CategoriesChess Midgame

Chess Basic Tactics Series #1 – Pins and Skewers

If you’ve read my previous post, then you know that studying tactics is one of the most important things you can do to improve your game. In this series, I’m going to go deeper, define, and give examples of some basic tactics. Before we get into the fun stuff, let me first give some required definitions.

In chess tactics can be defined as short term opportunities where one player makes threats against the opponent.  Pins and skewers, are just two examples of various tactics that are used in a chess game. A pin in chess is when you attack a piece that can not move out the way because it would allow capture of a piece of greater value. There are two types of pins, absolute pins and relative pins. Let’s look at some examples.

This first diagram is an example of an absolute pin. The black knight on c6 is absolutely pinned to the king because the knight cannot move. In chess, it is illegal to move a piece and expose your king to check. Keep in mind that absolute pins are more powerful than relative pins for this very reason, the piece that is pinned is completely stuck!


The next diagram is an example of a relative pin. The knight on f3 is pinned to the queen. Unlike the first example, it is possible for the knight on f3 to legally move. Doing so however would be bad since it would lose the queen which is more valuable than the knight.

One thing to remember is that only queens, rooks, and bishops can pin other pieces.

The next tactic we will discuss is the skewer. A skewer is very similar to a pin, however in the case of a skewer the more valuable piece is in front of the piece of equal or lesser value. When the more valuable piece moves, it exposes the less valuable piece to capture. Just like pins there are absolute skewers and relative skewers. Let’s look at some examples.

The following diagram shows an example of two skewers. The white queen is skewering the black king on a5 and black rook on a8. Since the black king is in check it must move out of the way allowing the capture of the rook. Also, the white bishop is skewering the black rook on f6 and the black knight on g7. Since the rook is more valuable than the knight, when it moves it allows capture of the knight. Just like pins, only the straight line pieces, queens, bishops, and rooks can skewer.


I hope this post helped you get your feet wet with some basic tactics! In the next post in this series we will discuss double attacks. In the meantime start improving your tactics play by solving some chess puzzles!

CategoriesChess Openings

Opening Tips For Beginning Chess Players

For many beginners, the opening stage of the game can be intimidating. What pieces do you move? What should be your plan? There is also confusion because there are so many openings and variations to study. Opening study is important, but not nearly as important as many beginners think. Nonetheless, it is important to understand the basics of opening play. Let’s face it if you can’t start a game, how do you expect to win one! Here are some opening principles for beginning chess players. Keep in mind that these are general rules; of course there are exceptions.

1) Start the game with either 1. e4 or 1. d4. These are the most popular opening moves for a reason. It’s not enough to just play these moves, you have to understand why you are playing these moves. 1.e4 or 1. d4 immediately fight for central control.  1. e4 also opens the diagonals for the white queen on d1 and the white bishop on f1. The move 1. d4 has similar goals by controlling the center and opening up a key diagonal.

2) Move each piece only once in the opening. In chess there is a concept of time or tempo. If you move a piece more than once you are losing time that could be used to develop other pieces.

3) Fight for control of the center. The four central squares e4, e5, d4, and d5 are the most important squares on the board. The reason is that when most pieces are placed on one of these squares they control the most territory on the board.

4) Don’t bring out the queen too early. Since the queen is your most valuable piece, if you move her too early your opponent can gain time by attacking her. Although there are famous openings where this principle is violated(i.e. The Scandanavian Defense), it is a wise rule to follow for beginning players.

5) In general develop knights before bishops. The reason for this is that the best squares for the knights in the opening are usually f3,c3,f6,or c6. A knight placed on one of these squares controls the important central square. The best squares for your bishops are dependent on what is happening in the opening, and that may take a few moves to unfold.

We hope these guidelines help you in your opening play!


CategoriesChess For Beginners

About the lecture/analysis (sorry it’s late)

I know I said I was going to post a blog right after the lecture by GM Sam Palatnik.  I was unable to find the time, however, to even turn my laptop on (partly because of how long some of my chess matches lasted, and partly because my laptop is an ancient piece of machinery that LITERALLY takes over 10 minutes to load and another 5 minutes to even open an internet browser.

That being said, I also didn’t bother to take notes on things from the lecture to rehash for you, dear novice chess playing reader, because it quickly became apparent that the lecture was not geared toward the beginning chess player.  This blog is!  The lecture would have been over the heads of many of my readers for the simple reason that it was mostly about various systems and how to deal with them… and since you may not know any openings yet (I know I haven’t discussed any openings yet in this blog… partly because openings are not my strong point) the lecture would not have been all that useful to you.

I also attended some of the analysis the grand master provided for player’s games.  I wanted him to analyze a game I had just lost, but there were several people ahead of me and by the time it would have been my turn, he started packing it in to go to lunch, so I never got my turn.  *sad face*

I will say that GM Sam Palatnik is a very good speaker despite his thick Ukrainian accent.  For a man his age, the great chess player was very good at being relative (and fun) to the modern (younger) chess player.  He would make amusing quips that had everyone in the room laugh out loud and was very good at demonstrating his ideas in concise and understandable ways.  It’s a shame he didn’t have the time to analyze my game (luckily a few friends of mine at the tournament went over it with me and we found the move I should have made – rather than the mistake I made that in my opinion lost the game for me).

So I apologize I didn’t get the article up when I said I would and about what I said I would, but what you CAN take from the lecture you didn’t attend is this: Buy GM Sam Palatnik’s books (they can be found on to learn about various systems of play (including the Sicilian and the Tarrasch) and chess strategies and tactics planning for the tournament player.

CategoriesChess For Beginners

Chess Noob #9 – Algebraic Notation

Last time, we learned about an older form of notation called Descriptive Notation.  It used to be the only thing players and books would use to notate moves made in a chess game.  After the 1970’s, however, a new form of notation came around called Algebraic notation, which uses less characters and less writing in general.

Here are the symbols used in Algebraic notation:

R is for Rook.

B is for Bishop.

N is for Knight.

K is for King.

Q is for Queen.

x is the symbol for capturing a piece.

+ is the symbol for Check.

# is the symbol for Checkmate in algebraic  notation.

= is the symbol for Pawn promotion.  After the = will be the symbol for whichever piece you’ve turned the Pawn into (usually Q for Queen)

0-0 is for Castling on the kingside. (The Rook moves 2 spaces)

0-0-0 is for Castling on the queenside. (The Rook moves 3 spaces)

1-0 is the symbol for black resigning (1 win for white, 0 for black)

0-1 is the symbol for white resigning (0 wins for white, 1 for black)

1/2-1/2 is the symbol for a draw (1/2 win for both sides) either by draw offer, stalemate, 50 move rule (the 50 move rule says that if the opponents have both made 50 moves and not a single piece has been captured, then the game is a draw), or 3-move repetition (if the two opponents make the exact same moves 3 times consecutively, the game is a draw).

a-h are the files of the chess board.

1-8 are the ranks of the chess board.

Now that we have our legend of symbols, let’s talk about how to use them in

Algebraic Notation

To start with, since algebraic notation uses the lettered and numbered chess board that we’ve used in all blogs up to the one on descriptive notation, let’s look at the starting set-up:

You probably have already guessed that you won’t need to keep track of Kingside or Queenside like you did with algebraic.  You also don’t need to worry about the starting positions for the purpose of labeling files, or counting spaces from each opponent.  you’ll be using letters and numbers, making writing moves much quicker to see and comprehend (at least when playing on a board with numbers and letters, which most modern boards have).

You’ll also notice a couple things are missing from our legend.  Algebraic notation does not use the Pawn symbol, nor does it use the to notate movement.  All moves just have what space they land on (unless there are 2 pieces of the same type that can get to same space, which we’ll discuss in a moment) by what piece is landing where.  And if there is no piece listed, just an end space, it’s assumed it was a Pawn move.

So, going back to our same examples:

Those two Pawn moves would be written as

e4          c5



Where we only care about the starting space because it’s a pawn.

This is now


Clearly, this is a much cleaner way to write this move than the descriptive version of


And finally our checkmate is


But what if a piece other than a pawn is moving?

Comparing this Bishop Check move…

In Descriptive it would be: B-QN5    Notice that it’s a 5, not a 4 because in descriptive it goes from the prospective of the player making the move

In Algebraic it would be simply Bb4  Notice we don’t even bother putting the dash to notate movement.  Again, it’s a much faster, cleaner way to write.

And what if two pieces can get to the same space?

Here, both white kNights can get to the same space.  I’ve circled the one we’re going to move there.

In Descriptive this is: N(KB)-Q2  The Knight in line with the Kingside Bishop moves to the second space in the Queen file

In Algebraic this is: Nfd2  The Knight in the f file moves to d2.

If both pieces were even i the same file… let’s say the Knight on c4 was actually on f5 and you wanted to use that one to take the pawn at h4, you’d just write Nf5xh4.  If there were no pawn there to take and you just moved there it would be Nf5h4.

So you can see why Algebraic notation is the more widely used notation now days.  It’s fast, simple, and doesn’t involved any counting.  It also makes mistakes in the notation almost obsolete where as with descriptive notation it’s not unlikely to see someone getting their kingside and queenside mixed up, or numbering from only their perspective and not their opponent’s.

You can use whichever version you like of course.  There are people that still use descriptive notation (I actually still use it myself so I can re-play the games on any chess set – even those that aren’t lettered and numbered-  and because I’ve been using it for so long it’s like a second language for me).  Algebraic is what you’ll find in most modern books, though.

CategoriesChess For Beginners

Chess Noob #1 – An Introduction to a New Blog Series

Greetings to all my fellow chess players and a big warm “hello” to all the would-be/future chess players of the world who’ve come across this blog.  This will be a new chess blog series titled “Chess Noob”, and it will be geared primarily to beginning/novice players (both adults and children and possibly even parents of new chess players).

So what will a chess blog for novice players entail?  “Chess Noob” will start out simple (the rules of the game, how to play, etc.) and work through everything you need to know to learn the game of chess or (if you already play) how to get better.

WARNING: This blog is not at all geared for intermediate or advanced players, so if you fit in one of those categories you may be very bored…  However, since we’ll be working our way up we may eventually get into the intermediate work.

My goal with this blog is to get someone from the point of going “what’s chess?” to having them play at a level that they can do well in chess tournaments (although this blog alone won’t get you there, you’ll need to actually practice playing as well!)  I won’t be turning anyone into a world champion with these blogs (as I’m nowhere near that advanced myself), but together we’ll coach you into someone that can, at the very least, beat all your friends (unless you’re friends with the Polgar sisters… then you’re on your own!)

I’ll be taking you through everything (literally) from the start.  The first blog after this you see will be to tell you what the game actually is and it’s rules.  After that we’ll talk about the pieces and how they move, a few openings, tactics (starting off simplistic and increasing in difficulty as we go), what to expect at chess tournaments, how ratings work and what they mean, how to help your chess-playing child improve their game while still having fun, and more topics (to be honest, I only know my plans for the first 10 or 12 topics so far… after that I’m going to just wing it).

So please, I invite you, bookmark this blog so you can come back every week to see what’s new to learn and let’s grow together as chess players.  And if there are any topics you want me to cover, feel free to leave a comment telling me!

Have a topic you’d like me to cover or a question you’d like to ask? send me an e-mail at [email protected]

CategoriesChess GamesChess MidgameChess PlayersChess Puzzles

How To Improve Your Tactical Vision

It’s been said that chess is 99% tactics. Whether that is true is a matter of debate. Nevertheless, if you fail to see the tactical possibilities on the chess board you will most likely lose the game. The great thing is that studying tactics and combinations is fun! Combinations are a big part of what gives chess its artistic flair. So now that we know tactics are important how do we get better at them? Here I’ll outline a simple but effective plan of study.

1)      Solve Chess Diagrams Every Day. Get a book of chess problems and combinations that is on the market. Practice solving the problems for around 30 minutes a day. Try to work through the problems slowly. Don’t rush; make sure you see why the move you are making wins. Visualize the series of moves to the end, which brings us to…

2)      Work to Improve Your Visualization Skills. Try closing your eyes and visualizing the board. Try mentally dividing the board into parts. Is e4 a white square or a dark square? What about d4? Don’t worry if it’s difficult at first, just keep practicing.

3)      Analyze Your Games. Look for spots where you had trouble and analyze them afterwards. Try to remember how you were thinking at that time. If you made a mistake try to think why you chose that particular move. Did you not see what your opponent was threatening? Were you just so caught up with your own moves that you had a blind spot? These are common errors that chess players make.

4)      Study Games from Great Tactical Players. Pick a player with a highly tactical style, maybe Alexander Alekhine or Gary Kasparov. Play over and study their games.

Try sticking with this study plan long term. Thirty minutes each day is over 180 hours a year you will have spent improving your tactics!