I need chess help

I fully realize this won’t be the most specific question I’ve ever asked, but it’s done purposely. I need chess help. Badly.

See, it’s almost my uncle’s birthday. We play every year on this day and usually, he beats me soundly. I’ve never been a great chess player, but I do understand the way the pieces move and some of the fundamental ideas of gameplay. I just think I start out with a half-baked strategy & usually find myself on the defensive in about 10 moves. Alas.

So, maybe you’re good at chess. You can’t explain how to play, because, well, I know it just doesn’t work like that. But maybe you read a book that enlightened you or have a time-honored tip or a gambit that works wonderfully. Maybe you can help in some tiny way. And I’d love it if you did.

Until then, I’ll be playing checkers.

Of all the chess books I have studied in the effort to get better at it, the one that gave me the biggest shove was an old one called “Winning Chess” by Fred Reinfeld and Irving Chernev. Last I looked it was still being sold. Beware of a similar title (and not as good a book) by Seirawan.

Zeldar: Thanks. I consulted the Amazon oracle & they have 22 used copies, but no new ones. There aren’t, for example, exercises where you write in the book or anything like that are there? If I want to go used, I don’t want a sullied copy.

FYI: The other users seem to agree with your assessment.

The best book on learning chess I’ve read (and that’s an awfully small number - they seem very dry and statistical to me) was Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess . IIRC, there are exercises in the book, though I did them in my head and don’t remember if the reader is even expected to scribble anything down. I seem to recall that it’s pretty much a beginner’s book, though.

The main feature of the book (and even a subtitle) is being able to see three moves ahead. To develop that skill the authors have diagrams of each move so you don’t even need a board and set to use the book. I can’t swear nobody would write in a used book, but in this case I can’t see it making much difference.

Go for it. You’ll love how quickly you get better!

Excellent. Thanks for the recommendation. I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t akin to buying a used SAT prep book or something like that.

Understood. The Fischer book is also good, if you’re wanting to spring for more than one.

First of all, if your uncle is an experienced chess player you have a long row to hoe before you will be able to beat him.
If he is not that good (let’s assume that), it is likely that he has mastered a few opening gambits that, because you don’t know them, force you into early mistakes. Your best bet is to find out what openings he uses and learn them so that you can make it into the middle game without making a mistake. There appear to be web sites that will help you identify an opening by entering the moves ( I haven’t actually used any of these - just search on ‘chess openings’ to find them).

An alternative strategy (for when you have white) is to learn an opening that he is unfamiliar with an hope he makes a mistake. This is a more difficult stategy as it requires you to recognize & exploit his mistake.
It has been many years since I played chess, but one habit that helped me was to read the New York Times chess column, set up a chess board & play the game described.

Some very basic quick tips:

  1. Play one of the pawns in front of the King or Queen first. Thsi allows the Bishops to get into the game.

  2. Develop the knights and bishops early. Make them active

  3. Do not play the Queen out too early, it just makes it a target and you waste moves keeping it safe.

  4. Castle as early as is practicable, keeps the King safer. And then, do not move the pawns in front of the King if it can be helped.

  5. Do not go after the King with part of your army, wait until you can reallly involve most of the pieces. This means getting your rooks to open files.

  6. Think about what your opponent can do, not just what you want to do.

Generally, the most basic level of strategy is that you are actually battling for space and the middle of the board. Too many novices think that they need to go right at the King. Of course more experinces play bends or even violates these guidelines, but generally you will find you can get a good game with these prinicples

For the record, my uncle is good, not great. In fact, he’s certainly beatable, if I wasn’t so lost at the beginning of the game. I need to learn some opening gambits other than the King’s Indian, which I learned only because of that John Gardner novella, and he definately sees coming. How dare you Uncle Bill. How dare you.

The NY Times suggestion is a good one that I’ve never tried. I’ve looked at the board & can usually discern which move is best, but I’m relying on the hint & the fact that I know a checkmate is in the near future. It’s a good excercise for me, but I never feel like it makes me better. Maybe playing out the whole game would be helpful. I’ll try it.

And, Gangster Octopus, thanks. The last paragraph I found most interesting. I never think of chess that way, as a battle for the middle of the board.

If you don’t have the patience or memory to learn a bunch of openings, the key to remember is that most of them are a matter of focusing on one or two squares. Basically, white puts a pawn in the middle, black brings out something to attack that pawn, white moves something else to defend it, or possibly to counterattack some other pawn, and so on. There’s usually a logical sequence of moves of what piece would capture what (the rule of thumb is to use the cheaper pieces first, since they’re more likely to get captured themselves, in turn). Follow that sequence all the way to the end in your head, and see what’s left.

There are three ways this can end up: First, one side can give up claim to that square. There might be few or no actual captures in this case, but this usually means that the other side ends up with control of that square, and since it’s typically a square in the center, this is a significant advantage for that side. Plus, the player who retreats will typically need to waste a move or two doing so while the other player is developing other pieces as he likes them.

Second, one side can fall behind in the race to focus everything on the contested spot. In this case, if the other side sees it, you’ll end up with a cascade of pieces being captured in sucession, with one side losing more than the other. From here, the side which lost less obviously has a strong advantage.

Third, the contest in the middle can result in a limited and even capture of a few pieces, which does not clearly favor one side or the other. Now, the game begins in earnest, and you’re out of the opening stage.

A typical birdchess game ends up like 1 most often. Then 2. And rarely 3. Once 3 hits though, I’m usually alright as I’m pretty decent at treading water & finding my openings. It’s just that 3 is so so elusive.

To convince yourself that this is true, place a knight on a center square (e4, for example) on an empty board, and count the number of moves it has available. There are 8. Now, place the knight on the side of the board (h4, for example). It now has half as many moves. Finally, place the knight on a corner square (h1, for example). It now has half again as many — only 2. Do the same with a queen and all the other pieces. You will find that, with one lone exception, every piece has much greater mobility in the middle of the board. (I won’t tell you which one, so that you can discover it for yourself from the exercise. You will find that it is a piece which generally works best in a got-your-back role with other pieces.)

The classic struggle of the opening in a game of chess, therefore, is to see who can take control of the center (especially e4, d4, e5, and d5). The player who does generally will have greater mobility. Efficiency matters. Move each piece once and only once, if possible, until all are developed, saving the queen for last so that she won’t be pushed around by your opponent’s pieces as they come out. Move them toward the center. (For example, move the knight on g1 to f3, not h3.) Keep in mind, of course, that tactical threats can force you to alter short term movements, but the long term strategy should remain the same.

Finally, I think it was Steinitz who establish the guideline that if you have the initiative after the opening, you must attack. The initiative (you’ve stayed a half-move or more ahead by efficient piece development) will evaporate if you do not attack. If you do not have the initiative, then you must not attack. Your attack will almost certainly fail. Finally, if you and your opponent are fairly even in initiative, then the rule of thumb is that if he attacks in the center, you should counter-attack on one side or the other (whichever is stronger for you and weaker for him). Likewise, if he attacks on the side, you should counter-attack in the center.

I didn’t mean to be so longwinded, but hopefully some of this strategy will help.

First off, Liberal: It seems like the rook is the piece in the riddle. Only in corner can he move 2 directions. Anywhere else, he can go N, S, E, or W. And the rook always has your back.

Next, thanks. That really basic sort of strategy stuff is really helpful for me. Sometimes I just get fixated on the king or creating a defense, when I should really be organizing an intelligent attack, since, hey, that’s how you win. I find myself too often hoping to take advantages of other players’ mistakes instead of creating an advantage myself.

Yep, the rook is the piece — same number of moves from any square on the board. So, developing a rook in the opening consists of nothing more than positioning it on whatever file is open or will open soon. I’m glad the lightbulb went off for you about creating your own advantage. These sorts of strategies will do exactly that. And remember that the advantage will be squandered if you fail to attack when you have it. Have you considered joining a chess club? The masters and experts there will be an enormous help.

I’m at a point where I don’t have quite enough time for a club—my days are full of work, nights of music. From time to time I play on Market street in SF on my lunch break and get my dignity handed to me in a paper bag by guys you’d never dream could play chess, guys just talking to themselves like they’re living in 1870, yet, ten moves later, you’re shaking your head in disbelief. My neighbor is a big chesshead so I’ll have to practice on him. A kid I used to tutor too.

The lightbulb, though dim, certainly got some increased wattage in the last couple hours.

I teach chess professionally. :cool:

The advice given here so far is pretty good. However it would help to know more about your current standard. Do you know chess notation? If so, can you post a game or two of yours in this thread?
If you don’t know it, there’s explanations on the Web e.g.:


Chess is a seriously deep game. As ethelbert implied, if your uncle is a typical club player, then it will take years of practice to beat him. Do you want to put in that effort?

For complete beginners, the best thing is simply to avoid blundering. Check before you touch a piece that your intended move is safe. View carefully your opponents moves to see if they threaten your pieces.

Next stage up is where you adopt basic opening strategy (develop your pieces / contest the centre / castle your King), learn a few simple tactics (fork / pin) and know the basic checkmates (K+Q v K, K+R v K)

Once you’ve mastered the above, you can move on to learning how to win endings a clear pawn up; recognise tactics like discovered attacks, overload and zwischenzug; start to understand your first opening.

There are plenty more stages!

If you like, I can give you a game in this thread (complete with comments…)

Okay, forget every book recommendation above. THE best book for beginning chess is Logical Chess: Move by Move. It is the only book that is actually readable by a layman. Rather than 10-15 moves and then some incomprehensible brief explanation, this book provides a simple explanation for the thinking process behind EVERY move. You work your way through several actual games played by chessmasters, and through repetition and variation, a lot of good chess instincts sink in. Much of chess playing is understanding basic principles and moving based on those principles.

glee: I’m not sure what you meant when you said “I can give you a game in this thread,” but I’m intrigued. Also, I’ll copy down the next game I play & post it. I’m not in the hobby of doing so because I’m quite novice. But I jump at the chance to just see a game explained by someone who teaches professionally. To quote a title: “The Triumph of the Straight Dope.”

Also, to clear up: my uncle is not a club player, just a guy who’s played since he was young. The thing is, neither his wife nor kids will play him, so he gets to exact his repressed chess revenge on me annually. Now, I’m sure this could play in my favor, being that he’s out of practice, but so far no dice.

[pet peeve]Can people please not use “gambit” as if it were synonymous with “opening”? [/pp]