Cool Tips

[cool blue cat says:]

Look for Cool Tips in other handouts. If you know one, let me know!

Tips on the opening

Cool Tip: All rules are made to be broken, (including that one).

"don't move pieces twice in the opening". So what if a game goes 1 e2-e4, e7-e5; 2 Ng1-f3, Qh4. Is White supposed to ignore the queen and develop another piece with 3 Bf1-c4? No, of course you take the queen and think yourself lucky! A better example is in the opening line 1 e4, e5; 2 Nf3, Nc6; 3 Bc4, Nf6. White can play a number of moves here, but one common line is to go 4 Ng5. This gives Black a number of problems, although it's likely that the game will turn out fairly level. So what's happened to the rule? When I say "don't move pieces twice in the opening", I really mean "it's usually not a good idea to move pieces twice in the opening, so unless you have got a really good reason for moving a piece twice, get on with developing your other pieces". O.K?

COOL TIP: how to choose an opening

"A knowledge of tactics is the foundation of positional play. This is a rule which has stood its test in chess history and one which we cannot impress forcibly enough upon the young chess player. A beginner should avoid Queen's Gambit and French Defence and play open games instead! While he may not win as many games at first, he will in the long run be amply compensated by acquiring a thorough knowledge of the game"

Cool tip: I often play 1 e4, e5; 2 Nf3, Nc6; [3 Bc4, Bc5]; 4 d3, Nc6; 5 Nc3, d6 but this often gives a slow, stodgy game and I never get any ideas.

Beginners often play 1 e4, e5; 2 Nf3, Nc6; 3 Bc4, Bc5; 4 d3, Nc6; 5 Nc3, d6. This is the Guioco Pianissimo, the 'very quiet game', and can lead to rather slow and stodgy play. The liveliest line of it is Canal's variation, 7 Bg5, h6; 8 Bxf6, Qxf6; 9 Nd5 and now 9...Qg6 is fun but the best line is 9...Qd8, when Black can equalise. If you must play this line, there are some notes elsewhere.

Far from quiet is the line starting 1 e4, e5; 2 Nf3, Nc6; 3 Bc4, Bc5; 4 c3. White is threatening to occupy the centre and roll forward: Fine gives a sample line 4...Nf6; 5 d4, exd4; 6 cxd4, Bb6? 7 d5, Nb8; 8 e5 Ng8 (yeuch); 9 O-O, Ne7; 10 d6 (zok) Ng6; 11 Ng5 (pow) O-O; 12 Qh5 and Black must give up his queen to avoid mate.

Black must hit back quickly with 6...Bb4+ 7 Bd2, Bxd2 8 Nbxd2 d5! or 7 Nc3, Nxe4; 8 O-O, Nxc3; 9 bxc3, d5! with equal chances, e.g. 7 Bd2, Bxd2; 8 Nbxd2, d5! 9 exd5, Nxd5; 10 Qb3, Nce7; 11 O-O, O-O; 12 Ne4, c6; 13 a4, Qc7; 14 Re1, Qf4 (diagram). This open attacking game is what I recommend you play as White or Black while you are learning chess.


If you are feeling frisky as White you can try 6...Bb4+ 7 Nc3 since 7...Nxe4; 8 O-O, Nxc3?! 9 bxc3, Bxc3? 10 Ba3! leads to a terrific attack. These lines are just examples, as the game is far from over, and both sides have alternative moves to the lines considered. They are all likely to be more to your taste than the flat Nf3/Nc3/Nc6/Nf6 formations.

[cool blue cat says:]

COOL TIP: Another line to give the Guioco Piano a bit of fizz is Evans' Gambit, 4 b4!? The gambit accepted is exciting: 4...Bxb4; 5 c3, Ba5; 6 d4 when White is a move up on his plan in the 4 c3 line, but this has cost him a pawn. The gambit may be declined by 4...Bb6.

Tips on the middle game

COOL TIP: Where should I put my pieces?

* KING: tuck it away during the opening, by castling as a rule to get the rook out as well. But in the endgame, the King becomes a strong attacking piece, and can make raids on the opponent's Pawns, and guide your own Pawns through to be Queens. Because of course, with only a few pieces on the board, there is less danger of a middle-game attack, and then the King needn't hide. It becomes more like any other piece, and should be moved into the centre of the board to attack or defend as



* QUEEN: Not very useful right at the start, but always powerful. Place it near the centre in the opening, behind the minor pieces - e2,d2 or f2/c2 are good squares ready to jump out to make a raid. After some pieces have been exchanged, or you have a clear advantage, you can move the Queen further towards the little centre (e4,d4,e5,d5).


* ROOK: Rooks must have open lines. This may take some time to arrange, and because they can be chased by minor pieces they are best place in waiting (like the Queen) on the central e- and d-files. Later, they can move strongly up the board using these central files - for example, in the middle game, to e3 and then move over to g3 to help attack the Black King, or right up to the seventh rank on e7 or d7, where it can attack pawns right along the opponent's second rank.

This control of the seventh rank is very powerful, particularly in the endame if your opponent's King is stuck on the last rank (a8-h8). Rooks work even better in pairs for example, by putting them on e1 and e2 they can control the e-file and then often Black cannot swap off by playing their own Rook to e8. Even stronger is to control the seventh rank with eg. Rooks on d7 and e7, where they can gobble up pawns (and often Kings, by moving one Rook to the back rank).


* BISHOP: also needs open lines. The long diagonals a1-h8 and h1-a8 are useful, but often it is more important to point them at your opponent's ing side, for example, by putting them on c4 and e3. Two bishops side by side can be very powerful, and can act from the safety of their own lines; Bishops on b1 and c1 are known as Horwitz Bishops.


* KNIGHT: The short-stepping Knight can get left behind if the battle moves away, so the best bet is to keep them in the centre. Elsewhere I have descibed why they are often best placed on c3 and f3 in the opening. Later, e5 and d5 are useful squares to occupy when they can threaten Pawns on c7/f7 and pinned Knights on c6/f6. They may be driven away from e5/d5 by pawns; best are squares where the opponent cannot or dare not chase them with pawns. If Black has moved his

Pawns from c7 to c5 and from e7 to e5 then a Knight on d5 can never be driven away, only exchanged for another piece. When this happens, you can try to recapture with another piece which also cannot be driven off. But another good square for a Knight, when pawns are on e4 and e5, is f5: here it threatens the pawn on g7, and if ever Black pushes it away with g6 then a hole appears on h6 for the Knight to hop into, perhaps giving check.


* PAWNS: You will have to move some pawns to get your pieces out, and you can try to dominate the centre with pawns on e4 and d4 ( perhaps with c4 and/or f4). But the pawns in front of your castled King form a solid wall on f2/g2/h2, and those on a2/b2/c2 are probably OK where they are too. So, oddly, pawns are often well-placed where they are at the start of the game. Every pawn move loosens the position: if you move the pawn on g2 to g3, you immediately

get holes at f3 and h3. Moving a pawn from f2 to f3 not only takes away the best square for your Knight, which is a good defender of the pawn on h2, but also opens up a check to your King from h4, or c5 after castling. When the endgame appears, one side or the other will have to win material to win by queening a Pawn or at least threatening to. Then Pawns can be moved more freely, to block opposing Pawns, to create and support extra or passed Pawns of their own side, and to keep out the opponent's pieces including their King.

COOL TIP: how do you decide on a move?

Things to ask yourself about your intended move:
"What wonderful things does this move do for my position?

Avoid the quick, lazy move. This is one move that will almost always turn out to be the losing blunder.

Nothing freaks out the amateur player more than the threat of an attack against the King [...] Funnily enough, it is then not the opponent's King's-side attack that wins the game but rather the amateur's lack of threats due to his having given up on his own plans.

Take nothing for granted. Don't feel or hope that some line is good or bad. Make sure that it is!

 Always expect your opponent to see your threat and make the best reply.

 Play to win against anyone and everyone. [...] Play without fear (after all, we are all going to lose lots of games, so there is nothing to be afraid of, is there?) and you will instil fear into your opponents. "

-- SILMAN, The Amateur's Mind, and Re-assess your Chess

COOL TIP: how do you avoid blunders?

After you have decided but before moving, write the move down, and before playing it, check it again for any tactical features you may have missed. After this fresh look, then you move.

Blumenfeld's rule:

"It often happens that a player carries out a deep and complicated calculation, but fails to spot something elementary right at the first move. In order to avoid such gross blunders, the Soviet master B. Blumenfeld made this recommendation:-
When you have finished your calculations, write down the move you have decided upon on the score sheet. Then examine the position for a short time 'through the eyes of a patzer'. Ask whether you have left a mate in one on, or left a piece or a pawn to be taken. Only when you have convinced yourself that there is no immediate catastrophe for you should you make the planned move.

See also An important note about Blumenfeld's rule.

[cool blue cat says:]

"You've all seen people do this. I've also seen people do it badly. The idea is to snap youself out of the trance of analysis and take a fresh look. there are two basic ways of mishandling the method:

  I have seen players write down a losing move while nodding and smirking, look over the board again still nodding, and then play the move. Useless - just going through the motions. I guess they were just revising their latest thoughts on the position. You must jump! snap! start! your thinking again, to see if you have overlooked anything at the start of your thinking. You are not checking conclusions - you are checking assumptions. [If they had genuinely re-started their thinking there would have been a change in body language - not a smooth progression from choosing to writing to blundering, nodding all the while.]

 The second useless way of implementing Blumenfeld's rule is to carry on thinking about the position. You see players with two, three, maybe four moves written down and crossed out over the course of fifteen minutes. This is hopeless indecision. You write the move down once you have decided on it. You then check it in case it is a blunder - not to see if you prefer another move. If there is nothing obvious tactically wrong with it, you must play it or you will run out of time. If you use the time to think about other moves you are not only wasting time, you are not even safeguarding yourself against blunders!"

COOL TIP: How to analyse

"All candidate moves should be identified at once and listed in one's head. This job cannot be done piecemeal, by first examining one move and then look at another."

COOL TIP: how do you keep track of all the different strategical ideas?

Horowitz and Mott-Smith in Point Count Chess offer a little list (every book has their own little list):

Plus points

  • Control of the centre
  • Pawn on fourth vs. Pawn on third
  • Mobile Pawn wing
  • Strong outpost station
  • Superior development
  • Greater space
  • Bishop-pair
  • Bishop vs. Knight
  • Half-open file
  • Control of useful open file
  • Rook(s) on seventh rank
  • Passed Pawn
  • Outside Passed Pawn
  • Advanced Pawn
  • Qualitative Pawn majority
  • Advanced chain
  • Advanced Pawn 'salient' (Pawns in arrow formation /\)
  • Better King position
  • Offside Pawn majority
Minus points WEAK PAWNS
  • Backward Pawn
  • Doubled Pawn
  • Isolated Pawn
  • Hanging Pawns
  • Hanging group
  • Crippled majority wing
  • "Weak-square complex"
  • Holes
  • Compromised King's-side
  • King held in centre
  • Cramped position
  • Bad Bishop
Rather than remember all 31, at each point Kotov says you should try and consider:

1. weak squares and pawns

2. open lines

3. the centre and space

4. piece position

Silman lists:

  1) Material (owning pieces of greater value than the opponent's).

  2)Space (the annexation of territory on a chess board).

  3)Superior Minor Piece (the interplay between Bishops and Knights).

  4)Pawn Structure (a broad subject that encompasses doubled pawns, isolated pawns, etc.).

  5)Control of a key file or square (files and diagonals act as pathways for your pieces, while squares act as homes

  6)Lead in development (more force in a specific area of the board).

  7)Initiative (dictating the tempo of a game).

Cool tip: What is a plan?

Kotov has been much exercised by this notion of planning, and in his books gives lots of examples of planless play being punished. You can often see glorious examples of well-planned play like in the old master games of Tarrasch and Steinitz, where a plan conceived early in the game was carried out to perfection and gradually overwhelmed the opponent. Tarrasch and Steinitz also showed how to form a plan where to find weak points, and how to attack at the weakest point. I'll discuss this in more detail below, but first another word from Kotov and Bronstein on planning in general. Kotov describes reading over a game of Romanovsky's against Vilner, which made a powerful impression on the young Kotov here a plan which Romanovsky stuck to over 5 hours eventually resulted in victory. ROMANOVSKY commented on his own game:
" 'The last and main conclusion to be drawn and the main one is as follows. In every game we ought to have a single basic plan, and by carrying out this plan we ought to get a prolonged initiative. The initiative so gained will tend to increase until it reaches the stage where it is sufficient to force a win.' ...

 "My own reaction"

says KOTOV
"was immense admiration. Everything foreseen and planned from the first move to the last... I tried to start playing in a planned fashion... but I got precisely nowhere! I would envisage a long siege of my opponent's pawn at a6 but was distracted by threats on the f-file... My games still consisted of isolated episodes which I feverishly tried to knit together into a harmonious whole...

"It was only much later ... that the question of a single plan became clear to me... In the Vilner game it was a struggle between unequal sides. When, however, you meet a strong inventive opponent and he counters every one of your intentions not only by defensive but also by counter-attacking measures, then it is far from simple to carry out a single plan.

"... I finally concluded: 'A single plan is the sum total of strategic operations which follow each other in turn and which each carry out an independent idea that arises logically from the demands of a given position'. ...

  The definition given above is supported by the following quotation from Bronstein:
'Due to Tarrasch(*) an idea grew up that is still prevalent nowadays, the idea that there are the so-called logical games in which one side carries out a logical plan from beginning to end rather like a theorem in geometry.

I do not think that there are such games between opponents of the same strength and the annotator who gives that impressions is often the winner of the game who makes out that what happened is what he wanted to happen'

Znosko-Borovsky says much the same thing in his How Not To Play Chess lecture. So, read and believe when you are told that you need a plan, but remember that real chess is likely to be more messy and less smooth. Unless you are playing an opponent who hasn't got a clue you will have to keep chopping and changing plans to cope with the changing situation on the board, and maybe play a few moves without commitment to a definite plan. That's life...

Cool Tips from the masters on training and practical play:

Advice from the Botvinnik school

"One should play 50-55 games a year.

  "It is advisable to confine one's opening repertoire to three opening systems. While studying those systems one should strive to establish a close link between the opening stage and typical plans in the middlegame. A thorough use should be made both of opening manuals and of the games played in the latest tournaments.

  "One should study the endgame systematically [the pupils were asked to prepare written reports on some types of endgame]

  "To avoid time-trouble, it is useful to play training games paying attention primarily to the time-limit, even if this is detrimental to the quality of the games. In tournament games (...) one should make the first 15 moves in 30 minutes.

  "It is vital to check one's analyses thoroughly, including those that have already been published. To broaden one's chess outlook it is useful to study the available game-collections of the leading chess players. To improve one's accuracy of calculation, one should solve endgame studies and analyse games abounding in tactical ideas."

-- MM Botvinnik
"Let us repeat once more the methods by which we can increase our combinative skill:

  "(1) by careful examination of the diffferent types and by a clear understanding of their motives and their premises
"(2) By memorising a number of outstanding as well as of common examples and solutions
"(3) Frequent repetition (in thought, if possible) of important combinations, so as to develop the imagination.

-- Euwe, Strategy and Tactics in Chess.
"The basic principle of defence consists in making the opponent's task as difficult as possible, creating ever new obstacles in his path.

  " [...] If you can succeed in abruptly changing the situation on the board (even by choosing a continuation which is objectively not the strongest, associated with a degree of risk), your opponent, having already envisaged a particular pattern of play, will frequently not manage to reorganise his thoughts and will begin to make mistakes."

Cool Tip: "Always try to keep the three pawns in front of your castled king on their original squares as long as possible"
-- ALEXANDER Alekhin
"The Queen in chess loves company; it must have an attendant, a fellow piece, as otherwise it will not be at its best. And these other pieces should be able to cooperate with their mistress, and not stand around merely as onlookers."
-- Vukovic. veresov-makogonov, moscow 1940

  paulsen-anderssen, leipzig 1877

"As much choice as possible in intervening on one or on the other wing - a discussion on the centre."
-- Euwe, Strategy and Tactics in Chess.

Cool Tips from the masters on the endgame:


In his excellent book PRACTICAL ENDGAME LESSONS, Edmar Mednis formulated one of the most important principles with startling simplicity:
"Passed Pawns must be pushed"
-- Mark DVORETSKY, Secrets Of Chess Training
[I don't know if this is original to Mednis: the phrase is used freely by Irving Chernev in books that predate all the Mednis books I own. -- DR


 "Every healthy, uncompromised majority must be able to yield a passed Pawn."

  "The passed Pawn is a criminal that must be kept under lock and key. Mild measures, such as police surveillance, are not sufficient."

  "With every step nearer the endgame the power of the King increases. You should throw him without fear for his safety where the battle is thickest."

-- Nimzovitch
"The basic rule of endings is not to hurry. If you have the chance to advance a Pawn one square or two, then first of all advance only one square, have a good look round, and only then play it forward one more square. Repeating moves in an ending can be very useful. Apart from the obvious gain of time on the clock one notices that the side with the advantage gains psychological benefit. The defender who has the inferior position often cannot stand the strain and makes new concessions, so easing the opponent's task. Apart from this, repetitions clarify the position in your mind to the greatest possible extent."

  "We know that certain devotees of the 'pure' art of chess will criticise us for this piece of advice, but we cannot help but advise chess players to repeat moves in the endgame. You have to take all the chanes you get in a game, and there is nothing ugly or unethical about the repetition of moves."

-- Sergei Belavenets #53 CR 2 weaks


"Let us enumerate again the ways of playing that are specific to the endgame phase:

  1. Think in terms of schemes
2. Do not be in a hurry
3. Bring the King as quickly as possible to the centre of the board.

-- Kotov
"... I was surprised to see that Capablanca did not initiate any active manoeuvres and instead adopted a waiting game. In the end, his opponent made an imprecise move, the Cuban won a second Pawn and soon the game."

  "'Why didn't you try to convert your material advantage straight away?' I ventured to ask the great chess virtuoso. He smiled indulgently: 'It was more practical to wait'."

-- Botvinnik
"(Endgame theory:) The Queen's-side majority, the outside passed Pawn, the 'good' and 'bad' Bishop have all become standard reference terms. Many players still commit the error of extrapolating these notions to the middlegame where in most cases endgame principles are reversed. Alekhin warned that a Queen's-side majority can be an advantage in the ending but that a central majority is far more important in the middlegame. (...) The outside passed Pawn is more of a weakness in the middlegame when the fight is concentrated on the centre and King's-side."

Computers find this especially confusing...

"Before the endgame the gods have placed the middlegame!"
(*) See the Tarrasch-von Scheve game in the canon.