An ABC of chess

Exeter Chess Club: An ABC of Chess

Here's a mental toolkit for the improving chess player.

  I think that for each of these elements there are different levels of understanding e.g. bad Bishop

1) I've heard of it!

2) I know what it is and could explain it to a junior.

3) I understand enough to make use of the idea in a game.

4) I never fail to notice the feature in a game, and rarely (if ever) make a bad choice of plan based on it.

  I suspect we're all OK at (1) but aren't all at (4) yet. (3) is a fair goal.

Please see also: Opening guidelines, Middle game guidelines, and Endgame guidelines.


  1. KLM of chess tactics
  2. ABC of chess strategy

KLM of chess tactics

K - knight forks

"He jumps so terribly" - Dick van Geet's tiny son


(Fuller - Sakurai,Haifa [B07], 1976) 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Bg5 Nbd7 5.f4 h6 6.Bh4 Bg7 7.e5 Nh5 8.Nh3 dxe5 9.dxe5 Nb6 10.Qxd8+ Kxd8 11.0-0-0+ Ke8 DIAGRAM 12.Nb5 1-0 The last rank is also vulnerable, making the fork unstoppable.

L - last rank

"Feet of clay..."


(Adams-Torre): 18.Qg4 Qb5 19.Qc4 Qd7 20.Qc7 Qb5 21.a4 Qxa4 22.Re4 Qb5 23.Qxb7 1-0 A striking display which has the appearance of a study.

M - mating pattern

"The game is won by the player who has checkmated his opponent's king." - FIDE rules


(Plachetka - Zinn, Decin [A04] 1974) 1.Nf3 c5 2.b3 Nf6 3.Bb2 Nc6 4.e3 d5 5.Bb5 e6 6.Ne5 Qc7 7.0-0 Bd6 8.Bxc6+ bxc6 9.f4 0-0 10.Rf3 Nd7 11.Rh3 g6 DIAGRAM 12.Qh5 1-0

N - network nobbled (Nterference)

"Parting is such sweet sorrow" - Shakespeare


(Crotto - Hindle,Haifa [B71] 1976) 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.f4 Bg7 7.e5 dxe5 8.fxe5 Ng4 DIAGRAM 9.Bb5+ Bd7? 10.Qxg4 ... 1-0

O - overloading

"The straw that broke the camel's back" - Proverbial


17.Rxf7 Kh8 18.Rxd7 1-0

P - pins

"The pin is mightier than the sword" - Reinfeld


(Alekhin - Nimzovitch,San Remo [C17] 1930) 30...Qe8 31.b5 1-0

Q - queening

"Every Pawn is a potential Queen" - Mason


1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.d5 Ne5 5.Qd4 Ng6 6.Nxe4 e6? 7.Bb5+ c6 DIAGRAM 8.dxc6 Qxd4 9.cxb7+ Kd8 10.bxa8Q 1-0

R - retreat

"What is immobile must suffer violence" - Lasker


1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 d6 5.d4 b5 6.Bb3 exd4 7.Nxd4 Nxd4 8.Qxd4? c5 9.Qd5 Be6 10.Qc6+ Bd7 11.Qd5 c4 0-1The Noah's Ark trap.

S - sacrifice at castle gates

"Examine moves that smite!" - Purdy


(Blackburne - Blanchard (London) [C30], 1891)

1.e4 e5 2.f4 Bc5 3.Nc3 Nc6 4.Nf3 exf4 ? 5.d4 Bb4 6.Bxf4 d5 7.e5 Bxc3+ 8.bxc3

Be6 9.Bd3 h6 10.0-0 Nge7 11.Rb1 b6 12.Qd2 0-0 DIAGRAM13.Bxh6! gxh6 14.Qxh6 Ng6 15.Ng5 Re8 16.Rxf7 Bxf7 17.Qh7+ Kf8 18.Qxf7# 1-0

T - two for the price of one

"All combinations are based on a double attack" - Fine


(Christiansen - Karpov,1993 [E12]) 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.a3 Ba6 5.Qc2 Bb7 6.Nc3 c5 7.e4 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Nc6 9.Nxc6 Bxc6 10.Bf4 Nh5 11.Be3 Bd6 DIAGRAM 12.Qd1 1-0

U - undermining (removing the guard)

"For the want of a horse a rider was lost..." - Franklin.


(Legueltel - Studev,Kuortane [D60] 1976) 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Nf3 0-0 7.cxd5 exd5 8.Bd3 Re8 9.Qc2 c5 10.dxc5 Nxc5 11.Bxf6 Nxd3+ 12.Qxd3 Bxf6 DIAGRAM 13.Qxd5?? 13...Bxc3+ 0-1

U2 - unmasking (discovery)

"Behind you!"


1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.g3 Bb7 5.Bg2 Bb4+ 6.Bd2 Bxd2+ 7.Qxd2 0-0 8.Nc3 Ne4 9.Qc2!DIAGRAM 9...Nxc3 10.Ng5! Ne4 11.Bxe4 Bxe4 12.Qxe4 Qxg5 13.Qxa8 1-0

V - vulnerable f7

"The Achilles' Heel of a chess position..."


(Paul Roberts - NN [C23] East Devon, 1996) 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Be7 3.Qh5 ... 1-0

W - weakening King's-side

"Castles built of sand..."


(Tarrasch - Mieses (3) [C10] (Berlin m.), 1916) 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Nf3 Ngf6 6.Bd3 Be7 7.0-0 Nxe4 8.Bxe4 Nf6 9.Bd3 b6 10.Ne5 0-0 11.Nc6 Qd6 12.Qf3 Bd7 13.Nxe7+ Qxe7 14.Bg5 Rac8 15.Rfe1 Rfe8 DIAGRAM 16.Qh3 Qd6 17.Bxf6 gxf6 18.Qh6 f5? 19.Re3 Qxd4 20.c3 1-0

X - X-ray (skewer)

"Stap me vitals..."


Skewer frenzy in a Rinck study: 1.Ra8! Qa2! 2. Rxa4! Qg8! 3. Ra8 Qh7 4. Bg6! 1-0

Y - your move! (defensive play)

"A man does not die of threats" - Proverb


(Robatsch - Jansa,Sochi [A10] 1974) 1.c4 f5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.g3 g6 4.b3 Bg7 5.Bb2 0-0 6.Bg2 d6 7.d4 c6 8.0-0 Kh8 [8...Qc7] 9.d5 Qa5 10.Nc3 DIAGRAM 10...Nxd5? 11.cxd5 Bxc3 12.Qd2 Qxd5 13.Qxc3+ e5 14.Nxe5 1-0

Z - Zwischenzug

"When you see a good move, stop - there may be a better one" - Lasker


(Spassov - Kritiansen, Kringsja [E91], 1976) 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.d4 0-0 6.Be2 c5 7.0-0 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Nc6 9.Be3 DIAGRAM9...Ng4 10.Bxg4 Bxg4(10.Qxg4 Nxd4) 11.Nxc6 Qd7 12.Nxe7+ Kh8 13.f3 1-0


ABC of chess strategy

A - activity

"The most important feature of the position" - Stean


(Rubinstein-Schlechter, San Sebastian 1912): White's active pieces give him the advantage.

B - better pieces - bad bishop bishop vs knight, offside piece, coordination

"Quality, not quantity"


Tarrasch - Noa [c11] Hamburg, 1885

  White's great Knight and Black's dismal Bishop are the key to this position. 38.g5 h5 39.Rcf1 Kg8 40.g6 f6 41.Re2 Bc6 42.Rfe1 Rd8 43.Kf4 fxe5+ 44.Rxe5 Kf8 45.Nf7 Re8 46.Ng5 Rce7 47.Nh7+ 1-0

C - centre and space

"I'm the King of the castle..."


(Georgadze-Kupreichik, 1979)An extraordinary piece of centralisation: despite the exchange less, and the King's-side attack, White soon won.

D - development

"The early bird catches the King!"


(Spielmann - Flamberg, Mannheim [C29], 1914) 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.f4 d5 4.fxe5 Nxe4 5.Nf3 Bg4 6.Qe2 6...Nc5 ? [6...Nxc3] 7.d4 Bxf3 8.Qxf3 Qh4+ 9.g3 Qxd4 10.Be3 Qxe5 11.0-0-0 c6 DIAGRAM Black is fighting with only half the army. Sortez les pieces!12. Nxd5 cxd5 13.Rxd5 Qe6 14.Bc4 Qe4 15.Bxc5 1-0

E - exchanges

"Fair exchange is no robbery"


(Fischer-Petrosian, seventh match game 1971) 16. Bc5!Not an easy one to spot, but once seen, easy to appreciate: White removes the defender of the dark squares, leaving Black with a crummy light-squared Bishop.

F - files, ranks, diagonals (lines)

"Let a Lord once own the happy lines, How the wit brightens!" - Pope


(Anderssen-Zukertort, Barmen 1869): the file



(Fischer-Petrosian, seventh match game, 1971): the rank



(Fischer-Anderssen, Siegen 1970): the diagonal

G - good and bad pawns

"Pawns are the soul of chess" - Philidor


(Deep Blue-Kasparov, m1 1996): just hideous: every Black Pawn is isolated and most doubled! Black tried a King's-side hack but it was desparation and he knew it.

H - holes and weak complexes

"Perils of both wind and limb" - Butler


(Bernstein-Mieses, 1921) - That is, perils of both the dark-square holes and the backward Pawns on White squares.

I - initiative, tempo

""Thou shalt not shilly-shally!" - Nimzo


(Alekhin-Poindle (simul.), 1936) 9.Ng5!White plays the one move that stops Black getting on with normal development.

J - jumping-off points (outposts)

"Give me a place to stand, and I will move the Earth" - Archimedes


(Pegaroro-Scheipel)The Knights are worth a Rook each, I reckon!


This is a list long enough to get you started comfortably. There are a few other ideas, like "coordination", which you may come to later, and through Nimzovitch we learn about themes like "overprotection" and "prophylaxis".

Chess Quotes

On advanced ideas:
"After giving a student the basic mating patterns and strategies you must begin giving them advanced concepts. At first these ideas will not make sense, many players will have a vague idea of what you are talking about but nothing more. Even a fragmented understanding of these concepts will prove useful though, and eventually they will improve as these lessons are assimilated by repetition and example."
— Jeremy SILMAN, The Amateur's Mind, 1995


"We begin with the hypothesis that any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development. ... (The "spiral curriculum") ... Is it not possible ... to introduce them to some of the major ... ideas earlier, in a spirit perhaps less exact and more intuitive?"