School Chess Posts

Chess Basic Tactics Series #8 – Final Thoughts and Motivating Words

During the last few weeks we have been learning basic tactics. In this post I’m going to change the pace a bit and write a few words on topics that I believe are overlooked in competitive activities.

Besides chess I have several other hobbies. Many of these are hobbies that I have dedicated myself to for many years. Over the years I’ve noticed that the things that hold people back from improving are almost always the same no matter what the activity.

First and foremost many people underestimate the time required to become proficient. They’ll take up chess, play for a few months, realize it’s difficult, and then quit. It’s important to realize that there is a direct correlation between time invested and skill level. I’m sure if there were studies done, we would find that most grandmasters have studied more than masters, who have studied more than experts etc. etc.

The second thing that holds many people back is the failure to practice correctly. The way to improve your skill level is to put yourself in uncomfortable situations where you are forced to adapt. You must increase the difficulty level and push yourself. If you are studying a tactical problem and the answer doesn’t come to you study it further. The corrolary to this to get out of your comfort zone and practice playing positions that you are uncomfortable with. For example, if you primarily play 1. e4, try playing 1. d4 for several games. We must work on our weaknesses if we want to be complete. This is true in chess or anything else.

The fear of losing is also something that can hold someone back. My answer to this is to lose your ego. Even the best players in the world lose sometimes. What separates people is the ability to come back and keep fighting.

The last thing I want to say is that it’s you and only you who can determine your potential. For someone who really wants to do something there’s nothing holding them back. A lot of people want certain things, but they aren’t willing to change or put in the hard work to get there. When you feel like quitting say to yourself; I have to keep going no matter what. Chess history is filled with games where a player turned around a losing position to win or draw. History is filled with examples of people coming back from extremely difficult situations and succeeding. Use these examples as inspiration, and remember, never stop, just keep going.

 

Chess Noob #19- What to Expect at Tournaments

One of the best ways to improve your chess game is by playing at tournaments.  It’s also fun and exciting (and from time to time profitable as well)!  There are many kinds of chess tournaments one can enter depending on the age and rating (we’ll talk about ratings in a blog in the near future), style of tournament, etc.  So  what should you expect at a tournament?  Let’s take a look at the different kinds and what each is like.

Scholastic Tournaments: Scholastic tournaments are for kids only.  Typically, these are for children in grades K-12 and will have pairing split into sections based on grade and/or rating.  There will often be hundreds (if not thousands) of children depending on the size and importance of the tournament… in other words, these tournaments are often very noise between rounds (and since many scholastic players tend to rush in their games, there won’t be much time of peace and quiet).

Open Tournaments: These are for children and adults alike.  Age doesn’t matter in an open tournament where it’s all about the rating!  If you’re a 1200 rated player in the U1300 section, you’ll be combatting other players with ratings of 1299 and below whether they are 6 or 60.  And don’t feel bad if you lose to a child… they have way more free time to study than you do!

Quad Tourneys: If the tournament you play is is a Quad, that means there will be 4-person sections.  The 4 people in each section will have very similar ratings to one another.  In a Quad tournament, there are 3 rounds (unless it’s a “double quad”) where each player in the section will play one another round-robin style and the person with the most wins is the winner of the section.

Swiss Tourneys: A Swiss tournament will pair winners against winners and losers against losers.  Each win gets you 1 point, each draw gets you 1/2 a point, and each loss gets you 0 points.  Every round after the 1st round, players with the same number of points will duke it out.  There are no eliminations, so even if you lose every game, you’ll continue to play the entire tournament.  The first round is slightly different… since everyone is starting off with 0 points, everyone is in the same “bracket”.  They will line up everyone in the section according to ratings, then cut the list in half.  The top person of the top half plays the top person of the bottom half, the second person of the top half plays the second person of the bottom half and so on.  The same thing happens every round… but each round the list of players that needs to be divvied up is smaller as there will be less and less people who have the same scores as one another.

Quick VS Normal: “Quick” tournaments (whether they are swiss or quad) will consist of all games that are 30-min or less for time control (usually G/20).  “Normal” (non-quick) tournaments have varied time controls that could be anywhere from G/35 to 40/2.

Often, these tournaments will take place either at a hotel with a large ballroom, or a school gynmasium.

You’ll likely want to bring your own food as hotel food and/or vendors can get expensive.

If the tournament is at a hotel, you may want to book a room at the site hotel so you can just go straight to bed after a late round and sleep in longer than if you stay at a hotel that’s a 30 min drive away but cheaper.

Nearly all tournaments also have “Skittles Rooms”, where players can congregate to chit-chat, go over games, study,  or play casual chess.

Most tournaments will also have a chess store, which sells sets, clocks, books, dvds and more.  Make use of these stores.  If there’s a certain opening you want to learn, find a book about it at the store (they’re often times on sale).

Now that you know what to expect, the only thing to worry about is the entry fee, which can range anywhere from $2 for local mini-tournaments at your local chess club to over $300 for the World Open!  Look for tournaments that have a good entry-to-prize ratio and that has sections you think you might be able to win!


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

Becomes

exd5

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

This is now

Nxb7

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

N(QB)xP(QN)

And finally our checkmate is

Qxf7#

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.


Chess Noob #8 – Descriptive Notation

If you play chess online against an opponent or against a chess program on your computer, you’ll notice that the software keeps track of all the moves made in the game with  combination of letters and numbers.  When you play chess in a tournament, you are expected to keep track of your moves and the moves of your opponent in much the same way.  This detailed list of every move made in a chess game is called notation.

There are two main types of notation: descriptive notation, and algebraic notation.  Algebraic notation is the more modern and widely used form of notation, but we’ll go over each type of notation and you can decide which you’d rather use.  In this blog, we’ll only be talking about descriptive.  In the next blog, we’ll talk about algebraic notation and compare it to descriptive and compare the two.

P is for Pawn.  This is used in descriptive notation ONLY.  You’ll understand why once we talk about algebraic notation.

R is for Rook.

B is for Bishop.

N is for Knight.

K is for King.

Q is for Queen.

is the symbol for movement.  This is used in descriptive notation ONLY.

x is the symbol for capturing a piece.

+ is the symbol for Check.

++ is the symbol for Checkmate in descriptive 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).

Now that you know the symbols, let’s talk about how to write your moves using….

Descriptive Notation

Descriptive Notation is also known as English Notation.  It was the widely used form of notation by chess players and authors of chess books up until the 1970’s. It is still used by some chess players, though Algebraic has become the widely used form of notation (infact FIDE does not even allow Descriptive Notation at international events).

In descriptive notation, you are using the aforementioned symbols for all the pieces.  The location of each square is annotated by 1) if it’s Kingside or Queenside, 2) Which piece’s starting location corresponds to that file/column (for instance if it’s the file of the starting position of the Rook on the Kingside, every space in that file would be KR), 3) how many ranks from the player it is (this can be tricky… the 5th rank for white is only the 4th rank for black).

So, from our starting position (I’ve taken out the numbers and letters so you won’t be confused):

If white moves his King Pawn 1 space forward, and then black moves the Pawn in front of his queenside Bishop one space, like this:

It would be written as follows:

 P-K4          P-QB4

As you can see, the tricky part comes from a) recalling if the space is on the Kingside or Queenside, and b) counting the ranks from each opponent’s prospective, not just your own (because, as said, white’s 5th rank is black’s 4th rank).

When capturing a piece, you denote it as X.  On the plus side, you only piece is doing the capturing and what piece is being captured.  in most cases this is simple:

The white Pawn taking the black Pawn would be written simply as

PxP

The only time you have to go into more detail is if a piece (or multple pieces of the same type) can take multiple pieces of the same type.  For instance

Here you have 2 white Knights that could each take 2 Pawns.  Therefore you cannot simply write NxP because the question of “which Knight took which Pawn” comes up (although, in this case you’d want to move your Queen to saftey, but for the sake of this lesson, let’s just say you were going to take a pawn with a Knight and do a queen trade.  So our intended move for this is:

Which is written as

N(QB)xP(QN)

Which means: the kNight in the file where the Queenside Bishop started is capturing (x) the Pawn in the file where the Queenside kNight started.

Placing someone in Check will be denoted by the move of the piece putting someone in check followed by a + and a Checkmate will be the move followed by a ++.  For instance, in our first quiz question a couple weeks ago:

The queen was at KB3 before the positon and took the pawn at black’s KB pawn for a Checkmate which would be written like this:

QxP++

We don’t need to say which Pawn because it was the only Pawn the Queen could take from where she was.

In the next blog, we’ll talk about algebraic notion and compare it to descriptive using the same examples we used here.

Have a topic you’d like me to cover or a question you’d like to ask? send me an e-mail at flannelmann@yahoo.com

Chess Noob #6 – Castling

Before we get started talking about a few special moves you can do in chess, let’s give you the answers to the quiz from the last blog on if each position was a Check, Checkmate, or Stalemate.

QUIZ ANSWERS

1) Checkmate!  This sort of Checkmate is also referred to as a “smother-mate”.  Notice how the black King is completely blocked in by his own pieces?  This allows white to Checkmate black using nothing but his Knight!  These are always fun because your opponent is almost helping you to beat him.

2) Checkmate!  The white King is in Check by black’s Pawn at e2.  He cannot take this attacking pawn because then the white King would capture him.  He also cannot move to any other square because he’d be under attack by other pieces (a Bishop at e1, a Rook at c1 and c2, and the opposing King at c2 and d2).  There is also nothing that can intercept.

3) Stalemate!  Well… at least if we say it’s black’s turn!  If it’s black’s turn, black is unable to move his king anywhere without being attacked by either the Pawn at g7 or the opposing King.  And his other pieces are blocked and unable to move.  If it’s White’s move, he can win very easily in a couple of moves.  But for the sake of this quiz, we’ll say it’s black’s move and he’s been stalemated.

4) Check! The white Queen threatens the black King, but black can simply intercept with the Knight.

5) Checkmate!  This is a NEARLY identical position as 4.  The only change is that now black cannot use the Knight to intercept the white Queen, because then white’s Rook at c8 would be able to capture the King.

How’d you do?  If you missed any, go back and look at the position again to figure out why you got it wrong.

Moving on… Today, we’re going to talk about 3 special moves: Castling, En Passant, and Pawn Promotion.  These are moves that can be done, but I didn’t include them in our initial discussion of how the pieces move (with exception of Caslting) because they’re special circumstance moves.  But we’re going to talk about them now that you have a better understanding of what’s going on.

Castling

As mentioned before, when you Castle, you are giving your King a little extra protection.  Thank of it as moving him from the courtyard to the nearly impenetrable tower!  You can Castle either to the kingside or queenside by moving the King 2 spaces toward the Rook, and then placing that Rook immediately to the other side of the King.  This is demonstrated n this illustration:

You may Castle only once per game, and there are a few rules about Castling you must obey.

1) The King must not have moved from his starting square before you Castle.

2) The Rook that you Castle in-tandem with the King must not have moved from its starting location.

3) You cannot Castle while in Check.  If a piece is attacking your King, you can’t escape it by Castling.

4) You cannot Castle THROUGH Check.  If a piece is not attacking your King, but it’s pointed sniper-style at one of the spaces your King would have to go through for a Castle, then you cannot Castle.  This last rule may seem a bit tricky, but it’s very simple.

In this picture, you can Castle:

In this picture, you cannot castle because the King would have to move through a space that’s being targeted by black’s Bishop:

Castling is usually a good idea because it gives the King extra protection by placing it behind a wall of Pawns one one side and the Rook on the other, as well as getting it further out of reach of the opposing Queen.  ONLY Castle, though, if it puts your King in a more protected area.  For instance, in the following image, you would NOT want to Castle kingside, because the King would actually become MORE exposed to danger.

Do you see how Castling now would cause problems for white?  If  white castles, then black will bring his light-square Bishop to h3, which threatens a 1-move checkmate by the Queen taking the pawn at g2:

White can try to stop this mate by pushing the g-pawn, but then he loses a rook for a bishop:

Or if he moves the Knight to h4, he’ll lose a Knight and a Pawn for a Bishop and a torn open king side:

So while Castling is USUALLY a good defense, keep your eyes peeled to make sure it actually protects you.