Although the goal of chess is to capture the King, winning a game requires or calls for the building of strategic board superiority. This “superiority” can best be described in terms of positioning or the number (and value thereof) of pieces you can hold on to at any point in the game. Positioning means that you moved your pieces into squares from which successful attacks were possible or because of which you were able to repel the opponent’s attacks. As for the piece-value system, you are ahead (and therefore playing at a superior level) if you have more pieces or better-value pieces left than your opponent. If you want to win a game (and not just achieve a draw), then you can best do so by achieving one or more of the following superiority-endowing situations:
1. Move pawns forward farther than the opponent. Many times (in games played by masters), a game is won simply because a player was able to move one of his pawns a square or more ahead of the opponent’s. Ideally, you (especially if playing white) need to move your pieces forward as quickly and efficiently as possible, taking full advantage (if possible) of the ability to move the pawns two squares on that first move. This is why, in fact, the movement of the two center pawns is of such great importance. In this regard, white, because it always plays first, has a distinctive advantage.
2. Take one piece more than the opponent. Usually because of unforeseen mistakes, a player is forced to engage in an exchange of pieces which leaves the other player ahead in terms of number of pieces. In general, this leads to a game being lost, if the two players are evenly matched in skills. Knowing this, look for opportunities which leave you at least one piece ahead, even it is only a measly pawn. One extra pawn in the end game can make all the difference in the world.
3. Exchange a high-value piece for a low-value piece. Oftentimes, for example, players are forced to trade a rook for a bishop-this is usually tragic news for the player who lost the rook. A more common situation, though, is exchanging a knight or a bishop for a pawn, which happens then these pieces get trapped, or are placed in the wrong places. Knowing this, look for moves that trap the other player’s pieces; you can also sometimes force your opponent to move into squares that you can attack with more pieces than he can defend.
4. Castle. Without doubt castling gives a player a distinctive advantage over the other player, especially if you take away the other player’s ability to also castle at the same time. Do not allow the impetus to castle, though, to stop you from initiating aggressive attacks. The best players coordinate castling with their attacks and do so when it is most convenient, not just for its own sake.
5. Provide a well-thought-out, conservative defense. A good defense can sometimes motivate some players to make unnecessarily risky moves, especially if they are impatient. As a general rule, concentrate on “defense” if you are playing black, but, even if you are playing black, keep in mind that a good defense does not generally win games. A game is won by making preparations for and implementing (when the time is right) strategically-sound attacks.
6. Quickly and aggressively exploit your opponent’s weak or foolish moves, if any. Almost everyone makes mistakes-even chess masters. A good player is always looking for those key errors in judgment. Some players will miss these opportunities, if they are too focused on their own attack strategies.
7. Force double-pawn formations in a lane. Whenever possible, take a piece protected by a pawn if by taking the piece you force the opponent to have two pawns (one in front of the other) in the same row. This creates a weakness in your opponent’s defensive capabilities and will lessen his ability to move ahead and attack later on. This situation, in fact, can be the basis for a game being ultimately won.
8. Deliberately disconnect the opponent’s pawns. Whenever possible initiate exchanges which lead to the opponent’s pawns being disconnected. This invariably weakens your opponent’s ability to protect his perimeter. Pawns can be powerful protective pieces if they remain side by side to each other-this “power,” though, is greatly compromised when they are separated.
9. Make sure the opponent cannot castle. Remember that your opponent cannot castle once the King has been moved, if one of the squares over which he will be castling is being threatened, or if the King is in check. Preventing your opponent from castling is one way that you can help to seal his fate-tomb-wise.
10. Control the center of the board. This is probably one of the most fundamental things to teach beginner players, who often wonder why good players put so much emphasis on the center pawns. Without question, a game is decided by the player who establishes or holds on to control of the center. Knowing this, be very careful how you move your two center pawns, making sure you fully protect them as you aggressively move them forward.