Welcome back to my next post in the series of blogs meant to elevate your chess game! This post is intended for players rated 600-900 who have already read the first post in this series. At this level, the study of tactics becomes a more important part of your chess development. A tactic is a generalized pattern you can use to create strong attacks without having to calculate every possible move. To develop these, you need to 1) know the tactics patterns and 2) be able to recognize them in-game. The best way to develop your tactics is by doing chess puzzles (not necessarily aimed at checkmate though). Chess.com offers 5 free puzzles per day for free accounts and more (even unlimited) if you're willing to pay for an account. I'm sure there are many puzzle databases on the internet but I like the feedback that chess.com gives you and the fact that they match the puzzle difficulty to your skill level.
A quick note on time control: if you can consistently play 15 minutes per player without making one-move blunders, then you can progress to 10 minutes per player, but if not don't sacrifice your level of play for speed - stick to the longer time controls.
Fork. A fork is when you have a piece attacking two enemy pieces at the same time. This is strong because the opponent will have trouble defending both, they have to choose which piece to defend and/or move. Here's a classic example from the Italian Game opening where the knight can attack on f7 being defended by the bishop then simultaneously attacking black's queen and rook. Black will have to choose which to save and the knight will capture the other! It's a good practice when thinking about moving a piece to a new position to first determine if your opponent's next move can create a fork (knights and bishops are notorious for this!).
2. Pins (AKA x-rays, skewers etc. you only need one name for it). A pin is when you attack a piece that has another target behind it. It is said that the first piece is "pinned" to the second. If the first attacked piece moves, it exposes the second piece to the attack. A pin is strong because it prevents the first piece from moving, limiting your opponent's options. A pin can also provide a material advantage, if you attack the pinned piece with a lesser piece. This concept is demonstrated in the image below where the bishop is pinning the black knight to the queen, with the pawn as the lesser attacker. Now the opponent is forced to choose between either losing the first piece, or move it and allow the attack on the second piece. A pin is particularly strong when the piece is pinned to a king or queen.
3. Doubled rooks. Double rooks are when you have two rooks aligned, generally in the same file, but it can also apply to ranks. Doubled rooks are strong because they can move/attack while defending each other. This also works for queens and rooks. Doubled rooks are easier to do after you have castled, that's another good reason to castle early in the game!
Endgame Concepts: pawn promotion
The endgame is one of my favourite parts of the game because there are fewer pieces meaning you need to be more resourceful! Here are some tips to help.
In the very late endgame, the focal point of the game is often pawn promotion. Usually if the game is a close matchup, then if someone manages to promote a pawn to a queen (can you determine when wouldn't you choose queen?) they will be completely winning. It can be tricky to identify when to try to promote a pawn.
When you try too early, it might get captured before it reaches promotion or the time it takes to run the pawn across the board might give your opponent time to make a counter-attack. You should consider pushing your pawn when at least two of these criteria are met:
2. The pawn has a piece to support/defend it. A rook is often the best choice for this because it can protect an entire file from behind the pawn. But a king is also very good, especially if there are only pawns left.
3. When they are at least past halfway through the board (shown by the green circles).
4. You are losing/almost out of time and need a decisive "Hail Mary" to steal back the game.
While we just covered a decent amount of content and it might be intimidating, I just want to assure you that you'll naturally pick up on these patterns just by looking for them. Don't beat yourself up if you make mistakes, or if someone forks you etc. Use them as a learning opportunity. Ask yourself, what lead to the mistake? How can I prevent this mistake from happening again? Remember that at this level, you can still play conservatively and wait for your opponent to make a mistake, then capitalize on it.
One thing I was curious about was whether any readers would like to build a chess.com group where you can meet people who are interested in playing and/or discuss their progress. If you think you'd like to see that, please comment with your chess.com username and I'll put a group together.
For anyone who wants to add me, my username is immortalchess1, always open to challenges!