I asked a friend to play a chess game and he declined to play again. He’s been declining to play chess since I last played him and when I started reflecting on that, I reflected on how I play chess.
When I play chess I keep two things in mind, the check mate and the power piece(s). That is to say, I have two objectives in a game that I am constantly keeping track of and acting on. In game I am either trying to actively check mate the enemy king or I am trying to remove the pieces of his that are either most dangerous or precious to him.
The first objective is relatively simple. I move my pieces in an arrangement so as to check mate his king and thereby win the game. Everyone who plays chess knows how to do this and the thought processes that pursuing this objective entails.
The second objective, however, is not as simply explained. In the second objective, I go after “power pieces”. That is to say, I focus on taking certain pieces out of play. Power pieces are one of two things; dangerous pieces, or precious pieces. Dangerous pieces are the Queens, Rooks, Bishops, or Knights. Whichever piece causes me the most harm the longer it remains on the board, I focus on taking it out. Usually I go for Queens first followed by Rooks followed by Bishops followed by Knights. By precious pieces, I mean pieces that your opponent likes to use the most. Almost everyone likes using their Queen. Some people also like to use one other unit. Your opponent may be adept at frustrating you with Knights and if so, you’ll focus on taking out his Knights after his Queen. If you find he uses a certain unit for a lot of strategies, taking out this unit from play will hamper his plans and screw with his mind.
The essence of my play style is that I realize that chess is a thinking game and that I can attack an opponent’s mind as much as I can attack his pieces. For example, taking out someone’s Queen often demoralizes them because they think the game is over, when they lost their most powerful piece. There are usually a range of tells, from the audible ‘sigh’ when your opponent notices his mistake to the “Oh shit!” kind of disappointment.
My play style works well I believe in that I never really go into a game without a plan. I may not have a plan on how I will begin the game or end it, but I do know what I am doing. I am either checking my opponents king or taking the pieces he values most. When I play against someone repeatedly, it gets even better as I learn not only what strategies they go for, but more importantly the pieces they value. As I play the game my opponent will often wonder what my plan is as he has to keep track of his King, his Queen, or His (Insert piece I choose here). As I play against someone repeatedly, I get to know his mind more and can attack it even easier.
I attack the mind so that my opponent forgets about me and worries about himself. I want him to worry about his King and the other pieces he likes. I want him to worry about losing important pieces when he is focusing on his King and I want him to worry about getting check mated when he is focused on preserving his favorite pieces. My signature move plays on this phenomenon perfectly.
Whenever I can, I try to move my chess pieces so that I can attack as many of his pieces as I can. Usually Knights are the best for this maneuver, but any piece can do the job. Often times I try to place my Knight so that it threatens Queen and checks the King. My opponent is forced to move his King or to attempt to take out the Knight and thus leaves his Queen open to capture. I usually manage to get one, maybe two of these double attacks in a game, and their effects on the mind of my opponent are delightful. They become extra cautious of whatever pieces they move. They focus on conserving their pieces to the detriment of their game plan. Often performing this move successfully brings me more satisfaction than winning the game.
Playing with these two objectives doesn’t make it too hard to manage all my pieces or exactly what moves I’m playing with. If I starting moving to attack his King and he moves his pieces so that I can’t check (mate) him, usually he leaves an opening on his Queen or one of his other precious pieces. If he starts worrying about conserving his pieces, I play this to my advantage too. I threaten his pieces so that he moves his pieces where I want. I might threaten his Queen when I really want to take out his Rook. I might threaten his Rook when I really want to check his King. As the game of cats and mice goes on, he slips up with a bad move with his King and I can check mate him. Most often, he moves his King away safely at the expense of the King’s bride.
My thought process regarding playing chess does not stop there. Because I am aware of effects of attacks on the mind, or reading an opponents face when playing the game, I take steps to prevent my mind from coming under fire and from telegraphing my attacks. When I make my plans regarding a certain piece, taking one out or checking his King, I look at the area I am interested in with my peripheral vision. If I plan to move my Queen offensively on the left side of the board, I point my nose at the right side. If I am planning on attacking my opponents Queen, I look at my opponents King. Often times I run two move orders for different plans parallel, so my enemy can’t tell what I am focusing on. For example, I’ll move a piece to threaten my opponent’s Queen one turn and then move a piece to threaten his King the next. I’ll alternate these plans as needed until I take his Queen or check mate his King or find myself with a better position and better opportunities. I am also aware of how my morale lowers with the loss of my Queen. But what used to be a weakness, I turned into a strength. I make a show of what a loss my Queen is to me, so that my opponent senses weakness and makes more rash decisions to hasten his pre-supposed victory. Of course, I do not make the show too big lest he think I am up to something, which I am.
I also know that my main weakness is that I go on the attack so much that I neglect my defense. Many a game have I lost due to a single unit or two getting behind my lines and either messing my game plan or simply taking my King when I did not pay enough attention. As I realize this weakness, I try to keep a couple of power pieces such as a Rook, Knight, or Bishop behind my lines to deal with any sudden threats. I do not have to be able to take out an offending piece, just be able to occupy its attention so I can forward my own designs without hiccup. Usually I contort my defenses to try and trap the opponents piece to a square such that, none of my pieces can touch his piece. Yet, should his piece move away from that square, there is no square safe from my attack. Navigating this moving labyrinth of defense I believe takes more mental energy from my opponent than it does from me operating it. I can take out his piece at my leisure, or he moves it away prematurely leaving my mind free to focus elsewhere.
As a matter of personal taste, I prefer to play chess face to face. Every now and then I play chess online. Without the face of my opponent, I learn to recognize when my opponent is performing certain moves by order of piece movement or particular arrangement. It is easier to hide my plan from him but it is harder to discern his plan in turn. It does improve my raw game in focusing on the check mate side of the game because I encounter so many play styles and learn to not telegraph my moves by switching move orders and placements. However, my favorite part of the game, attacking my opponent’s mind is less feasible than with face to face.
There’s a couple of lessons in here – bonus points to the commenter who points them out.