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Learning to Play Chess Part II: Some hard-earned chess chops

In the past two weeks I've played approximately 60 games of chess. No foolin. I've played the computer, I've played my friend Greg, I've played people from around the world on which has an amazingly useful chess app, btw. Mostly I lose. Occasionally I win. But I've learned a few more advanced pieces of wisdom which I'd like to impart to you here. These are hard-won lessons that have come from hours of staring at a chess board (my phone, actually) and biting my fingers. I'd like to think these are a couple steps above the old "this is how your Knight moves" kind of instruction. So if you still don't know how to play chess, you might go look it up. But also, this stuff can be useful even if you're an extreme beginner:

1.) Think two moves -- if not three or four -- in advance. This is tough for a beginning player, but even in two weeks of constant playing I've been able to hone this skill a bit. If you're ever going to get good at this game, or even just check mate someone in a manner that doesn't take 15 years, you need to think multiple moves in advance, and think about the variations that could arise from each of those moves.

2.) Force your opponent to make choices. This is a big one. You can do this by attacking two of your opponent's pieces at once, with the same piece, also known as "forking." Then no matter what your opponent chooses to do, you get one of her pieces. This is one of the key tactics in manipulating your opponent: give them choose between a couple different bad scenarios, the "lesser of two evils" thing. This will keep the opponent on the back foot.

3.) Make each move serve two purposes. This means putting a piece into a position where it's attacking one of your opponent's pieces and also protecting one of yours. Or find "forks" like explained above. Avoid unnecessary and interim "re-positioning" moves that don't accomplish an attack or a defense and don't help to get your pieces into position. When you watch really good chess players play, what you notice is the efficiency of their moves. Every move is part of a greater plan, even if it changes.

4.) Be aggressive, but don't be rash. You cannot sit back in your fortress and fend off your opponents attacks all day without building your own attack, but you also cannot be hasty. Do not simply attack and capture one of your opponent's pieces just because you can, and then lose your piece for no reason. If it's part of a plan, if you've got a good followup move like another capture or a mate, great. But if you're just in a hurry to "get the game moving" or just being rash, you're probably going to end up losing.

5.) Look for the games within the game...and win them. This is probably the most important lesson I've learned so far: that chess is made of little games within the larger game. Think of it as skirmishes within the greater battle, or whatever. If you think about it like this, and if you can isolate these tiny skirmishes, and win them more often than you lose, you'll become a winning chess player. This is a good trick because it also makes the game less overwhelming. A chess board can look like a big, daunting, confusing mass of pieces and death traps; however, if you start seeing the games within the game, it clarifies things and makes the game winnable.

"Everything is chess."


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