Edward Winter's Chess Explorations (32)

by ChessBase
12/6/2009 – With the masters now fine-tuning their preparations for the London Chess Classic, the Editor of Chess Notes passes on some advice on mastery of the game culled from old books. Both the advice and the books have long been forgotten, but could the tips provide the players with a fresh perspective, just in time? The great tournament is about to begin, and we shall soon see...

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Chess Explorations (32)

By Edward Winter

‘The object of the game is, of course, to checkmate the King, and before the first move, the player should determine in his own mind how he is going to do it and then develop the fighting qualities of his men accordingly.’

Source: page 67 of How to Play Chess by Charlotte Boardman Rogers (New York, 1907).

Even so, the books are not unanimous that developing pieces in the opening is necessarily a good idea. From page 106 of A Complete Guide to the Games of Checkers and Chess by Maxim La Roux (Baltimore, 1916):

‘Before you stir your pieces, you ought to move your pawns, and afterward bring out your pieces to support them. …You are not, therefore, to play out any of your pieces in the early part of your game …’

One apparent problem with developing pieces is that an excessively strong attack may result. That, at least, was the warning on page 20 of Chess & Draughts Made Easy by J. Bishop (London, circa 1860):

‘Do not crowd your adversary’s king with your pieces, lest you inadvertently give a stalemate, which is a drawn game.’

If an attack does develop, the opponent may buckle under the pressure and blunder away a piece, but should it be accepted? From page 22 of Chess Made Easy by J.A. Guthrie (London, 1922):

‘When your attack is in a prosperous way, never be diverted from it by taking any piece thrown in your way, as it may be a bait which your taking would cause your designs to miscarry.’

Castling is usually regarded as an important way of developing one’s game, but that has not always been the unanimous view. In C.N. 3119 Calle Erlandsson (Lund, Sweden) gave an English translation of the relevant passage of the first (1771) edition of C.W. v. Königstedt’s Kort Afhandling om Schack-Spel (‘A Short Treatise about the Game of Chess’). Chapter VII (About Castling) states, on page 23:

‘Great players never castle until the end of the game, and often never at all, as their king, although often in the middle of the board, nevertheless stands secure.’

Mr Erlandsson added that in the third, improved edition, printed in 1806, the start of the text was slightly different: ‘Good players seldom castle ...’

On the other hand, ‘castling often improves the situation when the game is crowded’ according to page 15 of the “Popular” Handbook of Chess by Professor de Lyons Pike (London, circa 1902). Some further extracts:

  • ‘The rook (also called the castle) moves horizontally the entire length of the board, if the space is open.’ (page 7)

  • ‘Perpetual check is when the king can be placed in check at almost every move. When this is the case the weaker side can demand checkmate in any given number of moves. If his opponent fails to do this it can then pass as a drawn game.’ (page 11)

  • ‘Stalemate is when one of the players has nothing left but his king, which is so situated that he cannot move without placing himself in check.’ (page 11)

  • ‘When a player fails to cry “check” his adversary need not unless he likes move his king out of check, nor even cover him.’ (page 13)

  • ‘Drawn games count for nothing.’ (page 13)

  • ‘The Allgaier Gambit: ‘It is not a safe opening, although, if successful, it will prove a strong one.’ (page 25)

  • ‘A great point to be observed in finishing a game, is, never to allow the king to escape into the centre of the board.’ (page 31)

Another book with a stream of notable advice is Chess and How to Play It by B. Scriven, brought out by Universal Publications Ltd. in the 1930s. Some snippets:

  • ‘In chess, however, the sole aim is to attack the opponent’s king.’ (page 32)

  • ‘Of course, another form of drawn game arises when both players are so weakened that neither has the strength to check the other.’ (page 34)

  • ‘Knights can do a great deal of damage which is only apparent when it is done.’ (page 41)

  • ‘As soon as a player take his hand from a piece the move is finished. It can only be altered by the graciousness of the opponent.’ (page 47)

  • ‘If the king is checked, but “check” is not announced, the owner of the king need not attend to it. Though there is no rule on the subject, it is usual to announce “check” when the queen is affected. If “check” is announced and the owner of the king proceeds to move the king, then realizes that there was no “check” he may take back the move. The same applies if any other piece is moved for the purpose.’ (page 48)

  • ‘... if the game is opened well, the middle game will largely take care of itself.’ (page 50)

Indeed, B. Scriven’s book offers, on page 49, what may be the single most valuable piece of advice for the masters in London and, indeed, for chessplayers of all levels:

‘Before making a move, note all the consequences.’

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All ChessBase articles by Edward Winter

Edward Winter is the editor of Chess Notes, which was founded in January 1982 as "a forum for aficionados to discuss all matters relating to the Royal Pastime". Since then, nearly 6,400 items have been published, and the series has resulted in four books by Winter: Chess Explorations (1996), Kings, Commoners and Knaves (1999), A Chess Omnibus (2003) and Chess Facts and Fables (2006). He is also the author of a monograph on Capablanca (1989).

Chess Notes is well known for its historical research, and anyone browsing in its archives will find a wealth of unknown games, accounts of historical mysteries, quotes and quips, and other material of every kind imaginable. Correspondents from around the world contribute items, and they include not only "ordinary readers" but also some eminent historians – and, indeed, some eminent masters. Chess Notes is located at the Chess History Center. Signed copies of Edward Winter's publications are currently available.

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