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Chess Notation Handout

April 8, 2019

Taking chess notation occurs when a player writes down his or her moves using the coordinates alongside the chess board. In the diagram above, you can see the X in the middle of the board. This X is marking the “e4” square. The arrows show you why that square is e4 because that square lines up with the e-file and the 4th rank. There are many ways to notate chess moves and each style has its own name and symbols. This handout will teach the simplest version of notation.

Coordinate Notation (Often called Long Notation)

The benefits of using this style of notation is that it can be taught and learned within 30 seconds to a minute making it the simplest notation system. However, it does have a major downside for any seriously competitive player: it gives you the least in-game information about the moves.

The way to notate using coordinate notation is simply by

  1. writing the name of the square the piece is on,
  2. then you put a dash or hyphen,
  3. then write the name of the square the piece moved to.

In the diagram above, the rook is on the e4 square and wants to move to the b4 square. This move would be written as e4 – b4. If it decided to move from the b4 square to the b8 square, the move would be written as b4 – b8. That is pretty much it for coordinate notation.

In the diagram above, there are eight Xs placed on various squares on the chess board. On a sheet of paper, try to notate the Xs as quickly as possible. You can even drop 8 pennies on the board and notate the squares they landed on for more practice. One thing to understand is you can do this on an actual chess board too, even if it doesn’t have letters and numbers on it once you get good enough. Practicing this simple skill is helpful and is guaranteed to improve you as a player.

Where do I write down my moves?

The picture below is a sample notation sheet. You can obtain these sheets from many different online sources. A simple search for “Chess Notation Sheet” or “Chess Notation Pad” will bring it up.

When notating, you always write down who is playing the white pieces and who is playing the black pieces. Often on many notation sheets there will be additional information you can fill out such as the date, name of the tournament, your opponent’s rating, etc… But the most important information is who is playing whom.

When writing notation, it is extremely important to understand that you must write down every move of the game which includes all your moves and all your opponent’s moves. Failing to write down both player’s moves would indicate you have missed the entire point of notation. There are very few things any chess coach can guarantee a player. However, one thing that can be guaranteed is that you will improve by going over your games and you can only do this through notation.

In the picture, you can see that white has played 1.e2-e4 and black has played 1…c8-c6. Notice how both white and black have their own 1st move. A lot of players make the mistake of writing white’s move on the first line and then black’s move on the second line. Do not do that!

You will also notice in the short paragraph above that when I wrote “1…c8-c6” that I used three dots. The reason for this is whenever you are reading chess literature sometimes the author wants to make a comment about a move. After that comment, if it is black’s move, the three dots are used between the move number and the played move to indicate it is black’s turn. If it is white’s turn, then only one dot is used.

Exercise

Find someone with whom you can play a chess game and notate your first game. Take your time and make sure you get all the moves written down. It will be frustrating at first and you will be distracted from the game; however, if you can notate 10 games you will have no issues from that point forward. Good luck!

Algebraic Notation

All serious chess players use algebraic notation as they become more competitive in tournaments. The reason is that it gives you more in-game information.

The picture below demonstrates all the notation symbols to take notation using the Algebraic style. Notice that the Knight and King both begin with the letter “K” and therefore for “Knight” they use the letter “N” instead.

Notation Examples

Like Coordinate Notation, we still use the coordinate grid to label squares. The difference is in how we write the moves down. The following list contains all the symbols in the chart above at least once to demonstrate how to notate using algebraic notation. Both sets of notation below are the same exact moves but are notated using different styles:

Algebraic Notation

1.e4 2.Nf3 3.Bc4 4.0-0 5.Re1 6.Kh1 7.Qxf3 8.Bxf7 9.Be6+ 10.Qxf8+ 11.Nc3 12.Bxd7+ 13.Qxd8+ 14.Qxc8#

c5 Nc6 Qc7 d6 Bg4 Bxf3 0-0-0 h5 Rd7 Nd8 Qc6 Kb8 Qc8

Coordinate Notation

1.e2-e4 2.g1-f3 3.f1-c4 4.e1-g1 5.f1-e1 6.g1-h1 7.d1-f3 8.c4-f7 9.f7-e6 10.f3-f8 11.b1-c3 12.e6-d7 13.f8-d8 14.d8-c6

c7-c5 b8-c6 d8-c7 d7-d6 c8-g4 g4-f3 e8-c8 h7-h5 d8-d7 c6-d8 c7-c6 c8-b8 c6-c8 Checkmate

One thing that regularly happens when using Algebraic Notation is when two pieces can move to the same square you have to denote which one moved. For example, if a rook on a1 and a rook on f1 can both move to the c1-square, you would either write Rac1 or Rfc1 denoting which rook specifically moved. The same is true for a rook on c8 and a rook on c1: you would write R8c5 or R1c5 indicating which rook moved. The same is true when two knights can move to the same square. For example, if knights are on f3 and b1, then Nbd2 or Nfd2 could be written!

Types of Chess Books

April 8, 2019

There are different types of chess books out there and I am going to explain the various kinds to you. If you are looking to buy some chess books, this will give you a good way to understand what to look for on your hunt. I will also share common search terms for these books as well.

Opening, Middlegame, and Endgame Books

I feel confident stating that these three are the most common types of chess books out there. That claim is especially true for openings books. These books cover the three phases of a chess game. Each phase has its own principles and nuances that they do tend to be separate topics (though, they are all inherently connected). Openings books cover the myriad of ways to begin a game. Middlegame books tend to cover strategies that can be implemented when tactics are not present. Finally, Endgame books cover the final phase of the game teaching you how to take a winning (or drawing) position to its expected conclusion.

Chess History

This category includes both biographical books about specific chess players. Generally, you can identify them because the book title will include the name of the subject such as Pal Benko or Viktor Korchnoi. Books also might include subtitles that say “My Life and Games” or something close to that such as The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal. These books tend to give you an idea about following a player’s career and getting to know that player.

This category also includes games collections, tournament books, and of course specific history type books. Games collections tend to be compilations of a player’s career games all in one book. They are not necessarily written by the person who played the games and a game’s collection isn’t specifically the games of one person either. They can be games the author feels are very good, memorable, important, or fun.

Tournament books used to be more popular. Essentially, financial compensation would be given to top players for reviewing every game of a high-level tournament. This was a way for players, especially top players who failed to win a prize, to gain a little money for their efforts. Other times, an author takes an interest in a specific tournament and collects all the games from that event and publishes a book. Some examples are Carlsen vs. Karjakin, San Remo 1930 International Chess Tournament, or Fischer-Spassky. These books generally contain commentary on the games while games collections do not specifically offer commentary in every book.

Tactics and Strategy Books

While tactics can involve strategy and strategy can involved tactics, these two concepts are generally written about separately. For example, if a favorable tactic exists in the position, you should not waste time with lengthy plans but go ahead and execute the favorable tactic. However, if no tactics are present in a position, then you must determine your long-term plan, and its intermediary goals, since you cannot currently win with a tactical shot.

Tactics books tend to help the reader identify tactical themes. Themes such as pins, forks, skewers, X-rays, windmills, double attack, discovered attacks, discovered check, double check, and several more. In tactics books, once you learn a theme, you are instructed to solve lots of tactics with that theme. Once you understand the themes, you solve lots of tactics with that theme so you may begin to build your pattern recognition skills. So, a couple of tactics books are The Magic of Chess Tactics, Fundamental Chess Tactics, and Tactics Time. For pattern recognition improvement, there is Improve Your Pattern Recognition and Train Your Pattern Recognition. It is also common that tactics books are filed under “Puzzle Books.”

Strategy books are much wordier. They tend to look at different ideas and show games or positions that contain those ideas so you can see them in action. Strategy books will help improve your ability to plan and set goals during a game. Here are some examples of strategy books that you could find helpful: Pachman’s Modern Chess Strategy, Winning Chess Maneuvers, and Doubled Pawns. Each of these books teaches you about a specific strategy. However, strategies are not specifically limited to pieces and positions. They can also be more about abstract topics such as Your Opponent is Overrated, Draw!, and Saving Lost Positions.

Beginner Books, Teaching Books, and Instructional Books

These kinds of books are geared towards getting people involved with chess in one way or another. Either a person is interested to become involved themselves or perhaps you are teaching a group of kids hoping to see if any take up the game. Regardless, there is a wide variety of books with this topic.

Chess for Beginner books are a great way for newer players to begin their foundation of chess knowledge. These books generally offer simple terms and ideas to get you going. In some ways, they can be the bedrock from which more questions arise. While these books are generally for beginners, chess coaches and instructors may find them useful as well. They can give a sense of what newer players might need to learn when first starting out. Susan Polgar’s Learn Chess the Right Way series helps beginners and gives them lots of puzzles and concepts to consider. Your First Move is also a good beginner’s book as well as Chess for Children Activity Book.

Teaching books very specifically give you resources for running class rooms while beginner chess books do not specifically do that. Instructional books are also quite similar. Here are some examples: Teaching Books and Instructional Books. Teaching books are specifically designed for teaching one on one or groups of kids. Instructional books typically are going to be more advanced versions of beginner books. They often have a more serious tone as well. Beginner books often feature kid friendly cartoons and pictures but instructional books take things to the next level. Plus, it could be annoying being a new chess playing adult who is forced to read kid books. If you compare Beginner Chess Tactics for Kids and Crucial Chess Skills for the Club Player you can see how the first book is kid friendly while the second, even though it has a cartoon drawing on the front, seems to be a bit more serious to attract a non-scholastic audience. Instructional books can also be very serious like with the book Thinking Inside the Box.

Ups and Downs of Chess

April 8, 2019

Whenever you play chess, you must learn how to cope with the ups and downs of chess. As a chess instructor, I regularly tell people “I am in the business of teaching people how to lose constructively.” Like anything, chess can be full of obstacles. Interestingly, the obstacles in chess are almost always you.

I am on a losing streak, what do I do?

This common question is asked by many who struggle to improve. One of my favorite quotes on this topic comes from National Master Dan Heisman “You have to be willing to take your lumps!” He is quite right. If you cannot stand losing, then you’re going to have a hard time improving. Dan’s book The Improving Chess Thinker is all about analyzing how players at different levels speak about different positions. Through this process, Dan shows us the types of mistakes lower level players make when compared to higher level players.

So, what do you do when you are on a losing streak? First, identify why you are on a losing streak.

How do I identify my issue?

Take some time off actually playing chess and learn for a little while. I can say that most of the time when I am on a losing streak, it is related to tactics. If you don’t regularly go over high-level games or solve tactics, then your tactical vision can wane a bit. I find at lower levels of chess this is often the reason people get stuck on losing streaks. Therefore, books like Improve Your Chess Tactics can be very helpful. I often look for chess books with “Improve” in the title that speak to improving a specific skill. For example, books like Improve Your Endgame Play or Improve Your Opening Play will give practical advice to you on specific key skills. Neither will suddenly make you a brilliant chess virtuoso; however, they will help you identify and work on your own errors. These kinds of books are fantastic if you have identified a clear area for improvement in your game.

However, books like Test, Evaluate, and Improve Your Chess or A Guide to Chess Improvement are also helpful but don’t specifically focus on one skill set. These are more for assessing problems which have their own independent value. Books with a more generalized approach have the advantage of being able to cover a wide variety of issues, and often they help you test to see if you have issues in those areas. From there, it is a good idea to seek out resources to help you with specifically identified skills.

I am on a Winning Streak! Woohoo!!

Well, good for you! As any good player knows that if a winning streak goes too long, then odds are you need to seek out stronger competition. However, winning streaks when you are an equivalent or lesser rating than your peers typically mean you are making a breakthrough and improving. During these times, it is a good idea to understand how you have improved. For example, if you improved because of hard work and you identified a weakness that you worked on, then when your losing streak ends you’ll need to do this again. If your winning streak is because you changed an opening you play, then be sure to understand your opponents will likely keep pace with you at the next event.

Winning streaks are always uplifting but understanding why your winning streak is happening is helpful to putting your efforts into context. Sometimes, you didn’t do anything extra at all but find yourself winning games. That is ok! However, just because you didn’t actively do anything doesn’t mean you didn’t improve. Grandmaster Gregory Kaidanov says, “The best way to improve in chess is to play as often as possible.” In a lecture he gave in Kentucky some years ago, he specifically said players learn much more from playing game after game than they do from any other process. I am inclined to agree with him.

But wait a second… you just said to get out of a losing streak I should take a break but Kaidanov says playing more games is better? Which is it!?

Well, both are true. It depends on your situation. Here are a few examples that make use of both ideas from my own life.

When on a losing streak, I had just come off a break due to college and hadn’t played in a while. So, my opponents could see the rust fall off me as I moved each piece. I felt that, in this situation, taking a further break really wouldn’t make much sense. I decided to take Dan Heisman’s advice and take my beatings and come out of them stronger in the end.

Another example was that I had lost many games across two tournaments and let some lower ranked players beat me as well. How did I fix it? I created an account on Lichess.com and, being a new player but a master level player, all fell before me! I don’t advocate for making numerous accounts on the same chess website; however, being ‘new’ for a little while and winning a few games raised my spirits and it pulled me out of my slump.

Currently, I haven’t played much chess in the last 2 years (despite having purchased a Life Membership to the US Chess federation not too long ago). But, I regularly go over GM games, read chess books, and study chess for fun. So, while I am on a break, I do not feel rusty right now. Sometimes just enjoying chess as a hobby, instead of a pursuit, helps you advance.

Getting Involved in Chess

April 8, 2019

One of the greatest things about chess is there are so many ways to get involved. Here are some ways people regularly take up chess as a lifelong hobby:

  1. They want to grow their rating through tournament play
  2. They appreciate chess books for reading
  3. Some people like to collect chess books but rarely read them
  4. Many find teaching chess to be a lot of fun
  5. Collecting higher end chess sets is quite common
  6. Becoming a tournament director to help at local events
  7. Becoming a US Chess federation state delegate to help shape the US Chess Rules Book
  8. Running for state level office within their state’s US Chess affiliate
  9. A parent whose child became interested in chess
  10. Chess journalism

For me personally, I equally enjoy numbers 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, and 10. Most people who are involved in chess do so at many different levels. A good friend of mine, John Warth, runs the Chess Club of Southern Indiana. He takes photographs of all the club members that turn out quite well, shares them on social media, and has a very positive attitude about chess overall. Running this club, and collecting chess books and luxury chess sets, are his way of engaging in chess on a meaningful level.

Growing your Rating

The best way to grow your rating is to identify weaknesses in your play. You can hire a coach, read chess books, obtain chess software, or simply go over your own games. Regardless of the path you choose, and specific resources for improvement are suggested in various articles throughout this blog, growing your rating is a lifelong pursuit. You will have ups and downs but, in the end, your mind will stay sharp, you will make many friends, and you’ll form long lasting memories.

Reading Books vs. Collecting Books

There is a big debate that comes up from time to time on the Chess Book Collector’s Facebook Page. Essentially, there are people who likes to collect many books (thousands even) about chess and there are people who read chess books cover to cover. While I fall into the camp of readers, many people gain a lot of gratification from simply owning books, especially hard to find books, and peruse them from time to time. In any case, the reason I love chess books is because they are so full of chess lore. Neat stories about why player made one move over another or how a no body gets introduced to chess and then one day became world champion. The stories are endless and show how hard, but worthwhile, chess can be.

Chess Teaching

Teaching can be a lot of fun, especially when teaching kids. Nearly every chess coach has treasured stories from their days as a chess coach. One story I often share with people is that my name is John Anthony Ryan Velez but I go by “Ryan.” So, for 2 years, if I wore jeans to class I would introduce myself to the kids as “Ryan.” But, if I wore dress pants then I would insist I was Ryan’s brother “John.” The kids would always try to get me to give it away but I would just get my driver’s license out and prove it to them. If I were John, then I’d show them the license says John. But, if I were Ryan, I’d show them the signature in fact says “Ryan.” In the end, they all knew I was fibbing, but it made the teaching so much fun and it was a long term running joke with them. Even today, some of those students still see me out in the world and inquire.

Luxury Chess Sets

Many of my friends collect luxury chess sets and they enjoy setting them up and exploring chess games the old masters played years and years ago. While I cannot entirely explain why, wooden chess sets, especially very nice ones, make you feel more connected to chess history than other types of chess sets. I find them highly appropriate when studying chess by book. Some of my favorite sets include the Dubrovnik sets, the old Drueke Sets, and Green Leather Casket box for my pieces. However, there are all kinds of wooden sets, different designs and colors of boards, and boxes of many different styles. The pricing on these types of sets, boards, and boxes, varies tremendously giving a large variety of selection. I know with several of my friends, we prefer to get boards that have a different look that the pieces so that the pieces stand out better which is especially important if you intend to use these sets for playing (as opposed to just for yourself).

Becoming a Tournament Director

A lot of people become tournament directors because they are parents. Parents who TD events often do so to help perpetuate local events so their kids can play chess in meaningful competitions. While it is indeed a bit of work, it is a lot of fun. To become a tournament director, you must obtain a copy of the US Chess Rules Book. The lowest level of tournament director only requires you to have access to a copy of the book; however, I highly recommend reading it.

There are also two extremely fun books that supplement to the US Chess Rules Book which are My Opponent is Eating a Doughnut and Just Law. Just Law will teach you how to be a more effective tournament director on how to answer frequently asked questions at tournaments. My Opponent is Eating a Doughnut will teach you about how absurd circumstances can arise during tournaments, usually comical, and what happened in those situations.

Chess Congress and State Affiliates

If you want to get involved at political levels, every state has its own state affiliate and those affiliates appoint delegates who serve in what I jokingly call “Chess Congress.” While the politics of chess can give people some headaches, they are important to making rules, keeping chess relevant, and are a great way to help improve chess. I have been the Kentucky Chess Association’s VP, Webmaster, and currently Scholastic coordinator. It is a lot of work but tons of fun.

Being a Chess Parent

The most common way to unwittingly become sucked into the wonderful world of chess is to become a parent whose kids, eventually, finds their way into a chess club. If you have gotten this far, you know this blog is all about helping you be the best chess parent you can be. My column in American Chess Magazine is also specifically geared toward helping parents understand the world of chess.

Chess Journalism

While this is more niche, it is true that if there are people who like to read about chess then there are people who like to write about chess. There are chess blogs, articles on various chess websites, the US Chess magazine called Chess Life and Chess Life for Kids, and New in Chess. Chess Life also has a podcast called Cover Stories with Chess Life. If you want to get involved with chess writing, I recommend starting on Facebook then extending into a blog. You never know where your talents will end up after that!

Parents - Get Started in Chess

April 8, 2019

If you are a parent getting involved with chess, it can be overwhelming to know where to start or what to do. I’m going to make life a little easier for you if you’ll bear with me for a little while. To get involved at chess you will need to consider 3 key ideas:

  • How should your child go about learning chess?
  • What chess equipment will you need?
  • What can you do as a parent?
Learning Chess

My recommendation for every new student of chess is to begin by learning the language of chess which is called “Chess Notation.” I always tell people that once you can read, speak, and write down chess moves, you suddenly gain the ability to read millions of chess books, watch millions of chess videos, and you can save every game you ever play.

To learn notation, you’ll need a vinyl chess board with numbers and letters on the sides of the board, a full set of chess pieces, and a notation book. If you wish to buy a board, set, and bag all at once I would recommend this combo to save a little money. If you want to make chess a little more fun, you can buy color chess pieces and get a neat Wild Style board. Color pieces and wild style boards do not meet tournament standards; however, they can be very fun at home or in a chess club.

Once you have your chess equipment, you can begin practicing notation. I recommend playing some games against mom, dad, or a friend and writing down all the moves. The real task is to try your best not to miss a move. In this blog near the end I am offering you a few free worksheets to get your student started even before their equipment arrives. The handouts are from the book Points of Struggle by Ryan Velez which is a book aimed at helping new players learn all the basic rules of chess. The book has basic lessons you can read to your child and worksheets they can complete.

There are many books that can be recommended when a student is learning the basics of chess. Here is a list of titles that are also useful. You do not need to buy every book on this list, but this will give you a list of books to investigate or discuss with your coach if you have one:

If your child prefers learning using videos, you can search youtube for videos on how to play chess. However, the recommended books above are very easy to go through and are written with kids and parents in mind.

Endgames Explained

April 8, 2019

Endgames Explained

The question of “When does the endgame begin and the middlegame end?” is one many people struggle to answer. Similarly, to the definitions of openings and middlegames, there is no clear definition of the endgame. However, it generally occurs after a period of liquidation (trading of pieces) when both sides only have pawns and a couple of pieces.

While endgames feature less pieces than openings, they can still be rather complicated. Openings are difficult because you must navigate the huge numbers of possibilities to determine good moves. However, endgames require very precise moves to win in most cases. Endgames also require technical knowledge of how the pieces must operate when they have less support. For example, in the Opening and Middlegame, if you need 2 jobs to be done and you have 2 pieces then each can be tasked with 1 job. In the endgame, sometimes you must do 2 or more jobs with 1 piece without overworking the piece.

One way to see how efficient chess pieces need to be in endgames is to go through Tablebases. Tablebases are pre-solved endgame positions. Initially, tablebases had only solved 2-piece endings. Now, we’re up to 7-piece endings which is amazing. Tablebases are essentially computer software that can be used to analyze endgames with perfection. My recommendation, especially when using any sort of chess software to compute moves, is to go slow and ask questions. For example, trying to determine why the tablebase believes Bf4 is the right move and not Bf3 is very important for your own training. However, using tablebases is hardly the place to start. I recommend tablebases for players rated 2000+.

Before reaching that level, endgame books and software are the most efficient ways to learn on your own. Books are nice because you buy them once and they are like purchasing 100 chess lessons for the price of one. Software is good because you can interact with it and practice. In either case, learning endgame is important.

Here are some good resources for learning Endgame.

On the top end we have:

Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual by Mark Dvoretsky

Comprehensive Chess Endings by Vitaly Chekhover & Yuri Averbach

Silman’s Endgame Course by Jeremy Silman

Encyclopedia of Chess Endings Book I, Book II, Book III, Book IV, and Book V by Chess Informants

Both Silman’s and Dvoretsky’s books are very well written and reputable. The other books take a multi-book approach and break down endgames into smaller categories. So, they are more thorough but intimidatingly large. In either case, these are all good recommendations.

However, here are some less pricey endgame books that are helpful as well:

Chess Endgames for Kids by Karsten Muller

Endgame Play by Jacob Aagaard

Endgame Tactics by Ger Van Perlo

Mastering Endgame Strategy by Johan Hellsten

Winning Chess Endings by Yasser Seirawan

Starting Out: Rook Endgames by Chris Ward (eBook)

Karsten, Ward, and Seirawan’s books are fantastic for beginners who are looking to learn endgame basics. For the more serious student, Benjamin, Aagaard, and Van Perlo’s books are excellent. Hellsten’s book is a good general overview of endgame strategy while Benjamin and Van Perlo’s books look at specific ideas in the endgame. All these books are helpful.

Finally, we will take a quick look at Endgame software.

*Always be sure to check your computer’s specs with what is required to run the software in question. The USCF Sales online bookstore lists all of the requirements you’ll need.

On the high end we have:

Karsten Muller Complete Training – Chess Endgames which is pricy but it will not only show you different endings but teach you how to play endgame better.

Endgame Turbo 5: 6-Piece Tablebases gives perfect endgame analysis when there are 6 pieces left. This runs nicely with most chess computers (which are listed under the product details page).

Other useful and less pricy software includes the following:

Chess Training Package for Beginners is helpful for newer players looking to learn the basics. This includes players rated between 300 – 1500.

Chess training Package for Intermediate Players is helpful for people rated 1800 to 2400.

There are also many different types of endgame software that look at very specific types of endgames. They can be found on this Endgame Book Search.

Openings

April 8, 2019

One of the reasons there are so many different resources for learning chess (books, software, coaches, articles, blogs, videos, etc…) is because chess games can be broken down to 3 different phases. Each phase has its own principles and mysteries for players to learn and uncover. The next 3 articles will explain each phase and share resources to help you learn about the phases of the games.

The Opening

There is no specific definition to this phase of the game other than “The beginning of the game.” Often, people ask “How many moves is the opening?” but the answer to that question varies wildly depending on how the players play. It is quite possible that there are more books on different ways to begin the chess game (these ways are called “Openings”) than any other subject in chess. I believe there are a few reasons for this:

  1. No one likes to lose a game quickly; so, they learn openings so they may get out of the opening with a playable game;
  2. The opening begins with the maximum number of pieces on the board which also means the maximum number of possibilities (in the trillions); therefore, openings help trim that down a bit and give players direction;
  3. They are fun to learn for many people and each opening is like learning how to use a new weapon or tool;
  4. Openings also give flavor to a game and each has its own nuances, style, and culture behind it and I believe people enjoy that part of the game.

There are also many openings out there but they can all be classified within one of 500 different classifications. These classifications are called “ECO Codes” or “Encyclopedia of Chess Openings codes.” Each opening also has a designated name usually named after a person, place, type of attack or defense. But the numeric codes make for easy search terms if you wish to find resources for openings you like. The codes run from A00 – A99 to E00 – E99. Thus, depending on how the game begins, the opening is assigned a number based on the first few moves of the game. If you want a thorough review of these opening codes and their associated lines of play, the ECO Software can be purchased. That specific software is a truncated version of ECO to help the user speed up their searches. However, corresponding books, that are more thorough, do exist. Here are two examples: C00 – C99 and E00 – E99.

However, if you do not wish to be that thorough in exploring openings, there are faster ways. If you are unsure of what openings you want to get resources for then I recommend the following book:

Modern Chess Openings by Nick de Firmian

This book, generally used as a reference book, has a simple layout for looking at openings in print format. This book is a one stop shop to have all major openings and you can page through, play through different openings, and see what appeals to you before investing. People often make the mistake of buying tons of openings books but then never reading them. The goal should be to find things you do want to read and purchase those resources. This book is an example that can help you do that without spending hundreds of dollars on books.

If you already know what openings you like and need help learning, here are some tips on identifying good resources for yourself. The first thing I always recommend to everyone is determine if you are trying to learn how to play the opening phase better, if you are trying to learn a specific opening, or if you are trying to develop a full openings repertoire? For example, if you are trying to learn how to play the opening phase better then these books make the most sense:

Book Suggestions

How to Beat the Open Games by Sverre Johnson

125 Chess Opening Surprises by Graham Burgess

Key Concepts of Gambit Play by Yuri Razuvaev

Basic Chess Openings for Kids by Charles Hertan

Winning Chess Traps by Irving Chernev

Mastering Opening Strategy by Johan Hellsten (this is an eBook but there are also print versions)

Software Suggestions

Attack with 1.e4 by Daniel King

A Gambit Guide through the Open Game Vol. 1 by Erwin L’ami

ChessBase Tutorials – The Open Games Vol. 1 by ChessBase

However, if you are looking for openings on specific variations then books like the following make more sense:

Book Suggestions

The King’s Indian Defence: Move by Move by Sam Collins

The Complete French Advance by Evgeny Sveshnikov & Vladimir Sveshnikov

The Scotch Gambit: An Energetic and Aggressive System for White by Alex Fishbein

1.d4 King’s Indian & Grunfeld by Boris Avrukh

First Steps: The Scandinavian by Cyrus Lakdawala

The Modern Samisch: Combating the King’s Indian and Benoni with 6.Bg5! by Eric Montany

The Queen’s Gambit Declined: Move by Move by Nigel Davis

The Najdorf in Black and White by Bryan Smith

Software Suggestions

The Modern Scotch Opening by Parimarjan Negi

Trompowsky for the Attacking Player by Timur Gareyev

The 4…Nf6 Caro-Kann by Nigel Davies

Finally, if you are trying to build an entire opening repertoire then my suggestions would be like these suggestions below. Note that an openings repertoire is essentially trying to build a series of openings you know to combat whatever your opponent throws at you. Or more succinctly put, you want to have an answer for everything:

Book Suggestions

A Practical Black Repertoire with d5, c6 Vol 1. By Alexei Kornev

A Practical Black Repertoire with d5, c6 Vol. 2 by Alexei Kornev

Play 1…d6 Against Everything by Erik Zude & Jorg Hickl

My First Chess Opening Repertoire for White by Vincent Moret

My First Chess Opening Repertoire for Black by Vincent Moret

Meeting 1.d4 & 1.e4 (2 books in one) by Jacob Aagaard & Esben Lund, Alexander Raetsky

A Simple Chess Opening Repertoire for White by Sam Collins

Software Suggestions

The Stonewall Dutch: A Fighting Repertoire against 1.d4 by Erwin L’ami

A World Champion’s Repertoire against the Queen’s Gambit Declined by Robert Ris

A Black Repertoire against Offbeat Openings by Nicholas Pert

These suggestions are only scratching the surface and certainly not every opening is listed here. But a big part of choosing which opening books to purchase has to do with what you’re trying to accomplish. If you know that, you will save money by buying the correct resources for your interests.

Middlegames Explained

April 8, 2019

The Middlegame

The most common question is “When does the Opening end and the Middlegame begin?” Like the definition of an opening, there really is not a specific definition that can guide you about the middlegame. However, the idea of having a strong opening means you will have a playable middlegame. “Playable” suggests your opening will have given you some long-term strategies to pursue that can be used to determine what moves to play. For example, in the Dragon Sicilian Defense, black’s Bg7 is a huge asset and many of black’s plans and potential moves have to do with the squares on the a1 – h8 long dark-square diagonal. Thus, most of the ‘playable’ moves will involve this theme to some extent. That is not a hard and fast rule but a reasonable guideline.

Therefore, when studying the middlegame, which is something few people do, you’re looking to learn about strategies, plans, potential openings pitfalls, pawn structures, and piece maneuvering. So, it is important to determine what you’re trying to accomplish when studying the middlegame. My advice is to pick one or two ideas at a time and devote some time to learning those concepts. Here are some suggestions for middlegame resources under different themes:

General Middlegame Books

Winning Chess Middlegames: An Essential Guide to Pawn Structure by Ivan Sokolov

Mastering Chess Middlegames by Alexander Panchenko

Soviet Middlegame Technique by Peter Romanovsky

Understanding Chess Middlegames by John Nunn

These books give general advice on middlegames. They do not focus on the influence specific opening shave on the middlegame but rather give you ideas on how to navigate the middlegame. Often, they demonstrate common middlegame plans that come up in a variety of chess openings.

However, there are also books on specific middlegame skills. So, if you or a coach has identified a specific skill that you need to work on, books like the following would be more helpful:

The Center: A Modern Strategy Guide by Afrian Mikhalchishin & Georg Mohr

Chess Calculation Training: Vol 1. Middlegames by Romain Edouard

Techniques of Positional Play by Valeri Bronznik & Anatoli Terekhin

These books take specific approaches to the middlegame using a specific skill. For example, the first looks at the center and its role in the middlegame, the second looks at how to calculate (or see ahead in the game) during the middlegame, and the third looks at positional chess techniques (as opposed to tactics) during the middlegame.

Other types of middlegame books talk about “Strategy” which essentially is your ability to not only come up with a plan but your ability to read a position and know the best plan. This is where things get a little tricky because you must assimilate your knowledge during the middlegame to come up with effective plans. For example, using the 3 books above, you may sometimes find yourself in a positional game but you have to navigate through a series of tactics; therefore, having read both the Romain and Bronznik books would benefit you in that position. Therefore, the following books offer other types of skill sets that can be assimilated into middlegame play:

Maneuvering: The Art of Piece Play by Mark Dvoretsky

Attack & Defense by Jacob Aagaard

Mastering Rook vs. Minor Pieces by Andrei Maximenko, IM Jaroslav Srokovsky, & Wit Braslawski

In the first book above, maneuvering has a lot fot do with closed positions which require a different set of strategies than open games. An “Open Game” occurs when the central pawns are not locked together. A “Closed Game” occurs when the central pawns are locked together which jams up the center making it tough to break through. The second book looks at both attack and defense (as the title suggests); however, the defense part is important as it is not commonly written about since people like to attack. Finally, the third book can be both a middlegame and endgame book at certain points.

However, most of the time a piece imbalance (such as losing a knight but capturing a rook) occurs during the middlegame. So, help with Mastering the Bishop Pair, aims to help the reader with transitioning from the middlegame to the endgame and knowing when to do it. Thus, if your minor piece has a strong endgame advantage, then transition to the endgame, for example.

Middlegames also involve tactics. Like many topics in chess, there is no agreed upon definition of the word “tactic” in chess. However, a simple understanding of tactics is that they lead to favorable conditions for one person, usually resulting in the loss of a pawn or more. Strong tactics usually win at least 2 pawns or more.

Therefore, it is important to also learn tactics. The best way to learn tactics is to solve simple ones until you build up your pattern recognition skills. Here are some books and software that can help with tactics. I recommend using books to learn about basic tactical ideas and software for really chugging away at building your pattern recognition. The reason I recommend them in this order is that books tend to explain a lot of tactical nuances while programs tend to send you down a long path of solving hundreds of tactics for a single theme. Both have merit, but they work best together:

Fundamental Chess Tactics by Antonio Gude

The Art of Sacrifice in Chess by Rudolf Spielmann

1001 Chess Exercises for Beginners by Franco Masetti & Roberto Messa

There is also the idea of “combinations” which is the next level of learning tactics. Essentially, combinations are tactical patterns that become mixed together producing unique circumstances. In the above few books and software, a tactic might be listed as a “Pin” tactic. But in a combinations book, a single combination might be listed as having a pin, fork, and skewer all at once within a small number of moves. Therefore, if you are ready to progress to harder tactics or you wish to challenge yourself, here are a few useful resources:

Encyclopedia of Chess Combinations by Chess Informants

Big Book of Chess Combinations by Eric Schiller

Chess Queens Combinations by Josip Asik & Slobodan Mirkovic

Learning the middlegame can be a lot of fun. I always recommend that you first understand what the middlegame is all about, determine a theme or two that you struggle to understand, and research your purchases accordingly. That way, you will buy more relevant resources for your goals.

Experiencing Failure

April 8, 2019

Experiencing Failure

Yes, your first-time-chess-club-going-beginner-level kindergartner will be ready for tournaments much sooner than you think. Not only do these little tykes play in tournaments, they win! So why should you bother going to chess tournaments anyway?

To experience failure.

Of course, that doesn’t sound very encouraging and only a handful of kids at each tournament win a trophy. But hear me out…

Our observations, compiled data, and experiences show that even the kids who have a “bad” day usually want to go back and play chess again. We’ve seen kids who get put on academic probation and have chess taken away only to see those kids raise their grade because they want to play chess again.

We even looked at a large sample size of students from across 75+ schools and determined that the more tournaments a player goes to, and especially if that player travels to tournaments that are further away, the more likely they are to make it onto the 4-player team at the State Team Championship at the end of the year.

In Phoenix, Arizona during the 2015 US Open, then US Chess president Ruth Herring gave a presentation that stated “Winning = Fun” in chess. She did a year long study analyzing why kids leave chess, among other things, and determined that winning plays huge part in why kids stick around. Therefore, if you want your kids to benefit in chess, they must learn to lose before they can learn to win.

But it all starts with going to your first chess tournament.

Understand that failing doesn’t need to be a horrible endeavor and chess is a safe way to teach this lesson. It teaches us how to lose, figure out what we did wrong, and come back more prepared next time. As parents, you have an opportunity to take this failure and improve your child’s outlook on life.

Of course, if they stick with it and keep trying, eventually they will see the value of their effort. Chess is a vehicle through which anyone can learn to be humble, understand their strengths, and work of their weaknesses. One of the best feelings can be wondering what to do with all the trophies you’ve accumulated over time.

Still not convinced?

There are some valuable life skills that are taught at chess tournaments beyond how to handle failure. Self-reliance and team work are other skills chess can teach even the youngest if people. Did you know that in a chess tournament, we don’t have umpires or referees? We have what is called a tournament director (TD). But unlike a sports official, the TD will not intervene in the game when something goes wrong. Instead, if something is wrong, it is up to the player to raise their hand, make a claim to the TD, and the TD will then evaluate or work through the claim with that player. This concept of self-reliance is very key to a child’s success at a tournament and it is a lesson that every kid learns within their first three or four tournaments.

There is also the idea of team work. A lot of people don’t realize it but, at the scholastic level, chess is every bit an individual mind-sport as it is a team sport. For most people, they attend tournaments alongside other players from their school. Those players then form a team and play against the other teams. Therefore, the good decisions your child makes at the chess board translate into helping the team towards their goal: a big beautiful trophy that will be shown off at their school.

Chess Clock Time Controls

April 8, 2019

There are many different types of time controls in chess. For those that don’t know, a time control is the amount of time each side gets during a tournament. Here is a quick primer on common time controls that occur in US Chess tournaments. But before we get into time controls, you must understand about time delay and increment clock rules.

Time Delay and Increment

Time delay is a period that counts down before the game time begins to deplete. In most cases, a delay of 5 seconds is used; however, 10 second delay is becoming more common. In some variants of faster chess play, 1 second and 2 second delay is used (see below).

Increment is an amount of time added to the clock per move. The most common is 30 second increment. However, other increments are used for faster time controls (see below).

Bullet Chess

Bullet chess occurs when each side has 2 minutes or less. The most popular version is when each side is given 1 minute. However, it is common to see 2 minutes with 1 second delay/increment or even 10 seconds with 1 second delay/increment.

Blitz Chess

In US Chess rated tournaments, blitz time controls occur when both players have between 5 minutes and 10 minutes. The World Chess Federation (FIDE) defines blitz chess as anything below 10 minutes and the world blitz championship features a 3 minute 2 second increment time control.

Quick Chess

When you play games with 11 – 65 minutes, it is considered “Quick Chess.” This time control is common in local clubs and tournaments. FIDE defines “Quick Chess” as more than 10 minutes but less than 60 minutes.

Standard Chess

Standard time controls occur at 30 minutes or more. Whenever a tournament’s time control overlaps the Quick Chess and Standard Chess definitions, they are “dual rated” and your rating for both categories changes accordingly.

Multiple Time Control Periods

There are also events that feature several time controls for a single game. For example, a common one FIDE uses is 90 minutes for the first 40 moves and 30 minutes gets added to the clock thereafter. Most tournaments that make use of multiple time controls only have two different time controls. However, events do exist that have more than two.

Buying Chess Clocks

Now that you understand the basic ideas of clocks, it becomes a little easier to understand what to look for in chess clocks. Many chess clocks are capable of being used for all the above time controls. However, some are not. For example, some do not have time delay while others do not have increment. Some cannot do multiple time control periods while others can do as many as four. Knowing what questions to ask when buying a clock is helpful. So here is a quick buying guide with some recommendations.

Chronos Chess Clocks

Chronos Chess Clocks come in many different colors and configurations. Chronos Clocks are a top brand and are generally capable to run any time control you want. Their clocks feature a metal casing and a very long-lasting power source.

If you want a Chronos clock that can handle every time control, look at their standard models with touch sensors and with buttons. If you are only interested in playing fast chess, then the Chronos GX editions (with buttons and with touch sensors) are $10 cheaper. These are indeed pricy clocks though, but they will withstand the wear and tear.

Chronos Owner Tip: If your Chronos needs new batteries, get a Philips head screwdriver and open the clock GENTLY. If you pull the top of the clock off once the screw are out, you will rip the wire that connects the buttons to the motherboard.

Zmart Chess Clocks

A more affordable clock are ZMarts which come in a variety of different colors. While they feature a plastic shell, I would describe them as durable clocks.

They also run about half of what the Chronos runs. They are capable to run all the mentioned time controls. ZMart does have its own metal version which also features huge numbers which could be beneficial to people who have trouble seeing smaller numbers.

DGT North American Chess Clock

Another comparatively affordable clock that is also durable are the DGT North American clocks. They do not have a button system or a touch sensor system. Instead, they have a level system that works well and is of a good quality design. It is also a plastic shell clock, but they hold up very well.

FIDE Chess Clock

The cheapest clock that allows you to play in any FIDE event or any US Chess event and is FIDE certified is the FIDE Approved Chess Clock. It is a small plastic clock that is designed to be more affordable and works with all-time control settings.

There are many other clocks out there, but practically speaking it does not make sense to buy a clock that does not feature time delay if you live within the US. You can live without increment; however, if you wish to improve or play in FIDE events, increment will become necessary. I hope this article helps you understand the basics of clock buying and clock rules.

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