I was once at a cafe on a Saturday; a novice joined our chess club meeting to have fun. After observing his opening moves, I concluded he randomly used pawns to attack the opponent (completely ignoring positioning, let alone developing, of pieces)

I offered to play a game with him. He told me about chess boxing (playing chess in between boxing rounds). After an enjoyable conversation, I then told him that chess IS like boxing: You must control the center, or be bullied around.

After enforcing this tip on him, I was extremely but delightfully surprised to find he was developing and positioning his pieces like a decent tournament player. The only issue was his tactics; he would regularly hang pieces and not realize in the middle game why he moved a piece. The main idea is the simple advice of going over the following list:

  1. Asking what squares compromised the center (to which he answered correctly; e4, d4, e5, d5)
  2. Asking whether pieces or pawns are stronger
  3. Telling him every (opening) move must control one of those squares with the stronger resource

This list significantly improved his positioning, decision-making, and enjoyment for chess. My question is, what similarly short analogies have you told chess newcomers that connect real world situations with the nature of chess?

  • Soliders (pawns) are cheap and worthless. We sacrifice them like in a battle.
    – SmallChess
    Commented May 4, 2017 at 9:26

7 Answers 7


When I instruct beginners at our club, I use sports analogies. For example, I say that when two football (soccer, basketball, etc.) teams of equal ability oppose each other, if one were to lose a player and no substitutes were available, then that team would be at a distinct disadvantage, since they'd have one less blocker, defender, receiver, etc. to contest the opponent and should most likely ultimately lose as a result. For that reason, they should try not to fall behind in material while conversely trying to gain a material advantage themselves using tactics, which I explain. I use similar analogies for the opening stage, telling them that if their players (pieces) are still sitting on the bench (first rank) while the opponent's players are already on the field (the board), they cannot contribute to the battle and will fall behind from the start. Another analogy pointing out the necessity for quick development in the opening would be to compare it to a race where they were starting out ten or more yards behind if they didn't get their pieces out as fast as their opponent, indicating that they would then have difficulty catching up. All of these comparisons seem to help them understand the nature of chess.

  • Yes, sports teams are like modern-day armies. And wars are fought on the field to satisfy our desire for challenge. Commented Jun 10, 2017 at 4:59

I don't like any of these answers as they are too wordy and assume a certain level of skill firsthand.

So, I would say:

1: Pay attention to what your opponent's move was. Many players get so focused on their own pieces they overlook what the opponent is doing, and suddenly they are dropping material. Chess is like a dance so pay attention to what your partner (opponent) is doing.

2: In association with #1, what does your opponent's move do? What are it's consequences? does it attack something? Does it leave something unprotected? Pay attention to that. Chess is like a conversation with a long-time friend. Let the move speak to you and give you all the information it has and don't interrupt the story it is telling you.

3: Do the basic "Captures, Checks, Threats" after every move. Just by looking at the board and mentally going over every capture, every check, and every clear threat, you will avoid losing material, and losing material is the single biggest problem for newbies. Chess is like boxing - you have to be able to read and anticipate what "punches" your opponent plans to throw at you. There are no surprises in chess - everything is before you. You only have to develop the skills to look closer to find what truths the position is telling you.


The first analogy to chess ever made seems cogent to me. I mean a real army preparing for a fight.

The real army can't afford a fight before being placed on the strategically important positions. This first stage is development and opening in chess.

In the middlegame the two armies should start a real war. The side that occupied more important points has an advantage in the fight.

To the values of pieces: It's clear that when you lose a casual soldier (pawn), it will be better then missing a knight etc.

  • This is a laconic, concise narration of Silman's theme in Reassess Your Chess. Commented May 4, 2017 at 18:58
  • I haven't read Reassess Your Chess but I would say this theme belongs to the "general wisdom included in chess". Remember that even thought we use the army as analogy to chess, originally it was the other way around. So it makes perfectly sense to make such an analogy.
    – kmartin
    Commented May 4, 2017 at 19:40
  • When I play chess I imagine I am a Chinese emperor living in the time of the Song Dynasty. Commented May 4, 2017 at 21:52

Maximize mobility.

Put every piece where it has the most places it can go. Bishops go on long diagonals. Rooks on open files. Knights prefer the center of the board.

Look for forcing moves.

Put your opponent in situations where he has no choice. The most powerful forcing move is the Mate Threat. Next is the Check. And next, any time a weaker piece threatens a stronger piece. As you learn more tactics, you learn more ways to force a move.

Find your opponents weaknesses and concentrate your firepower on them.

Look for weak spots in your opponent's game - backwards pawns, pieces that can be pinned, holes in his pawn structure, areas where his mobility is constricted - and concentrate your firepower on them.


I really like this question, because I never realized how much of my chess reasoning (for better or worse) I applied elsewhere. So I hope these answers work, or they inspire others to come up with something better.

  1. I have related a part of chess to negotiations. This is an oversimplification, but it works as follows: when you have a potential capture for an even trade, don't do it just to have something to do. Whoever blinks first usually gives something up. So taking a piece is like naming a figure in a negotiation. If you'd be happy with it and it's clearly advantageous to you, then accept it. This is particularly useful to chess players who may not be terribly social or say they aren't good negotiators, because it gives them some assurance that thinking calmly and not giving someone else something for free is itself negotiation.
  2. You know how you have stuff you check before you leave your house or apartment? Keys, wallet, make sure the door is locked, lights turned off? An even longer list if you're going away for the weekend? Have stuff you check on the chessboard too after each move. Like the leaving-your-place list, it doesn't have to be too fancy, because you don't want to lose your nerves. The obvious stuff like no vicious checks/forks/pieces hanging/weaknesses made will go a long way. Similarly, maybe you have a weekly grocery list that doesn't change much. Each move you can do a simple checkoff. If that list becomes inadequate or too unwieldy (e.g. buying too much/little food), you can always tune it up later.
  3. This is a bit of a stretch, and it's a reverse on the previous point, but you could also compare seeing a piece you could just take to a flyer saying "YOU MAY ALREADY HAVE WON!" You need to do your due diligence, but if nothing's fishy, then go for it. Don't respect your opponent too much.

The best advice for Amateurs would be the most Basic rules of Chess.

  1. Develop your pieces first . Even though you may not be aware of any Opening knowledge or the importance of e4,d4 you should have an idea that Knights belong on Centre Squares , Bishops on good diagonals , Rooks on Open Files and King in a castled position.
  2. Always try thinking one or two moves ahead . Solving tactical exercises would help you with that.
  3. Basic Checkmate Patterns will help you to checkmate the opponent's king .
  4. Make a habit of keeping an eye on all the Opponent's Pieces after your opponent plays a move. (This adheres to even the Best Players and they sometimes miss many moves).
  5. When you learn, play Online Live Chess so that you would have an estimation of your own Chess Level.

Strategy is a strict adherence to rules. Not the legal rules - like moving bishops only diagonally - but guidelines, such as "Control the center." These guidelines are favorably set by you making it nearly impossible to lose, unless you're drinking.

However, the opponent may not be well-informed in strategy. Failure to comply, well-informed or not, results in unforgiving consequences for the violator.

Make your opponent respect your strategy, and don’t rush anything. Every time he breaks one of your rules, punish him with the consequence of breaking that rule.

  • Did he exchange a bishop for a knight in an open game? Now take away his advanced posts using pawns and release the potential of your long-range pieces.
  • Did he launch a kingside pawn roller with all of his pieces on the queenside? Take advantage of the space you're creating and nullify his anemic attack.
  • Is the challenger creating opening faux pas by pushing his pawns aimlessly? Infiltrate the weak points e.g. holes.

These tactics - moving of the forces (pawns and pieces) - are the bridges between positions that satisfy your strategy.

On Tactics

Crossing the bridge i.e. performing the tactic leads to the net conversion of one or more positive imbalances. Notice I said net. Some players will fight for queenside space and disastrously give up the center and development in the process.

It's all about assessing the situation. If that gain of space leads to a forced win, great. Otherwise, you're going to have to put up a herculean effort managing his counter-play. Avoiding this mistake is just a matter of sealing the opponent in and making sure the execution of the tactic doesn't give him chances.

Whose Strategy Is Better?

Usually, we get our guidelines from grandmasters and more commonly from IMs. Compliance with their successful (but verified) principles will result in your rating rocketing to prominence.

On the other hand, following advice from other amateurs isn't taboo as long as they show they're also improving. Your mileage may vary.

Testing a Guideline

At any rate, flawed guidelines will not be powerful enough to influence the nature of the board. The result is your opponent's army running amok unpredictably (ending usually in your defeat). Your strategy will have to be taken back to the body shop for improvement.

At the body shop (some place with internet and snacks) strategy can easily be fixed by studying games from higher-rated players at least a few hundred points higher than your level. Look for moves that violate your guideline but lead to an advantage (more space, safer positioning, catching up in development, and/or more).

For example say that you believe you should capture any hanging pawn because several others told you it's a good idea. It makes sense, anyway: you agreed that more firepower leads to an easier win. During a game where you're two pawns up, you decide to use the restroom and go for a sip of water in celebration of your position.

When you return you find yourself in check. Subsequently you are checkmated in five moves because of an unforeseen tactic - a confusing experience. Surely being two pawns up guaranteed winning?

Now you have your guideline that needs repair.

  1. You then search for games in a database from masters (or if you're a master, then FMs) where they violated the guideline (ignored the free pawns) but ended up with a superior position.
  2. Look for the preferred objective that the master (or FM, etc.) followed instead of gaining material, instead of winning those free pawns. Was he focused on converting his dynamic play into a secure, static position that would bind his opponent and cause him to cry deep down inside?
  3. Make an exception for your guideline, if any. If your guideline is strong, you may have a few exceptions - at most. Bishops are stronger than knights in open endgames except when there's pawns on only one side of the board.

If you find yourself constantly making exceptions for your guideline, the guideline itself may be an exception to some other, strong guideline. g2-g4 should be launched except if you castled kingside. g2-g4 is correct unless the f4 square creates an outpost for the enemy's pieces. After discovering a few more exceptions, you'll discover the stronger guideline: Don't endanger your king. Discard the old guideline for the novel, stronger one.

The Big Picture

Scrutinize as much as you can, then scrutinize some more. When someone tells you, "X rule should be followed", apply X to several games by grandmasters, IMs, or anyone clearly better than you. If it's constantly being violated, it's probably not useful.

  • I have to ask: Why are you answering your own question?
    – Priyome
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 22:58
  • @Priyome: Ever wonder why you get the answer after you ask someone else? (P.S. - it's rhetorical.) Commented May 9, 2017 at 1:28

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