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".