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Chess

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Chess is a complex game to be played between two players. It is played on a checkered board of 64 squares1. The board is positioned in front of the two players (who sit facing each other) with a white square on the nearest right hand-side corner of the board.

In a game of chess, each player begins with a set of 16 chessmen. One player receives 16 White men, the other player receives 16 Black. eight of these chessmen are pawns, and eight of them are pieces. The pieces are generally considered more powerful than the pawns at the beginning of the game.

The Set-up

Chess pieces are set up at the back line (or rank) of the board, which shall be nearest to each player.

The chess pieces comprise three 'sets' of pieces and two individuals:

  • The first 'set' comprises two rooks, which are each capable of travelling anywhere on the board in a straight line, but may not pass over other pieces or pawns, as only the Knight is capable of this.

  • The second set comprises two Knights, each capable of moving a distance of two squares in any direction, and which must then move one square at a right-angle to the previous direction of travel, so that they effectively travel in an 'L' shape2.

  • The third set comprises two bishops, which are capable of travelling any distance on the board in a diagonal line of squares.

  • The most powerful individual piece is the Queen, which may travel as many squares as she pleases in either a straight, or a diagonal line.

  • The King is the final piece, capable of travelling in any direction, but able to move only one square per turn.

They are positioned along the back rank (nearest each player) as follows:

Rook-Knight-Bishop-Queen-King-Bishop-Knight-Rook

Eight pawns are then positioned, one in front of each piece. In play, the pawn is restricted to moving forward only, one square at a time, with the exception of the first move, where a player may choose to move either one or two squares forward. When the pawn is being used to capture another piece, it must be moved forward and diagonally to either the left or the right.

The Queen must be positioned on a square of its own colour in the starting position of the game, such that the White Queen is on a White square, and the Black Queen is on a Black square.

White always moves first. Black follows.

Check!

If a piece is manipulated into a position where it threatens to capture the opponent's King in the following move, then the player threatening the opponent's King must immediately call 'Check'.

The opponent's King must then remove himself from check in one of the following ways:

  • Move into a square not threatened by one of the opposition's pieces.

  • Move a piece into the way of the piece which is checking the King, therefore preventing the piece from taking the King in the following turn.

  • Take the piece that is checking the King.

If the side that is being checked cannot do any of these things then he is declared checkmated, and the side that checkmated the King wins the game. The 'Checkmate' is the main premise upon which the game of chess is based. In chess, checkmate is all that counts. The number of pieces taken or lost is completely irrelevant. Points are gained for achieving a checkmate, and that is all.

Castling

This is a special move in chess where the King and the Rook are moved simultaneously. The King is moved two squares towards one of the rooks, which is then brought to the square over which the King has passed. Castling in chess, however, is only permitted if:

  • No men of either colour stand between the King and the rook in question.

  • Neither the King nor the rook have been previously moved.

  • The King is not in check, before or after castling, and the intervening square (that to which the rook is moved) is not threatened by an opposition piece.

Chess and its Hidden Complexities

It is often said that chess has many links with both music and mathematics. Therefore, one with musical ability should (logically) have some degree of skill in chess. It is suggested that one with chess ability could have some musical ability, too. Garry Kasparov3 is an excellent example of how excellence at chess mixes with musical ability. Before Kasparov's chess career really skyrocketed, his mother and he discussed which of the two professions he should to go in to. Kasparov's father's side of the family also contained traces of musical ability.

The complexities of chess can also be described with some degree of mathematical precision, and some of the means of doing so demonstrate the degrees of mathematical complexity involved in other aspects of life.

For example, the equation for describing the L-shaped movement of the Knight over the squares on a chess board can only be mathematically described in a fairly complex form - much more so than the explanation which most players actually require to begin playing. The equation is:

The distance between the centre of the square the Knight leaves and the square where it arrives is the square root of five times the width of the squares.

Another example of the potential complexity of chess may be seen in the endless variations to be found on a chessboard. For instance, it is suggested that there are more potential moves in any chess game than there are atoms in the universe.

Yet another example, if someone decided to set up a new chess board (ie set up the pieces differently) every minute, it would take 40,000 years, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to complete the 208,089,907,200 ways of arranging the pieces upon the board.

Finally, it can be calculated that after three moves by each player at a game of chess: over nine million positions are possible.

Chess Studies

In learning how to play the game of chess, it is useful to refer to so-called 'chess studies'. Chess studies are positions that can be found within chess columns in many daily newspapers. The Times in the United Kingdom, for instance, has a chess column typically describing both recent games and a position from another, 'classic' game of the past. In each of these the reader is expected to analyse, and then predict the next move.

Such 'spot the move' exercises along with the analysis of recent games gives insight into the minds of prestigious Grandmasters.

It is often a good idea to read the columns which are annotated. Grandmaster Raymond Keene does an excellent job of analysing games in The Times so that readers may understand the answer to the question: 'Why the heck did he move that?!'

Chess Notation

A beginner may be discouraged by the jargon employed in chess studies to describe some game situations, but finding out what the notation means in such studies should be investigated...

Algebraic Method

The Modern/Algebraic Method of describing the moves made upon a chessboard is simple, and based upon a straightforward description of the board itself.

Squares

A Chessboard and Pieces

First of all, each square upon the board is given a specific name, or co-ordinate. Beginning with a1, which is the square on the bottom-left hand side of the board, we move up in a 'file' to a2, a3, a4 and eventually reach the square to the top left-hand corner of the board. The square at the top left hand corner is the a8 square.

If one now moves along the bottom of the board, the only aspect of the name of the squares that changes is the 'Letter'. So, as aforementioned, the bottom-left hand square is the a1 square, and if we move along, we travel past b1, c1, d1, e1, f1, g1 and then finally reach h1. h1 is the white square on the bottom-right hand side of the chess board.

The name given to the range of squares between (and including) a1-h1 is called a 'Rank'. While the name given to the range between (and including) a1-a8 has been entitled a 'File'.

Square b1 to square b8 is also a file. Likewise, square a2 to square h2 is another rank.

All of this should be elaborated on by the diagram above, where one can clearly see the letters marching along the bottom of the board and numbers running up the side. Using these one may find out the name of any square on a chessboard with ease.

Pieces

  • K = King
  • Q = Queen
  • B = Bishop
  • N = Knight
  • R = Rook
  • P = (or just the square coordinate) Pawn

Describing Moves

Quite simply, all one has to do when writing down a move in a game of chess is as follows:

If a pawn moves from square e2 as its first move to square e4, this is how one would write down the move:

1.Pe4 or 1.e4

Simple. Just write the name of the piece, followed by its destination co-ordinate.

If one wanted to write down that a Knight moves from square g1 to square f3 for its first move, it would be written as follows:

1.Nf3

Special Symbols

Other than the simple letters to represent the pieces on a board, one is also required to use other symbols to explain what is happening to one reading through a game in algebraic notation.

Just like the symbols for the pieces and the co-ordinates representing squares on a board... this is just as easy to remember.

The symbols are as follows:

  • 0-0 = Castled King-Side
  • 0-0-0 = Castled Queen-Side
  • e p = En Passant
  • x = Captures

An example of capturing could be as follows:

Knight takes the Bishop on the e2 square = NxB or NxBe2

Improving Playing Strength

A truly skilled player is one who can review a position with a real 'sight-of-the-board'. One who is capable of analysing a position on a chessboard and successfully weighing up the pros and the cons. Such a player shall be prosperous in all parts of the game, including the middlegame, where many of the inexperienced players slip due to their reliance on 'book moves' and inability to think independently.

Play when you can!

By playing regularly (every day if possible) one is continuously exposed to the magic of a chessboard and can therefore achieve a better understanding of both the board and its pieces. Through playing each day one gains the necessary experience to become at least a skilled player at club level, if not even better.

An understanding of chess notation can strengthen one's play amazingly; lifting an ordinary but enthusiastic 'patzer'4 to an 'experienced' club player provided chess studies are complemented by the use of other aids (for example playing regularly). Although it may be said that one can read up on the endgame and the opening, it is still important to gain experience in the middlegame as well to ensure success in a wider variety of situations.

It may also be a good idea to join a local chess club to enhance your chess skills and gain experience of sitting across the board from someone real, instead of sitting at a computer monitor staring at the moves in a Java-Applet.

Many find the presence of an opponent sitting opposite them quite tense at times, and the methods utilised by many opponents in over-the-board (OTB) play can be extremely intimidating. But OTB play is the traditional way and, in the opinion of many, is the best way. An opponent sitting across the table from you creates a much more exciting atmosphere than that which a personal computer creates.

Also, an opponent may provide you with clues as to the merits of a current position. For instance if one looks a little nervous or apprehensive and keeps on murmuring 'It's hopeless, the King is dead' under his breath, then perhaps there is an advantage to be had.

If you do not have a club nearby then fear not. You already have access to the Internet (or you wouldn't be reading this page) so you can still play at least. Keep practising. But if you are not sure whether you have a club near you or not, then perhaps you should try the FIDE website or some other official chess federation site which holds details of local clubs (dependent upon your nationality).

For those who have regular access to the Internet perhaps an email subscription program could prove useful. One popular choice is currently written by ChessMail's Tim Harding. Harding also writes articles for Emazing that may be subscribed to by email. Simply go to the following address: Emazing Chess - and enter your email address. This page is extremely useful to beginners and provides regular tips on improving chess play.

As a final note on this section, it is important to remind beginning players that the likes of Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov are unique cases. They are considered by many as geniuses, acting as gifts to the world of chess. Although they have worked very hard to attain their current positions in the chess world, it is likely that all of the truly great chess players have been born with something which the rest of us lack.

Professional chess players have been born with a gift which is common to other great sportsmen. Greg Rusedski, for instance, may be said to be a truly gifted tennis player, and he also happens to be a great chess fan. Also, Stanley Kubrick (film director) had a 'gift' for making excellent films, and he also was a keen chess fan. Such gifts are unique to them (and perhaps some of you) and cannot be attained by anyone lacking the abilities which come with such a gift. However, with practice and care one may still excel to the level of a brilliant club player, so not all is lost5.

Playing the Game of Chess

The process of the game itself is divided into three different sections.

Opening

The first part of the game is named the 'Opening', a part of the game where the positions of pieces and pawns are developed upon the board in an attempt to seize control over certain squares on the chessboard. The squares to be controlled are classically considered to be the ones in the centre; ie the squares d4, d5, e4, e5.

Some very popular openings include the following:

  • Ruy Lopez: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5
  • Giuoco Piano: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc5 Bc4
  • Sicilian Defence: 1.e4 c5
  • Queen's Gambit: 1.d4 d5 2.c4
  • King's Indian Defence: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7

Middlegame

Once pieces have been developed into apt positions upon the board another part of the game begins. This is called the 'Middlegame' where the titanic struggle for complete control of the board and a fight for the opponent's pieces begins in earnest.

Usually after a series of 'exchanges'6, the game moves into what is known as the 'Endgame'.

Endgame

This is the final chapter of a game of chess, where the majority of disputes between both opponents are finally resolved.

Often in the endgame, there is perhaps one lone King fighting against a King and a pawn - which intends on being promoted to Queen, most likely.

How to Master the Opening/Endgame

The Opening and the Endgame are the most studied aspects of a game of chess, and happen to be parts of the game where even some patzers may find some relative ease in controlling positions, thanks to what is known as 'book knowledge'. Such revision of books and other chess literature in both the endgame and the opening is vital for the repertoire of many players - beginners and grandmasters alike. It is strongly recommended, however, that each player ensures that he knows more than just what is written within any books he or she has purchased.

Chess Variants

Chess Variants are basically different interpretations of the game of chess, where the same board and pieces are used.

One example of a chess variant would be 'Fischerandom Chess'. Named after its creator; Robert J Fischer, it is a form of chess not so different to the traditional one.

Basically, pieces are arranged in a random order behind the pawns on a chess board before play begins. It is said that this version of the game truly enhances a player's skills... as it teaches him or her to play without the aid of 'book moves' such as the openings everyone knows and uses.

Another example of a chess variant would be 'losing chess'; where the objective is as simple as ever. This variant is also known as 'suicide chess' or even 'robbery chess'. In 'losing chess' the first one to have all of his pieces taken (including the King) is the winner. The pieces move in all the same ways but one rule which holds this variant together and makes it work, is the fact that if a sacrifice is offered the opponent must accept. Pieces must be taken wherever possible - that is the rule that ensures that 'losing chess' really operates as it should. If opponents could choose not to take your pieces, you (or they) would never lose any and so no one could win.

Ironically, those who have difficulty winning at normal chess could still have immense difficulty winning 'losing chess'; despite the fact that the main objectives are switched!

Chess Computers

The Concept of the Chess Computer

Most readers of this entry, if not all of them, have at some stage in their lives heard of the revolutionary chess computers which are playing greater and greater parts in the game through the years.

Although chess computers themselves are a fairly recent addition to the chess world, they were predicted very accurately by Stanley Kubrick in a film co-written by Arthur C Clarke. The film of course was entitled 2001: A Space Odyssey and has proven to be one of the most influential science fiction films of all time. It is worth mentioning now, however, while we are on the subject of chess computers, that 2001 featured such a revolutionary idea as a computer capable of beating a human at chess.

The computer was of course the infamous HAL 9000 supercomputer, and it manages to beat Frank Poole at a game of chess, one of the crew upon the featured spaceship, Discovery.

IBM's Deep Blue

The HAL 9000 was prophetic, however, because it was in the 1990s (well before the year 2001) that the concept of a computer like HAL7 playing chess truly came into its own.

Shifting all of the letters that make up the HAL acronym forward one place, according to the order of letters in the English alphabet, one should arrive at a whole new acronym. The H turns to I. The A turns to B. The L switches to M. IBM was, of course, the very company that went on to create the mother of all chess computers: the legendary 'Deep Blue'. Deep Blue is known for its success over the then world champion Garry Kasparov (who reigned from 1985 - 2000).

Of course the computer could not claim the title from Kasparov, but it does inspire wonder about what could happen. With the possible birth of artificial intelligence constantly being contemplated in various discussions throughout the world, the possibility of a chess champion computer is regarded as a harbinger. Could there eventually be a whole new generation of chess computers capable of beating the best human player in the world?

There are of course other chess computers which have been made available to the public since Deep Blue was retired completely by IBM from the public eye. The exact reasons for the retirement are unknown. However, once beaten, Garry Kasparov claimed that the computer was receiving human aid, proclaiming that his battle with the silicon champion was a 'fix'.

'Cousins' of Deep Blue

One of the most notable chess computers available to the public was 'Fritz', a computer program which constantly analyses the variations of any given position to give a satisfactory conclusion.

Of course, it could be said that this is exactly what a human does; analyses a position. But one must be reminded that a computer program such a Fritz does have a distinct advantage. That is the fact that it is not by any means emotional (unlike HAL 9000 in Kubrick's film) and does not suffer 'nervous tension'8. This alone constitutes a quality that can make it a truly formidable player for any human.

Such chess computers as Fritz are coming into their own now, and are even participants in world-class chess tournaments, being faced with tough Grandmasters in their fight for chessboard supremacy.

Chess Database Programs

Finally, on this subject it might be worth mentioning that chess computers have many useful qualities to humans. For instance the introduction of a computer program named ChessBase has revolutionised the way Grandmasters and other serious players prepare for their chess tournaments.

ChessBase is a facility which enables access to huge databases of chess games by various players. It may be utilised in a number of ways. For instance, if Garry Kasparov wished to prepare for his next game against the formidable Vladimir Kramnik, he could refer to ChessBase to view the openings that Kramnik uses most often.

In a similar way, Kramnik could do exactly the same thing, in viewing what variations Kasparov himself prefers to play in a game of chess.

But beginners and intermediate players of chess can also use such chess databases as the ChessBase program, as they enable all such players to focus their skills, and can even aid them in constructing a larger opening repertoire (by viewing games of a specific opening and learning from them).

Chess and the Media

For one living in the United Kingdom, for instance, and having become interested in chess at a time when most seem to have completely abandoned it, you may not see much point in this intellectual but abandoned pursuit. Chess is seen as a useless waste of time by many... a boring and slow game reserved only for old men sitting at fireplaces in nursing homes dotted all over the country.

Many seem to have forgotten about the early 1970s, when Robert J Fischer battled it out over the board with Boris Spassky of Russia. It was the Cold War over a chessboard as the American Fischer attempted to 'crush' Spassky's brain. Chess was alive as Fischer publicised chess to the capitalist world in a way never seen before. He lit up the televisions screens of millions with his charisma and personality, promoting chess to all who could sympathise with the emotions that Fischer communicated to the nation.

Although not much was said on the subject, the 1972 world chess championships were more political than anything else. Fischer claimed that he could beat the Russians, who have always dominated the chess world in one way or another and set about doing so in a way which seemed to parallel the Cold War.

The membership of chess clubs soared as many tuned in as often as they could to watch Fischer fight Spassky. Parents began to pull their young sons and daughters out of dancing and piano classes to go to chess clubs, perhaps in a hope that their young ones could become the new 'Fischer'.

Fischer seemed to make chess 'cool'.

However, when Bobby Fischer finally did beat Spassky and become the new American World Champion he disappeared from the chess world altogether. Refusing to defend his title against the new opponent selected for him: Mr Anatoly Karpov. Without the wit and charismatic charm of Bobby, chess suddenly became unpopular once again. With chess club membership dropping back to the low numbers that they had started with.

The stereotypical views of chess as being monotonous and slow once again became popular with a public who did not want to know. It would seem that the public are still not interested, even today. Chess is rarely mentioned in the news any more, with only the occasional short notice by newsreaders about whoever may have won the world chess championship. If one is lucky there may even be some footage of the new chess champion receiving a prize, but nothing more.

Chess appears to be dead... despite its huge appeal to many throughout the world. It seems, in spite of its obvious appeal to numerous people, to fail to grab the attention of the broader public. The chess-playing world is evidently not particularly interested in promoting chess for the sake of its promotion - as with chess-playing ability by the general public, ability to charm the rest of the world with the personality characteristics of a Fischer is regarded as unique by chess players. Most people who play it simply want to play the game, rather than promote it to the ends of the Earth.

In Conclusion

Browsing through some of the referenced chess sites, as well as the copious literature available on the subject, it is possible to gain a better understanding of some the issues that have been raised. Such works potentially contain a more detailed insight into the world of chess. With a little background knowledge provided by entries like this, however, hopefully readers will find plenty to keep themselves intrigued and amused.

More Information

Internet sites based upon the game of chess may be greatly beneficial to beginner or expert alike. Here are some addresses:

  • For chess amusement, there is one final site to recommend. It is simply entitled Bill Wall's Chess Page.
  • 1Exactly the same board as is used for draughts (or 'checkers' as it is also known).2It must be stressed again here that the Knight is the only piece capable of leaping over other pieces - a distinct tactical advantage in some parts of game play.3Garry Kasparov is the 13th World Chess Champion.4Slang for 'inexperienced chess player'.5It is not the intention of this entry to be overly cynical - declaring chess revision and practice to be hopeless for those hoping to become future world champions because they may not have the 'skill'. Ambition is also one of the most important key factors which makes a great player.6Pieces are taken from the board in return for other pieces - eg a Knight is lost in return for one of the opponent's bishops.7Heuristically Programmed Algorithmic 9000 computer.8Or for that matter any other disabling psychological quality which may affect human chess players.

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