Tactics & Strategy
Two basic building blocks used to construct the conceptual framework involve thinking about and deciding upon (1) the offensive (or attacking) moving of pieces and advancing of pawns and defensive (or protecting) moving of pieces and advancing of pawns; and, (2) the goals sought to be accomplished in doing so. These two aspects respectively are broadly classified as tactics & strategy. How the player combines what he or she does on the chessboard with the goals sought to be accomplished, in a coordinated effort, is the player’s game plan.
In moving pieces and advancing pawns, whether offensively or defensively, a player must consider the whole chessboard. The player must consider where both his or her pieces and pawns are located, and those of his or her opponent. That is to say, the player must consider more broadly to where each piece and pawn on the board may move or advance at any given moment. The also must consider the consequences thereof, and which piece or pawn is best suited to be moved or advanced at a particular point in the game. In deciding which piece or pawn to move and to where, the player must consider the overall tactics and strategy being employed by the player, while keeping in mind what the opposing player is doing and what he or she may do in response. The simplest move or pawn advance may have significant immediate consequences, or be intended to play or actually play a more significant role later in the game, both when made by the player and when made by the opposing player.
Now let’s move into principles and concepts important for developing a player’s chess vision, relative to moving pieces and advancing pawns.
II. Tactics & Strategy.
There are two limiting considerations to consider within the conceptual framework:
- Always first examine the chessboard and positions of the players in broad general terms; and
- Then proceed to more advanced “specific thinking” as to the ways & means to get things accomplished – move order & calculation.
One prime area of the chessboard for which the players often battle furiously is the center, as mentioned earlier. The key focus which players most often concentrate early in a chess game when deciding on what moves with the pieces and pawn advances to make in the opening is the battle for the control of the center. This battle has two primary elemental building blocks: establishing a pawn center (pawn control in center of the chessboard) and obtaining centralization (seizing control of a key central square…d4, d5, e4, or e5).
To expand, the majority of common, familiar d-pawn and e-pawn openings are structured toward establishing and breaking a pawn center and obtaining centralization. A common method of centralization is for White to gain control of the e5 square with a Knight that cannot be easily dislodged from the square, or for Black to gain control of the e4 square with a Knight that cannot be easily dislodged from the square. Generally, because White starts with the initiative, if White can obtain early centralization with the Knight at e5 then White often is well on the way to winning the game. This is why Black most often attacks the center and seeks to deprive White of the ability to gain centralization on the e5 square. Most of the familiar, common openings as well as many of the middlegame tactics and strategies revolve around these two primary building blocks of the conceptual framework, with one or both players seeking to establish pawn center and control of center.
Both the pawn center and control of center concepts may be employed for attacking purposes, defensive purposes, or both. Most often, the battle is furiously fought to establish central control to provide one of the players with a strong focalized point around which other skirmishes and battles must circle until the center is broken by the opposing player. This may occur by the opposing player successfully driving or diverting away the piece holding the center, or capturing a pawn holding down center control, or the player giving up the center although he or she was successful in the early skirmishes and battles in establishing control of the center.
Centralization, then, is the concept that provides for focalized concentration on a key square in the center of the board from which a player intends to develop a sustained attack and build a defensive position. The attack may come through the center of the chessboard, or more generally from the Kingside or Queenside, or even more focused from one of the wings (flank attack). Both pawn center and centralization are often key factors in determining where a player should attack and when it is best to do so. In some lines of play, both players may seek to establish centralization at the same time, but often each seeks to gain control of a different central square depending on the opening.
For these reasons, pawn center and control of center therefore usually are given significant importance by the players in the opening and early middlegame phases of the game. Furious attacking, creation of strong defensive positions for pieces and pawns, and counterattacks in the center of the chessboard, are natural and quite common. However, one player may abandon the center and seek to develop an attack or counterattack on the flanks – one of the wings (a or h files), or more broadly on one of the sides – the Kingside (f through h files) or the Queenside (a through c files) instead of concentrating on the center. This is done most often by a player developing alternative lines of moves intended to either provide an avenue to break the opposing player’s pawn center and/or centralization or to create obstacles for the opposing player.
In considering moving pieces and advancing pawns, a primary concept is to create a threat or threats, the backbone of tactics & strategy. Threats are the means used:
- to attack and maneuver the opposing player into making retreats with pieces; and
- force the moving of opposing pieces or the advancing of opposing pawns to meet and counter a threat or the threats; and
- to protect a threatened piece or pawn; and
- to force the opposing player into playing a line in the game that is not advantageous to him or her; and
- to lay traps.
. The word tempo (plural is tempi) means simply a move, but refers more broadly to time. This is important when playing time-controlled chess – with timeclocks or under a time constraint such as may occur in correspondence chess where the players have agreed to complete a game within a given period of time (e.g. a month, two months, etc.).
Time-controlled chess usually is played with each player’s clock being set to a certain time period for the game to conclude the game (5 minutes, 30 minutes, 120 minutes, etc.) and with a time incremental increase (3 seconds, 10 seconds, 12 seconds, 45 seconds, etc.) added to each player’s clock when the player completes making a move. Often the written expression takes the format: TP/TI (where TP=Time Period and TI=Time Increment). For example, 40/5 would be for a game with the time period set to 45 minutes and the time increment set to 5 seconds. Generally, time-controlled chess is broken down into groups. The following guidelines adapted from those used by the Internet Chess Club (ICC) are only general in nature because players may vary them and tournaments may be based on other time controls. FIDE’s Official Rules of Chess contains more expansive and different provisions.
- Standard usually refers to games greater than five (5) minutes in time length with either no time incremental increases or varying time incremental increases.
- Blitz usually refers to games greater than one (1) minute in time length up to five (5) minutes in time length with no time incremental increases or short time interval increases (common are 3 and 5 seconds, but vary from 0 to 12 seconds usually).
- Bullet usually refers to games one minute in time length often with no time incremental increases or very short time incremental increases.
When the time increment is set to 0 seconds, meaning no time incremental increases are added after the players make moves and pawn advances, the players’ clocks run down without any advantage of getting extra time for moving quickly. Therefore, obviously sometimes an advantage is gained by moving quickly in time-controlled chess when a time incremental increase is utilized to gain additional time for later moves which might require more time to think through before moving. Because speed is a significant factor in time-controlled chess, a beginner or novice in the early learning stages is best served by not playing fast time-controlled chess. There are many chess clubs and players out there dedicated to playing slow time-controls for chess games. Playing speed chess (either Bullet or Blitz, or low time controls for Standard) usually is not recommended for beginners and novices, because often it simply results in a player not developing good chess playing habits. There is ample time to broaden a player’s playing horizons after learning to play good chess.
In Over-the-Board (OTB) chess games, each player operates his or her own separate clock and the clocks are connected together. After White’s clock is started initially to begin a game, each player stops his clock and starts his opposing player’s clock when the player has completed his or her move. When using timeclocks, if a player’s time reaches no time left (0.00) this is called flag fall (and some timeclocks have an upright flag that does indded falls). Under FIDE’s Official Rules of Chess, each player must write down each of his or her moves, and each move by his or her opponent, using the English Algebraic method of notation. A player does not need to write down his or her opponent’s move before starting the opponent’s clock, but must write down both for each before he or she moves again.
After completing a move, a player hits the stop button on his or her clock and then starts his or her opponent’s clock (or it is automatically started). When the opposing player completes his or her move, he or she hits the stop button on his or her clock and re-starts the player’s clock. This process is repeated throughout the game until its conclusion…checkmate is reached, a draw occurs, a stalemate occurs, or one of the players runs out of time on his or her clock…which is the same as being checkmated – a lost game. When using timeclocks in OTB games, a player must use the same hand to make the move and then hit the clock stop button. This prevents each player from hovering one hand over the timeclock button while making a move or pawn advance. In computer and Internet programs, often the clock is set to automatically perform the function of starting and stopping players’ clocks without them having to specifically take any action to do so.
Additionally under FIDE’s Official Rules of Chess, in OTB games if a player touches a piece or a pawn, he or she must move that piece or pawn if it is legal to do so unless the player says first or simultaneously “I adjust” or “j’adoube” meaning “I am just adjusting the piece or pawn on the square.” If it is not legal to move the piece or advance the pawn that was touched, then the player may make any move or pawn advance that is legal. There are rules also covering the situation where a player touches two pieces or a piece and a pawn at the same time. If a player does so, and both may be moved legally or the piece moved or pawn advanced legally, then the player may and is restricted to making either one. If only one is legal, then the player must make the move that is legal. If neither may be done legally, then the player may move any other piece or make any other pawn advance that is legal.
Lost tempi generally restrict the opposing player’s ability to develop his or her pieces and/or advance pawns to setup the opposing player’s desired positional structure. This most often focuses on positional inferiority – a deficiency in positional structure usually, but not always, giving the other player an advantage in the game. When playing time-controlled chess, lost tempi also may help to force the running down of the opposing player’s clock because he or she “wastes” time trying to recover. At the same time, usually lost tempi gains a valuable tempo or tempi for the player to develop his or her pieces and advance his or her pawns to gain positional superiority, allow him or her to gain material advantage, and/or to create additional threats and lay traps.
However, making an empty threat such as checking when there is no follow-up purpose and the piece or pawn can simply be captured without compensation. It may also lead to player being forced to move the piece in retreat. Either of which are senseless and should be avoided. Doing so causes the player to lose a tempo or tempi, not the opponent!
A threat may be one or more of several types:
- threatening checkmate immediately or within a couple to few moves with the opposing player unable to stop the checkmate…that is creating a mating attack with a mating net;
- threatening check or multiple checks in upcoming moves for purposes other than immediately checkmating the opposing King…threatening the possibility of a fork check, double check, or combined fork check and double check, to capture pieces and/or pawns to gain material advantage;
- threatening to trap and capture, or simply capture, one or more pieces and/or pawns;
- threatening to entomb a piece to remove it from being used by a player;
- threatening pawn promotion (e.g. with a pawn storm);
- threatening to seize space on the board;
- threatening to force the opposing King into the open out from a place of safety;
- threatening to obtain control of one or more open files or the opposing player’s seventh (7th) rank);
- threatening to divert the opposing player from his or her intended game plan through lost tempi, retreats, and the other various applications of the principles behind creating threats.
Threats may be created by simply moving a piece or a pawn, or combining moves of pieces and/or advancing pawns, and/or combining either with move(s) of piece(s) and/or advance(s) of pawns by the opposing player.
A trap is a significant positional inferiority on the board by which a player threatens one or more objectives against the opponent. Sometimes a trap is easy to create (and to see coming and to avoid), but often a trap may be more complex taking several moves to fully develop. The complex traps obviously may be much more difficult to see coming. Traps may be combined with each other to create significant havoc for the opposing player. However, a player may also create traps on his or her own pieces by bad moves and blunders. What are some examples of traps and thier uses?
- The simplest trap is one seeking to capture a major piece with a minor piece or a pawn, or a piece with a pawn. Bringing a Queen out too early in the game may often lead to her becoming trapped and captured. Bishops are particularly vulnerable to being trapped by opposing pawns on the b and g files if forced in retreat backward against the player’s pawns on the second rank for White and seventh rank for Black.
- A corollary is laying a trap to force a trade or exchange of pieces (Queen trade, an exchange of a Knight for a Bishop, etc.).
- A trap may also be laid to ensnare the King into a locked or severely restricted position on the board to greatly enhance the chance of checkmating the King and creating a mating net.
- A trap may be laid to entomb a piece (discussed below).
- Another trap is one designed to break a pawn structure, freely capture a passed pawn, and/or block a passed pawn.
In the next part, we turn to additional tactical & strategic concepts & principles for building upon the foregoing introduction. Links also provided to view/download/print this lesson in pdf format, to individual tutorials on each piece and the pawns, to the next tutorial, the main chess page, and my web home.