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Chess Filter: The strangest loss of all
November 23, 2011 11:02 PM   Subscribe

Chess Filter: The strangest loss of all

In my quest to learn to play chess better, I have many games to look over and think about why I should have played them better. But this past one is perhaps the best example. I managed to get the opponent's king surrounded by multiple pieces and used them to check the opponent for probably about twenty moves. Unfortunately, the opponent managed to defend himself and force exchanges. In the end, he moved his king from one edge of the board to another and hid it behind some pawns and a bishop. But the worst thing of all, the second that I was no longer able to check him, with all my pieces far away from my own uncastled king, he checkmated me immediately with a bishop and a queen. (He only had three non-pawn pieces left by that point after all the exchanges. I had four.)

What should I learn from this game so that I can adjust my playing style in the future? Does taking advantage of my opponent's weaknesses and attacking his king indeed increase the chance of my opponent's victory because my positions are weakened? Is it best to play defense rather than offense?

It really seems I should change the way I play because it's really lame to lose while being on the attack most of the game. Maybe I should adopt his strategy: open myself to attacks and then pounce on the opponent once his attacks run out.
posted by gregb1007 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
To speak in the broadest of terms...

When you have the advantage in numbers, you need to set up a series of possible exchanges that will leave you still holding an advantage. Your opponent should never be able to just take a piece from you or force your retreat as he has gained a position and you have wasted your time twice (move there, move back).

To defend with smaller numbers, you force your opponent out of position and do not allow him to set up exchanges where say his knight takes your bishop and then your rook takes his knight. You've gone 1-1 but you are ever weaker while he has backup.

I suggest reading some beginner chess books and don't really have the space/energy to give you a crash course in actual practice.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:10 PM on November 23, 2011


OnTheLastCastle, I think being forced to retreat is my loss and his gain. As for the retreat, if a king moves far enough, he will eventually find some pieces to hide behind - pawns and what not. That's really what can make a series of checks eventually useless.
posted by gregb1007 at 11:26 PM on November 23, 2011


Your description makes it sound like you're thinking only about the next move, and chasing his king around for the heck of it. It also sounds like you're getting so distracted by being aggressive that forget to think about the game from your opponent's point of view to check for your own weaknesses. Without more detail, I can't really say much about the particulars of your game.

As you discovered, a check on it's own isn't worth anything (well, it can be useful to force your opponent into a small set of legal responses), so you need to have more of a plan than that. You should be aiming for a checkmate, a favorable exchange of pieces, or a favorable position. Of course, it takes studying/playing in order to recognize good positions :)

If you wrote the moves down, you might want to go back and try to find a way to force a checkmate, or a more favorable exchange of pieces. You should also look for the type of chess puzzles that tell you "checkmate in 3" and you have to find the correct moves.
posted by Metasyntactic at 11:44 PM on November 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm never just chasing a piece. I am maneuvering it to where I want it to be so that I can take or neutralize it. You do sound like you're pretty in the moment of one or two moves at a time.

The king is the slowest piece on the board. It can't really run from anything. That's why you have all the other pieces. If he hides behind them, and you have a piece covering the attacking piece, his king cannot do anything. So really, the king is nothing but a liability almost all the time.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:52 PM on November 23, 2011


This is too dependent on the specific position to be able to say that it's always better to attack (possibly putting yourself out of position if your opponent survives the attack) or to play defensively. Some positions call for attack, some for defense, and many positions are unclear as to which is called for. People study this game for a lifetime without mastering all its intricacies, and the sorts of questions you raise here are one aspect of that.

And to some extent its a matter of personal style. By playing defense, you may decrease your chances of losing, but also decrease your chances of winning; that is, you will be more likely to draw games. And I say this as a person who tends to play defensively; I lose fewer games than the average person of my skill, but I also win fewer, because I draw more.

Maybe I should adopt his strategy: open myself to attacks and then pounce on the opponent once his attacks run out.

You've kind of got it backwards here: it's sometimes OK to set yourself up to pounce in a way that might also make you more vulnerable to attack, but that's attacking play of a sort as well. If you'd rather play defensively, that's OK too, but that's not opening yourself to an attack, that's making sure you're well defended, quit the opposite.

The way you've expressed it here is wrong because either a) you really are opening yourself to an attack, in which case your opponent finds the attack and you lose, or b) you're trying to make it look like you're vulnerable to attack when in fact you're not, in which case you're counting on your opponent missing something. The idea is not to play by hoping your opponent misses what you're planning (although it's just icing on the take if he does fall for it), it's to play in such a way that even if your opponent does see what you're planning and defends against it, it still gains some advantage for you.

That's really what can make a series of checks eventually useless.

So don't pursue a series of checks unless it's going to accomplish some other goal. That doesn't mean you have to give up an attacking style of play if you don't want to, but maybe you have to expand your conception of what "attacking style" is—it's not always just going straight after the king.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:02 AM on November 24, 2011


DevilsAdvocate - Re: So don't pursue a series of checks unless it's going to accomplish some other goal.

I've seen other people use a series of checks to eventually checkmate. In fact, I was on the losing end of this strategy quite a few times. It's just that it doesn't seem to work reliably in reverse. Based on what I've seen from my opponents, they use repetitive checking to take lots of my pieces and even checkmate me. I guess, that sort of strategy requires an appropriate position.

Oh... I guess this is the perfect occasion to mention that in most games that I've lost, my opponents used a "scorched earth" strategy of repeated checking, piece taking, and eventual checkmate. I actually haven't seen many wins with a more gradual strategy. Of course, the people I've played against are quite a bit better than me, but the ones with much higher ratings choose not to play me. Perhaps these players do have different, more gradual strategies.
posted by gregb1007 at 12:18 AM on November 24, 2011


Yes, when I say "some other goal," that other goal might indeed be checkmate. It might also be to take several of your pieces. And if you can see how your series of checks is going to lead to checkmate, or to gaining some material advantage, then by all means go for it.

But if you're just going for a series of checks without seeing what advantage it's going to get you, that's a gamble. (Not necessarily a bad one; even the best players make the kind of risky attack where they can't see how it will turn out when they begin.) But understand that making a series of checks doesn't guarantee that you'll end up with any sort of advantage if you can't see your way to one, so if you can't see any tangible advantage you're going to gain from your series of checks, at least pause a moment and think about whether there's something else you could do instead. ("When you see a good move, look for a better one." — Emmanuel Lasker)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:34 AM on November 24, 2011


There are no points for checks. The idea of a check is to force the other person into doing something to your ultimate benefit. You can use it to force the king into a position where you can obtain a mate, or you can use it as part of a skewer, pin or fork in order to take or threaten another piece. Once you start thinking of it in this way, you will be more likely to avoid pointless check-chases and start planning in advance in order to create these situations.
posted by Jakey at 12:41 AM on November 24, 2011 [7 favorites]


Does taking advantage of my opponent's weaknesses and attacking his king indeed increase the chance of my opponent's victory because my positions are weakened? Is it best to play defense rather than offense?

If chess skill could be reduced to answers to questions as broad as this, chess would not be worth playing.

The fastest way to improve is a combination of play under time control, and study. I know of no better resource for this than FICS - keep an eye out for announcements from lecturebot.
posted by flabdablet at 12:47 AM on November 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


What others have said re: checking - yeah, it's nice to force a particular response, but if you don't have a plan for how to use that response it's of limited value. Also, keep in mind that his "hiding" the king behind friendly pieces can work to your advantage; see for example the back-rank mate and smothered mate.
posted by solotoro at 1:26 AM on November 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Record your game moves so that you can play over them and analyze alternative moves you didn't play or even consider. You can get a coach, a higher rated friend, or a strong free chess computer program like houdini to offer suggestions for better moves.
posted by Gosha_Dog at 3:55 AM on November 24, 2011


Really good advice in this thread. It sounds like you need to work on your endgame. Broadly, that means studying positions where you can put the king in checkmate with specific pieces (say, two bishops). There are a lot of books on this subject, if you're interested.

To me, the "scorched earth" policy that you're talking about relies on the other person to either make a blunder that leads to checkmate, or to have so few pieces that they can be easily cornered and mated. It sounds like your opponent knew enough to defend himself from this style of play, but you'll get to that level, with enough play and practice. Good luck!

(Also, seeing the moves/position for this game would be really interesting.)
posted by Stephanie Duy at 4:30 AM on November 24, 2011


Why was your own king uncastled?
posted by milarepa at 5:22 AM on November 24, 2011


Your argument about checks sounds like a tennis player saying "I used a lot of forehands in this game and still lost.. I don't understand, I thought forehands were good.. should I stop using them?". A single check may be a good move, an average, or a bad one in any particular situation. The same goes for a series of checks. Usually being on offensive and doing a lot of checks is good because it gives you more choices while your opponent only has few available moves, meaning you have larger pool of possible moves to pick the best out of; however if you still choose a bad move out of available pool, you won't magically come out ahead just because you've used checks.
posted by rainy at 5:30 AM on November 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


Attacking is much more fun then defending. When you get to attack a lot, you feel good and are (if you don't learn otherwise) under the impression that you're winning. But, often you're not, and it comes as a surprise when your attacks come to an end because your opponent knows how to defend against them (and, as you ignored your own defense in the heady feeling of the attack, get mated.) Once you get this, you can have fun letting aggressive opponents make unsound sacrifices, sure that there's a mate in there somewhere when you know you can defend the position because your pieces have mobility and can quickly force exchanges with the atackting pieces.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:59 AM on November 24, 2011


The good news and the bad news is that you have a lot to learn. You are at a point where you can make pretty vast improvements by starting to read books. Something like How to Reassess your Chess might really open your eyes.

To address your question specifically, you shouldn't do anything in chess without knowing that you are making some sort of concrete benefit. A series of checks is worthless if they're going to lead nowhere. A series of checks that leaves your king vulnerable is worse than worthless -- unless it leads to a mate.

If you had his king surrounded by multiple pieces, then there might have been a way to force mate or force him to sacrifice material defending the king. You should study (realistic, not composed) chess problems to improve this part of your game.

Generally, good players attack for specific reasons -- either to force mate, to win material, or to gain a better position. They don't just attack and hope something good happens unless they're desperate. Until you see something good happening as a direct result of your attack, aim for small, incremental improvements with each move.
posted by callmejay at 9:11 AM on November 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


You might look at the site in this post I made way back,

Chess tactics in plain English


Specific to your question, it doesn't sounds like you are moving your pieces in support of each other. For example, the fact your opponents king could slowly crawl to safety across the board - consider that you could maneuver a Rook to an open file, basically cutting the board in half since the King could never cross that line, unless your opponent took countermeasures (which deflects their attention and forces them to be reactive). With your Rook just sitting there controlling that line, then you could be using, say, your knights to push the king up against your "Rook line", and checkmate that way.

In other words, attack with your pieces all pulling in the same direction, which might mean for some of the pieces they sit there controlling space, and for others they tie down your opponents resources. It's not all directly attack the King.

Disclaimer - I am a very average player. Very very average.
posted by Rumple at 12:30 PM on November 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


if a king moves far enough, he will eventually find some pieces to hide behind

Hide behind, or become entangled by?

It seems to me that you are thinking about things in a very concrete "projection of power" way which is encouraged byall those statements that suggest chess is a simulation of the medieval battlefield. Chess is abstract.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:52 PM on November 24, 2011


I think you're in that transitional stage between learning chess tactics and learning chess strategy.

Suggestion to get you to the next level: consider positional chess. Some Q&D traditional advice is occupy the center of the board. You develop your pieces to occupy and control the center. Done properly, you will find that all your pieces, every one of them, ends up supporting the cause. Then your attack will move with inexorable strength, instead of petering out. If a counter attack comes, resources will be available.

(Of course, if your opponent is a smart serious player, s/he will be doing the same thing, and then you're in for a mid-game full of maneuvering. And if they're better, you'll lose. Such is chess.)

Every move counts. Develop all your pieces, control the center. Don't launch the attack before it's ripe.

(How? You can think and experiment on your own; or for an accelerated intro, study one of those chess openings books.)
posted by coffeefilter at 1:10 PM on November 24, 2011


You must always, always think of your position, and how it stands in relation to your opponent's. Haring around the board imposing checks that do not lead to a gain - either positional or material - is bad play. It sounds like you left your own king exposed and your defences weak just because you saw a way to impose a series of pointless checks.

I think being forced to retreat is my loss and his gain.

This is far too simplistic and absolute a view, I'm afraid. Chess is not simply about whacking everything forward and trying to swamp the enemy's king. There can be a lot of ebb and flow in the game - particularly during the end game. The middle game can involve regroupings and changes of tack to accommodate/counter the opponent's strategy.

As for the retreat, if a king moves far enough, he will eventually find some pieces to hide behind - pawns and what not.

Firstly, A king can be trapped behind pieces in such a way that a checkmate becomes easier (especially later in the game, when the position is more open) - because he can no longer run around the board. Secondly, if your attacks are only driving the king into a position of safety, they are not good attacks, for the reason previously mentioned. If you cannot see a way to impose a disadvantage on your opponent with an attack, reconsider it, because you'll be wasting moves when you could be strengthening your position and setting up a far better base from which to make an effective attack. Chess takes patience. Do not launch attacks too early and always watch your back when you do.

Think ahead. When considering a move, don't just think about what it will get you or how you want to move from there; think about how your opponent will respond. Put yourself in his or her position and imagine you are going to deal with your attack. This is a great way of spotting flaws in your tactics before you actually make a move. Always think about what s/he's doing as well as what you're doing. Look at the whole position, not just the pieces in immediate action.

And do take a look at some books on good chess strategy. They'll make your game so much stronger.
posted by Decani at 8:19 AM on November 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


rainy: Your argument about checks sounds like a tennis player saying "I used a lot of forehands in this game and still lost.. I don't understand, I thought forehands were good.. should I stop using them?". A single check may be a good move, an average, or a bad one in any particular situation. The same goes for a series of checks. Usually being on offensive and doing a lot of checks is good because it gives you more choices while your opponent only has few available moves, meaning you have larger pool of possible moves to pick the best out of; however if you still choose a bad move out of available pool, you won't magically come out ahead just because you've used checks.

Exactly what I would have said.

In this particular game, it sounds like maybe you could have benefited from spending a move first cutting off the king's avenue of escape (say, by moving a rook over to control all the squares in a file (chess-speak for column)), then starting your checks, driving the king into that barrier so that you could checkmate him. But without seeing the actual game I can't really give any more specific advice than that.
posted by dfan at 8:39 PM on November 25, 2011


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