## Introduction to the Board/Piece Value

This may seem massively elementary, but taking some time to better understand the chess board has merit.

The chess board is a simple 8×8 board with two alternating color complexes: light and dark.

Columns are called Files, Rows are called Ranks

The files are identified with letters a-h and the ranks are numbered 1-8. In notation, files and ranks are absolute though, curiously, ranks are occasionally referred to in a relative sense when talking about generic strategy.

Examples:
The ‘a’ File is the leftmost column when you’re white and the rightmost column when you’re black
The 1st rank is the row that the white king starts on. The 8th rank is the row the black king starts on.
Occasionally when talking strategy, users will say something like “Get your rooks to the 7th rank!”. In this case, the rank is considered relative.

Tangent: Chess Notation!

Chess moves are recorded with a standard nomenclature using these identifiers:

King = K
Queen = Q
Bishop = B
Knight = N *ooooh phonetic
Pawn = none

So, Nf6 means white has moved their knight to f6
e4 means that white has moved their pawn to e4

If two pieces can move to the same location the notation prefaces the destination with the departure file like this: Nbd2 this would mean the knight on the b file is moving to d2.

Sometimes if the file of the pieces is the same they will use rank. And in rare cases where the board is whacko (extra promoted pieces everyhwere) they will use both.

Extra fun notation:

x means capture: Bxe4 (bishop is capturing the piece on e4)
0-0 means castling king-side
0-0-0 means castling queen-side
+ means check
# means checkmate
= pawn promotion, like this: e8=Q. This means the pawn moved to e8 and was promoted to Queen

In this manner a chess game can be written out like this:

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5 a6
etc…

To derive the greatest understanding from board exploration, it helps to understand the value of the individual pieces. Let’s take a look:

What does “value” mean? Value helps you understand typically how helpful a piece is on the board. Simply speaking if you had an option to exchange a rook for a bishop and a knight you could do some quick math: 3+3 > 5. So yeah, that’s a good deal go for it. But… it doesn’t always work perfectly because piece position matters. Think about it, if you have a pawn about to promote to queen it’s definitely worth more than 1 point. We’ll save in depth positional analysis for the future, but now we can head back to the board itself to see how position affects value in a broad sense.

Sometimes people describe the board as a pyramid where the strongest squares are in the middle with power waning as you move to the edges. This is true for the most part. Think about it geometrically. A bishop in one of the center four squares can move to 13 other squares. A bishop on the edge can only move to 7 squares. The same is even more true for a knight. A knight in the center covers 8 squares. A knight in the corner? Only 2. The power of a piece has a lot to do with its position and the resulting influence it carries over the rest of the board.

This is where we come up with the general rule of thumb: fight for the center. If you can navigate more of your pieces into the center they will be more effective and have more offensive/defensive capabilities.
Fun fact – another rule of thumb that relates to this: A knight on the rim is dim

Understanding the board and the value of the pieces helps us understand how to move our pieces. It is my understanding that this is how chess computers calculate the best move. They evaluate positions, rate them on a scale, and then calculate which moves improve the evaluation. Most simple chess engines rate a position down to the centipawn – that is, 1/100th of a pawn i.e. Position A is 36 centipawns better than Position B. CRAZY!

There are a few other unique facets of the bishop and knight beyond what we’ve already discussed. Let’s take a look

Knight

1. Since Knight’s can jump, they tend to do better when the board is congested and locked up with pawns everywhere with no room for other pieces to move around. The Knight’s value increases when the board is cramped. There are specific pawn structures which we’ll look at later that are considered “closed” or “open”. Knights do best in closed cramped positions.

Bishop

1. Because each bishop is confined to a single color complex, they work better together. For this reason if one of your bishop’s has been captured you may be at risk for a weakness that covers one color complex. For example if you lose your light squared bishop early in the game your opponent can place their pieces on light squares and have virtual immunity from your remaining dark square bishop
2. Bishops can be easily stifled when other pieces (pawns in particular) get in their way. For this reason they operate in an opposite manner to knights: they do best in open uncramped positions
3. Put those two together? As the game approaches its end, having the bishop pair in an open position is SUPER POWERFUL. I’m not sure if it’s still true, but some computers used to rate bishops as 3.4 points each at the start of the game for this reason. In some end games, a bishop pair can be so brutally oppressive that they carry more useful value than the rooks

We’ve spent a lot of time on the knight and bishop. What are the positional advantages of the other pieces? Here are a few more generalities:

Rooks

1. Rooks are most valuable on open files, that is: files that don’t have any pawns on them. This means they tend to get more power and utility as the game progresses.
2. Rooks are more valuable when they are connected (protecting each other) than when they are lone rogues
3. Rooks tend to be powerhouses of destruction if they can both get to the 7th rank (relative)

Pawns

1. Pawns are more valuable on the center files than the fringe files. The pawn in front of your queen is more likely to play an active role in the game than the pawn in front of your rook. This is where another rule of thumb arises: When you have the choice of which pawn to use when capturing an enemy pawn, capture TOWARDS the center.
2. Pawns like to be near their friends. An isolated pawn (one that has no peers on the adjacent files) was long seen as a weakness, though I believe there’s some counter theory these days. Connected pawns, those that are protected by their peers, are much stronger. A string of connected pawns is called a pawn chain.
3. A backwards pawn (I hate that name) is the last pawn in a pawn chain, the anchor so to speak, and is often a target of attack. I’m not sure if there’s much to be said about value here, just a hint to protect your backwards pawns and target your opponent’s backwards pawns
4. A passed pawn is a pawn that can no longer be blocked or attacked by an opposing pawn (no opposing pawn in front of it, or in either adjacent file). A passed pawn is like an infection in your opponent’s wound. It will grow in power and impose graver and graver risk to your opponent as it gets closer to promotion on the 8th rank.
5. Stacked pawns are two pawns on the same file. This occurs when one pawn moves diagonally in front of, or behind, its peer to capture a piece. Stacked pawns are generally seen as a weakness, though as with any generalization: it depends.

Queen

1. Queens are powerful but fragile. They have the most influence in the center, but they are too delicate to get out early. Keep them back in the early part of the game and bring out their fury as you enter the middle game

King

1. Kings are best tucked away in a corner via castling early in the game. But by the end of the game (once some/all of the major/minor pieces have been captured), get them active and get them to the center. A game can easily be won or lost with an active king in the endgame.

Where does all this lead us? The combination of the board, piece motion, and piece value provides a nice foundation for strategy. It provides a simple introduction on what’s a good piece vs a bad piece and how to tell the difference. Hopefully you’ve found it interesting. If you have any articles or books you’d recommend related to this topic, I welcome you to comment. Enjoy your games!

## Time Controls

The stereotypical chess game is a crazy long drawn out affair where intense people sit across from each other and stare at a board for hours on end, occasionally reaching forward to move a pawn. Most people find this intimidating and… well… boring.

Enter the clock.

Time restrictions can make chess extremely exciting. The purpose of this post is to explain common types of chess games as they relate to time.

Fast Chess

Ignoring the long variant for now, fast chess games are often lumped under three terms:

Rapid chess
Games that last somewhere between 10 and 60min

Blitz chess
Games that last between 5 and 10min

Bullet chess
Games shorter than 5 minutes

You may have seen a chess clock before. It has two clock faces and two buttons. The way it works is simple: when player 1 makes his move he hits the button. This action stops his time from ticking down and starts his opponent’s clock. When his opponent finishes her move and hits her button, player 1’s clock starts to tick down again. The two clocks never run simultaneously.

With time controls like this there are two ways to lose: by checkmate, or if your clock runs out of time.
So HURRY UP.

This structure is often referred to as Sudden Death (SD).

Consider a one minute bullet SD chess game: each player has a total of one minute for all their collective moves. That means the longest the game could possibly last is two minutes. The result? ADRENALIN. Oh, and also horrific chess practices.

Skilled chess artisans seem to advise that learners not get too excited by Bullet or Blitz chess*. When the clocks are flirting with zero, sometimes you can win a game by playing any move faster than your opponent even if it’s a terrible terrible move. This reward system results in messy chaotic chess behaviors where speed can be prioritized over skill.

That said, it is REALLY fun. It’s exciting and thrilling and will get you pumped to play play play. So for all the nay-sayers, there is an emotional value to fast chess and it most certainly helps generate interest in the sport.

With the invention of the digital chess clock, people started refining time restrictions to prevent games from entering sloppy conclusions. Famous American Grand Master Bobby Fischer proposed one of the most commonly used methods: start the clock with a set time, then add additional time after each move.

This incremental style of chess is notated like this:

15 | 10

This means each player has 15 MINUTES on their clock at the beginning of the game but after each move, 10 SECONDS are added to their time. Thus even if your clock falls precipitously in the first part of a game, you can be sure you’ll always have a minimum of 10 seconds to make a decision. This is called Increment Timing or Fischer Timing.

One bizarre side effect of this design is that by moving quickly a player could ADD time to their clock. In a 15 minute game if a player makes the first 6 moves nearly instantly (executing, say, a prescribed well-documented opening) then they’d have 16 minutes left on their clock. This could yield them an advantage later in the game. Alternate timing methods avoid this pitfall:

Bronstein delay: You still get extra time added to the clock after each move, but it will never add more time than you had at the start of your turn. So if you’ve got 25 seconds left, and you only take 1 second to make a move, the Bronstein clock will only add 1 second back onto your clock bringing it back to 25 seconds.

Simple delay: You get extra time per move at the START of each turn. But instead of adding the time onto the clock, the clock doesn’t start ticking down until the extra time has gone by. So if you have a 10 second ‘add’ then your game clock won’t start ticking down until 10 seconds have passed.

Classical Chess

Now let’s circle back to the long form chess referred to as Classical Chess. Games of this variety often combine different timing structures over the course of a game. Here is, for example, the FIDE regulations for the World Championship of Chess:

The time control for each game is 120 minutes for the first 40 moves, followed by 60 minutes for the next 20 moves, and then 15 minutes for the rest of the game with an increment of 30 seconds per move starting from move 61.

FIDE Handbook: regulations for the FIDE World Championship Match 2020

That’s fairly… specific.

This type of time control is common for tournaments and has its roots as one of the first methods of controlling time in chess. By offering banks of time for each set of moves, games could be kept on pace. Early chess masters agreed that letting someone take hours upon hours for a single move wasn’t making the game any more fun for players or for spectators. On top of that, tournaments would drag on FOREVER. Even the World Championship of Chess time controls are lengthy compared to a normal mortal human tournament. Most of those operate within the 30 minute time frame so that a tournament can be completed in a single night.

Lastly, it’s worth noting how much time control has changed and that it will likely continue to change. With the use of computers to aid performance, Classical Chess between the chess super-grand masters seem to be headed towards a pattern of draws, draws, and more draws. The 2018 World Chess Championship had 12 consecutive draws between Magnus Carlson and Fabiano Caruna. Carlson famously opted for an early draw in game 12 to intentionally enter into the rapid tiebreaker portion of the contest where he won handily. It will be fascinating to witness how the chess world adapts as we head down this path.

*From what I’ve learned, most chess powerhouses recommend the 15|10 game format as the shortest game to play if you’re trying to improve your chess critical thinking.

Extra Fun Bonus:

In that 2018 World Champion Chess Tournament if the draws kept going past the Classical Chess and through Rapid chess, the competitors would then play blitz. If the blitz games were still a draw then they would play a very unique time variant:

Armageddon. In Armageddon white has 5 minutes on the clock but black only has 4 minutes. Both players may get an increment (like 3 seconds per move after the 61st as was the case in 2018). But if the game falls to a draw, black is declared the winner because they had less time at the start.
How clever!

## Resources

As you get started with Chess, it’s helpful to be aware of some the best resources for learning. Here are my favorites:

Online Resources
In my studies I’ve come to appreciate three websites most:

1. Chess.com – Very well designed site with a decent amount of quality free content. Personally I gravitate towards this site first for general play.
2. Lichess.org – Lichess is completely free and beginning lessons might be better for nascent players. So this might be a better starting point for those with no chess knowledge whatsoever.
3. Chessable.com – A highly repetitive (in a good rote sort of way) educating tool for learning chess basics and concepts. As of the moment, I think their website navigation is wanting – but they are a growing site and will likely improve.

If you’re just starting out, check out the “Lessons” section of these sites to learn how the pieces move and the goal of the game. My Dad taught me chess basics when I was a kid, and I toyed with the game through my youth so for me these were mostly review. But it was a good exercise either way.

IMPORTANT FACT FOR NEWBIES: I got a little confused when I first started looking at computer chess because I didn’t know which way the pieces were suppose to go. Like… if it says white to move but it’s showing an endgame where the pieces are all over the place… are my pawns moving up? or down? This is a super simple thing, but it is never explained: Your color is always on the bottom of the screen moving up. The opponent’s color is always moving down. Again, if it says “White to move” then that’s you. And you’re moving Up.

Mobile Apps
I have the Chess.com and LiChess apps, but find myself mostly using Chess.com. At one point I tried Magnus trainer, but I think I tried it too late in my education. It might be great for those just starting out, but I found it a little tedious.

Once you’ve got basic moves under your belt, start building your conceptual chess understanding with John Bartholomew’s ‘Chess Fundamentals’ YouTube series. It is FANTASTIC.

1. Undefended pieces (54m)
2. Coordination (51m)
3. Typical Mistakes (1h 33m)
4. Pawn play (1h 25m)

One more I really enjoy: Hanging Pawns by Stjepan
It’s a chess journey youtube channel dedicated to education. I love the way Stjepan teaches and communicates. He talks through ideas not as tactics but more as strategies. I LOVE THIS.

Literature
Here’s the problem with chess literature. It takes too much space to show the board after every move, so the authors rely on chess notation for most game presentations. Chess notation is not for the beginner. I’m still terrible at reading it and keeping track of what’s going on. If you want to read books on chess, make sure you read them with a board in front of you that you can use to move the pieces while you’re reading.

My System by Aron Nimzowitsch
This is really well written for the layperson. It’s accessible and thorough. But again, you can’t read this at a beach. You need to read it at a desk with a chess board.

Fundamental Chess Openings by Paul van der Sterren
So far I’ve only used this as a reference book for the specific games that I’m playing. I wouldn’t recommend this until you naturally realize it’s time to learn opening strategy.

For Kids
We just recently purchased Storytime Chess for our kids. It’s a board game that comes with a story book to explain who the characters are and why they move like they do.

It can be slow at times, but it’s designed appropriately. The intention is you read the story for the piece and then re-read it and play games that just use that one character. It’s pretty good. I recommend it.

Lastly: if you have any chess resources you’d like to recommend, please comment below. I’m always eager to explore

## Chess, the beginning

It started with an unassuming statement. While playing a board game with some friends during lunch , a coworker casually dismissed our choice of game, commenting on their proficiency in chess and how we should instead play “a real game”. Irritated by the pretension, I made a pledge to start a long con: I would quietly practice and study chess and when I felt I was ready I would agree to a game and crush him.

That was November of 2018.

And now I’m in. Oh boy, I am so deeply in. Chess has become more than a practice or study, it’s a passion and an obsession. The depth of this game is staggering. I remember in 4th grade I went to my dad with a claim that I had mastered mathematics: “I already know addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. What else could there possibly be?” As I stare up at the Chess learning curve I feel like I did in 1991 when I was exposed to the vast cavern of my own ignorance.

Learning chess isn’t for a destination, it is not to achieve mastery. It is to pursue mastery and that’s what I love about it.

I’ve set up this section of my website to talk about chess. I don’t know if this is a short term thing, or a long term thing. But I like it, so I figured I’d give it a try. Stay tuned for more.