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

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.


CategoriesChess For Beginners

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.


CategoriesChess For Beginners

Chess Noob #5 – Check, Checkmate, Stalemate

Now that you know how the pieces move (at least, you do if you read the last 2 blogs… if you haven’t read them, please go back and do so now), you need to learn how to win!  There are two ways to win: 1) get your opponent in checkmate, 2) your opponent realizes it’s futile for him/her to continue and simply resigns.  Be careful though, as your opponent could try to force a draw from a stalemate.

So what do “check”, “checkmate” and “stalemate” mean, and what are the differences?  Well I’m glad you asked!  Let’s start with the one that’s not a game-ender…

CHECK

In “All About Pieces (part 1)” I made the comment that the King is worth so many points you can actually potentially win the game just by threatening to capture him.  Well, that’s if the threat is so powerful there’s nothing the opponent can do.  If the opponent CAN stop the threat, the threat is simply called Check.

Check is when a piece is placed in a position where it threatens to capture the King on its next move, BUT the side being threatened is able to put a stop to the threat.  Let’s look at a couple examples.  (Please forgive the numbers and letters not being as neat as they should be.  My chess software doesn’t have the board labeled, so I have to do it myself in MSPaint).

In this position, the black bishop has the white king in Check- it is threatening to capture the King on it’s next move.  Black does not win, however, because White can easily block the check by pushing his c-Pawn (the pawn in front of his queen-side bishop), or by moving his Knight to c3.

There are 3 ways to get out of Check.  1) intercept- this is the example I just used, where you put something in the way of the check. 2) capture the attacking piece. 3) move the King out of Check.  Here’s one more example of a check, which the threatened side has the choice of doing all 3 options:

The white Bishop has the black King in Check.  Black has numerous options here.  He can capture the white bishop with his h-Pawn, he can block the Bishop’s path with either one of his Knights, he can block with his light-squared Bishop, he can block with his Queen, or he can simply move the King out of the way at D2.

So what’s the difference between Check and Checkmate?

CHECKMATE

Checkmate is when you put your opponent in Check (threatening the King), and there is nothing they can do to stop it! For instance

In this position, the white Queen has the black King in Checkmate.  Why?  Well, the King is obviously in Check because the Queen threatens to capture the King on her next move.  With the Queen so close to the King, there aren’t any spaces for any piece to intercept. There are no pieces that can take the Queen (do you see that if the King captures the Queen, white’s Bishop will then capture the King?), and anywhere the King tries to flee to, the Queen will capture him.  The Queen threatens the King and there’s nothing black can do to stop it, black is therefore in Checkmate, and has lost the game.

So then, what’s the difference between Checkmate and Stalemate?

STALEMATE

A Stalemate is a draw.  It’s where one side is NOT in check, but anything he does will cause him to BE in Check.  Let’s look at an example.

In this diagram, it’s currently black’s move.  He is in Stalemate.  Sure, it looks like white wins because he has a King and a Queen left where as black has only his King.  But, like I said, it’s black’s move… and he can’t go anywhere!  In his current position, the black King is NOT in check!  However, anywhere he moves, he would be placing himself in check (he’d get taken by the Queen at d1, d2, c2 and b1; he’d get taken by the white King at c2 and b2).  This is therefore a Stalemate and counts as a draw!

Let’s end this blog with a little Quiz.  Below are 5 positions.  See if you can figure out if each position is a Check, Checkmate, or Stalemate.  I’ll post the answers in the next blog, where we’ll talk more in depth about that special move I told you about once before: Castling.


  2  

3  

5


CategoriesChess For Beginners

Basic Checkmates

As a beginner it’s important to learn which material imbalances lead to a clear win. In this post I’m going to show two very basic checkmates that every beginning chess player should know. The first is checkmating a lone enemy king with your own king and queen. The first concept to understand is that you cannot checkmate the enemy king in the middle of the board. The king must be driven to the edge of the board. The way you do this is by using your queen to cut off escape squares. Take a look at the graphic below:

In the above diagram, white has two moves that will lock the enemy king on the edge of the board. Do you see what they are? They are Qg7 and Qb7. In this case however Qg7 is superior, can you see why? Once the enemy king is driven to the edge of the board it’s a simple matter of moving your own king to support your queen as she gives checkmate. The final position usually looks like this:

 

Notice how the king is supporting the queen while she is delivering checkmate.

The second basic checkmate a beginner should learn is checkmating a lone king with a king and rook. This checkmate is a little bit harder because it requires the use of temporizing moves. Once again the king must driven to the edge of the board. Let’s take a look at the diagram below where it’s white turns to move:

Notice how if it were black turns to move and our opponent played Ke8 we could play Ra8#. It is however our turn to move. If we play an immediate Kf6 black will escape via Ke8. The key in this position is to make a waiting move. Either Rb7 or Rc7 work fine. Then if black plays Ke8 we checkmate by either Rb8 or Rc8. More likely black will play Kg8, and then the winning sequence is:

1. Rc7 Kg8

2. Kf6 Kh8

3. Kg6 Kg8

4. Rc8#

The final position is in the diagram below.

Although these positions are basic for most chess players, do not underestimate their importance. A good way to practice is to set up the position against a computer and keep practicing until you win every time. Good luck!

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!