How to Win at Chess – Checkmate Combinations

It is much more fun to attack in chess than defend. This is because it is generally easier, and it gives you more immediate winning chances. Some games are won in the endgame, through slow positional maneuvers, but many are also won by strong breakthrough combinations. What I am talking about is a forced sequence of moves where no matter what your opponent plays, you have enough resources at your disposal to ensure an immediate checkmate. Most of these combinations in question begin with checks, a very forcing type of move. It is also important to note, that if you don’t know how to win at chess, then you should start off by learning some typical checkmates.

What is Check? – A Quick Recap

Before I go any further, I will just remind you what check is. Check is when an enemy piece threatens to capture your king on its next move. The person whose king is being attacked is then said to be ‘in check’. They have to do something about this, as losing your king loses the game (you should be aware that it is against the rules to ignore a check). Here are some examples of checks:

In this position, black can play ‘queen to a3 check’ 1… Qa3+! This is a winning move, because after the king moves out of the way e.g. 2. Ke4 black will pick up white`s queen, and go on to win through typical means …Qxg3

Here, white is ‘in check’ because the black queen is threatening the white king. This particular check, that arose from a Scandinavian Defense opening after 1.e4 d5 2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qe6+ is superficial. The queen is prematurely developed, and is only getting in the way on e6. This shows that checks aren’t necessarily the best moves. White can block the check with 4. Nge2 (also possible is Be2, Nce2 and Qe2, but why not develop another piece…)

Now black is ‘in check’ and has to do something about it, but he can’t move his king or block the check, which leaves him with just one option – To capture the checking piece. 1… Rxe8 2. Bxe8 it is not possible for white to now play Rxe8 with the remaining rook, because of the pin caused by the h1 rook.

Ways to Deal With Check

There are only ever a maximum of 3 options for you when you are in check.

  1. Capture checking piece – You remove the piece, and then your king is no longer in immediate danger. This was the only option available in the previous example.
  2. Block the line of fire – You Put a piece in the way of the line of fire. In the second example, to ‘get out of check’ the only option was to put a piece on e2, thus blocking the queen`s attack on the white king.
  3. Move your king away – In the first example, the exposed king in the center of the board had no allied pieces that could block the line of fire of the black queen; nor did it have any pieces that could take the checking queen, therefore the only option was to move the white king out of the way.

When you are in check in a game, you should go through each of these options and consider, which option will lead to the best position for you. Sometimes all three of these options are available to you, perhaps just 2 or even just 1 like the examples above. If none of these options work for you then you are in CHECKMATE!

Using Forcing Moves to Break Through

By now you know what check is, and you know how you can deal with it. This is important for this next section, which is where we start evaluating some checkmate combinations. With time, your intuition about when you sense there may be a tactic on the board will improve. Checkmate combinations are essentially just tactics that win on the spot. These tactics rely on forced sequences of moves, that attack the enemy king, or create an unstoppable threat. The moves to look for are checks, captures and then threats.

Most Forcing Moves

  1. Checks – These demand your opponent to make a decision. Remember that they only have 3 options (mentioned above). Quite often you can see all of your opponent`s responses, and evaluate how good each one of those is, and what move you would play against them – This is called calculation.
  2. Captures – Taking a piece on the board wins you material. Your opponent might be just losing if they don’t do something urgently. They will often recapture the piece to regain the material, or start a counterattack of their own – often beginning with a check.
  3. Threats – In certain positions, the placement of your opponent`s pieces might be so bad, or their pawn structure so damaged, or their king so badly undefended that they have no possible way to defend against a simple threat, like mate in 1!

Example Problems

Since you are fully prepared to solve some checkmate combinations, there is nothing else for it, but to get stuck in!

Position #1 – White to move

Look first for checks. There is a knight to f5 check 1. Nf5+ but after … Kh8 there is no follow up, and we will lose our rook that is pinned on f5. The winning combination is 1. Rg3+ now black can’t take the rook, or block the line of fire, so the only option is to move the king. White`s rook on f4 stops the king going left, so black must play either 1… Kh8 which loses to 2. Nf7# or … Kxh6 2. Rh4#

Position #2 – black to move

There are only 4 checks that black can play. Let`s have a look at each one of them:

1…gxf2+ 2. Kh1 there is no way to break through.

1…gxh2+ 2. Kh1 also doesn’t work.

1…Nf3+ 2. gxf3 gxh2+ 3. Kh1 Bxf3+ wins the queen after Qg2 but black can play 3. Kg2 instead which keeps the queen, and the black king is not being checkmated. If the pawn ever promotes on h1, then white will take with the rook.

1…Ne2+! This is the way to checkmate 2. Kh1 is forced, and mate follows … Rxh2#

Position #3 – White to move

Again, always look for checks first. In this position, there are 2 queen checks and 2 rook checks.

1. Rxg7+ a violent attempt to checkmate black. After … Kxg2 2. Qd7+ the black king is escaping via h6.

1. Rc8+ a slightly more logical attempt … Bf8 2. Qe6+ Kg7 3. Rc7+ Kh8 4. Qf7 Qg7 and black is definitely losing, but not immediately, because black can’t be checkmated on the spot.

1. Qc8+ after … Bf8 white has no follow through. Black will simply bring the rook to f5 and defend the f8 bishop.

1. Qe6+ leaves black with just 2 options. If … Kf8 then 2. Qf7# … Kh8 2. Rc8+ Bf8 It seems natural to take the bishop with check here, but even stronger is: 3. Qf6! Kg8 4. Rxf8#

Test Yourself – Checkmate Puzzles

Here are some more examples for you to have a go at yourself. I won’t state the solutions beneath each one, instead I want you to give me the solutions in the comments. I will respond to them as they come in…

Position #4 – White to move

Position #5 – White to move

Position #6 – white to move

Forks in Chess – The Deadly Double Attack

Out of all the different tactics that can occur in a game of chess, the ‘fork’ is possibly the most common of them, up there with pins and skewers, that are also very common. Usually the outcome of a fork is that the player who is ‘forked’ loses material, most often an exchange  (losing a rook for a knight). There are many different types of forks in chess, and in this post I am going to outline each of them.

In your games, if you can more quickly spot the possible forking squares then you are less likely to fall for the rookie error of letting their knight jump into that square. Alternatively you can move your pieces to different squares so that they are not able to be forked. The pattern of forking squares is illustrated below:

For a fork to occur, the knight must be simultaneously attacking 2 enemy pieces. The  cases where the knight forks is when the forked enemy pieces are on both 1 and 2 or 1 and 3 or 1 and 4 etc… The total possible number of combinations is found by 8C2 = 28 (some maths). First, here are 4 examples of simple forks, in each case, the fork wins material:

Above, if white plays Nf4+, black will lose his queen after being forced to move his king. White will then go on to win in standard fashion.

Above, white can fork black by playing Nc7+, which wins the rook after the black king moves somewhere. The material imbalance should then be enough to simplify into a winning endgame.

Above, white can play a family fork, that forks not 2 but 3 pieces! These types of forks are sometimes called ‘scorpions’. When white plays Nd6+, it is clear that black is in trouble.

In this position, white can fork black with Nxf7 -This wins the exchange. To give you some idea, this trap is one that has arisen out of the opening. It could have happened like this: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 h6?? 5. Nxf7.

In my eighth league game, there was a tussle in the middlegame where my opponent was threatening a fork on numerous occasions, which I prevented, and went on to draw, which also happened to be the result of our team as a whole. I will show you these:

After my opponent played 13. N2b3, the position in figure 6 was reached. There is a very concrete threat of the fork 14. Nc5+ which is unpleasant for black, because after the black king moves somewhere and 15. Nxa6 bxa6 and black has doubled pawns, and white is now able to castle, since the light squared bishop no longer prevents 0-0. To circumvent this threat I played 13…, b6 which I still believe to be the best move, as it controls the forking square on c5, while also giving my a6 bishop some air to breathe.

They continued 14. a4! which is an active attempt to try to throw me off balance. If they play 15. a5 on their next move, I generally want to meet that with …, b5 to keep the position closed. However, after b5 I allow the knight fork on c5, so I have to first arrange some cover for the c5 square, I do this by the following: …, Nc6  

Closing The Gap – Queen versus 7th Rank Pawn Endgame

In the endgame, there is often a race for promotion. When this happens, it doesn’t matter so much how many pawns you have, as much as their ability to promote. This is because a queen is good at doing a mop up job. In this chapter, we will be looking at the situation where one side has promoted, and the other has a pawn on the seventh rank – a whisker away from promotion. This type of endgame is common, because it works with all the different pawns (a-h). The method that I am going to recommend is a simple one, which never fails. I call it closing the gap.

Closing the Gap With Your Queen

This study is taken from a recent blitz game of mine on Both sides have made 48 moves already. In this position below, white must ensure that black is not given a move to promote, as this will result in a draw.

White to move:

49. Qa7+ Kf1 (49…Ke1 50. Qe3+ zooming into the position) 50. Qa6+ Kf2 51. Qb6+ Kf1

Pattern #1: Bring your queen closer to the enemy pawn, through checks – to keep the black king busy – until it is right next to it.

52. Qb5+ Kf2 53. Qc5+ Ke2 54. Qc4+ Kf2 55. Qd4+ Kf1

This pattern is repeated many times until the queen is in a proximity to the black king. Let`s see what happens if the black king decides to go away from the pawn instead of in front of it, or to the side of it (shown in brackets).

56. Qd3+ Kf2 (56…Ke1 57. Qg3+ Kf1 see the board below – carry on with 58. Qf3+ to force the black king in front of the pawn). 57. Qd2+ Kf1 58. Qf4+ Ke1 59. Qg3+ Kf1

60. Qf3+ Kg1 The black king is now in the way of his own pawn. This gives us time to maneuver our own king into position.

Closing the Gap With Your King

By this stage, the queen on f3 has got into the best position, but she can’t deliver checkmate on her own. It is time to bring your king into the position. This takes time, but there is a simple systematic way to do this, shown below:

Pattern #2 : Whenever the enemy king blocks his pawn, use this tempo to move your king closer to the action.

61. Kc2 Kh2 62. Qf2 Kh1 63. Qh4+ Kg1 The black king blocks the path, so what should you do?

64. Kd2! Move your king into position! Kf1 65. Qf4+ Kg1 The black king is blocking his pawn, how do we continue?

66. Ke2 Moving our king closer to the enemy king, to support the queen. Remember that a queen supported by another piece can checkmate the lone king on the 2nd rank (or 2nd file). This is why we have to bring our king in. I play some unnecessary moves here, but they don’t hurt. If you are short on time, repeating the position once or twice (not 3 times! = drawn) can buy you precious time to find the win. Kh1 67. Qh4+ Kg1 68. Qg3 (68. Kf3! is a quicker way to win … Kf1 69. Qf2#) Kh1 69. Qh3+ (69. Kf2 g1=Q 70. Qxg1#) Kg1 70. Qg3 Kh1 71. Qh4+ This position is the same as after 67. Qh4+ Kg1 72. Qg4 Kh1

73. Kf2! g1=Q+ (73…Kh2 74. Qxg2#) 74. Qxg1# 1-0

In summary, to beat the 7th rank pawn with a queen, you have to first of all get your queen close to the enemy king. Then you bring your king in, to support the queen. Once the two are nearby, then you can start to watch out for checkmates.

Simplifying the Endgame to Your Advantage

Now, if you understand that certain endgames are won or drawn, then it makes sense to see where you are heading in the late middlegame. If you can reach the position shown in diagram 1 then you know you have got the win in the bag, so all you have to do is simplify the position to get there.

Here is the same game, after I play 40. Kb4

In this position above, there is only 1 move that allows black to draw, and that is 40…g5 The idea of this is push the g-pawn down the board, and when it reaches g3, it will clear the way for black`s e-pawn. Meanwhile, white will try the simple plan of promoting the a-pawn. If you are interested in the actual sequence of moves, then here it is: 40…g5 41. Kc4 (41. Kxa4 loses to 41…g4 42. Kb4 g3 43. fxg3 Kxg3 44. a4 e3 and it is clear to see that black promotes first) 41…e3 42. fxe3 Kxe3 43. Kb4 g4 44. Kxa4 Kf2 45. Kb4 Kxg2 46. a4 Kf2 47. a5 g3 the race has begun 48. a6 g2 49. a7 g1=Q 50. a8=Q The race ended in a draw. Both sides promote on within one move of each other, and get a queen.

1 Tempo can Win You the Game

By tempo, I mean a single move. If you have an extra move (or tempo) then you can promote first and go on to win. If you miscalculate the number of moves it takes your opponent to promote, and the number of moves for you to promote, then you can end up entering a losing variation. What you should do is calculate as deeply as you can in concrete endgame positions. There are few pieces on the board, so this task should be relatively easy.

In the game, my opponent did not find the drawing move, and played a losing move.

40…e3?? 41. fxe3+ Kxe3 42. Kxa4 Kf2 43. Kb3 Kxg2 44. a4 Kf2 45. a5 g5 46. a6 g4 47. a7 g3 48. a8=Q g2

Here we are, back at diagram 1, I trust you know how to win the game from here!


Rook Pawn Endgames – Simple Theoretical Draws

If you can get your king in front of your own pawn, in a single pawn endgame, then you can almost always force promotion, and therefore win the game. This technique has been demonstrated in the king and pawn endgame post. In summary, what you do is gain the opposition – the 2 kings seperated by one square, with your opponent to move means “you have the opposition” – then you outflank the enemy king and drive him back, until you are on a queening square. Then you push your pawn up the board. That is all well and good, except it is no good in rook pawn endgames.

No Way to Win

In the following position, there is no way for black to win – I hardly need to mention that white cannot win – regardless of who has the move, because of stalemate themes. First of all let`s suppose that it is white to move:

The draw is easy. All you have to do is oscillate the king back and forth on the squares g1 and h1. For example 1. Kh1 The pawn can`t promote if your king is in the way! …h2 stalemate = draw. The alternatives are no better, for example 1…Kf3 is met by 2. Kh2 going for the pawn …Kg4 keeping the pawn 3. Kg1 and after …Kg3 we are at the starting position again. Black has made no progress. If 1…Kf2 then 2. Kh2 wins the pawn. If it is black to move, then you use the same technique, for example: 1… Kf3 2. Kh2 and we are in the line discussed earlier. If 1…Kg4 then simply 2. Kh2 or even 2. Kh1. They are equally vaild drawing moves.


The King is in Jail

The main conclusion from rook pawn endgames is that they are almost always drawn, as long as the defending king is nearby. Even if the attacking king is in front of the pawn, there is a way to draw, and as the title suggests, it is about not letting your opponent`s king escape. This position is drawn regardless of who has the move:

If white is to move first, then all you do is oscillate between the f2 and f1 squares. For example, 1. Kf1 Kh2 2. Kf2 Kh1. If the black king is in prison, then I guess the white king is like a prison guard patrolling the door to the cell. If the prison guard moves away from the door, then the black king escapes, for example 1. Kf3 Kg1 and now the black king is on a queening square, the pawn will promote. 2. Kg3 h2 and there is no stopping h1=Q. When black plays h2, Kf1 is stalemate.


A Useless Bishop

If a bishop starts on a light square, then it will never land on a dark square, and vice versa, because of the nature of how the piece moves. This is important, becuase it means that bishops can only ever control half of the squares on the board. In the first endgame position, you can add a dark squared bishop to the board and it would still be a draw. In the second endgame, adding a dark squared bishop would create a way to win, because the black king is active enough. Lets consider these possibilites one by one:

As there are stalemate themes available, provided that white follows the right procedure, black can`t win. Black can try tricks of course, but these are normally quite easy to avoid. Let`s say it is black to move. 1… Bd4+ 2. Kh1 if black does not move his bishop off the diagonal a7-g1 then it is stalemate. …Bg7 3. Kg1 white will just move back and forth from g1 to h1. Any checks directed at g1, and the white king goes to h1. If black does not let the white king out to g1 it is stalemate, if he does, then the position repeats itself. …h2+ 4. Kh1 Kh3 stalemate.

Bad Bishop but Active King

In these endgames you want to have a bishop of the same colour as the queening square of the pawn, to support promotion, but if the attacking king is active enough. By which I mean it is in control of the queening squares, then a win is possible, even if your bishop is on the wrong coloured squares.

White to move:

Of course black does not have to rush, and can even waste moves if needs be, by making irrelevant bishop moves. 1. Kf1 patrolling the prisoners door, not allowing say Kg1 and the promotion of the pawn. …Bc7 (1…Bb8; 1…Bd6 and 1…Be5 also work) 2. Kf2 Bb6+ The bishop is on the right diagonal. 3. Kf1 keeping the black king in prison. Now we waste a move with …Bc5! wins. For example 4. Ke2 Kg2 If it was black to move first, then we would just get on with the plan, and play 1…Bc7!

Practical Example: Good Bishop and Pawn

At a chess congress I played at – 20th 4NCL (Nottingham) 2018 – There was an endgame between a FIDE master and an amateur, which was pawn and bishop versus lone king, but the bishop was on the right coloured sqaures. I included this example, to illustrate the difference between a good and a bad bishop. When you have a good bishop in these endgames, it is always won.

Nottingham, September 2018

Kramaley, David 

Willow, Jonah B


After 39 moves, this position was reached, with white to move:

At first glance, you might think that white is doing okay, because he has a couple of pawns for the piece, alas one of them is about to drop, because they are too weak, and the black king is actively placed.

White`s most stubborn defense is 40. Kc2 but black will win a pawn after …Bg5 e.g. 41. Kd3 Kf4 and white loses a pawn. In the game play continued 40. Kc4 Bxb2 41. Kxc5 Bxc3 42. f3 Kf4 43. Kxc6 Kxf3 44. Kd5 Kf4 


White is now in zugzwang. In other words, having the move is a disadvantage, because when the white king moves, the e4 pawn will drop (If you are unsure about this, then please leave a comment and I will reply within a couple of days). White can play a4 (played in the game), but that is to no avail, because black can just wait. If on the other hand 45. Kc4 then  …Bb2 and 46. Kb3 Be5 now the e-pawn will drop.

45. a4 Be5 46. a5 Bc3 47. a6 Be5 48. Kc4 Kxe4 49. Kc5 Bd4+ 50. Kc6 Bb6 51. Kb5 Kd5 

52. Kb4 Kc6 53. Ka4 Bd8 54. Kb4 Kb6 55. Ka4 Kxa6 56. Kb4 Kb6 57. Ka4 a5 58. Kb3 Kb5 59. Ka3 a4 60. Kb2 Kb4

61. Ka2 a3 resigns… There is no way for white to stop the pawn from promoting. For example 62. Kb1 Kb3 63. Ka1 Bf6+ 64. Kb1 Bd4 (wasting a move, to force the white king to a worse square) 65. Kc1 (only move) …a2 and there is no way to stop the a-pawn.

What is Strategy in Chess? – A Simple Overview

As you come across various chess books and talk with other chess players, you will hear certain words such as ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’ being casually flung around. You may think you know what these words mean, but it is quite likely that you don’t understand the precise meaning of them, and what they are telling you about a position or game. In my glossary of chess terms, I have explained all of the jargon used in my posts, but the two aforementioned words require further explanation. The first question I am going to answer is: What is Strategy in Chess? and then: What is the difference between tactics and strategy?

The Difference Between Strategy and Tactics

A commonly held misconception is that the difference between the master and the club player is the ability to see ahead many moves. Some even go as far as to say some 20 moves ahead. While it is indeed an important part of chess, calculating concrete lengthy variations is not necessary in many positions. A more abstract approach can be taken, by evaluating certain positional elements and formulating a plan. This is called ‘strategy’. The ability to do this well comes with familiarity of master games and analysing your losses.

The term ‘tactics’ is referring to the means through which a player brings about an immediate change in the evaluation of the position. There is a vast array of tactical patterns, which can be applied to particular positions, for example the fork which often wins the ‘exchange’ (a rook for a minor piece). This winning of material can often be enough to win a game at a competetive level. Of course tactics can lead to other winning positions, such as checkmate combinations, which win on the spot, and (for example) the creation of a passed pawn, which wil lead to a win through typical means.

Here are the main features of strategy.

  1. The relative value of the pieces
  2. Pawn structure and pawn weaknesses
  3. Coordination of the pieces
  4. Opposite side castling and pawn storms
  5. Time and space

A Thematic Sacrifice – A Tactical Breakthrough

In the position below, there is a tactical motif, which allows white to obtain a winning posiiton immediately.

White to move

The move 1. Nxg5! punishes black’s weakening move. If black doesn’t take the knight, then white has proven black to be wrong, won a healthy pawn and destroyed black’s king safety. If …hxg5 The obvious move, then 2. Bxg5 and white has a horrible pin on the black knight. Black cannot move the queen, because his knight will drop. In the game, 2… Kg7 was tried. Here 3. e5 was very unpleasant for black. Play continued 3… Rg8 4. Bxf6+ Kf8 The question that arises here is: Should white take the queen?

Here we have to calculate.

5. Bxd8 Rxg2+ It seems like black has a perpetual check, by sliding the rook back and forth along the second rank. This would indeed be the case if it wasn’t for our queen on e2. 6. Kh1 Rxf2+ (other moves are inferior, for example any vertical rook move like 6… Rg3+ can be met by 7.f3 shutting out the bishop. White is simply a whole queen and some pawns up) 7. Kg1 Rxe2 (7…Rg2+ is not possible, because of 8. Qxg2) 8. Bxe2 Let’s count up the pieces. White has 2 bishops and 2 rooks. Black has a bishop, a knight and a rook.

Therefore white is a whole rook up, and will go on to win, so we can take the queen on d8. Although the thought of losing your queen on e2 can be scary, you have to step back and count up the pieces. If you yourself are winning their queen, then you should still be calculating this variation – In this case it turns out to be white’s fastest way to obatin a completely winning position.

Winning by Superior Strategy

This was a game between Nimzowitsch and von Scheve (1907). We can still learn a lot from old games, as the strategical principles are still of value today. In the position below, neither side has a knockout blow, but the strategies chosen will determine the course of the game.

Black opted for the aggressive 13… g5 which aims to generate some sort of attack on the kingside. This would be a suitable plan, if white was not able to open up the centre. There is a general maxim ‘A wing attack is doomed to fail if the centre is not closed’. This can be applied here. Let’s see how the game continued. 14. Be1 g4 Continuing with the original plan of a wing attack. 15. Ne5 Bxe5 Other options are similarly unpleasant for black.

  •  15… Nxe5 16. dxe5 (16… Bxe5 is problematic after 17. Bxe4 and black’s centre will fall apart.) Nxc3 17. Bc3 Bg7 18. cxd5 exd5 19. Qb3 White has 2 strong bishops and pressure against black’s king position.
  • 15… Nxc3 16. Bxc3 (16… dxc4 17. Bxc4 and white has permanent pressure on e6) Nxe5 17. dxe5 Bg7 Lands in the same position as above, by transposition of moves.

 16. dxe5 Ng5 17. Ne2 Qe8 18. Bc3 dxc4 19. Bxc4 e6 will be a permanent target for white now. Bd7 20. Nf4

Let’s evaluate this position. Black’s attack on the kingside has fizzled out into nothing. Black would like to have his queen involved in the attack, on a square like h4, but his queen is tied down to the passive role of defending the d7 bishop. Black’s e6 pawn is a permanent backwards pawn and a weakness that must always be defended. White has complete control of the d-file, the bishop pair aimed towards the black king, and a strong knight on f4, which plays both a defensive and offensive role. It is clear to see that white has a much better position than black does. The original position was roughly equal, therefore we can conclude that black has chosen a faulty strategical plan.

In the original position, the best plan to play for an equal position was 13… Qd6

  • If White continues 14. cxd4 exd4 15. Qb3 Rd8 black is equal; he will move his c6 knight (to e7) and play c6 cementing his d5 pawn.
  • If White continues 14. Ne2 Since white’s knight is not controlling the central squares any more, black can try: g5 15. Bxe4 dxe4 16. Ne5 Bxe5 17. dxe5 (A gross mistake would be 17… Qxe5?? 18. Bc3 wins the queen.) Qd3 With an approximately equal position.

The Relative Value of the Pieces


Of course the value of the different pieces depends conpletely on the posiiton they take on the chess board. For example a bad bishop, which is hemmed in by many pawns will be much less valuable than a good bishop, which is free to move across the whole board. A typical example of this situation is the French defence (opening). They say that black has a bad ‘French Bishop’ – It is always the same bishop that is bad in this opening, because of the pawn structure that defines it.

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Bd7 6. Bd3 Qb6 

White’s light squared bishop is much better than black’s light squared bishop. This can be explained by considering the pawn structure. White’s pawns are on dark squares (i.e. c3, d4, e5), whereas black’s pawns are on light squares (i.e. f7, e6, d5), and this restricts the mobility of the black bishop on e7. The bishop can’t go anywhere if pawns are in the way. This brings us onto a more general rule: A bishop is a good piece if allied pawns are on the opposite colour to the squares that it travels along. In this example the bishop travels along light squares, so it would like allied pawns to be on dark squares. Since this is not the case, this bishop is a bad piece.

In the French defense, black has 2 main ways of dealing with the bad bishop:

  1. Playing an early b6 and Ba6 to trade off the light squared bishops.
  2. Bringing the bishop outside of the pawn chain via Bd7, Be8, Bh5.

In my game against Manvith Sandhi (125 ECF), I employed plan #1 and obtained an equal position out of the opening.

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Bd3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. Nf3 Be7 6. 0-0 0-0 7. Be3 b6 8. Nbd2 Ba6 9. Qe2 Bxd3 10. Qxd3 c5


In the centre of the board, the knight has control of 8 squares. On the edge it has control of only 4 squares. There is a saying: ‘knights on the rim are dim’ and more often than not this is true. From the centre, the knight has not yet commited to attacking one area of the board, and there is more flexibility. Tarrasch made the sweeping claim that ‘The best squares for the knights are the c3, c6, f3 and f6 squares’ This rule should not be taken as a definite truth, but there is a lot to be said for it. On the aforementioned squares, the knights are controlling the 4 central squares (e4, d4, e5, d5), which are of paramount importance to any opening. Another point he is making is that on the squares g3, g6, b3, b6 the knight only has control of 6 squares, and of these 6, only 1 square is in the centre. Remember that central control is an important opening principle.

In the middlegame, you want to find an outpost for your knight. An outpost is a square that cannot be controlled by enemy pawns. The idea behind this is that you can cement your knight there, and short of swapping your knight off altogether, they are not going be able to get rid of your well positioned piece. Here is an example, white has just played 10. Ne5

White has a lovely knight on e5, an outpost, because both the d and f pawns are unable to kick the knight away. The only way to get rid of the knight is by swapping it off. This knight caused black some problems here. Play continued: 10… c5 11. h4! A strong attacking move. Nfd7 (The natural 11… Nbd7 loses a pawn) 12. Ndf3 Nxe5 13. Nxe5 

Just as you get rid of one knight, the other one takes its place! Black has to make a decision now. Either allow the knight to stay where it is for a while. Taking the knight leaves white’s dark squared bishop uncontested, and leaves the f6, g7 and h6 squares as weaknesses, so I would be reluctant to play that. The game continued 13… Bf6 14. Bh6 Re8 15. h5! g5 Black must try to keep the position closed. 16. f4 trying to open it up. Nd7 17. Bb5! Pinning the knight. Bxe5 18. dxe5 g4 19. Bc6 White has a large advantage here, and went on to win.

So we saw from this example that a strong outpost for your knight can be enough to win the game. The well placed knight restricts your opponent’s pieces, and can be the basis for an attack. If your opponent has to make unfavourable exchanges, in this case losing the dark squared bishop, then you have proven that it is the right strategical plan to position your knight on such a square. I am not going to talk about rooks and queens, because they need to be treated differently, and are the content for another post.

Approximate Relative Values of the Pieces

It is not possible to assign intrinsic values of the pieces, because it depends hugely on the position of them. For example someone might make an ‘exchange sacrifice’. Trading a rook for a minor piece. This is done, because they believe that their rook is worth less than the piece it is capturing. As a rough guideline, you can use these values:

  • Queen = 9
  • Rook = 5
  • Bishop/ knight = 3
  • Pawn = 1

Of course the king is not assigned a value, because he is priceless. Lose him and you lose the game! From these values above, we can conclude that 3 pawns is usually sufficient compensation for a piece, and that a rook and a pawn is usually about equal to a bishop and knight (normally the rook is better in the endgame, but the 2 minor pieces are better in the middlegame). The 2 rooks are supposed to be stronger than the queen, but in practice I have found it is much easier to play with the queen. However, if you are down material – i.e. your opponent’s army totals more points, then you must have positional compensation if you are to be equal or better. Here is an easy way to think about it, consider an extreme situation, where you are about to checkmate your opponent. You might be a whole queen down (9 points), but you are going to win, so this is irrelevant.

Please do leave comments below, with any questions you may have 🙂

King Safety in Chess – A Decisive Factor

As one of the three most important opening principles that I mentioned in this post, king safety is definitely an idea that will lead to quick wins or losses if it is neglected. The most common way to do this is to castle. In the majority of games, both players will castle, and the reason for this is to tuck your king away in the corner, to connect your 2 rooks and to give yourself the option of opening up the centre without the fear of your king coming under attack.

Basic Ideas about King Safety

  • In most games you should castle, to get your king out of the centre of the board.
  • Once castled you should not advance the pawns in front of your king, because these pawns are there to protect your king.
  • Watch out for potential piece sacrifices that may be used to open up your king’s position. 
  • If you play the moves g6, Bg7 and 0-0 or any version of that – This is called fianchettoing – Then you have to watch out for wing pawn attacks, based around h4-h5.

The Damiano Gambit – An Opening Trap

To demonstrate just how important king safety is, I will show you an opening trap where this theme quickly wins the game. It also highlights the fact that the h5-e8 diagonal (and h4-e1) can be weak diagonals, and by moving your f-pawn early on this can run into problems.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 f6? 3. Nxe5! Offering a whole knight to open up this weak diagonal. … fxe5 ( 3… Qe7 4. Nf3 4. Qh5+

Black now has 2 options that are equally inadequate. 

Option 1: 4… g6 loses a rook after 5. Qxe5+ Qe7 6. Qxh8 Qxe4+ 7. Kd1 White is winning in this position, because of a having more material than black.

Option 2: 4… Ke7 5. Qxe5+ Kf7 6. Bc4+ d5 7. Bxd5+ Kg6 8. h4 and white isn’t even material down. White has 3 pawns in return for the knight, which is considered to be an equal exchange, however black’s lack of king safety is atrocious, and white has an easy attack.

Paul Morphy Highlights Opponent’s Exposed King

In this game, which the unofficial world champion Morphy (1837-1884) played against an amateur, black did not castle his king and as a result came under heavy fire early on. It is typical in such games that the better developed side will attempt to open up the position to their advantage. This is exactly what Morphy did, even for the sake of a pawn or 2. Here it is:

 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. b4!?  The Evans Gambit. The idea is that you sacrifice a pawn to gain time on your opponent. They are faffing around moving already developed pieces to and fro, meanwhile you can rapidly develop your own pieces and start an attack! If you play this opening you have to play with energy and keep up the threats, otherwise you will just be a pawn down.

 Bxb4 5. c3 Gaining a ‘tempo’ (move) on the bishop. Bc5 (Also possible are Ba5 and Be7. These 2 moves are better than 5… Bc5, because Bc5 loses another ‘tempo’ after the inevitable d4) 6. d4 exd4 7. cxd4 Bb6 

Let’s have a look at the position that has arisen out of the opening. White has a strong control of the centre that is uncontested by black, and white can castle whenever. However black must move his g8 knight out of the way before he can castle and this will take time. White’s c4 bishop is aggressively placed; aimed at f7. Black has made quite a deplorable mistake in principle. In most cases, you should not move the same piece more than once in the opening, but black has moved his dark squared bishop 4 times already. This wasting of moves is at the expense of a lack of development, and also a lack of king safety. Morphy quickly brings this to light…

 8. O-O Na5 9. Bd3 d5?

This move opens up the a4-e8 diagonal on which white’s bishop can operate. This also exposes the black king. An improvement is 9… Ne7 10. Nc3 0-0 Now the black king is much safer. This would be a roughly equal position. 

 10. exd5 Qxd5? (10… Ne7 was better, returning the pawn, to castle as soon as possible) 11. Ba3

This is a critical point to take note of. The bishop on a3 prevents black from castling, and so the black king is doomed to remained exposed in the middle of the board. 

 Be6 12. Nc3 Gaining a tempo on the black queen – It is clear to see that Morphy was all for playing with energy and being extremely resourceful with his moves. once the queen moves, the centre will open up. …Qd7 13. d5 Bxd5 14. Nxd5 Qxd5

White is completely winning now. You can use this position as a puzzle if you like…

White to play and win.

 15. Bb5+! 

Sacrificing a piece to open up the central files. A brilliant way to break through. Re1+ is an equally strong move, and if you found this, then you should be just as proud.

 Qxb5 16. Re1+

This position is hopelessly lost for black, because the black king is so exposed.

A Dangerous Gambit Against the Dutch Defense

In this following game, black accepts white’s gambit and as a result his king comes under heavy fire. For the sake of a pawn white gets active play, and since black neglects his opening principles of development and king safety white gains a winning position quickly.

1. Nf3 f5 (1… e6 2. d4 f5 is a safer move order.) 2. d3
(2… d6 3. e4 e5  is a way to avoid
the gambit.) 3. e4 fxe4?! (3… d6 is a safer alternative) 4. dxe4

 Nxe4 5. Bd3 Nf6 Black has already forgotten an important opening principle – You shouldn’t move the same piece more than once in the opening (without good reason). The knight has moved 3 times!

White has a development advantage and an easy attack after
this. (Better was 5… d5 to get the light squared bishop into the game.) 6. Ng5!  g6 This move prevents the trick of Nxh7 when there is a threat of Bg6# 7. h4 Undermining the g6 pawn.

Rg8 Getting the rook off the h-file, where there were tactics of hxg6.  8. h5 d5 This move has arrived too late. White already has the makings of an attack. 9. Nxh7 What would happen if black takes the knight 9…Nxh7? 

White would play 10. Bxg6+ The only response is 10… Rxg6 (10… Kd7 is not an option.) 11. hxg6 Nf6 12. Rh8 is winning there.

 9… Bf5  Trying to consolidate the position. 10. hxg6 Qd7 11. Nxf6+ exf6 12. Qe2+ Be7 13. g7 This move comes with 2 threats. Can you see both of them?

 Nc6?? A blunder. White was
threatening not only Rh8, but also Qh5+. ( The only move for black was 13… Bxd3 14. cxd3 Nc6 when black is still much worse, but does not lose immediately.) 14. Qh5+ Picks up the loose bishop on f5. And black can resign with a clear conscience. 

Conclusions from the Game

  1. In gambit openings you don’t have to accept the sacrifice. The whole point of the sacrifice is for your opponent to gain time against you, and to rapidly develop. The lack of a pawn gives your opponent more mobility too, for example losing a pawn can open a file for your rook to get into the game. 
  2. If you do accept the sacrifice, then you should try to develop as quick as possible, and to find safety for your king. It is often possible to do this, but if you can’t, then accepting the gambit was probably not the way to play in the first place.
  3. In the Dutch defense opening, black has to be careful of his weakened h5-e8 diagonal, because of potential checkmate ideas early on. Remember that with every pawn move you are creating certain weaknesses. It is understanding the extent of significance of these weaknesses, and managing them that will make you a stronger player. 
  4. Avoid moving the same piece several times in the opening, because this wastes time, and deprives your other pieces of development.

Opening Principles in Chess

There are 3 main stages to each and every game of chess. These are the opening, middlegame and endgame. The way in which you formulate ideas will depend on which stage of the game you are in. A defining characteristic of the endgame is that your king becomes an attacking piece, whereas in the middlegame your king would almost always be in danger, if it walked out into the open. To march your king out in the opening is a subject of humour.

The focus of this chapter is to highlight the main opening principles in chess, and to show you the consequences of disregarding these principles. There is a famous quote by Spielmann ‘Play the opening like a book, the middlegame like a magician, and the endgame like a machine.’ There are many truths in this.

Key Opening Principles

  1. Develop your pieces.
  2. Gain control of the center.
  3. Get your king to safety.

These 3 points are the key to every opening. If you can accomplish these, then you can move on to middlegame ideas, in particular attacking plans. Through the use of some illustrative examples, I am going to show you how masters use these principles to win their own games.

Tal Exploits Opponent’s Neglect for Opening Principles

Tal – Tringov

Amsterdam, 1964

In this game, ex world champion Mikhail Tal illustrates how important these fundamental opening principles really are. Once the position opens up, black is suffering from poor development, while white has got all of his pieces in the game. This positional advantage materializes in the form of a tactical combination, which leads to forced checkmate.

1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. Nf3 c6 5. Bg5 Qb6

Already white has developed 3/4 of his major pieces, while black has only developed 1/4. The white knights on c3 and f3 control the central squares d4, e4, d5 and e5, so white clearly has a pleasant control of the center. Black has not yet committed a pawn to the center, but he will try to play e5 at a later stage.

6. Qd2 Qxb2 7. Rb1 Qa3

White has allowed black to win the b2 pawn. You could say he sacrificed this pawn, but white does get significant compensation in return. Since the b-file is now semi-open, white’s b1 rook has much better scope, and black’s queen on a3 is really misplaced. Therefor black will have to waste even more time to get his queen back into play. Meanwhile white will carry on with standard development.

8. Bc4 Qa5 9. 0-0 e6?

The last move 9…e6? was awarded a question mark, because it is a mistake. It is too slow – black can’t afford to lose any more time – he is behind in development as it is. Better was 9… Nd7 which prepares an immediate e5, saving a tempo.

White has achieved all the opening principles.

  1. All 4/4 minor pieces are playing a part in the game, and the rook on b1 is developed as well. Okay, the f1 rook would be slightly better on e1, in case the center opens up, but compared to black he has a huge lead in development. Black still only has 1/4 minor pieces developed, and it will be a long time before either of his rooks enter the game.
  2. White has a strong center, with pawns on d4 and e4 controlling the squares c5, d5, e5, f5. His pieces also support this center. Black has less space than white, and will suffer from a cramped position if he doesn’t play a pawn break such as e5 to take back some control of the center.
  3. White’s king is very safe, because it is castled. On the other hand, black’s king is still in the middle, and is likely to be subject to an attack from all directions, especially if the position opens up.

10. Rfe1 a6 11. Bf4 e5 12. dxe5 dxe5

There is a general rule which can be applied to many positions: Opening up the position favours the side who is better developed. This position is no exception. White is going to put a rook on d1 to demonstrate complete dominance over the d-file. All the pieces are perfectly positioned and there is no better time than now for white to attack.

13. Qd6!!

This is quite an unbelievable move. White leaves 2 of his pieces en prise, but capturing either of them will give Tal a completely winning position, and if Tringov does not capture either piece, then white will just carry on with the attack. In the game, black decides to take on c3. Let’s see what would have happened if he had taken on f4.

(13…exf4 14. Nd5! (threatening Nc7+ and Qd8#) …cxd5 15. exd5+ Be6 the only try 16. dxe6 white`s position is just too strong. For example 16… f6 17. Rxb7 with too many threats to stop.)

Qxc3 14. Red1 Nd7

Find the winning move for white.

There is a lovely combination that Tal had foreseen, which forces the win.

15. Bxf7+!

Another sacrifice – Once you have sacrificed one piece, you have to keep the momentum going. Throw more wood on the fire. The queen and knight combine powerfully in a number of checkmate sequences, and after the black king recaptures, white can bring his knight into the attack with tempo.


If black doesn’t take the bishop, then 15… Kd8 will be met by 16. Rxb7 Ngf6 17. Bg5 with the unstoppable threat of Rxd7+ leading to checkmate.

16. Ng5+ The knight enters the attack with tempo. … Ke8 17. Qe6+ Black resigns, because there is no way to stop checkmate. If 17… Kd8 then 18. Nf7+ Kc7 19. Qd6# Don’t forget that the rook on b1 stops the king running away to b6, which is why it paid dividends to position it so actively in the first place.

Conclusions from the Game

In this game, black neglected all 3 of the opening principles, and as a result suffered a quick loss. White capitalized on his lead in development by opening up the position, and then moving the queen into an attacking position, even at the expense of a whole piece. Then Tal brought his rook onto the open file with the threat of checkmate on d8. Now, being a piece down Tal didn’t have time to faff about. He got on with the attack, by sacrificing yet another piece; his light squared bishop – to remove a defender of the black king – the pawn on f7. After black captured, white brought his knight in with check. It is well-known that the queen and knight coordinate well in checkmate combinations, and checkmate was unstoppable.

This game just goes to show that if you neglect your opening principles, then you might be subjected to an attack from an early stage. On the other hand, if you play like Mikhail Tal and ensure that your pieces are well positioned, and you have a strong center and king safety, then you may well notch up a few quick wins yourself! For further reading on this topic, I recommend this article, which teaches you how to understand the ideas behind the opening moves.

Pawn Endgames #2 – Rule of the Square

Some games finish in 20 moves with a checkmate combination, others are decided in the middlegame, but many enter the final stage of the game – The endgame. The difference between understanding these positions or not equates to the result of the game, so it is really important that you don’t dismiss this part of the game. What I like about endgames is that because there are fewer pieces on the board, your analysis can be more complete, and a deeper understanding can be achieved. In this chapter, we will look at the rule of the square, which is both easy to learn and applicable to many positions.

To Push or not to Push

In this position below, if it is white to move, then white will win, but if it is black to move, then it will be drawn:

In this position, the only move that wins is to push the pawn with 1. a4 and so the race begins. …Kf6 2. a5 Ke6 3. a6 Kd6 4. a7 Kc7 5. a8 = Q it should be clear to see that white has won the race, and the game as well. You might still be wondering what the rule of the square is and how can it be used to help make your decisions. Here it is…

The Rule of the Square – A Visual Approach

Below is an example of the square coming into play in the first scenario we looked at:

The idea is that if the black king can jump into ‘the square’ at any point in time, then he will catch the pawn. In this position even if it is black to move, he won’t be able to jump inside the square, and will therefore lose after white promotes to a queen (or rook).

To construct the square, you count how many squares are ahead of the pawn, then make the same length to the side of the pawn. The main idea behind it is that the enemy king can approach from any direction: the side, below, diagonal, but if that king cannot get inside the square, then it won’t catch the pawn.

Different Routes, but the Same Number of Moves


An important concept to understand about all endgames is that the king can get to a final destination via several routes in the same number of moves. This is very important when the king plays a dual role – When it has to be able to go in a different direction if that is required to win.

Going back to the first example:

Let`s now suppose that it is black to move in this position. There are several ways to draw this. For example: 1. Kf8 a4 2. Ke8 a5 3. Kd8 a6 4. Kc8 a7 5. Kb7 a8=Q+ 6. Kxa8 draw.

But that is not the only way that black could draw the position. As long as the black king is moving in a leftwards direction – and is able to jump into the square, then it will be drawn. Here is another example: 1… Kf7 2. a4

Visually, it is clear to see that the black king is going to enter the square on the very next move. 2… Ke6 3. a5 Kd5 4. a6 Kc6 5. a7 Kb7 6. a8=Q+ and the queen gets gobbled up again … Kxa8 draw.

You should also note that if white tries to move his king forwards instead of pushing the pawn, this also fails to win, because the black king can just move back and forth.

Reti`s Study – Dual Purpose King Manoeuvers

Now that you are familiar with the simplest version of this idea, I want to show you how it can be applied to a more complicated example, which was a study of Richard Reti – one of the greatest players of the 1920s. White to move:

Reti, 1921

At first glace it looks like white is hopelessly lost, because there is no way to get the white king inside the square, and the white pawn is about to be devoured by the black king. There is one move that saves the day for white though.

1. Kg7! The king goes down towards the black pawn and across to help the white pawn at the same time. …h4 2. Kg6 now the white king is in its perfect position, ready to react accordingly.

In this position, black has 2 logical options.

A) Firstly, he could try to just march his h-pawn down to victory. The white king won’t be able to catch it. While this is true, it does not mean that black can win. For example 2…h3 3. Ke7 the king has now decided which way it must go – to help the white pawn promote. …h2 4. c7 Kb7 (4…h1=Q 5. c8=Q+ also draws) 5. Kd7 h1=Q 6. c7=Q+ Now both sides have a queen, and it will be drawn with correct play.

B) Alternatively, black could try to capture white`s c-pawn and hope that his black pawn will still make it. Let`s see what happens here: 2… Kb6 3. Ke5! (note that 3. Kg5 fails because of …h3! and the pawn is unstoppable) Even at this stage, the king has a dual role. If black now advances the h-pawn, the white king commits to helping the c-pawn promote. 3…h3 4. Kd6 h2 5. c7 h1=Q 6. c8=Q draw.

If black decides to take the pawn with 3… Kxc6 then white goes in the other direction, and enters the square of the black pawn. 4. Kf4 ( 4. Ke4 also works)

The fact that it is black to move in this position does not matter, because the white king is already inside the square. Hopefully you can now see how this concept can be very useful. 4… h3 5. Kg3 h2 6. Kxh2 draw.

To consolidate your learning, I would recommend working through this lesson on As always, if you have any questions about the content covered, feel free to ask them in the comments.



About Mark

Hi there!

Welcome to my chess improvement website. As an art, a sport and a science, chess has a lot to offer. Different people take different approaches to the game, and get different forms of fulfillment in doing so. What virtually all chess players benefit from is a logical way of thinking, which means that you will become a better decision maker.

With more possible positions than atoms in the known universe, chess has plenty of room for expanding. Nowadays, chess professionals train with powerful chess engines, that can calculate up to 20 moves deep, and can play better than any human alive today, which raises the level of play, and allows anyone in the world, who has access to a computer, the ability to become a great chess player.

How I Began My Journey

I was introduced to the game at the age of six or seven, and occasionally played against my dad and brother, who were, like me, of beginner strength. Nothing much happened for a few years, until at the age of 10, I started playing against my teacher and classmates, and also joined the local chess club. Playing against the adults who arrived later, the weaknesses in my play were highlighted.

On one particular occasion, which I remember well, a strong league player sat down opposite me, and we played a game. He showed me where I went wrong, after almost every move! I was creating weaknesses in front of my king, and bringing out my queen too early on. He said “In every position, there are loads of trap doors, that you can fall through…” After a pause, he continued “…And what you have to do is avoid them, and lead your opponent into your own traps.” At that age, this made a lot of sense to me, and I was intrigued to learn more about chess. Soon after he said this, he trapped my queen at the edge of the board, as if to prove his point.

After one year, I joined the club`s B team, and started to play ‘proper’ ECF rated matches. I won my first ever game in just 19 moves, and lost the following one in 19 (through resignation). I began to buy chess books, and became a premium member on I was learning fast.

The next momentous event was entering my first ever chess congress. I turned up at the Frodsham 2018 U120 congress, with no prior experience of what chess congresses are like, how to manage my time on the clock, or how to cope with psychological aspects of the game. After 5 rounds, I finished the outright winner, on a score of 5/5, and took home the princely sum of £150. I felt elated, and this spurred me on to get to the next level.

Since then, I have been to 2 more congresses, finishing mid table in each, with scores of 3/5 and 2.5/5, playing in a higher band (U135 ECF). At the end of July 2018, ECF awarded my first official grade of 130.

My Reasons For Helping Others

I want to see chess grow in popularity, and the number of chess players to rise. When this happens, there will be more competition, and a greater interest in the game. Chess will become more mainstream – like in Russia – and it will be promoted more in schools, as productive and beneficial exercise for the brain. As a result of chess becoming more popular, there will be more tournaments and local events, so that it is easier to get involved in this sport.

The Main Goals

This site is designed to take you from beginner up to strong club player level and beyond. The content included will provide you with the foundation to become an all round player, with an understanding of tactics, positional elements, strategies and much more. We want you to not only become a strong chess player, but also a creative thinker, and be able to develop your own style. In order to accelerate your improvement, the content released in each chapter will build on what you have already learned in the previous sections.

If you have any questions, don`t hesitate to leave a comment below, and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

All the best,


Chapter Quiz (Beginner)

To test whether you have successfully learned the different parts of this course, you should attempt these questions. This chapter quiz should highlight the areas you need to recap as well, before moving on to the novice course. Solutions are at the end.

  1. It is white to move, what is the outcome of this position is it a draw or a loss?

2. White has not yet moved either rook or the king, is white able to castle in this position, and why?

3. Can black win this position, and how?

4. What is the correct notation for the move played in this position below?

5. What is the correct notation for the move played in this position below?

6. How does white checkmate black in 1 move?

7. How does white checkmate black in 1 move?

8. How does black checkmate white in 2 moves?

9. What is the result of this position, is it won/drawn?

10. CHALLENGE! White to play and win.

Please see the solutions here…