By Xiao Cheng
Chess is a complex game and it takes many games to become a stronger player. However, for a new player to improve, what is the best place to start? Whether at home training or playing at tournaments, many young players like to move pieces around, hoping for something that favors them to happen. But moving aimlessly will not help you improve.
Instead, start to ask questions on any given tasks. For example, when playing practice games, ask yourself what the purpose is for each move. As you practice, it will become easier to ask good questions, and sooner it will become second nature.
Let’s discuss chess questions from three perspectives.
Beginners often lose half-points (wins become draws; draws become losses) due to simple mishaps which are often avoidable. Stalemate in an endgame with many more pieces is a common occurrence.
In the puzzle above, black is up a queen and a rook, but plans to make the highlighted move. Once the move was made, the game became a draw (stalemate) immediately! How can we avoid it?Practice asking questions!
Before you make the move, ask yourself, “Does the king have a square to move?” If not, and the king is not in check, then we need to change our move to avoid stalemate. Similarly, if there are pawns or other pieces, ask yourself if there are any legal moves that your opponent can make. Doing this will help you to avoid stalemate when you are up material in endgames.
Should black take the e4 pawn? If that happens, we’ll be have an “Oh,no” moment of simple blunder. What’s the problem? It looks like after Nxe4, black wins a pawn after the trade of knights. However, if you look closer, after white captures back black’s e4 knight, the d4 knight is actually protected by the rook, and thus is not free anymore.
Practice asking what your opponent will do after your move. Then you will start looking more than one move ahead and will avoid simple blunders.
What are you looking for?
This is the famous Reti’s puzzle. For many beginners, the first instinct is to find a way to win black’s queen. With further inspection, we can see white is down a queen and a knight. Hence, even if white wins the queen back, white will still be down a knight. If you have not seen this puzzle before, try to solve it yourself. Hint: If you are down a queen and more, it’s time to look for checkmate.
Once you know the question, the answer often appears more straightforward.
As a player gets stronger, the easier questions will have automatic answers. And harder questions will become a new routine. But the thinking process stays the same. Here is a challenge for the readers: in your next game, practice asking yourself at least one question during the game.