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Winning Material: Remember Your Opponent!

Yesterday, I wrote about the three most important skills for beginning chess players: Winning material, checkmating, and defending. I wanted to use winning material as an example of how one of these can be deliberately practiced.

Chess players often think of forks, pins, and other tactics as the main ways to win material. As a result, chess books for beginners frequently use them as a starting point. However, these concepts should only be introduced once vision of the board is developed. It makes more sense to start simpler, with the building blocks: Taking for free, making a good trade, and making a twofold attack. The first two terms are self-explanatory, and a twofold attack refers to attacking something twice when it is only defended once. These things happen extremely frequently in games between beginners - many times per game! 

When a young chess player tries to win material, they frequently rush into attractive looking moves, forgetting to consider the opponent’s possible reply. Beginners have to train the skill of considering the opponent’s reply before making a move that appears to win material in one of the three fundamental ways. Our Step 1+ course has many positions with this purpose. Take a look at this:


Black looks poised to make a good trade, by capturing the queen on b3 with the bishop and checking the White king. In chess notation, that would be 1...Bxb3+. Kids almost always want to play this move! So I play it on the board, and ask what White would do then. Quickly it becomes apparent that after retreating the king to a1, 2.Ka1, Black cannot stop white from moving the rook to h8 with checkmate on the next move. (Bonus question: Why shouldn’t white take the bishop in that variation?). So it turns out that the obvious looking move, taking the queen with check, would lose the game! Although capturing the rook on h1 appears to win fewer points, it prevents White’s checkmate threat and gives Black a winning advantage.


By working through positions like this with a skilled teacher, and receiving feedback on their independent practice, young beginners learn how to take the opponent’s intentions into account. Tomorrow, I will show a similar position to help beginners practice defending.