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Subject: Chess: a brief introduction rss

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Fortune
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FOREWORD

I've been scribbling down my observations on chess for years now and I thought here's the time to publish some of these notes. This review serves as a general introduction to the core concepts of the game as well as a plea to the claim that chess is an "outdated" or "dry" game. It discusses a broad range of subjects in a manner that is easy to understand but presumes a basic knowledge of the game. So if you are not familiar with the rules please click here to get an illustrated summary. I understand you're not here at this forum to study chess or analyze stunning matches. You're here, because you are a fan of board games and not exclusively of chess. That's why I'll approach the topic from a boardgamer's perspective.




GET SMART, PLAY CHESS

There are so many board games you can play. Ones that include fancy maps, dice with unique symbols, tokens, coins, cards and markers. Boardgames that involve fighting against zombies or space marines, conquering Europe, building railways or powering cities . So why should you choose a game that was invented centuries ago and is ranked among Steel Driver and Werewolf?



It is a game for all ages. You can learn to play chess at any age and you have the rest of your life to master the game. Unlike many other games you have beaten, there is always room for improvement in chess. I've been playing chess since I was six and I never got bored of it. Age is also not an issue when you're looking for an opponent- young can play old and old can play young. I've been beaten by much younger players than me several times.

It's cheap. You don't need big fancy equipment to play chess. A wooden set with a folding board will perfectly suffice. In addition to that, you don't have to buy expansions that would strip you of your valuable money. You can "mod" the core game to your liking and you can even create your very own chess set.

It improves your concentration, develops your memory and your logical thinking. During the game you are focused on only one main goal- to checkmate and become the victor. The chess theory is complicated and many players memorize different opening variations. You will also learn to recognize various patterns and remember lengthy variations. Chess also requires some understanding of logical strategy.

Chess develops imagination and creativity. It encourages you to be inventive and come up with your own solutions. There are an indefinite beautiful combinations to be discovered.

Chess develops the capability to predict and foresee consequences of your actions. It teaches you to consider the short-term and long-term advantages and disadvantages of each piece of action, make a reasoned decision and act accordingly.

Chess inspires self-motivation. It encourages the search of the best move, the best plan, and the most beautiful continuation out of the endless possibilities. It encourages the everlasting aim towards progress, always steering to ignite the flame of victory.

CHESS IS FUN! No chess game ever repeats itself that means you create more and more new ideas each game. In other words: replayability of the game is just superb. You always have so much to look forward to. Every game you are the general of an army and you alone decide the destiny of your soldiers. You can sacrifice them, trade them, pin them, fork them, lose them, defend them, or order them to break through any barriers and surround the enemy king. You've got the power! (Okay that was corny, but I couldn't resist...)


Chess will not make you a better lover. But it will make you smarter.


"THEME"

Chess is an ultimate abstract game that can host every theme you can imagine. It also involves killing, conquering territory, eliminating your opponent with horroristic pieces like a bloodthirsty bishop or a tower that moves on its own. Oh and a cunning and powerful queen. How's that not enough to make it an Ameritrash?


Orc pawns ready for battle!

Many will argue that chess has no "theme", while others will state that it is an abstract wargame. I find the term 'abstract' vague as it fails to grasp the basic atmosphere which is a fierce battle between two opposing armies or countries. The chessboard is a field of total war pursued until the very last move which is either surrender or capture of a king of either side. The chess pieces represent the most important characters of every army as follows.
• pawn - infantry or foot soldier
• knight - armoured cavalry, fast moving and able to jump over obstacles
• bishop - archer or shooter
• rook - heavy cavalry or artillery
• queen - the general (it was originally called the counsellor and only renamed in Europe in the Middle Ages)

You will find similar roles in almost all armies, be it ancient, medieval, modern or fantasym like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars or others. That's why it is so easy to substitute the standard pieces with "themed" ones. So it's up to you whether chess has a "theme" or not by picking a chess set that satisfies your taste. As a regular chess player I prefer the Staunton set as it is the most elaborate one and very easy on the eyes. But there are a wealth of options you can choose from and I find each and every new type of chess set I see an interesting new way to express your feelings about this fabulous game. You can also design and create your own chess set.



LUCK

Chess is described as a game of logic and reason, a battlefield where things do not just happen randomly. I don't share the orthodox view that luck has no role in chess at all. As you can't foresee all the possible consequences of all the moves chess is a game of chance too. But probably it's the game with least luck driven in game mechanics as the game components are always visible and are not randomized throughout the game. Scholars analyzed some famous games where they said to have discovered 'pure luck' in a winning position. If you think of this from another point of view, you can find that "pure luck" was in fact the hidden meaning of a move finally revealed to bring victory to one party.


HISTORY

 

A game with a fabulous history

Chess has a history like no other game has. The earliest known ancestor of modern chess was an Indian game called Chaturanga, where the knight, King and Rooks moved the same but there was no castling, two square move for the pawn and the Bishop and Queen where much weaker. It then moved to Persia where it was known as Chatrang, eventually making it's way through the still youthful Islamic Empire, where it was known as Shatranj, into Southern Spain. By the 1500's it had spread all through Europe and there were many different ways to play, including one where both King a Queen can move at the same time. The modern rules where adopted in Spain and later the rest of Europe sometime in the 1500's. Legend has it that the Queen's power on the chess board was an idea of Spanish chess players modelling it after Queen Isabella, arguably one of the most powerful female monarchs in European History. [


Replicas of the chess pieces discovered in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis

Chess has been acknowledged as a sport by more than 100 countries, FIDE (Fédération Internationale des échecs) is the third largest sporting body in the world (behind the IOC and FIFA) and has a delegate to the IOC and will be in the Olympics sometime soon. Making Chess one of the most popular, if not the most popular, sport in the world.

It is estimated that there are over 2000 chess variants. These include team play (f.e. Bughouse Chess), 3, 4 or more players, hexagonal division of the board and other juicy alterations. If one truly devotes his time to study and play chess on an advanced, he'll find that even the "core game" have plenty of curiosities in store.


PLAYING TIME

Yes, even a "simple" game can take a while. Fortunately you have chess clocks to measure the remaining time of each player (a plastic hour-glass from any board game will also suffice). This means that playing time is absolutely flexible, but the best feature is the setup. It takes zero to thirty seconds to set up the pieces.

There is a sort of fast chess called "Blitz", which is finishing a game in 5 minutes. The term comes from the German word Blitzkrieg and means quick war. This playing style is very popular outdoors, in parks and public spaces. It is also becoming popular on the internet. If you are established player, it is okay to have fun with Blitz sometimes, but if you're an amateur, it will not make you a better player, and eventually lose you money and time. Best avoided. A chess game should take at least 20 minutes, otherwise it can easily become one of those blunder matches.


COMPONENTS

64 dark and light tiles, 32 pieces, half of them the same. Sounds like children's toy, doesn't it?



And still you have amazing opportunities. The number of distinct chess positions after White’s first move is 20 (16 pawn moves and 4 knight moves). There are 400 distinct chess positions after two moves (first move for White, followed by first move for Black). There are 5,362 distinct chess positions or 8,902 total positions after three moves (White’s second move). There are 71,852 distinct chess positions or 197,742 total positions after four moves (two moves for White and two moves for Black). There are 809,896 distinct positions or 4, 897,256 total positions after 5 moves. There are 9,132,484 distinct positions or 120,921,506 total positions after 6 moves (three moves for White and three moves for Black). The total number of chess positions after 7 moves is 3,284,294,545. The total number of chess positions is about 2x10 to the 46 power.


ELEMENTS

Many chess books will tell you that the game involves three elements: material, space and time.

Material is the most appreciated element, but the other factors can't be disregarded either as you can turn them into material (this is called validating your advantage). Material means the value of one's own pieces compared to the other players. The game starts with even material for both sides and usually (but not necessarily) ends with one player gaining material advantage and forging it into victory. The relative values of the pieces are the following:

pawn = 1
knight = 3
bishop = 3 or 3.5
rook = 5
queen = 9
king = ∞ (because losing the king means losing the game)

Note that these numbers are relative because the value of each piece varies from game to game and depends on the actual situation. For example the knights are more valuable in a closed match (with a closed, hard-to-break pawn structure) as they navigate easier and are able to jump over the barricades, whereas bishops are better used on an open field.

Space is also very important factor in the game. If you gain territory from your opponent, it means a bigger space to perform your manoeuvres on. You can turn spatial advantage into material advantage if you have the right initiative. The most suitable way to gaining territory is to control the centre with a solid pawn structure and with your other pieces.

Time is the third and equally essential element. The basic unit of time in chess is one movement. If you make a passive or irrelevant move, you lose tempo. You cannot afford losing tempo if you are about to win. Therefore it is imperative that you move your pieces to their optimal fields in the least possible moves. Gaining tempo can be achieved either by realizing your plans in the most effective way or by outmanoeuvring your opponent. Time is the most volatile element, so temporal advantage must be validated as soon as possible.


FLOW OF GAMEPLAY



The flow of the game is just perfect. You don't have to roll dice, move around wooden ships, place meeples, lay tiles, collect your regular harvest, draw, place or discard endless number of cards or count your stockpiles of chips. All you have to do is to move one piece from point A to point B. Drag and drop. What a perfect game it is indeed! There's more too. There are no extra tasks to perform between turns like resupplying the stock or reshuffling your cards. Chess forces you to concentrate only on the next optimal step. As chessmasters say there are several good steps, but only one of them is the best. This can lead to a phenomenon called "analysis paralysis" by many boardgamers. I'd rather call it a quiet time spent in composing a challenging situation, one that creates difficult problems for your opponent and (hopefully) resolves the problems you face at the same time. Chess is a puzzle continually set and reset by the players on the board. Problems are experienced not only as puzzles but as objects of beauty. This is closely related to the fact that problems are organized to exhibit clear ideas in as economical a manner as possible.


THE OPENING


Journey to the unknown.

The chessgame is usually divided into the following phases:
• the opening: the aim is to gain territory by positioning the pieces in a favourable manner
• middle game: the aim is to gain material advantage through plans and combination
• endgame: technical phase of the match where the advantage becomes apparent and results in a mate (or a resignation).

There is a rumour that if you make a blunder in the opening, you eventually lose the game. This is not true if the players are on the same level, but you have to be very careful and it is advised to study some openings in depth and master them. The opening for black is called a "defense" as it replies to white's most common opening move: e2-e4. My favourite one is the Sicilian Defense which I studied thoroughly and play very often. I love it for it enables excellent counterplaying opportunities. I think that basic principles are even more important than to memorize "famous" moves. Most books will say that these principles are:

Defense of the king is crucial in the early game. Castle as soon as possible. Try to keep the pawn-chain intact on the kingside (or on the queen side if you're about to castle there).

Control the centre by advancing your central pawns and supporting them with your knights, bishops. The reason of this is simple: the pieces can evolve much more power in the centre (especially the knights), it is easier and safer to lead an attack on the wings, and spacial advantage can be transformed into material advantage.

Swiftly develop your knights then your bishops. Don't make two movements with same piece in the opening. Beginners' mistake is to develop the queen early or to go on a hunt for lonely pawns (usually with knights). Try to avoid these mistakes.

Force your opponent to make a passive movement, f.e. attacking his valuable piece with a pawn.

Gambits. If you feel sure about your opening game, try some advanced moves, f.e. gambits. A gambit is a chess opening in which a piece (usually a pawn) is sacrificed in order to achieve an advantage. Usually this sacrifice pays off in the long run, either by gain of time, by decentralization of the enemy forces or by generation of positional weaknesses (f.e. double pawns).

Classic is safe. Only move on to modern openings (like the Orangutan opening), if you have mastered the classic ones, which also means you have a pretty good understanding of the game, otherwise it will be very easy for your opponents to create weaknesses in your position. This warning applies to sacrifices made early in the game; as a general rule try to avoid them unless you can clearly calculate that you will instantly gain some sort of advantage with them.


MIDDLE GAME - STRATEGY & TACTICS

The middle game is usually the part of the match where tactics and strategy unfold on a full scale. Tactics means a special combination or movement that results in a better position or some sort of advantage (material, space or tempo). Strategy involves a series of movements acted upon a premeditated and constantly readjusted plan. The ultimate "plan" should always revolve around capturing the enemy king. and it requires constant analysis of the situation on the board and constant readjustment of your plan to the actual situation. A rigid strategy is just as wrong as having no plan at all. Without going into details of this profound subject, there a few guidelines to forge a winning strategy:

Find a target in your opponent's ranks, usually a weakness or an exposed valuable piece like a queen. Attack that target by gaining space at the same time.

Be careful and consider the short-term and long-term consequences of each move you make

Strive to control the centre. This tip can't be emphasized enough. Space is required to lead an attack either in the centre or on the wings, and you'll get space by controlling the centre. Tradition says you need to invade the centre with pawns, modern theories say you can position your knights, bishops, rooks and the queen on the wings so they control the centre from a distance. There's no theory generally applicable to all situations, so you need to come up with your own solutions each time. Bear in mind that it is more difficult to maneuver your advanced pieces in a closed centre (where pawns are blocking each other's way), so try to opt for an open centre with smart trades. Centralizing the queen is also important but only if it's safe to venture out.

Attack on the wings when ready. Once you have your pieces mustered up (your bishops, knights are developed, your rooks are connected and you have a solid pawn structure pressuring the centre), you can start to think of a plan by targeting a weakness of your opponent and using tactical elements to lead the attack. Attack on the wings is usually not recommended in the early game, but can be justified if the proper opportunity comes; even then it's safer to advance the pawns first. The best way to reply to an attack on the wings is to start a counter-attack in the centre.

Get each piece to its optimal square. Centralize your queen but don't overexpose it in the early game. Put rooks on open files and block the open files of your opponent. Get the knight close to the action (and never on the rim - a knight on the rim is grim). Put the bishops on the long and open diagonals (preferably). A player with only one bishop should generally place his pawns on squares of the color that the bishop cannot move to.

Stand off and on. If the situation isn't full-fledged for the decisive clash, don't run your head against the wall. Make small, groping moves to mask your hidden plan. Wait for your opponent to offer a weak point.

Build a massive pawn structure. The outcome of the game largely depends on the black and white pawn structures. There are strengths and weaknesses of each pawn formation. F.e. the fianchetto is a pawn pyramid which is difficult to break open but can become weak if the bishop is missing from it. A pawn formation where the pawns are diagonally connected is not just extremely strong but it also restricts the movement of the opponent's pieces. "Always protect your pawns and move them around properly, for they will win you the game. In the endgame, it can come down to only one pawn to win." - my Grandpa used to tell me. The weakest pawn formations are: double pawns, backward (undeveloped) pawns and isolated pawns.

It is impossible to be successful in the long run using tactical moves without a strategic vision.It is possible but much harder to implement your plan without tactical moves. Without further elaboration, here are a few common of them :
pin: a pin is a chess fundamental, where a piece is immobilized because it stands between its king (or queen) and an attacking enemy piece; it often puts the immobilized piece in danger of capture. The next smartest move is to attack the pinned piece, which is almost impossible to counter except with a Zwischenzug.


The pin

fork is a popular move by which you attack two pieces at the same time, it is especially dangerous if one of the attacked pieces is the king or the queen (see example below). Knights can deliver dangerous blows with a fork as can be seen below.


The fork

skewer: is an attack upon two pieces in a line and is similar to a pin, the difference is that in a skewer the more valuable piece is in front of the piece of lesser or equal value. The opponent is compelled to move the more valuable piece to avoid its capture as demonstrated below.


The skewer

discovered attack: is an attack revealed when one piece moves out of the way of another; it can be extremely powerful, as the piece moved can make a threat independently of the piece it reveals.
sacrifice: sacrifice is a move giving up a piece or a pawn in the hopes of gaining tactical or positional compensation in other forms. A sacrifice could also be a deliberate exchange of a chess piece of higher value for an opponent's piece of lower value. The Greek Gift Sacrifice is a common example as an attack to weaken the defense of the king.

The ultimate fun factor in chess for me is the art of attack.



Learning how to attack is an art, and one that is sadly neglected in a lot of instructional books. The art of attack means building up your army by positioning your pieces to strengthen each other, gaining territory by fierce movements and putting as much pressure on your opponent as possible so that he finally collapses. Chess is a game of mathematics and calculation, but it's also a psychological game. A defensive strategy can be a winning strategy sometimes, but it's not as enjoyable as an offensive one. In order to attack you have to take some "risks", meaning you have to steadily push your pieces forward to focal points. A focal point is a “weak square” for the defender and a strong attacking point for the aggressor. Squares that allow an attacker to threaten mate are called mating focal points. The modern attacker (exemplified by Kasparov and Shirov) ultimately relies on few or no principles, but rather emphasizes the concrete and analytical to an extent previously unknown. Of course, intuition also plays a major role, but even intuition is informed by calculation and experience more than by what used to be called "principle."


Trading means exchanging two pieces by capture and removal from the board. When should you trade pieces?
• When you have the material advantage and would like to simplify the game to win it.
• When you have spatial drawback in order to gain territory. • When the surviving piece will become stronger by virtue of trade.
• When you would like to get rid of a strong piece of the opponent

ENDGAME

If there's no huge material advantage on either side, endgames are just as difficult part of a match as the middle game. It is advisable to practice endgames frequently with different setups (f.e. rook and a pawn vs rook, bishop and a pawn vs knight, queen and a pawn vs queen), as it will give you the cutting edge in handling each piece correctly as you'll learn to understand their potential on their own. Endgames are excellent opportunity to practice delivering checkmates too. If you want to be a good player, you need to know how the checkmate with only a queen, only a rook, only two bishops, only a bishop and a knight, etc.

Most endgames are about promoting the pawn (moving them to the last row of the opposing side and turning them into a queen, rook, bishop or knight) and prevent the other player from promoting his own pawns. So this is the part of the game where you'll also come to value each and every pawn in your army. The king becomes a very strong piece in the endgame as it is able to venture out with it to the open field and support the other pieces. Opposition is a special situation arising in the endgames when two kings are facing each other. It often occurs when there are very few pieces left and kings become the strongest ones; usually the side taking the opposition gains territory.

Etiquette



There are a few common rules of courtesy in chess. It is usually a good idea to follow them especially if you are playing with strangers. Being a good sport in chess and having fun generally makes for a better chess player. Just to mention some:

• Every game must begin and end with the players shaking hands.
• "Check" need not be said. Players are responsible for noticing where all of the pieces on the board are located, and what threats are pending.
• Never do anything to distract the other player.
• If you touched a piece, you must move it.
• Never gloat over a victory, or become despondent or hostile following a defeat. Try to analyze the game with your opponent instead.
• Never comment on a game that is in progress, whether the game is yours or one that you are just watching.


Final word on chess

Chess is an excellent game with a stunning background and endless possibilities, one that allows you to continually learn and develop your own style. It is easy to obtain a chess set and set it up in no time. It's very easy to get an opponent - probably every one of us knows how to play. Chess involves profound tactical and strategic thinking, principles and theories, but it always remains a concrete and practical game involving massive fun and inspired by the art of attack. It is the perfect game for me, but I can understand why it's not perfect for others and see their point of view.

It is highly recommended that you learn and develop your style by analysing the games you played. Ubisoft's Chessmaster series offer excellent all-round softwares that let you to learn and practice the basics of the game, resolve chess problems, play against opponents of the same level, analyse your matches and much more.

Chess has to be as much about fun as it is about brains. This seems like a truly novel approach to mixing your business with your pleasure. So, the next time you are in a partying mood – you might consider a chess party. You’ll find videos, articles and whatever else you need on the net to help you to plan one.

Have fun!

EDIT: grammar
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Wayne O Connor
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nice article.
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Gordon Adams
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Great article , really enjoyed reading it.

Chess is the KING of games, IMHO

I must have my daily dose of chess, whether a full game or set problems : it is a must.

Regards.
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Hunga Dunga
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Fortune wrote:
No chess game ever repeats itself

But if the same position occurs 3 times in a game, it is declared a draw.

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Fortune
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Thanks for the warm welcome. I really tried to put every basic information in this article, hopefully it will find its way to other boardgamers too.

elfrododumbo wrote:
Great article , really enjoyed reading it.

Chess is the KING of games, IMHO

I must have my daily dose of chess, whether a full game or set problems : it is a must.

Regards.


It's the same with me. Resolving a chess problem is an excellent brain-training exercise. I would never turn down a game against any player.
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Christian Sperling
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elfrododumbo wrote:

Chess is the KING of games, IMHO

Correct!

I play this game for 20 years now.
About 16 years in a club.
When you discover the beauty of this game, it gives you so much.

-Chris
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Michael J
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I love Chess. Always have. Always will. I play it all the time, online or otherwise. But Chess is not the type of game people on BGG love (by "people", I mean the "majority" of people). I've just learned to accept this fact. You either "get it" or you don't. I've given up trying to preach the greatness of the game. So for the 10 of us that love it on BGG, GREAT REVIEW. Maybe you've found us an 11th player!

Mike
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Fortune
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konsum24 wrote:
elfrododumbo wrote:

Chess is the KING of games, IMHO

Correct!

I play this game for 20 years now.
About 16 years in a club.
When you discover the beauty of this game, it gives you so much.

-Chris


It has so much to offer... it is a game that allows you to improve your style with each and every game you play. Perfect in terms of replayibility.
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