were the strongest players in the class, and we quickly made our way to the semifinals, where we met each other in combat over the board after school.

We played three games, and Ryan beat me two-out-of-three.  They were great, drawn-out games that were especially fun because we were best friends and both highly competitive.

Ryan went on to play Chris, another student, in the finals, and soundly beat him with a couple of blitzkreig mates (four-move mates).  The reporter who was going to snap a few photos for our town newspaper arrived about 1/2 hour after the start of the match, and it was already over.  Ryan and Chris had to set the board back up and pretend that they were playing in order to get some realistic-looking photos.

As a prize for winning the tournament, Ryan got to play against Mr. Connor on a large Civil War chess set with tiny pewter soldier pieces.  Mr. Connor won, of course, but it was fun to watch nonetheless.

The College Years

Ryan and I stayed interested in the game and played each other sporadically over the years.  Another great friend of mine, Dan, got me back into the game a bit in college.  His style was completely different from Ryan’s: He made wild, unpredictable moves that always threw me for a loop after having played Ryan for so many years, whose style was much more methodical.  Dan would blunder as much as any young player, but always knew how to recover quickly and come roaring back in style.

Today

It wasn’t until 2009 that I actually began to study chess more intently.  Vijay, a co-worker of mine, had recently discovered the game and took to it very quickly.  We played a few correspondence games on Facebook with the Chess.com app, and he rocketed to a 2000 rating there.  I began studying chess books and learning basic tactics and strategy.

While I’m still at the beginning of the journey, I have already learned a lot and am eager to teach other amateurs from the perspective of a fellow patzer.

How did you get into chess?  How long have you played?  Any memorable games that drew you in?

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