Chess

Welcome to the second part of my chess tutorial. If you haven't already, I recommend you at least browse through page one of this tutorial, so that you understand the basics of chess. Oh, and I should insert my disclaimer here: I suck at chess. Well, let me rephrase that.. I'm not as experienced at chess as some of the people I play in the EngSci common room, some of who play and rehearse chess moves in their sleep. But since it's usually pretty hard to get those people to relinquish their chess secrets in an open forum such as this, I'm all you've got :-p

Some Fancy Moves

Castling is one of the most important moves of the game. Essentially, this is a move that you can make to help protect your game from danger. It is the only legal move in the game that lets you move two pieces at once (of course, there are plenty of illegal moves that let you move two or more, but I won't go into those). To perform this move, the king moves two square to one side, and the rook on that side moves into the square that the king skips over. Thus, there are two sides of the board you can castle on... they are typically called king-side castle or queen-side castle, depending on which side of the board you perform it on. The picture above shows a king-side castle for white.

However, there are a whole bunch of rules to castling:

  • There cannot be any pieces in the way (duh);

  • The king cannot have moved from its initial position;

  • The rook with which you are castling with cannot have moved from its initial position;

  • You cannot castle out of check. In other words, the king cannot castle if he is in check;

  • Neither of the square that the king enters may be under attack

    These rules each lead immediately to some points for strategy:

  • Try to move the pieces that prevent you from castling (i.e. the knights and the bishops) out of the way as soon as possible;
  • Try not to move either the king or the rooks from their initial position if you wish to castle

  • Try to castle before your king is under direct attack, but don't do it so early in the game that you tell your opponent where to focus his attack
  • Castling is very useful, since the king gets to escape from his vulnerable position in the center of the board. It also has the added bonus of doubling up your rooks on the bottom rank, providing extra defense.

    A special move that you can do only with pawns is known as en passant. If you recall from above, I compared the ability of pawns in their starting position to move two square at once to the charging of infantry. However, in such a military maneover, the charging units are leaving their flanks exposed; enemies can attack from the sides, and the units can be easily cut off from its supply line and so forth. Since chess is an analogy to war, it is only natural that this vulnerability should be copied to the game.

    Thus, when a pawn moves two spaces as its initial move, it is exposing its flanks. What this means is that enemy pons in the correct position can attack and capture the charging pawn as though it had moved one square. This can only be done by pawns that are placed directly adjacent to the column of the charging pawn, in the fifth row from the bottom, on the move directly after the charge. What this rule means is that the advantage of charging pawns is offset somewhat if their are enemy pawns too close to your lines.

    Now on to some moves you won't find in the rule book. One of the most useful moves in the game is known as pinning a piece. In the picture above, the white knight on the left is pinned by the black bishop. Usually, this is performed with a bishop, although rooks and queens can also pin a piece. A piece is pinned when it cannot legally move from its position because to do so would expose the king to attack. The pinned piece cannot move, capture, or even defend pieces until the pin has been broken.

    This is a great way to gain a small advantage on the board. Think of pinning a piece as starting a power play; you've essentially taken a piece away from the opposing team. Since the piece cannot do anything until the pin is broken, you can completely ignore it and capture pieces it's supposed to be guarding to your heart's content. The only ways to break a pin are:

  • Move the king (and lose castle)
  • Move another piece between the attacker and the king
  • Make the attacker "go away", either by threatening it, or if it doesn't leave, capturing it
  • Newbie players often don't even realise that their pieces are pinned, until they try to move the pinned piece. Whenever one of your pieces gets pinned, you should try to break the pin as soon as possible! Not doing so gives your opponent an unfair advantage, and you need all the advantages you can get in this game. If you see that your opponent has an opportunity to pin next move, try to defend the squares where he/she will be able to do this from, if possible.

    By the way, there is also a move known as a skewer which is similar to a pin, but it is even better. This is a special term for pinning a rook or a queen with a lower-valued piece, with your pinning piece defended. Usually, rooks and queens are flexible in that they can capture any piece that tries to pin them. But if the pinning piece is also defended, then your opponent has no choice: they will lose their rook or queen no matter what they do, since they cannot move their piece away and expose the king. If you have done this, congratulations... you have just tipped the game in your favour!

    Another classic move is forking your opponent's pieces. This is usually done with a knight, although pawns can fork as well. To fork two pieces, you move your knight into a position that can attack two pieces at once. Since your opponent can only move one piece a turn, he/she will only be able to save one of those pieces, leaving you to capture the other one. This move is the main reason that I like knights so much; due to their strange way of moving, they can often fork pieces with impunity, since regular pieces like the bishop, the rook, and the queen can't just move to capture them. Also, since knights are relatively low on the value ranking of pieces, you can often trade your knight for a rook. Yes, this trade is worth it!

    A word of caution before you try to fork all your opponent's pieces: make sure you won't lose your knight immediately! A fork is useless if your opponent can just gobble up the knight (often for free). But setting that aside, your opponent will react with surprise and fear if you can successfully pull off a fork :-)

    Forking is doubly effective when one of the pieces you're attacking is the king. When the king is under attack by a knight, your opponent has only two possible moves: capture the knight, or move the king. And once you move the king, recall that your opponent can no longer castle, meaning that the king is exposed forever. If you look at the initial positioning of the king and rooks on the board, you'll notice that there is a perfect location for a fork (where the white knight is resting in the above picture). Even when the king castles, the rooks will inevitably be set five squares apart, meaning that your knight can fork right between them.

    In this picture, I show a move known as a discovery check. In the first picture, the white knight is blocking the white rook from attacking the black king. But when the knight is moved away, the rook "discovers" that it can attack the king, and white gets to say check :-) This also confuses newbie players, who have to search the board frantically to figure out where the check is coming from, if not from the piece that you just moved :-)

    Note that when you are performing a discovery check, you will be moving a piece to expose another piece to the king. In effect, your moving piece gets a free move; since your opponent has to move next term to get out of check, he/she will be unable to do anything about where you just moved. For example, in the picture above, the knight move allows a discovery check. Although black can attempt to move the queen to block, there is no safe position for it to move, and white will capture the black queen next turn no matter what. You can even capture a piece that's normally defended, since your opponent will be unable to retaliate by capturing the moving piece... they will have to get out of check first.

    In fact, discovery attacks don't even have to be checks. You can move one piece and attack two normal pieces just as easily, except that this way you don't have to say check to warn your opponent that there are actually two attacks going on at once. Again, since your opponent can only make one move per turn, they will only be able to save one of their pieces :-)

    Finally, you can combine double attacks into double checks... your move both lets you discovery check, and also your moving piece checks the king as well. In this situation, your opponent will be unable to capture either piece! If he/she tried to capture one piece, the other piece would capture his/her king. Therefore, the only legal move is to move the king. If this is not possible, then the game is over. In the above pictures, white would have won the game if black's queen had still been in the starting position. Discovery attacks can be performed with almost any pair of pieces; experiment with this sort of strategy, and you will gain invaluable chess experience.

    Mating

    The game finishes when it is impossible for the other player to escape from check. This is known as checkmate, and once one side has been checkmated the game is over. To phrase it in another way, the game is over when the king is under attack, the attacking piece cannot be captured or blocked, and every single escape square for the king is being guarded by enemy pieces or is occupied by its own pieces. Therefore, it is very important to both keep the escape squares close to your king open, and to try to control the escape squares of your opponent.

    Most checkmates will take at least two pieces. The main exception is the back row mate, covered below, and the smother mate covered afterwards. This means that you should not bother trying to win the game by solely moving your queen out and hope to somehow checkmate the enemy; you will need at least one other piece in support, or a lot of luck. The king usually has one or more escape squares available, and it is your job to try to control those squares as well as to check the king. The converse of this is you shouldn't try to check the enemy king for the heck of it! If the king has already moved once, then there is not too much advantage to checking the king over and over. It might ruffle your opponent a bit (and chess is also a psychological game) but it will not serve much tactical advantage other than forcing your opponent to escape any traps you are trying to set. On the other hand, if you can herd the king towards your own pieces, then by all means go ahead!

    In the picture above, the black king will soon be back row mated. This type of checkmate happens far too often. The normal chess player castles, then decides to take the rook out to conduct forays into enemy territory, forgetting that they are leaving the king exposed. If this happens, then all you have to do is move any straight moving piece into the back row and you have won! Note that in this picture, the black bishop can put it off for one move, but black will still inevitably be checkmated.

    If you don't want to be checkmated in this fashion, then make sure you open up a "breathing space" for your king by moving one of the pawns in front of it. That way, if your opponent does attempt to back row mate you, then your king will be able to escape. Also, once you do this, you can take out your rook to your hearts content and maybe even double them up, if you still have both rooks. Remember that which side is winning or has more pieces on the board will not matter once the king has been captured!

    The other type of checkmate which is not so common is the smuther mate. In fact, this almost never occurs, but the board layout displayed is very instructive. Smuther mate means that the king is so surrounded by its own pieces that it has almost no escape squares available to it.

    When defending your king, your approach will probably fall between two extremes. One of them is to protect your king with almost every piece on the board. While this sounds almost invincible, this is actually a very bad tactic, since this leaves your king open to smuther mate. The other extreme is to leave the emperor naked; commit all your pieces to offense, and leave nothing for the king. Clearly, this is also a bad idea; your opponent will eventually slip past your charge and capture your king with something as trivial as a back row mate. The secret is to find an acceptable balance between these two approaches.

    Finally, the other way of winning at a game of chess is if your opponent resigns. This is accomplished by taking your hand and knocking your king over, as depicted in the above pictures. Usually this happens because the other side is inevitably going to win, or if you just don't feel like playing any more. Hopefully you won't have to practice this move very often, but you should still know how to do this very complex manouver.

    Well, this concludes my (Henry Seeto's) tutorial on chess. Hopefully with the knowledge you've gathered from reading this homepage, you will be able to challenge your friends who have not read this homepage. If you've enjoyed this tutorial, please let me know by signing my guestbook!

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