Thinking Chess

ID-100166234We wish that you will have time and opportunity this summer to sit under a tree in a shadowed park on a languid afternoon. Maybe you will simply watch the clouds in the sky and reflect about life. We hope that you will also have time to reflect about thinking. Maybe you thought will drift towards chess, which is basically a mind game. 

When people are taught to play chess, they first begin with the names and possible moves of the pieces followed by the rules. In the next stage, standard opening sequences and end game patterns are memorized. This kind of teaching chess is fundamentally teaching to copy by description. Usually no attention is given on what to do when attacked.

Rarely is attention paid to the thinking needed and the aims with the thinking. For example, a basic strategy in the beginning of the game:

 1 Protect your king. Get your king to the corner of the board where he is usually safer. Don’t put off castling. You should usually castle as quickly as possible. Remember, it doesn’t matter how close you are to checkmating your opponent if your own king is checkmated first!

2 Don’t give pieces away. Don’t carelessly lose your pieces! Each piece is valuable and you can’t win a game without pieces to checkmate. There is an easy system that most players use to keep track of the relative value of each chess piece

3 Control the center. You should try to control the center of the board with your pieces and pawns. If you control the center, you will have more room to move your pieces and will make it harder for your opponent to find good squares for his pieces.

4 Use all of your pieces. Your pieces don’t do any good when they are sitting back on the first row. Try and develop all of your pieces so that you have more to use when you attack the king. Using one or two pieces to attack will not work against any decent opponent.

Note that learning basic strategy is essentially different from recall.

Every turn a player has to systematic check if he is attacked, and also if he can design a trap to checkmate the enemy king. When attacked, a player has several options:

  • capture the attacking piece;
  • move the attacked piece;
  • interpose another piece in between the two (if the attacker is not a knight and is not directly adjacent to the piece attacked);
  • defend the attacked piece, permitting an exchange;
  • pin the attacking piece so the capture becomes illegal or unprofitable;
  • employ a zwischenzug (create a counter-threat of equal or greater consequence

It would be interesting to study how the skill to play chess would improve if we were taught fundamental tactics and offensive tactics (the thinking process) in comparison to acquiring skills to replaying successful opening sequences and end games.

 What would that mean for teaching in general and particularly for education programs? 

If chess is a mind game and improving playing chess could be attained by paying attention to the thinking process itself, wouldn’t that give us clues about “our daily mind-games”?

Enjoy your summer!

Photo: “3d Gold And Silver Chessmans On Round Chessboard” by Boians Cho Joo Young

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