Look First, Move Later!

  • Don’t move immediately

    Understand the move your opponent just made before you move. Your opponent always has a reason for making the moves he makes. (You may decide that it’s a bad reason, but there’s always some reason.) You always have a reason for making a move on the board. (Don’t you?!) Give your opponent some credit and assume that he has a reason, too. Stop and figure it out. Don’t move immediately. Look at the position. Sit on your hands, if you have to!Say to yourself every time its your move:

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  •  “Why did my opponent make that move?”

    Well, very often, your opponent’s move attacks one or more of your pieces. Look carefully before moving so you can protect your pieces, or move them out of the way, if they are attacked. Remember the point values of the pieces when you look at the board. Look at this position from the Alekhine’s opening. (Alekhine is the name of a grandmaster who developed this particular opening pattern of moves.) White has just moved his king-pawn from e4 to e5 and is directly attacking black’s knight.If your opponent moves a 1-point pawn and its attacking your 3-point knight, well, MOVE IT! Don’t leave the knight sitting there and hope your opponent misses playing “pawn takes knight”. (Don’t ever “hope” your opponent doesn’t do something, because whatever you’re “hoping” he doesn’t do usually is exactly what he IS going to do!) Remember, your opponent HAD A REASON for making that pawn move. (“Why did my opponent make that move?”) It’s a pretty good bet that if your opponent moved his pawn to directly attack your knight and you don’t do anything about it, he’s going to take your knight with that pawn on the next move.

    “Why did my opponent make that move?”

    Sometimes when it’s your opponent’s move, however, he’ll just simply make a mistake and put his pieces on squares where you can take them. (Hey, nobody’s perfect.) Look to see if you can take your opponent’s pieces if he has made a mistake. Consider, though, that just because you CAN capture one of your opponent’s pieces, it doesn’t necessarily mean you HAVE TO take it. (This isn’t checkers, after all.) There might be something better for you to do, along the ultimate goal of getting your opponent’s king.

    Consider this position as shown on the right. White moved his bishop to square ‘f6’ (Bf6), putting black’s king into check, and black for some reason decided to move his rook into the path of the bishop to get out of check. (I guess black forgot that rooks, at 5 points each, are worth more than 3-point bishops.) 

    But does white HAVE to take the rook right away?

    No, he doesn’t. As we see on the left here, he takes the pawn that was on square g5, instead. The reason is that black’s rook, which was moved to block the bishop check on the king, isn’t going anywhere. It can’t. If black tried to move  his rook in this position, he would be exposing his king to ‘check’, and that would be an illegal move. Black can’t move the rook. Black’s rook is ‘pinned’ against his king by white’s bishop. A pinned piece like this can’t move. It can’t capture anything. It can’t guard anything.  

    So since the rook can’t move, white wisely goes ahead and picks up the free pawn. (“Free” is good.)

    Black now moves his bishop to square ‘e4’. White doesn’t have anything to worry about from the black bishop, since its a light-square bishop and white’s pieces are all on dark squares. (Remember THAT? Click here to review light and dark-squared bishops.)

    So, NOW is there any pressing reason that would compel white to take the rook right away? Yes, its still pinned. Yes, white can go ahead and play ‘bishop takes rook’. But what else might white do (maybe with his own rook) since the black rook STILL isn’t going anywhere. Think about it….. (Remember, a pinned piece can’t guard anything…)

    YES! Looking at the diagram to the right, White moves HIS rook from square ‘f2’ to ‘f7’ and takes the remaining black pawn. (We would write that move down as ‘Rxf7’.) 

    Here’s why white took the pawn:

    • Black’s rook was still pinned against his king, so it still wasn’t going anywhere;
    • Black’s pawn on ‘f7’ was unguarded by any other black piece. (It wasn’t guarded by the black rook:THAT’S still pinned against the king by white’s bishop!) It was sitting there free to grab, which white did. Black is said to have ‘hung’ or ‘dropped’ the pawn;

    Most importantly though, by playing ‘Rxf7’, White now has TWO pieces attacking the rook. (Black can’t take the white rook with HIS rook; its stillpinned.) Yes, white could have just taken the black rook with his bishop, at which point black would have played ‘Kxe7’. White would have had black’s 5-point rook, and black would have had white’s 3-point bishop. It would have been a good deal for white. (We call that ‘winning the exchange’.)

    But this is a better deal! Regardless of what black does now, white is going to play ‘rook takes rook’ the next move, and black WILL NOT BE ABLE TO RECAPTURE with his king because the rook will be protected by the white bishop, and that would be moving into check! Black just has to sit there and watch his rook disappear and there’s nothing he can do about it. White has ‘won’ black’s rook (plus a couple of pawns to boot!) and it hasn’t cost white one bit of material.

    Set the position up yourself and play with it. Try it both ways and see what the differences are.

    Think, even though it takes some time. Chess is very complicated (not SO complicated that you can’t play it, though) and there are thousands of possibilities on the chess board. Nobody sees everything and makes good moves if they move too fast. Not you, not me, not even international grandmasters like Gary Kasparov or Bobby Fischer. If you spend more time thinking than your opponent, you will have a greater chance of winning then she does. If she thinks more than you, thenshe has the greater chance of winning. Moving fast does not mean you are smart, it just means you will lose more than you ought to.Speed causes mistakes, and the person who makes the fewest mistakes usually wins in chess. 

    So, to go over it again:

    • Think, even though it takes time;
    • If your opponent attacks one of your pieces with something of lesser value, move it out of the way;
    • If your opponent leaves one of his pieces ‘hanging’, take it, unless there’s something more profitable to do;
    • And above all else, every time your opponent moves, ask yourself:

    “Why did my opponent make that move?”

    If you do, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a GOOD chessplayer!