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Karl W. SwartzHow to Play Chess

The purpose of this page is to explain strategy.  I am trusting that you already know the rules (how to move the pieces, etc.), or you wouldn't be here to begin with.  If you don't know the basics, then go somewhere else first and learn the fundamentals.  Then come back here to learn how to play effectively.  No one else is going to tell you this.  There are a lot of old-wives' tales and myths about chess strategy and how it takes a genius to be a winner, but this is bunk.  The reason most people can't play chess worth a crap is the same reason that they can't learn math:  someone has told them they are too dumb to ever understand it, and they have chosen to believe them.  You are only as dumb as you choose to be.

1.  Always take an even trade.  (The corollary to this is, clear the board!)  At the start, there are way too many pieces on the board to ever play an effective game.  You need to clear out some space to move.  Forget at this point whether you may need this or that piece; if you are an effective player, it doesn't matter.  Pretend you are playing checkers, get rid of everything.  If you don't do dumb stuff, like trading bishops for pawns, you will still be pretty much even when the dust settles. If you thought you could win an even game before, well, it is still even, go to it!

Besides clearing out the playing field, the other advantage this affords you is that this will freak out most other players, who don't play this way.  They will be quite upset when you swap knights or rooks, as they think they need these high-value pieces to win.  If you don't believe this, you have gained a huge advantage!

2.  Don't hesitate to swap queens.  (This is just an extension of the first rule.)  Inexperienced players will freak out when you do this.  Again, you are banking on your own abilities to outplay your opponent.  If you think you need your queen to win, then you shouldn't be playing.  Each piece is a tool, use it to your advantage. The objective is to capture your opponent's king—you don't get extra points for keeping your other pieces. And it's not like you're taking her out after the game, so what's the point of keeping her around if she can serve you so well otherwise?

3.  The best defense is a good offense.  This isn't football, or some other sport where you trade opportunities to score, and a bad defense leaves you lucky to tie.  This is one continuous play.  As long as you are making offensive moves, your opponent is forced to play defense.  You can't win playing defense, you must capture the opposing king.  I can't emphasize this enough: if your opponent is not permitted an offensive move, he cannot win.

I still remember the game I learned this lesson. My opponent had me, he was one move from a checkmate.  There was nothing I could do to defend myself.  I looked around, and saw a move that would put him in check.  He had a way out; however, it would delay my loss for that one move.  He moved out of check, but in a way that allowed me to check him again the following move.  This continued for five or six moves, with me chasing him about the board, but never pinning him down.  Finally, he was out of moves, and my next mated him.  Throughout this whole time, he still had me one move away from defeat; however, I had not allowed him to make that move by forcing him to assume the defensive.

4.  Never plan beyond the next move.  This is probably the most important rule you will ever learn.  Everyone talks in awe of how champion players think 50 (or some such B.S.) moves ahead. This is crap. Some people may do this, but it is a waste of time and energy.  By planning ahead, you are either underestimating your opponent, or overestimating him.  You are presuming that he is either too stupid to see you coming, or too clever to not play as intelligently as you would have him do.  Maybe he has other plans.  Maybe he (as I could be known to do) will make a sacrifice for the sole purpose of throwing a monkey-wrench into your plans.  Maybe he will simply make a mistake, that will render your last 20 moves moot.  You cannot control your opponent's next move, let alone the next 5, 10, or 20.  Give it up!

So, what should you do?  Play this very move before you now.  Each move should put you in the best possible strategic position you can attain, for this one moment, for this one layout.  The next time it is your turn, you will be facing a completely new board; treat it as such, and play it the same way.  Divorce yourself from both the past and the future.  Imagine that someone else had to leave in the middle of a game, and asked you to take over to avoid a forfeiture.  You have never seen this board before, and now you must make a move.  This is your game!  Play it accordingly.

Copyright © 2010 by Karl W. Swartz.  All rights reserved.