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Chess Tactics for Beginners

This guide assumes that the player has at least a solid understanding of the movement of all chess pieces and of the goal of the game. It's important to consider all these hints good practice in many situations, but since chess is extremely situational any tactic is only good until a better one presents itself. In other words sacrificing the queen to capture a pawn is usually not advisable, unless it leads to the opponent's check mate, which clearly makes it a winning move and negates the best practice advice.

Piece Values

Knowing the values of the different pieces is one of the most important fundamentals for playing solid chess. Piece values in chess are given in pawn units, for example a piece with a value of 3 is said to be equivalent in worth with 3 pawns.

Piece Value
Pawn 1
Knight 3
Bishop 3
Rook 5
Queen 9

The king has no value because he cannot be traded for another piece. The assigned values are just rough estimates of a piece's true value though. Pieces can also have different values depending on the circumstances, e.g. having two bishops might be better than having one bishop and one knight, all other things being equal. Also the rook is sometimes said to be worth more around 5.5 pawn units and a pawn that threatens to enter the opponent's back rank for promotion is of course more valuable than a pawn that is still sitting at the base line.

The base values are still enough to establish some guidelines for piece exchanges. For example exchanging one of your rooks to capture a knight is usually not a good idea, because you are reducing your overall piece value. Giving away a rook for a knight and a bishop can be worth it, although you are losing the possible advantage of connected rooks in turn.

Using the piece values is one contributing factor to making sound moves, but it should not distract from looking at the game situation as a whole.

Piece Development

Developing your pieces means actually putting them to good use by positioning them in a way that contributes to your positional, strategical and tactical strength. At the start of a game that means moving some pawns forward to make way for your other pieces to develop and moving your knights. A piece can also be considered developed if it hasn't moved itself, but another piece moved to free its attack path, e.g. if you have moved a pawn and your bishop has now an open attack line that is useful to you.

Usually it's a good idea to move pawns, knights and bishops first and to make just one move for each until you have some good development overall. Developing the rooks commonly involves castling to connect them. Additionally it's usually not such a good idea to move your queen too early, she is such a high value piece that the opponent can easily chase her around when developing his own pieces while you are forced to retreat the queen repeatedly.

When planning your piece development consider the attack lines of each piece and how you want to pierce into the enemy's defenses. Ideally you don't want your pieces to block each other while having a solid defense line.

To get a good start into the development of your pieces it's a good idea to learn some standard opening lines. A good, learned book opening can usually give you a better foundation for the later game than ad hoc opening moves.

Pawn Structure

The pawn structure is the formation and setup of your pawns and plays a major role for the overall tactical and strategical possibilities in a game. Generally you should either have your pawns in diagonal lines, so they can protect each other in a bottom-up fashion, or have them in a horizontal line, which allows you to move them to a diagonal protection formation at any time.

Stacked pawns (two or more of your pawns in a single file) are weaker because some pawns in such a formation will lack the protection from another pawn. Of course stacking pawns is unavoidable when you want to capture another piece with a pawn, but you should consider this as a slight devaluation of your position and always look for alternatives if possible. If you have stacked pawns you must inevitable rely on other pieces to protect them, which consequently reduces their mobility and flexibility.

Likewise it can be a good tactic to force your opponent's pawns into stacks to weaken his position.

Connected Rooks

Connecting your rooks means having them in the same row (or column) and no pieces between them. This has the major advantage that they can protect each other from the opponent's forays into your back line or when you are using them to strike into the enemy line. Because connected rooks are such a powerful tool you should not easily give away one of them, unless that gives you a considerable advantage of course.

Connecting rooks often involves castling, which speeds up the development of your rooks and brings the king to a safer position at the same time.

Center Control

Controlling the center of the chess board means having pieces in place to occupy or attack the four central squares and by extension the squares adjacent to them. The player who controls the center has effectively more leverage to influence the direction of the game, i.e. he can force a more open or more closed game, if he keeps his momentum up. It's therefore a good idea to strife for control of the center early on, right in the opening. Once the opening has played out, it's often already clear which side has the tighter grip on the center.

Advancing the two central pawns is usually a good way to gain center control, as is placing the knights on the c- and f-files. The bishops can also be used very effectively for center control, if they have a free attack line. The queen is usually less involved with controlling the center, because she draws a lot of fire to herself. The rooks can be used for center control once the board has been cleaned of a few pieces, usually in the late middlegame.

King Safety

Keeping the king safe is of course paramount to the game. This usually means keeping him on the back rank for most of the game, only in endgame situations the king becomes more agile and important in tactical movements.

A good move in the beginning is more often than not to castle, this takes the king into a safer place and potentially connects the rooks or at least allows them to connect sooner. Castling king-side, with the rook on the h-file, is faster, because only two pieces have to be moved out of the way. Queen-side castling not only needs to move the queen too, often the king must move another square to safety after the castling, which makes the queen-side castling often the less attractive choice.

It's important to know that, while the king must not be under attack when castling and cannot move over an attacked square, the involved rook is not affected by these rules. In other words the rook can be attacked and move over “hot” squares during castling.

Pinning

A pinned piece is one that is standing between a target with a higher value and an attacker. The classic example is the queen pinned to the king. Suppose your queen is right in front of your king and an opposing rook moves into position with an open attack line on your queen. You queen is now pinned because she can't move away without exposing the king.

There a three ways to resolve this situation. The first is to move the king away, the queen then is no longer protecting the king from the attacking rook and is not pinned anymore. The second is to move another piece between the queen and the attacking rook, which effectively releases the pin on the queen, but pins the interfering piece. The third is to use the queen to capture the attacking rook. If the rook is not protected by another piece this is the best move, because it removes the pin and captures the attacker at the same time. If the rook is protected this might still be a good move, because the opponent at least doesn't get the queen for nothing.

Having you pieces pinned is obviously something you want to avoid, it often leads to a material loss when the opponent can execute the capturing of the high value piece. On the other hand if you can manage to force you opponent into such positions, you can gain a strong advantage.

Related to the pin is the skewer, where the piece with the higher value is standing in line before the less valuable piece. The major difference is obviously that the player in this precarious situation will want to move the more valuable piece away to keep his material loss to a minimum, but exposes the piece of lesser value to capture. The skewer is sometimes also called a reverse-pin for that reason.

Forks

A fork is a situation where a piece is attacking two pieces at once and ideally of them is of higher value (or the king) and the other is either undefended or of higher value too. This forces the defender to move the first target away to prevent major material loss or to move the king out of check, while the attacker is free to capture the second target with a material gain.

Beginners notoriously overlook knights threatening to fork two pieces on the next turn, so always have an eye on your opponent's knights, especially if they have already crossed the middle line of the board. Likewise look for creative ways to pierce into the enemy lines with your own knights.

Learn From Your Mistakes

Besides all tactical insights, the most important part of getting better at chess is to learn from your own mistakes. For a beginner this is easier said than done, because quite often mistakes do not reveal themselves as such in an obvious manner. Sometimes blunders are overly obvious (after the fact), but other mistakes can lead to positional weaknesses several moves later and this kind of blunder is less easily spotted.

To learn from you own games you need to take some time to analyze them move by move. If at all possible get a more experienced player to help you. Not everybody has a coach or friend with good chess knowledge at hand though and you might be on your own in this task. In absence of human insight a computer engine can give some clues into the ups and downs of you games, the analysis generated by engines can be quite cryptic for beginners. Still, it's a good start into self-analysis. For a beginner friendly program with automated engine analysis have a look at Lucas Chess, which not only allows fully automatic analysis of your games, but also features a wealth of learning modes and is completely free.

An engine usually values each move with a numerical value in pawn units where positive values are good for white and negative values good for black. When you see one of your own moves with a clearly bad value (-3 for white is a major blunder, -1 is already pretty bad), try moving in both directions from there. Forward to see what mess it leads to and backwards to see how you maneuvered yourself into the mistake.

Because mistakes are good lessons in chess, you will get much more out of games against (at least slightly) superior opponents, be it human players or the artificial kind. Of course you can also learn a lot from the chess fortitude of other players. Try looking at your games from the side of your opponent during and after a game. Put yourself into his position and look for the moves that really gave you trouble, you might be able to emulate one or the other key move in a future game.

If you often make a lot of subpar moves right in the opening, learn some key openings, they will give you a better start into a solid middlegame and improve your chess strength overall.

Games | Non-Fiction | Turn Based Strategy


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