We could boil chess down to a very simple mindset: capture as much as you can, but don’t get captured yourself. But it would be a na├»ve mindset.

You don’t get points for capturing pieces. There isn’t a score at the end of the game or a “bonus” for capturing the most.

The only objective is to checkmate your opponent.

Everything you do should serve that purpose.

Example

Capturing the opponent’s knight with a pawn is usually a good idea … but not if that creates a gap your opponent can abuse.

Example

Attacking the queen time after time might eventually lead to a capture. But if you have to move all your pieces to dangerous spots in the process, you’re going to lose the game.

With that in mind, I want to look at defensive and offensive strategies. We start with defence, because most of the game is deflecting attacks. In fact, chess is mostly predicting attacks five moves ahead and already deflecting them.

Defensive

When to become defensive?

  • When a piece is directly under attack
  • When you can see a threat beginning to build.

Chess players need to think multiple steps ahead for exactly this reason: so that they can stop an attack before it even begins.

If you let the opponent attack, you are basically one step behind all the time. If you take action beforehand, you are in control and the opponent has to think of a new plan.

So let’s say one of your opponent’s pieces is threatening one of yours. Here are six options.

  • Move your piece. Simply move it out of the way. The downside: sometimes this creates gaps or weaknesses in your defence.
  • Take cover. Use another piece to defend it. This means that if the opponent were to actually capture your piece, you can in turn capture the opponent’s piece the move after that. The downside: the threat still exists. You need to keep one extra thing in mind all the time.
  • Capture the opponent’s piece. Sometimes, the threatening piece can be captured. If for example the opponent threatens your bishop with one of his own bishops, you can simply remove the threat by capturing it. The downside: equal exchange of pieces, which means none of the players gets better, and there are fewer options left in the game.
  • Shield it. Put something (usually a pawn) in front of the piece, so that the opponent first has to break that barrier to get to the piece it wants. The downside: if the opponent manages to create another threat on the piece or its shield, it will be hard to keep them close and protecting each other.
  • Blackmail. Respond to the threat, by creating a different threat yourself. If your opponent attacks your knight, you can attack his queen. He doesn’t want to lose his queen, so he first moves her out of the way before capturing that knight. The downside: it only buys you time, you run the risk of the opponent creating multiple threats.
  • Check your opponent. The opponent must resolve a king in check. It is in principle the most advanced version of blackmailing, and therefore has the same downsides.

These are in no specific order—it all depends on the situation. But if possible, go through the options from top to bottom. Simply moving a piece or strengthening defence, is always simpler and less risky than trying to turn defense into offense immediately.

When it comes to the other type of defence, against possible dangers, it works in exactly the same way. It’s more subtle, because a move against possible danger seems like it has no use when you first see it. If your opponent does something that seems nonsensical to you, they either guard against an attack you might do in a few turns, or they’re setting up their own attack.

The only difference is that you have more time. So when picking a move against a danger in the future, you can try to make that move a doubled-edged sword. It will protect against the danger … but it will also setup something else in a few turns.

Offensive

This chapter started by stressing the importance of making your attacking moves king-focused. But, you shouldn’t take this advice as: only attack the king.

Attacking is chess is about systematically removing every piece that stands between you and the opponent’s king. Slowly but surely, you strip away all those layers of defence.

There’s no use creating a plan to capture an opponent’s piece, if there’s no clear way that will help you threaten their king afterwards.

Sure, you might win a piece and get an advantage in points, but you’ve wasted many moves. Moves that the opponent has used to build a better defence, or a structured attack targeting your king.

Only capture (or lure away) pieces that threaten your king. Or pieces that stand in the way when you are attacking the opponent’s king. All other moves should be focused on defensive and tactical matters.

Double attack

Now, to create great attacks, I want to introduce the double attack. Against a competent chess player, it is the only way to gain an advantage. Because a single attack is too predictable and too easy to defend.

A double attack means nothing more than threatening two (or more) pieces with one move. The opponent has to resolve two threats with one move, which is rarely possible!

Remark

Of course, if they can just capture the piece that double attacks them, they can solve it. Don’t let that happen to you! It’s a common oversight for beginner chess players. They see a great double attack and jump at it … forgetting that their piece isn’t safe at all.

The next chapters will discuss the most common double attacks:

  • Forks
  • Discoveries
  • The Pin and the Skewer
  • Removing the Guard

Try to memorize these attack patterns. It enables you to recognize them in-game, which in turn allows you to quickly plan these types of double attacks.

Continue with this course
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