Questions

Chess Questions For Beginners 2022

1. Do I need natural talent to play chess?

No – and there is some doubt natural chess talent exists.

There have been many attempts to detect it. But the results are inconclusive. Perhaps the most famous aptitude tests were created by a Czech scientist, Pavel Cerny, to study his country’s young players.
Chess Questions For Beginners 2022

Knight tour to b1

In this first version, he asked subjects to figure out how to get the knight to b1 in the fewest moves. Simple enough.

Once they did that, he asked them to get it from b1 to c1. The test continued as the subjects had to reach d1, then e1 and so on to h1.

Once the first rank was done, the knight had to reach a2, then b2, c2 and all the second-rank squares. This was followed by the third-rank squares, and so on until the knight had gotten to h8. The subjects were asked to do it as quickly as they could.

Cerny devised a second, more challenging version of his test. He added four Black pawns.
Chess Questions For Beginners 2022

Knight tour to h8

The knight had to perform the same task but without capturing a pawn or landing on a square that allowed a pawn to capture it.

Most experienced players can solve the second version in less than ten minutes.

2. So doing it quickly determines whether you are born with talent?

Not that alone. That is controversial.

One of the subjects, Lubos Kavalek, performed the second task in less than four minutes. He later became a grandmaster. But he called Cerny’s project “a stupid test.”

What seems clearer is this: If you take the tests a second time and perform the tasks faster than the first time, you have the talent to learn chess.

This confirms a long-held belief of chess teachers: The best gauge of ability is how well you can absorb what you study and then apply it.

Lothar Schmid, a grandmaster and world correspondence chess champion, said:

“You can tell if you have talent if you understand what a weak square is, what development really means. If a young player can grasp these things quickly then he has talent.”

3. But what about chess prodigies? They must be born with talent.

A Hungarian psychologist did not believe natural talent existed and realized there was one way to prove it: By turning his children into prodigies.

After studying the biographies of hundreds of great thinkers, he concluded they were not born geniuses. Rather, they had intensely studied a specialized subject when they were young.

The psychologist, László Polgar, tried to do this with his three young daughters. They became the most famous female prodigies in chess history.

And, by the way, the term “chess prodigy” is obsolete.

It made sense when Bobby Fischer became a grandmaster at 15 because he was so unique. But since Fischer did that, more than three generations ago, there have been more than 40 youngsters who earned the grandmaster title at an earlier age. The rarity of a “chess prodigy” has disappeared.

4. Do you have to be smart to play chess well?

There are very good players who have normal IQs. And there are very bright people who are terrible at chess. Bill Gates was mated by Magnus Carlsen in 12 seconds.

Gates – Carlsen
London 2014

1 e4 c6 2 f3 d5 3 d3 f6 4 exd5 xd5 5 c3 h5 6 0-0 g4 7 h3? e5?! 8 hxg4 fxg4
Chess Questions For Beginners 2022

White to move

The world chess champion is bluffing a billionaire, with a threat of 9…♘xf3+ and 10…♕h2.

Gates would have been winning after 9 ♖e1!.

But the game ended with 9 xe5?? h2 mate.

Some great players showed flashes of brilliance long before they mastered chess. Mikhail Tal, a future world champion, could multiply three-figure digits when he was 5. But many other masters showed no particular gifts when growing up.

5. What personality traits make someone a good chess player?

Masters often say it takes the ability to concentrate, the capacity to work and strong willpower.

Once you begin to compete in tournaments, two other qualities – self-confidence and honesty – are valuable.

But there is one attribute you need to get started.

6. What is that?

Curiosity.

An extreme example was featured early in the TV series The Queen’s Gambit. Some viewers questioned how Beth Harmon, the main character, could be so obsessed with chess that she could not sleep. She visualized pieces on the ceiling of her bedroom instead.

László Polgar, that Hungarian psychologist, recalled how one night he found his daughter Sophia in the family bathroom, with the light on and a chessboard in her lap. She was fascinated by a position and her curiosity would not let go.

Sophia, leave the pieces alone,” he said.

“Daddy, they won’t leave me alone!” she replied.

You don’t need insomnia-inducing curiosity to play well. But you need to be curious to keep learning.

7. How does self-confidence and honesty fit in?

You need self-confidence to overcome doubts when you choose a move. You need to be honest with yourself to recognize your chess weaknesses when you make bad moves. Then you can correct them.

8. You didn’t mention memory. Is there a lot to memorize in chess?

Yes, and it is very important – if you hope to become world champion. But if you just want to become a good player, memory is not very important.

You will need to memorize several opening moves, some common middlegame patterns and a few basic endgame positions.

But there have been several great players who had a poor memory. Richard Réti, one of the most profound chess thinkers of the 20th century, was notoriously absent-minded and regularly lost his briefcase.

A 21st century world champion, Vishy Anand, said his memory helped him early in his chess career – because he used it to pass school tests without doing a lot of homework. This saved him time to study chess instead.

9. Does pure rote learning help?

Masters say no. Yet they spend hours before a game memorizing dozens of opening moves.

Rote learning of certain chess material helps. You can master some basic endgame positions, for example, the way you master the multiplication table.

But there is a limit to what you can retain.

There have been young players who memorized dozens of tactical patterns. They could solve a “White to move and win” position.

Yet they did not fully understand the position. When shown the same position with the board reversed they could not find the same win.
Chess Questions For Beginners 2022

White to move and win

This is the finish to one of the most famous games ever played, a brilliancy by the American superstar Paul Morphy. But it is usually presented with the White pieces at the bottom and the Black ones at the top.

The player who can solve it in the original form but not in this one has wasted his time memorizing. (Morphy ended the game with 16 ♕b8+! ♘xb8 17 ♖d8 mate.)

10. How long will it take me to become good at chess?

If you take chess seriously for two months, studying when you can, you should be able to beat an opponent who doesn’t study at all.

11. How long will it take to become very good?

Very good should take years. So does being able to speak Mandarin fluently, play a Chopin piano concerto or perform any difficult skill.

Here’s a very rough estimate: It typically takes a player seven or eight years to reach about 90 percent of his chess potential.

Magnus Carlsen learned how the chess pieces move when he was 5. He didn’t study the game until he had an incentive – to beat his older sister. But once he took the game seriously he reached grandmaster strength in eight years.

12. What can I accomplish if I start later in life?

Chess is easiest to learn when you are young, your mind is most pliable and you have plenty of free time to spend on a board game.

Psychologist Anders Ericsson cited the Polgar sisters in explaining his theory that people can master a subject after at least 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice.” You are not likely to have that many hours and that much productive studying later in life.

Yet many great players – and many more who became merely good players – started later than the Polgars. Akiba Rubinstein did not know how the pieces move until he was 14. Leonid Stein became a master at 24. Both men eventually became candidates for the world championship.

13. Can a late start in chess be helpful?

Yes, there is less chance of burnout.

There are youngsters who learned to play at six and won trophies in scholastic events four years later. But they never got much beyond what they knew at 10 and gave up chess a few years later.

A late start may also allow you to maintain enthusiasm longer.

“The sooner you start, the quicker you lose your interest or ambition,” said Lajos Portisch. He got his first chess set when he was 12, played in his national championship six years later and remained in the world’s elite for more than 30 years.

14. Are there any other qualities of a good player that aren’t obvious?

Yes, the ability to get over a loss. You are going to lose hundreds of games before you become good at chess. You can’t let them haunt you.

Sunil Weeramantry was an accomplished chess teacher before he taught his two sons to play. He recalled how his younger son, future star Hikaru Nakamura, reacted after this game.

Becerra – Nakamura
US Chess League 2009

1 e4 c5 2 f3 f6 3 e5 d5 4 c3 e6 5 xd5 exd5 6 d4 c6 7 dxc5 xc5 8 xd5 d6 9 c4 e7? 10 g5! f6 11 0-0-0!

Now 11…fxg5 12 exd6 is very bad and so is 11…♘xe5 12 ♘xe5 dxe5 13 ♗b5+.

Play continued 11…dxe5 12 he1.
Chess Questions For Beginners 2022

Black to move

This is what a big lead in development looks like. It generates threats such as 13 ♘xe5! ♘xe5 14 ♖xe5! ♕xe5 15 ♕d8 mate.

Black looked at the lost 12…fxg5 13 ♘xe5! and the dismal 12…♗e6 13 ♕xe6 ♕xe6 14 ♗xe6 fxg5 15 ♘xe5. He decided to resign.

“Do you think he was upset?” Weeramantry recalled. “He just laughed and said it won’t happen again.”

You won’t learn something from every game you play. The most meaningful lessons may come in the games that leave you saying to yourself “It won’t happen again.” Appreciating those games is one of the elements of true chess talent.

Chapter Two: Material

15. What is “material” and why do we call it that?

It means the pieces and pawns. We probably adopted the term from the French matériel, meaning military equipment.

Like many technical terms in chess it is a bit clumsy but so widely used it would be impossible to change now.

16. When does a material advantage matter most?

In the endgame. Just one extra pawn may be enough to win then.

But that is only a minor, potential factor in the opening. A material edge gradually grows in significance as the game goes on.

17. Every beginners’ book I’ve seen has a chart with numerical values of the pieces. How important is it?

Very important – if you are a beginner.

It is easier to understand if you think of it as a chart of exchange values. It is the shorthand way of learning whether giving up one piece for another is a favorable, unfavorable or a balanced transaction.

A typical chart tells you a queen is worth ten points, a rook is worth five, a knight or bishop is worth three and a pawn is worth one.

This is useful to a beginner wondering if he can afford to give up his bishop for a knight, for example. But the real value of a piece depends on whether it can act like it should.

A bishop that can’t act like a bishop – because it is severely restricted in movement – is not worth a knight. It is sometimes derided as “a big pawn.”

18. A queen can move like a rook and a bishop. Why is it worth more than having those two pieces?

This is one of the first difficult concepts for a beginner. There are two conflicting ways of evaluating material.

The first is to judge a piece’s ability to perform tasks on its own.

Most tactics are based on attacking two targets at once. The queen is far better than any other piece at making such a double attack.

Illustration

White to move and win

White can capture the rook with 1 d8+, 2 d3+ and 3 xb5.

The queen moved like three pieces. The first move was that of a dark-squared bishop. The second was like a rook. The third was that of a light-squared bishop.

However, if it was Black’s move in the diagram, neither side should win.

19. Why?

Because of that second way of evaluating material:

When two or more pieces cooperate, they increase in value. The sum is greater than the separate parts.

Black can play 1…g5! and threaten …♖xg2+ or …♗xg2.

White can defend g2 with 2 g3. But he cannot win because Black’s pieces also cooperate in defense. They can protect one another: Draw.

20. How often should I think about that chart during a game?

Rarely, once you’ve graduated from the ranks of beginner.

As you gain experience, the potential exchanges – such as a queen for two rooks – become as embedded in your consciousness as the alphabet.

You won’t need the chart because other trades are somewhat rare. Even if you play 1,000 games, you will probably never need to know that a rook is worth five pawns, for example.

21. I know a king can’t be exchanged. But how powerful is it?

More than most players know. One of the secrets of good endgame players is understanding that a king’s offensive power is closest to that of a rook.

The king and rook are “natural enemies in the endgame,” endgame composer Robert Burger said.

A rook can easily stop a passed pawn if its only support is a minor piece. But a rook has to play exactly to stop a pawn if it is near a king.
Chess Questions For Beginners 2022

Black to move

White would make progress by advancing the pawn. For example, after 1…♖h4 2 ♔d4, with the idea of 3 ♔d5 and 4 e5.

But 1…e8! thwarts him, 2 ♔d4 ♖d8+ 3 ♔c4 ♖e8! 4 ♔d5 ♖d8+.

The king/rook rivalry is unique and only matters in endgames.

22. Are there “best” squares for pieces?

Not squares but areas of the board.

The most important squares are usually in the center. Since the knight is a short-range piece, it does its best work in or near those center squares.

The rook and bishop are long-range pieces. They perform best when they are near the edges of the board because of a natural principle of chess: The stronger the piece, the more it is vulnerable to capture by a weaker piece.

As a result, rooks rarely occupy center squares until the endgame. Bishops often operate best from a near-edge square. A common example is ♗g2 by White after 1 ♘f3 and 2 g3.
Chess Questions For Beginners 2022

A good formation

Note how well protected White’s pieces and pawns are – while they control central squares: d4 and e5 by his knight, e3 by the f2-pawn and e4 and d5 by the bishop, once the knight moves.

The two remaining pieces to consider are the queen, a long-range piece, and the king, a short-range one. Both usually perform well in the center. But they are so valuable that they are kept protectively distant from it before the endgame.

23. Do the pieces change in value during a game?

This is another of the hardest of concepts to appreciate. They don’t change much in exchange value. But they grow or decline in offensive power.

The knight is at its peak power in the opening and is the only piece that declines in strength. The rooks and bishops become stronger because the pawns that obstruct them are gradually captured.

Chess has a lot of maxims and one of them is “The future belongs to he who owns the bishops.”

24. When is that future?

Computer analyses of hundreds of thousands of games have determined that the knight is superior to the bishop when each side has five or more pawns.

That’s a generalization, of course, and it’s not something you need to remember. But it is worth knowing that a bishop almost always gets better as the game goes on.

The same for a rook. It plays a minor role in the opening, joins the cast in the middlegame and assumes a leading role in a typical endgame.

25. What does that mean for me?

The best takeaway is: A rook is only worth its chart value when it can play like a rook.

Without open files to use, a rook may not play as well as a minor piece. Novices often discover this in games that begin something like 1 e4 e5 2 f3 c6 3 c4 c5 4 c3 f6.

They can go astray with 5 g5 0-0 6 xf7? xf7 7 xf7+ xf7.

Illustration

White to move

According to the chart, material is equal.

The missing White pieces are his bishop (three points) and knight (three). That totals six points, the same as the missing Black rook (five) and pawn (one).

But White’s extra rook won’t get to make itself felt for a while. Black’s minor pieces will, for example, after 8 d3 d6 9 0-0 g4!.

The game can draw to an early close after 10 e1? d4!, threatening …♘xc2. Then 11 d2 d7.
Chess Questions For Beginners 2022

White to move

Black could win in a few moves by using his two extra minor pieces, 12 b3 h6 13 b2? f3+! 14 gxf3 xf3 and mate after …♕g4 or …♕h3-g2.

26. I know the stronger pieces are good at capturing. Is there anything else they do especially well?

They are splendid at restricting.

Here is an example of how a minor material advantage is decisive. White wins if he can capture the knight or the pawn. The key is restricting the knight.

Illustration

Carlsen – Nakamura

Paris 2017

White to move

After 86 f4!, the king threatens to trap the knight with 87 ♔e3! and 88 ♔f2.

His rook needs only to restrict. For example, 86…♘e2+ 87 ♔e5! ♘g1 88 ♔e4! ♔g7 89 ♖h4!.

The game would end soon after 89…♔f6 90 ♔e3 and ♔f2.

Or after 89…♘e2 90 ♔d3 ♘c1+ 91 ♔c2 ♘e2 92 ♔d2.

This restricting technique has been known for more than a millennium. When the great endgame analyst Yuri Averbakh wrote the definitive analysis of K+R-versus-K+N, he cited a study by a ninth-century writer.

27. How come the knight and bishop are so close in value?

This is a happy accident that makes the nuances of modern chess possible.

The oldest surviving game with our rules began 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 xd5 3 c3 d8 4 c4 f6 5 f3 g4.

Both players overlooked the combination 6 ♗xf7+! ♔xf7 7 ♘e5+ and ♘xg4.

But what is significant is they both appreciated 6 h3.
Chess Questions For Beginners 2022

Black to move

Under the rules widely accepted before 1500, a bishop was a very weak piece, only slightly better than a pawn.

But under the new rules, a bishop and knight were suddenly roughly equal. Therefore, it made sense for White to encourage 6…♗xf3 and for Black to make that trade. After 7 ♕xf3 the winning chances were nearly even.

28. Don’t masters prefer bishops?

Yes. Siegbert Tarrasch, a world-class player at the turn of the 20th century, favored them so much he said when you give up a knight for a bishop you have “won the minor exchange.”

But another maxim states that while the bishop is stronger, “the knight is more clever.”

Its ability to hop over friendly and enemy pieces and pawns gives it a special quality that even masters can find tricky, especially in speed chess.

“In blitz, the knight is stronger than the bishop,” Grandmaster Vlastimil Hort said.
Chess Questions For Beginners 2022

Gelfand – Kramnik

Internet 2020

White to move

White is close to a winning advantage. But he cannot play 47 ♗xc6 because of 47…♘c4+! and …♘xd2.

He chose 47 c5??.

After 47…a5! he realized he was lost. Both 48…♘xb7+ and the forking 48…♘b3+! were threatened.

Whether a knight is better than a bishop typically depends on where the pawns are. The bishop is the piece that varies most in value depending on pawn structure. A knight is frequently much better than a “bad bishop.”

29. How bad is bad?

A really bad bishop may have no good moves at all. This happens most often when its own pawns do the limiting.

Illustration

Caruana – Dominguez

Internet 2020

White to move

A bad bishop usually remains bad until the pawn structure changes. It will not change here.

After 82 ♗e3 ♔f5, for example, White must lose after 83…♔e4 or 83…♘xe3 84 ♔xe3 ♔g4 and …♔xh4.

White resigned when he saw that and also 82 ♔f3 ♔f5!.

Of course, rooks, knights and the queen can also be poorly placed. But it is usually temporary.

Bishops influence the evaluation of a position more than any other piece. They can improve one player’s chances significantly when he has “the two bishops.”

30. Doesn’t each player have two bishops when the game begins?

Yes, but a player no longer has them if he trades a bishop for knight. Then his opponent is said to have a “two-bishop advantage.”

This becomes a significant advantage if there is a second knight-forbishop trade. Then one player is left with two knights and the other has two bishops.

31. If neither player has a bad bishop, why do bishops matter?

That brings up a third way of evaluating material, the ability to attack targets.

If you have only one bishop, your opponent can put most of his pieces and pawns on squares of the other color.

Your bishop will have little to attack. It may be able to land on 32 squares. But the other 32 squares matter more.

32. What can pawns do besides promote to queens?

A pawn is the board’s best defender, best blockader and also the best at driving away enemy pieces.
Chess Questions For Beginners 2022

Black to move

White’s knight is safe because of his pawns:

The pawn at c4 shields it from the rook. The pawn at b2 ensures that 1…♗xc3 is just a trade of pieces (2 bxc3). The pawn at d3 supports the c4-pawn.

But if the bishop were replaced on d4 by a Black pawn, it would threaten the more valuable knight and drive it away.

33. You said pieces increase in power when they cooperate. Which pieces cooperate best?

A queen works well with a knight, less so with a bishop. In an endgame with no other pieces, a queen and knight is often superior to a queen and bishop.

A rook coordinates better with a bishop than with a knight. In an extreme case with no pawns, a player with a king, rook and bishop would have good winning chances against an opponent with a king and rook.

But if the bishop is replaced by a knight, the winning chances are much less.

34. I’ve heard that when the two sides have bishops of opposite color it makes the position drawish. True?

Half true. The true part usually happens in an endgame.

You can have two or more extra pawns then and not have any real winning chances.

Illustration

Harikrishna – Vachier-Lagrave

Wijk aan Zee 2021

White to move

White cannot make progress because he cannot create a passed kingside pawn or break the blockade on the queenside.

He agreed to a draw after 57 c2 b2 58 e6 c3 59 d5 d2 60 d3 c3 61 e6 b2 62 d5 c3 63 e2 d2 64 e4.

But if the White bishop were on virtually any dark square, winning would be fairly easy.

It would attack and then capture the f6-pawn. That dooms the g5-pawn and permits White to push his kingside pawns to promotion.

35. What is the part about bishops of opposite color that is untrue?

A position is not drawish when it is in a middlegame with few minor pieces.

Then you can attack enemy targets that are on squares of the color of your bishop. Your opponent’s bishop cannot defend those squares. Nor can he offer a trade of bishops.
Chess Questions For Beginners 2022

Donchenko – Firouzja

Wijk aan Zee 2021

Black to move

White is two pawns ahead. Once again the extra pawns don’t matter. But this time it is for a very different reason.

Black’s bishop helps make White vulnerable on light squares such as b1 and g2. White’s bishop cannot defend those squares or trade itself for Black’s bishop.

Play went 33…ab8! 34 a2 b1+! 35 f1 cb8 36 f2 xf1+ 37 xf1 b1+ 38 e2 b8!.

The threat of 39…♕b5+!, on another light square, was decisive.

White resigned soon after 39 f4 b5+!.
Chess Questions For Beginners 2022

White to move

Because of 40 ♔f2 ♕f1+ 41 ♔g3 ♕xg2+ 42 ♔h4 ♖h1! 43 ♕g3 ♖xh3+!.

Having the better of the opposite-colored bishops may be considered a material advantage. Some masters rate it at roughly half a pawn.

36. How can you have half a pawn?

You can’t saw one in half. But it helps to think of a fractional pawn when making common transactions.

If a transaction isn’t quite equal, you need something else as compensation to balance it.

This is a somewhat sophisticated concept and you don’t need to know it until you are more experienced.

37. But I’m curious. What are those transactions?

One is when a player gives up the Exchange, his rook for an enemy bishop or knight.

If he gets one pawn in return, it is insufficient compensation. If he gets two pawns, it is more than enough. In between is a pawn and a half.

Illustration

Duda – Ding Liren

Internet 2021

White to move

After 27 xd3 cxd3 White will win the d3-pawn.

But that is not quite enough in a purely material sense. Some computers rate 27 ♖xd3 as the fifth best move in the position.

But it was a good sacrifice. Play continued 28 f5 gc6 29 xd3.

The equation was balanced by other factors.
Chess Questions For Beginners 2022

Black to move

White had two excellent bishops. Even though Black’s rooks commanded an open file, their punching power was limited by the bishops, 29…c1 30 f1 8c4 31 e1 and ♗d2.

In addition, White’s e- and f-pawns can wreak havoc on the kingside if allowed to advance. Black soon felt compelled to return the Exchange for a pawn. He lost the endgame.

In other words, White managed to balance the sacrifice transaction by getting another kind of compensation.

And he did it without sawing a pawn in half.

Chapter Three: Choosing a Move

38. Would a master always find a better move than the one I do?

He will in many, if not most, positions that arise in your game.

But you play the best move a lot more often than you think.

When Garry Kasparov reviewed the games of the 2014 World Championship match, he said 70 percent of the moves could have been made “by any competent player.”

Let’s see some of them:
Chess Questions For Beginners 2022

Anand – Carlsen

World Championship match 2014, first game

Black to move

As the middlegame began, the two players made a series of understandable moves. How many might you choose?

17…d6 (This threatens the f4-pawn.)

18 d4 (This defends it.)

18…ad8 (There was no better square to develop this rook.)

19 e6! (This protects the d5-pawn.)

19…b6! (A trade of queens helps Black.)

20 d2 (White avoids it.)

20…d6 (Black prepares to eliminate the bishop with …♘d8xe6!.)

Illustration

White to move

21 he1 (White protects it with his last undeveloped piece.)

21…d8! (Consistent with his last move)

22 f5 (More bishop protection)

22…xe6 (Consistent)

23 xe6! (Better than 23 fxe6? ♖fd8!.)

23…c7+ (Defends the e7-pawn)

24 b1 (The safest reply)

Let’s review the seven White moves and seven Black moves since the first diagram.

Some were easy to understand. Some were harder. An average player might have played half of them. And he might choose alternatives that were nearly as good.

39. How should I start thinking about my next move?

Traditional advice tells us “Every move should have a purpose.” So you begin by looking for moves backed by a reason.

Some will follow a general principle such as “Put rooks on open files.” Others may set up a possible tactic. Or they may simply get greater use out of a poorly placed piece.

“I try to find a general idea,” Boris Spassky said. “After that, when I think that this is the best move, then I start calculating.”

40. How long should I think about my move?

After five minutes you should have some idea of what you would like to play. In many cases, you can come to a final decision in much less time.

In 2002 the world chess federation’s championship match was won by an 18-year-old, Ruslan Ponomariev. He was making the most important moves of his life. But he never spent more than eight minutes on any move.

41. But shouldn’t I take as much time as I can?

There is a danger in over-thinking.

This is what happens when you become frozen by doubts about the move you like. It is paralysis by analysis.

In chess, it is better to overcome your inhibitions, to be a Don Quixote rather than a Hamlet. Hamlets forfeit on time.

“If I study a position for an hour, then I’m usually going in loops and I’m probably not going to come up with something useful,” Magnus Carlsen said.

“I usually know what I’m going to do after 10 seconds. The rest is double-checking.”

42. Should I move quickly if I can?

In a clocked game, yes – if you feel good about the move you’ve chosen. Save your minutes for more difficult decisions.

But beware of “obvious moves.” An obvious move is one that looks so right that it doesn’t seem worthwhile to recheck it.

World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik was a mentor to another champion, Garry Kasparov. Kasparov had the natural impulse to make the first move that attracted him. Often, his choice was indeed the best move. But not always.

“Don’t move,” Botvinnik warned Kasparov. “Think first!”

The temptation to make an obvious move is so strong that some of the greatest players in history took extreme precautions. Siegbert Tarrasch and Vasily Smyslov occasionally sat on their hands – literally.

43. How important is it to find the best move every time?

You should try to play the best move. But there are two schools of thought about how hard you should try.

Kasparov said his great rival Anatoly Karpov had one outstanding attribute: Karpov did not agonize over finding the best move. In this practical way, he rarely ran short of time and made bad moves.

Kasparov added that Karpov’s strongest point was also his weakest: He settled for second-best moves too often. Considering that Karpov was world champion for 10 years, his second-best moves were pretty good.

44. Is there always a best move?

Before computers, we believed the answer was “Yes.” But engines have shown us that in many positions the answer is “No.”

And in many others, the difference between best and second-best – or third best – is minor. Finding the best move can be a waste of time.

Masters excel in recognizing when the difference between best and second-best is major:
Chess Questions For Beginners 2022

Adams – Pert

Hastings 2021

White to move

Black threatens 30…♖e8+ and then 31 ♔f2 ♗e3+.

When White studied the position he appreciated that he had a wide choice. The alternatives varied widely in quality.

For example, 30 ♕e5? would lose to 30…♖d8!. Also bad was 30 ♕d7 ♕e4+ (31 ♔f2 ♗e3+ 32 ♔e1 ♕f3).

It turned out that only 30 f2! was good. It was worth finding the best move.

Then it was Black’s turn to sift through a broad choice.
Chess Questions For Beginners 2022

Black to move

Three of his candidate moves – 30…♕c6, 30…g6 and 30…f5 – would leave White with the better winning chances.

But none was clearly the best move. It didn’t pay for Black to try to find one.

However, he played 30…h2+??.

Again White had only one good move and it did pay to find it. Black resigned soon after 31 g2 because his queen would be trapped following 32 ♖h1!.

45. What did you mean by a candidate move?

A candidate move is one that stands out because it does something useful, such as making a threat or defending against one.

A standard way of choosing a move is to identify all the candidate moves and then analyze them one by one.
Chess Questions For Beginners 2022

Gormally – Turner

Hastings 2021

White to move

There are several moves that fit the candidate move description.

For example, 17 ♕d2 and 17 ♕d3 develop White’s last undeveloped piece. Advancing a piece, 17 ♘e5, also makes some sense. Even 17 ♗b1, with the idea of preparing ♕d3 and ♕xh7 mate, is worth considering.

A master would start by analyzing the forcing moves. That led White to look at 17 d5! and its consequences, 17…exd5 18 xd5.

46. What is a forcing move?

A forcing move severely limits the replies by the opponent.

If it had been Black’s turn to move in the previous diagram, he could choose among several candidate moves, such as 17…♕d7.

But he didn’t have that liberty because 17 d5! forced him to meet the threat of 18 dxc6.

Don’t confuse a forcing move with a forced move. If your opponent checks you, it is forcing. If you have only one legal reply, it is forced.

Masters use this term in a broader sense to mean the only good move. In the last example, 17…exd5 was not forced because Black had a valid alternative in 17…♗xc3.

Most of the moves in a typical game are neither forcing nor forced. In the last example, play went 17…exd5 18 xd5 xc3 19 xc3.
Chess Questions For Beginners 2022

Gormally – Turner

Hastings 2021

Black to move

Then it was Black’s turn to choose among candidate moves. He picked 19…a5. And after 20 xc8 xc8 White had a broad choice.

He soon won, thanks to a blunder, 21 e5 xd5 22 xd5 a8? and then 23 d7 b7 24 b4! resigns.

47. What are the most common kinds of forcing moves?

A check or a threat to win material. They demand the most respect.
Chess Questions For Beginners 2022

Carlsen – Firouzja

Wijk aan Zee 2021

Black to move

White has just played his queen to h6. It is forcing because it threatens to mate with 38 ♗h7+ ♔h8 39 ♗g6+! ♔g8 40 ♕h7+ ♔f8 41 ♕xf7 mate.

Each of Black’s replies was forced. They were the only legal moves.

Black tried to defend against that threat with 37…c7.

Then came 38 h7+ f8 39 h8+ g8 40 h6+.
Chess Questions For Beginners 2022

Final position

Black resigned because he saw 40…♔f7 41 ♗g6+ ♔f6 42 ♗h5+ ♔f5 43 ♗g4 mate.

Technically, 40…♔f7 was not forced. Even though it was just as bad, Black could have played 40…♕g7 and be mated by 41 ♕d6+! and 42 ♕e7.

Today we know that even in many bad-looking positions there is more than one option.

Aron Nimzovich, a great chess thinker, said that in any solid position there are “at least two alternatives that are the ‘only’ move.”

48. Should I always make a threat if I can?

This works against a weak opponent. He may overlook a tactic and lose. But when you face stronger opponents, they will spot your threats. A better way to get them to err is to allow them a broader choice of moves.

World Champion Tigran Petrosian was famous for his good, non-threatening moves. This gave his opponents wider latitude to make a mistake. “The amazing thing,” Bobby Fischer said, “They usually do!”

49. Should I be able to guess my opponent’s next move?

Only if the position is fairly simple and if you have plenty of time to think about it – and if you are the world champion.

After Boris Spassky lost his first world championship match, to Petrosian, he encountered another world champion, Mikhail Botvinnik, on a Moscow street. After pleasantries, Botvinnik asked Spassky if he had correctly guessed every one of Petrosian’s moves.

No, said Spassky.

“I didn’t either,” Botvinnik said, referring to the match in which he lost his championship title to Petrosian.

Spassky understood: He should try to guess better the next time. He did. Even though some of Petrosian’s moves surprised him in their second match, Spassky won and became world champion.

50. How can I guess if my opponent has so many possible moves?

You can’t guess correctly all the time. But you should look for the move by your opponent that is objectively his best.

If he plays an inferior move, you’ve lost nothing. Here is a striking example of an incorrect guess.
Chess Questions For Beginners 2022

Svidler – Topalov

Elista 1998

Black to move

Black played 17…f3. He was certain 18 ♕xf3 was the best reply.

So, when White chose 18 d2 instead, Black continued as if he had guessed right. He played 18…♘xf3 – capturing his own queen.

After he realized his error, he played 18…c6. There was no damage except to his pride. White’s move was inferior and Black quickly won.

José Capablanca said the better you are at guessing your opponent’s next move, the stronger you become.

But do not expect to guess even half of your opponent’s moves. There are just too many possibilities and most will be “quiet” moves.

Back to top button