Ruy Lopez

The Ruy Lopez chess opening, also called the Spanish Game, is perhaps the most studied chess opening of all time. This opening is attributed to the 16th c. Spanish priest Ruy Lopez de Segura, who wrote a book on the study of this and other openings in 1561. The Spanish Game has so many variations that in the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings, or ECO, all chess opening codes from C60-C99 are assigned to this one system (182 variations!). We cannot cover every variation, but we will look at the basics and the main lines of play.

The main sequence of the Ruy Lopez is as follows:

1. e4e5
2. Nf3Nc6
3. Bb5

The pin of the c6 knight is the main feature of this opening.

Black has several answers. For starters, black could continue being defensive with 3. … g6, the Barnes Defence (C60). This would set up a strong king’s side castle with the bishop in fianchetto:

3. …g6
4. c3a6
5. Ba4Bg7
6. O-ONf6

Black could go on the offensive with Bird’s Defence (C61), 3. … Nd4, forking the bishop and the knight, which would look like this:

3. …Nd4
4. Nxd4exd4

In one continuation of Bird’s Defence, the Berger Variation, white focuses on pawn structure for a strong kingside game:

5. d3c6
6. Bc4Nf6
7. O-Od5

In the Paulsen Variation of Bird’s Defence, we have virtually the same game, but black’s knight is in a slightly more defensive posture:

5. O-ONe7
6. d3c6
7. Bc4d5

Black could also answer the threat of the b5 bishop with Schliemann’s Defence (C63), 3. … f5, which diverts white’s control of the center.

3. …f5
4. Nc3fxe4
5. Nxe4d5
6. Nxe5dxe4
7. Nxc6Qg5

White is threatening the bishop fork, so black threatens the bishop and the g2 pawn.

Another possibility is the Old Steinitz Defence (C62):

3. … d6
4. d4 Bd7
5. Nc3 Nf6
6. Bxc6

Black eliminates the power of the pin on the c6 knight by interposing the bishop. Both players bring in their other knights for defense. Since white has the tempo and a slight position advantage by attacking the center with d4, he forces the exchange at c6.

Black may choose to bring in the other knight to attack, employing something like the Berlin Defence (C67). This also prepares for a king’s side castle later on, as the queen’s side pawn structure could possibly be jumbled from the potential exchange at c6.

3. … Nf6
4. d4 exd4
5. O-O Be7
6. e5 Nd5

Though black is still vulnerable to the pin at c6, black has good development and center control.

After the defining move of the Berlin Defence, 3. … Nf6, black has a couple of other ways to carry out her plan:

3. …Nf6
4. O-Od6
5. d4Bd7
6. Nc3Be7
7. Bg5

This one is called the Closed Berlin Defence (C66). Black lets white have free development while she plans her strong defenses.

Another approach is the Open Berlin Defence (C67):

3. …Nf6
4. O-ONxe4
5. d4Be7
6. Qe2Nd6
7. Bxc6bxc6
8. dxe5Nb7
9. Nc3O-O
10. Re1

In the Open Berlin Defence, black has good protection and some development… but watch out for that battery!

Another significant answer to the pin of the c6 knight is the Cordel Defence (C64):

3. … Bc5

The idea is to ignore the pin and begin the attack for the center. Again, there are a couple of options:

4. O-ONd4
5. b4Bxb4
6. Nxd4exd4
7. Bb2Bc5

Black aggressively brings the bishop out to attack; white castles. Black moves the knight out of the pin to attack, and white sets up the exchange with the b4 pawn. The result is similar to Bird’s Defence.

White may opt for a sharper response, perhaps along these lines:

4. c3f5
5. d4fxe4
6. Bxc6dxc6
7. Nxe5Bd6

White sacrifices his bishop pair for good center control and a great knight outpost at e5, leaving black with a center pawn that’s hard to defend. Black, however, is certainly not weak.

The most popular answer to the pin at c6, however, is the Morphy Defence; so much so that it is considered the main line of the opening: 3. … a6.

When White is faced with the threat of the a6 pawn, the only plausible options are to exchange for the knight, or retreat. First, let’s look at the Exchange Variation (C69):

3. … a6
4. Bxc6 dxc6
5. O-O f6
6. d4exd4
7. Nxd4c5

White goes for the center, but black sets up a possible queen exchange.

If white doesn’t go for the exchange, the only option is to retreat the bishop, i.e. 4. Ba4.

Black has three major answers to the retreat of the bishop to a4: boxing in the bishop, attacking the center with pawns, or attacking the center with the king’s side knight.

After the bishop retreat in the fourth move, we have this:

Let’s look at the option of boxing in the bishop, called the Taimanov Variation (C70):

4. Ba4 b5
5. Bb3 Na5
6. O-O d6
7. d4exd4

Black is behind on development, but he has a firm grip on the center of the board as well as a solid defensive set up. White must be careful, especially after giving away the tempo through castling.

Black can also answer the bishop retreat to a4 by attacking the center with pawns. This is exactly the goal of the Neo-Steinitz Variation (C71):

4. Ba4 d6

If white seizes the tempo by attacking with d4, black answers by boxing the bishop with the Noah’s Ark Variation (C71):

5. d4 b5
6. Bb3 exd4
7. Nxd4Nxd4
8. Qxd4

White tries to save the bishop but black’s attack is relentless. Black has strong queenside pawns but is a little behind in development.

If white answers the d6 pawn move with the queen’s side knight, we have the Three Knights Game (C71), which is a little bit quieter.

White has another interesting response to d6 called the Siesta Variation (C74).

5. c3 f5
6. exf5Bxf5
7. O-O

White gives its bishop a safe haven that can still be useful in controlling the center. Black forces the issue by pushing the f5 pawn.

These variations in response to the bishop retreat to a4 are not nearly as common as the king’s side knight reinforcement. In fact, this is considered a continuation of the Morphy Defence:

4. Ba4 Nf6

If white answers with the queen’s side knight, we have a more defensive game, called the Tarrasch Variation (C77):

5. Nc3 Bc5
6. O-O b5
7. Bb3d6
8. d3Bg4

This variation transposes into the Four Knights Game. White gives up the tempo to black, who uses it to establish control of the center.

White can also answer by going through with the exchange at c6. This variation is called Exchange Deferred (C77).

5. Bxc6 dxc6
6. d3Nd7
7. Nbd2Bd6
8. Nc4f6

This scenario is virtually the same as in the regular Exchange Variation, except it gives black slightly more development.

If White instead decides to develop his queen, the Gruenfeld Variation (C77) is the result.

5. Qe2 b5
6. Bb3 Be7
7. c3 d6
8. d4Bg4

After the double kick on the white bishop, black sets up a typical defence with good development. White’s position is equal, despite the double kick of the bishop.

More commonly, white will take this opportunity to castle. If black responds by attacking the center, we have the Spanish Open Game (C80):

5. O-O Nxe4
6. d4 b5
7. Bb3 d5
8. dxe5 Be6
9. Nbd2Nc5
10. c3g6

Black has many strengths: both bishops are active; both knights are aggressive; strong pawn structure; and control of the center. However, white is not weak. He has a strong pawn in enemy territory, good defensive posture, and the tempo.

If black holds off on his attack and majors on defense after white castles, the Closed Spanish Game (C89) is what we get.

5. O-O Be7
6. Re1 b5
7. Bb3 O-O
8. c3 d5
9. exd5Nxd5
10. Nxe5Nxe5
11. Rxe5c6

Black goes for the early castle to protect her king, and then launches into the famed Marshall Attack with d5.

White has a menacing rook in the middle of the board, as well as an active bishop and a safe king.

Some notable games to check out:

Paul Morphy vs Jules Arnous de Riviere, Paris, 1863 (C66)

Mark Taimanov vs Aleksander S Nikitin, USSR, 1970 (C67)

Robert James Fischer vs Lajos Portisch, Havana, 1966 (C69)

Nigel Short vs Eduardo Costa Marra, Sao Paulo, 2001 (C70)

Anatoly Karpov vs I Zilbert, Moscow, 1968 (C71)

Viswanathan Anand vs Artur Yusupov, Wijk aan Zee, 1994 (C74)

Vitaly Chekhover vs Samuel Markovich Zhukhovitsky, Leningrad, 1947 (C77)

Louis Paulsen vs Johannes Minckwitz, Altona, 1869 (C77)

Robert James Fischer vs Attilio Di Camillo, Washington, D.C., 1956 (C78)

Jose Raul Capablanca vs D Davidowsky, Berlin, 1925 (C80)

Max Euwe vs Jan Hein Donner, Amsterdam, 1950 (C89)

Chess variants

Chess variants are modifications – sometimes radical – to the rules of chess. Playing chess variants can be a fun way of increasing your chess skill. Changes to the rules force players to increase their focus on particular skills, as well as their level of attention during play. Chess variants can be a fun break from regular chess, but should always be approached as a training tool rather than a replacement for the standard rules of chess.

The following are some of the chess variants that we’ll use occasionally to train and improve a variety of our chess skills. Some of these variants have been modified, to some degree, from those widely available on the web.

Girls Night Out

This variant is used to reduce a player’s dependence upon their queen, which is a common weakness of beginners.

Players start the game with no queens. Pawns cannot be promoted to queens.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Humpty Dumpty

This variant helps players increase their ability to use their knights; it focuses attention on the power of pawn promotion; and it highlights the importance of endgame skills.

Players start the game with no bishops or queens.

Rooks are replaced with knights.

Pawns promote only to rooks.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Parking Lot

The reduced size of the board emphasizes the connection of trading pieces with board position.

Players start the game with rooks and rook pawns removed.

All other pieces are advanced one rank towards the center.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal, including pawn promotion.

The World Is Round

This variant is designed to help players more readily recognize flank attacks, either to execute or to defend against.

The side edges of the board are considered connected. Pieces can move off one edge and reappear on the opposite edge as if the edges were continuous.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Night at the Museum

This variant calls attention to pawn structures and their relationship to the diagonal movement of the bishop.

Before the start of the game, players select two of their own pawns to remove from the game. Players may not select rook pawns.

Pawns cannot capture, promote, or be captured. Pawns can move forward and backward.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.


This variant focuses on king protection. The contrast between offensive play and defensive play is amplified.

The black king begins on c5 and the white king begins on f4.

Players start the game with no bishops or queens. Pawns cannot be promoted to bishops or queens.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Castle Gemini

This variant is good for practicing executing and defending against multi-pronged attacks, as well as adding deception to one’s chess play.

Players start the game with two kings in the rook positions, and rooks in the king and queen positions.

Players start the game without a queen, but pawns may promote to a queen.

Either king can be checkmated.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Peasant’s Revolt

This variant is a game of unequal forces. Like the Humpty Dumpty variant, it helps players increase their playing ability with knights as well as pawn promotion.

Black starts the game with four knights (on b8, c8, f8, and g8), his king on e8, and one pawn on d7.

White starts the game with eight pawns and a king in the usual positions and no other pieces.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Guardians of the Realm

This variant is used to reinforce undermining and the avoidance of hanging pieces. Play can be frustrating if both players play completely defensively; however, attack speed and cleverness are highly rewarded.

Players may make two non-capture moves or one capture move each turn.

Pieces may not be captured unless they are unprotected.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

The Pit

This variant is designed to force the players’ attention on flanking play and edge-of-the-board play. It also helps players with attack/defense of the castled position.

The four squares in the center of the board – d4, e4, e5, and d5 – are “the pit”.

Pieces may not move into or through the pit at any time during the game.

Also, all lines of attack are stopped by the pit, so a piece cannot place the enemy king in check through the pit.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Dark Ages

This variant is fast-paced and ruthless in regard to piece trading, which is the focus. Players are pressed to consider their endgame carefully before engaging in all-out exchange wars.

Pawns that capture can make another move. If this move is a capture, the process repeats.

Bishops can be sacrificed to remove an adjacent enemy piece from play, except for the enemy king.

Captured bishops return to play on a square on their starting rank of the same color as their starting position.

Sacrificed bishops are not returned to play in this manner.

Rooks must remain on your side of the board. Pawns cannot promote to rooks.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Wounded King

This interesting variant focuses on king protection. It helps beginners overcome the tendency to move their king when placed in check.

Once a king has been placed in check, that king can only be moved three squares for the rest of the game.

When you capture a piece, you may make another move with a different piece.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Zombie Apocalypse

Somewhat chaotic, this variant emphasizes aggressive play and drives players to carefully consider attack chains and piece mobility.

Pawns are zombies. They move and capture like kings. On their first move, they can move two squares forward as normal.

Pawns do not promote.

On a player’s turn, instead of moving a piece, he or she may place one of their captured pawns on any square it might have occupied at the start of the game. A player may only do this once for each non-pawn piece captured.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Bomb Jockeys

This simple variant accelerates quickly, making players think about the forces they want to remain for the endgame. It also helps players focus on interference and undermining as important tactical maneuvers.

Captured pieces “explode”, capturing adjacent enemy pieces according to their point value:

Pawns capture the capturing piece

Bishops and knights capture the capturing piece plus up to 2 adjacent pieces

Rooks capture the capturing piece plus up to 4 adjacent pieces

Queens capture the capturing piece plus all adjacent pieces

There are no secondary explosions; when a piece is removed from play because of an explosion, it doesn’t explode.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Shuffled Up

Essentially a rendition of Chess960; before the start of the game players decide how the die rolls translate into piece placement for the back row. This variant helps players to look past move sequence to go deeper into opening theory.

Players randomly determine the arrangement of their first rank pieces (by rolling a die) according to these restrictions:

Kings must be placed between the rooks.

Bishops must be on alternate colors.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal, except castling is not allowed.

Strobe Chess

This variant heightens board evaluation, as the squares strobe in and out, changing the availability of moves. Also, it somewhat reduces the importance of tempo and focuses more on position.

On white’s turn (except the first), flip two coins:

If the coins are the same, nothing happens.

If both are heads, only pieces on the light colored squares are available.

If both are tails, only pieces on the dark colored squares are available.

The squares that are “strobed out” are unavailable for white and black for this turn of moves. Pieces on these squares cannot be moved or attacked. However, pieces cannot move through pieces on “strobed out” squares.

During your turn, if your king is in check (or checkmate) and located on the color of square that is “strobed out”, then it doesn’t count as check (or checkmate) for that turn.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Merry-Go-Round Chess

As with Strobe Chess, this variant changes the availability of moves; however, the predictability of the rotation offers another facet of planning to the game.

On white’s turn (except the first), rotate the board 90 degrees clockwise. (You could also move a marker to the corresponding edge of the board, to represent the location of the white player, rather than physically rotate the chessboard.)

You can only move your pieces that are on the half of the board closest to you.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Give Away Chess

This classic variant is great for beginners, because it helps increase the speed of looking ahead as well as reinforces the basic movement patterns of the pieces.

If it is possible to take an opponent’s piece, you must take it.

If you have multiple pieces you can capture, you can choose which one you take.

Check is not announced. The goal of the game is not to checkmate your opponent’s king, but to get rid of all of your pieces the fastest.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Bughouse Chess

Probably the favorite variant of our club, Bughouse is great for increasing a player’s ability to devise traps and mating patterns as well as increasing a player’s speed of play and board evaluation.

Players play on teams with two adjacent boards.

The players on one side of the table are on a team. Arrange the boards so a team has one player with white and one with black.

When a player makes a capture, he or she gives the captured piece to their teammate.

During a player’s turn, the player may place one of those pieces on any unoccupied square of the chessboard.

Check is not announced. The goal is to capture the enemy king.

A team wins if either enemy king is captured.

If a player begins stalling after a fair period of time, the opposing side can begin the loud-and-slow countdown 5-4-3-2-1. If the player has not moved by the end of the countdown, he or she loses. This keeps players who are about to lose from stalling out the game, because Bughouse is meant to be played quickly.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Four Generals

This variant is another great team variant that really introduces several levels of strategy that increase planning ability.

Players play on teams with two adjacent boards.

Players on a team play the same color.

The adjacent edges of the board are joined. Pieces may freely move from one board to the other.

Players alternate turns by color. Players may move any piece of their color.

The kings are the generals, and each king corresponds to a player.

The opponent may capture one of the kings of your team. When this happens, the corresponding player is out.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Play continues until one side is victorious.

Eight is Enough

This variant is great for positional play, as well as teaching there is more to chess than just taking pieces.

Players are each allowed to make eight (8) captures during the game.

A pawn capturing a pawn does not count against this limit.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Chess glossary


Adjust: to correct the position of a chess piece on the board; adjustments are only legal if they are announced before the adjustment

Alekhine’s Gun: a special formation of a battery using two rooks and a queen on the same rank or file

Algebraic notation: the standard method of recording chess moves that uses the letter-number coordinate system


Back row mate: a checkmate in which the enemy king is trapped on his starting rank behind his own pieces on the second rank

Backward pawn: a pawn that is behind pawns of its color on adjacent files

Bad bishop: a bishop that is blocked by pieces of its own color

Battery: an arrangement of two or more pieces on the same rank, file, or diagonal so as to line them up on the same line of attack; batteries are most often used to attack an enemy piece that is shielding its king from attack

Bind: a strong space advantage created by a pawn formation

Bishop pair: having bishops that move on both dark and light squares

Blitzkrieg chess: a very quick game of chess played with a chess clock and a time control of only a few minutes for the whole game (also called blitz chess)

Blockade: a strategic placement of a minor piece or another pawn to stop the advancement of an enemy pawn

Blunder: an unforced move that gives the opponent a decisive advantage

Bughouse chess: a variation of chess in which players play on team on two adjacent boards; pieces taken on one board may be placed on the other board as a move; kings are not placed in check or checkmate but can be captured

Bye: a tournament round in which a player does not have an opponent to play; the player receives a point for a win


Castling: a special move involving the king and one rook; if neither piece has been moved, and if the king is not in check, and none of the intervening squares between the king and its final position are under attack, then the king can be moved two squares towards the rook and the rook can be moved to the other side of the king

Centre: the centre of the chess board is composed of the four central squares d4, e4, e5, and d5.

Check: an attack on the king

Checkmate: an attack on the king that cannot be answered by any legal move, thus signifying the end of the game

Combination: a clever sequence of tactical moves that result in an advantage

Counter-gambit: a gambit offered by black


Decoy: a chess tactic used to lure a piece to an unfavorable square

Defence: a sequence of moves played at the beginning of the game by black

Deflect: a chess tactic used to lure a piece away from a good square

Descriptive notation: an older method of recording chess moves that uses letters representing the pieces and their initial positions to refer to the chess squares; for example, e4 in algebraic notation would be P-K4 in descriptive notation, meaning “pawn to the fourth square of the king’s file”

Develop: to move one’s chess pieces into the middle area of the board to provide better positions for launching attacks

Diagonal: a series of squares of the same color that touch at the corners

Discovered attack: a chess tactic in which a piece in front is moved to allow a piece in the back to attack

Double attack: a chess tactic that results in two (or more) of the opponent’s pieces being attacked at the same time

Draw: a game that ends with neither player winning; also called a stalemate


ECO: Encyclopedia of Chess Openings; a chess reference that lists some 500 chess openings and variants by a code number; the ECO can be found online for free in PDF format

En passant: a special chess move in which a pawn on the first rank in enemy territory can capture a pawn that moves past its capture square; the pawn is said to be captured en passant (French for “in passing”)

Endgame: the phase of gameplay in which both players have few pieces left

Exchange: a series of successive captures made by both players, with each capture being a response to the preceding capture; also called a trade


Family fork: a fork in which the king is put in check by a piece (almost always a knight) that is also simultaneously attacking the his queen and rook

Fianchetto: to place a bishop on the second square of the main diagonal, thereby attacking the centre from the flank (Italian for “flanking”)

Fifty-move rule: a rule used in scored games in which a draw can be claimed if there has been no pawn movement or no captures by either side for fifty-consecutive moves

File: a row of chess squares that are joined on an edge and span from the edges in front of the players

Flagged: a term that indicates a player lost the game due to the expiration of time, i.e. his or her flag on the chess clock fell

Flank: the files on either side of the center

Fork: a chess tactic in which one piece attacks more than one of the opponent’s pieces simultaneously


Gambit: a sacrifice of a pawn in the early stages of the game to gain an advantage in position or development

GM: grandmaster

Greek gift: the sacrifice of a bishop or knight in capturing a flank pawn that is part of a castle defense, used to setup an attack on the castled king


Hanging piece: a piece that is not protected and is open to capture


Illegal move: a move that is not permitted according to the rules of chess

Initiative: the advantage of the player whose actions force the opponent to respond; also called tempo

Insufficient material: a situation in the endgame in which a player lacks the pieces to put his or her opponent’s king in checkmate

Interference: a chess tactic in which the line of attack of an enemy piece is interrupted by a sacrificed piece

Intermezzo: a “middle move” inserted before an expected move, designed to complicate a move sequence and change its dynamics; see zwischenzug

Interpose: to move a piece between an attacking piece and its target


Kibhitz: to make comments on a game in progress by a non-player; kibhitzing is prohibited in both casual and scored games

Kingside: the side of the board corresponding to the starting position of the king


Luft: (German for “air”) space given to a castled king to allow it to escape a back row mate


Main line: the most common sequence of moves associated with a particular opening sequence

Major piece: a queen or a rook

Mate: shortened form of the word “checkmate”

Material: chess pieces in general

Middlegame: the phase of the game after the opening sequence of moves has concluded; in this phase chess tactics are employed to drive the game towards a favorable endgame position

Minor piece: a bishop or a knight

Mobility: the ability of a piece to move freely

Move order: a specific sequence of moves as they comprise an opening; in some openings, move order must be precise; in other openings, move order is not important


Open file: a file that contains no pieces

Opening: the beginning of a chess game in which White (and possible Black also) follows a planned sequence of moves in order to propel the game towards a favorable position for the middlegame

Opposition: the circumstance of having both kings on the same rank or file and separated by one empty square; the player whose turn it is to move is said to have his or her king “in opposition”

Outpost: a square in enemy territory protected by a friendly pawn

Overloaded: a piece that has too many defensive assignments to cover simultaneously


Pairing: the assignment of opponents for a scored chess game

Passed pawn: a pawn that has no enemy pawns in its file or on an adjacent file between itself and the promotion rank

Perpetual check: a condition in which a player forces a draw by threatening an endless series of checks on his or her opponent’s king

Pin: a chess tactic in which an enemy piece is attacked to prevent it from moving because doing so would cause the attacking piece to attack a more valuable target on the other side of the pinned piece

Promotion: a special move in chess in which a pawn reaches the starting rank of the opponent’s king and is exchanged for a minor or major piece


Queenside: the side of the board corresponding to the starting position of the queen


Rank: a row of chess squares that are joined on an edge and span from the edges on the sides of the board

Resign: to concede the loss of the chess game; resigning is generally announced only when checkmate is certain and unavoidable, and as a matter of saving time; it is discouraged as a method to avoid finishing a game in a difficult position


Sacrifice: the voluntary movement of a piece that results in that piece being captured, but yields an advantage of position or development to the player who sacrificed the piece

Simultaneous chess: a game of chess in which one player plays several opponents, each on their own board

Skewer: an attack on a valuable piece that compels the opponent to move it, which in turns exposes a lesser value piece to attack

Skittles room: the room in which players who are not playing their scored tournament games go to wait until the next round

Stalemate: a game that ends with neither player winning; also called a draw

Staunton pieces: the standard design of chess pieces, which is required for official tournament play

Strategy: the pursuit of a program of tactics and other moves that is designed for a achievement of a long-term goal

Symmetry: a board configuration in which one player’s pieces are exactly mirrored by those of the opponent


Tactic: a chess move or combination of moves designed for a short term goal, such as capturing a piece or achieving a particular position

Takeback: to undo a chess move; sometimes allowed in casual play or in instruction scenarios, but never allowed in scored games

Tempo: the advantage of the player whose actions force the opponent to respond; also called initiative

Tiebreak: a system of evaluation of tournament game outcomes to try to objectively determine a winner from amongst two or more players with identical win-loss records

Time control: a timing rule established at the outset of a chess game in which a chess clock is to be used; a time control generally indicates the amount of game progress mandated for a certain time interval

Touch move: a rule of play that requires a player to move a piece that they touch

Trade: a series of successive captures made by both players, with each capture being a response to the preceding capture; also called an exchange

Transposition: arriving at a certain board position from a different sequence of moves; important for studying chess openings and defences

Trap: a chess move or combination designed to entice the opponent to make a bad move

Triangulation: a technique used in the endgame to enable a player to give away the tempo and thus force opposition on the opponent’s king


Undermining: a chess tactic in which a defensive piece is attacked so that the piece it defends becomes vulnerable to attack


Variation: a sequence of moves of an opening that differs from the main line


Windmill: a tactic in which a rook and a bishop is used to set up a cascade of alternating check / discovered checks that results in the systematic removal of a lot of material


Zugzwang: (German for “compulsion to move”) a chess tactic that forces the opponent to make an undesirable move

Zwischenzug: (German for “middle move”) a chess tactic in which a move other than the expected response is inserted, often giving the opponent two threat situations to deal with rather than one; see intermezzo

Chess opening and defence checklist

Below we have a short list of the major openings (sequence of play from white’s perspective) and defences (sequence of play from black’s perspective) found in the typical game of chess.

Every player should study a few openings and defences to prepare themselves for their opponent’s plan of attack.

The listing below gives the ECO (Encyclopedia of Chess Openings) code for each opening or defence. You can use this code to look up information about the openings and defences that interest you. For example, the ECO code for the Scotch Game is C45.

You can check out all of the ECO codes in this handy PDF file:

Opening Checklist:

C60-C99 Ruy Lopez
C25-C29 Vienna Game
C23-C24 Bishop’s Opening
A04-A09 Reti Opening
C21-C22 Centre Game
A05, A07, A08, C00 King’s Indian Attack
C47-C49 Four Knights Game
C45 Scotch Game
C50, C53, C54 Giuoco Piano
A10-A39 English Opening
D00 Blackmar-Diemar Gambit
D20-D29 Queen’s Gambit Accepted
D07-D19, D30-D69 Queen’s Gambit Declined
C51-C52 Evan’s Gambit
C44 Ponziani Opening
E00-E09 Catalan Opening

Defence Checklist:

B02-B05 Alekhine’s Defence
A17 Hedgehog Defence
B20-B99 Sicilian Defence
B07-B09 Pirc Defence
B00 Hippopotamus Defence
A80-A99 Dutch Defence
E20-E59 Nimzo-Indian Defence
C00-C19 French Defence
D10-D17 Slav Defence
C42-C43 Petrov’s Defence
D80-D99 Gruenfeld Defence
B06 Modern/Robatsch Defence
B10-B19 Caro-Kann Defence
E11 Bogo-Indian Defence
A57-A59 Benko’s Gambit
D43-D49 Semi-Slav Defence

Phooey on Scholar’s Mate!

Scholar’s Mate is an opening trap employed by patzers who wish to take advantage of the inexperience of their opponent, rather than play good, principled chess. Though the traditional Scholar’s Mate is performed from white’s perspective, black can also use a similar trick against an inexperienced player playing white.

The typical Scholar’s Mate sequence looks like this:

1. e4 e5 2. Qh5 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Qxf7#

White’s target is the f7 pawn. The attack on the queen by the kingside knight doesn’t take this into account.

To defeat Scholar’s Mate, we will use solid chess principles that will not only prevent our opponent from succeeding with this stunt, but will also give us a bit of an advantage.

Let’s look at our strategy…

1. e4 e5 2. Qh5 Nc6

Attacking the white queen directly with the g6 pawn would give away our rook in something called the Parham Attack. Instead, we protect our king pawn – the queen is attacking it as well as the target f7 pawn.

White responds by bringing out her bishop, the next stage of her Scholar’s Mate plan. Now we attack the queen with g6.

3. Bc4 g6 4. Qf3 …

White will retreat her queen to f3 because it still allows her to attack the f7 pawn.

You’ll notice that we are developing our pieces while forcing white to repeatedly move the same piece – her queen. This will give us an edge in development further down the road.

Last move, we deflected white’s queen by moving our pawn to attack. This time we will block the queen from being able to attack her target at f7.

4. … Nf6 5. Qb3 …

White continues her attack on the f7 pawn by preparing to capture it with her bishop, forcing us to move our king and eliminating our ability to castle. This is why she moved the queen to b3.

We aren’t worried. Now for our attack!

5. … Nd4 6. Bxf7+ Ke7

Our knight is attacking her queen, and threating a fork of her king and queenside rook at c2. Out of desperation, she takes the f7 pawn to force us to move our king.

At this point, if white moves her queen to b4 to put us in check, she immediately loses her bishop and has to waste another move protecting her foolish queen. If she moves away from c2, we will fork her king and get her rook.

From here, the typical sequence continues…

7. Qc4 b5 8. Qd3 Kxf7 9. Nf3 Nxf3+ 10. Qxf3 d5

The result? Black may have lost the ability to castle, but he clearly has the edge in development, with solid attacking lanes for both bishops and almost half of his pawns attacking the center.

However, white has moved her queen six times in the first ten moves, and has lost a bishop – a just payment for trying to pull a Scholar’s Mate stunt on a chess player!

Chess notation symbols

Often when reading chess books, using online chess resources, or analyzing games with chess software, you will encounter symbols in the notation analysis that will seem cryptic and hard to understand. You may not find these in every notation analysis, but sometimes they will show up.

The list below should help you decipher what the symbols mean and help you better understand the chess analysis.

?? Blunder: indicates a very bad move
? Mistake
?! Dubious move: doubtful that this move offers anything positive
!? Interesting move: unexpected yet promising move
! Good move
!! Brilliance: only used when a move has particular theoretical
= Even position for both sides
+/= Slight advantage for White
=/+ Slight advantage for Black
+/- Clear advantage for White
-/+ Clear advantage for Black
+- Winning advantage for White
-+ Winning advantage for Black
Unclear which side has the advantage
=/ With compensation; a loss in material, space, or tempo is paired with a gain in another aspect
Gives a space advantage
Seizes the initiative
↑↑ Development of pieces or position
With the attack of…
With counterplay
Countering the sequence…
With the idea of…
Zeitnot: move was made under time trouble
Zugswang: move was forced
Only available move
A better move is…
A weaker move is…
A stronger way to do the same move is…

Chess notation

Chess notation is a method of recording the sequence of moves in a game of chess.

Learning chess notation is invaluable to learning to play better chess. The ability to read chess notation makes it possible for the student of chess to access instruction in chess books and on chess websites. The ability to write chess notation gives the player the ability to record and analyze his or her own games.

The most popular style of chess notation is called the algebraic style of chess notation. The following is a tutorial for reading and recording algebraic chess notation.

(Later I will make a post with instructions for reading descriptive notation, which is the old-school way of annotating chess games, making it useful for reading old chess books. You can find it here.)

Vertical rows (going from your side of the chess board to your opponent’s side) are called files. Files are labeled with a lowercase letter, a-h, with the a file on white’s left and the h file on white’s right.

Horizontal rows (going from the left side of the chess board to the right side) are called ranks. Ranks are labeled with a number, 1-8, with the first rank being the horizontal row that contains white’s king and the eighth rank being the horizontal row that contains black’s king.

Official tournament chess sets have the rank and file coordinates around the edges of the board:

The coordinates make is so that every square on the chess board has a unique label that corresponds to the file and rank on which it sits. The label of a square is written with the letter for the file first, followed by the number for the rank.

For example, the white king starts on e1, and the black rook on the queen’s side starts on a8.

Pieces are indicated with a capital letter corresponding to the name of the piece: B for bishop, N for knight, R for rook, Q for queen, and K for king.

A move is indicated by listing the letter of the moving piece, followed by the destination square. For example, Qe2 indicates that the queen was moved to square e2.

The only exception to this rule is the pawn. Pawn moves are indicated by listing the destination square only. For example, e4 indicates that a pawn was moved to the square e4.

Sometimes multiple pieces of the same type can move to the same destination square. In that case, the piece is distinguished by listing the rank or file from where it started after the capital letter for the piece and before the destination square.

For example, in the diagram below, both of white’s knights can go to d5. The move Nfd5 indicates that the knight on the f-file is the one that moved. If the other knight was actually the one that was moved, that move would be recorded as Nbd5.

Similarly, both of black’s rooks can move to h6. If the rook on h1 is actually the rook that was moved, we would record that move as R1h6.

A capture is indicated with an “x” between the capturing piece and the destination square.

For example, if a bishop at b5 captured a knight at c6, the capture would be indicated by Bxc6. This reads “the bishop took whatever piece was at c6.”

Castling on the king’s side is indicated by O-O. Castling on the queen’s side is indicated by O-O-O.

Check is indicated by putting a “+” after the move. For example, Bb5+ would indicate a bishop move to square b5 that puts the opposing king in check.

Checkmate is indicated by putting a “#” after the move. For example, the move Rc8# indicates a rook on the c-file being moved to the eighth rank, resulting in checkmate.

When a pawn is promoted, the piece that replaces the pawn is listed after the move. For example, b8=R indicates that a pawn in the b-file moved to the eighth rank and was promoted to a rook. Sometimes promotion is notated as “b8R” or an arrow is used in place of the equal sign.

If a pawn is captured en passant, the move is often recorded with an “e.p.” after the move, especially in chess material for beginners. For example, the move 11. dxc6 e.p. indicates that white took the black pawn on the c-file en passant with her pawn on the d-file. The black pawn attempted to move to c5, but the capture occurred at c6, so that is recorded as the resultant destination of the capturing pawn.

Please note: an en passant capture may simply be recorded as a regular capture.

Sometimes you will see the symbols “?” for bad move and “!” for good move are used, as well as some others. These symbols are used primarily by chess analysts for instructional purposes. It is a good idea as a beginner to leave these out, as they are not necessary.

An ellipsis, or “…”, is often used as a placeholder to indicate picking up a game from the last move. For example, the move 4. … Nf6 indicates that black moved his knight to the square f6 after whatever move white made for turn 4.

As an example, here is the notation for the first ten moves of a chess game. Move pieces on your chess board according to this notation:

The board position after these ten moves looks like this:

Did you get the same results? Great!

As we’ve said, learning to read chess notation puts a world of chess instruction at your fingertips. If you can understand chess notation, you can follow chess instructions in a book or on the internet. You can also follow the classic games from grandmasters from the past.

Here are some games (from ) to follow using the chess notation. See if you can play out the game and get the same result.

Endgame principles

The best way to win chess games is to know your endgame principles. Chess masters tend to win because they understand the endgame and can drive the game towards an endgame in which they have an advantage, and then they turn that advantage into a win.

Here are some principles that apply to the endgame you should really study to improve your chess play:

Activate your King

In the beginning of the game, your king is mostly stationary, staying out of the battle to avoid threats of checkmate. In the endgame, your king must be active — protecting your attack pieces, clearing pawns, and remaining a moving target for your opponent’s pieces and plans. Don’t leave your king in a corner or on an edge.

Minor Piece Mathematics

It is vital to understand the relative power of minor piece combinations, for you and for your opponent. These comparisons are general; a particular board position could change these relationships.

B > N A bishop tends to be better in an endgame because the
board is more open.
B + B > N + N A bishop pair is a powerful weapon in the endgame.
B + B > B + N
N + N > B + N
It’s better to have a pair of bishops or a pair of
knights than to have one of each.
R + N > R + B
Q + N > Q + B
Knights are better in conjunction with queens or

Rule of Two Weaknesses

In the endgame, there are fewer pieces, and it is more difficult to be in two places at once. Your opponent most likely will not be able to attack two groups of advancing pawns on opposite sides of the board, or be able to fend off two lines of attack.


When the board is open, pieces have more freedom of movement, which means they have greater opportunity to attack. That’s why it’s important to use your pieces to control key squares, ranks, and files, so your opponent cannot move freely, but instead gets stopped in a “roadblock” of your pieces.


When your opponent has less pieces, she has less ways to attack you. When you get an advantage in pieces, simplify the game by trading pieces, with two exceptions:

Don’t trade pawns unless it makes sense to do so. Trading pawns just for the sake of trading pawns is usually unwise.

Don’t trade your last rook if you can avoid it. Otherwise you might simplify your win into a draw.

Beware of Draw!

Drawing in an endgame can be a powerful weapon if you are losing. If you are winning, you must take care not to let your win slip away into a draw. Here are some tips to guard against the draw:

Know the minor piece combinations that lead to a draw. A lone knight or lone bishop is a draw. Opposing bishops of opposite colors tends towards a draw. Don’t simplify into a drawing situation.

Avoid pawn gobbling. Many stalemates occur at the club level because the player with the advantage decides to obliterate the opponent rather than go for a checkmate… the next thing you know, your opponent has no legal moves, and the game is a draw. Don’t take a pawn unless it is an actual threat.

Rule of Symmetry

Symmetric pawn structures tend to keep things stationary. To make things move or change, you typically want to break the symmetry. Knowing this relationship can work to your advantage, either in defence or attack.

Pawn Power!

Pawns get a lot of attention in the opening, but they really shine in the endgame. After a pawn moves into enemy territory, its value increases as it gets closer to its promotion rank.

There are important things to know about pawns in the endgame:

Pawns with buddies are better than lone pawns. Advance adjacent pawns together for a more powerful combination. Advancing pawns in a mob (pawn storm) can be a powerful and decisive weapon.

A passed pawn is golden. If you are able to get a passed pawn, all of your pieces should be aimed at protecting it and escorting it to the back rank. If you don’t have a passed pawn, you should work towards getting one, unless you have a clear path to checkmate.

Wing pawns promote more easily than central pawns.

A rook or a queen behind a passed pawn is a lethal weapon!

Use your king to escort your pawns. With the king behind, protecting the pawns in the rear, you have a formidable force.

Watchtower Rule

When you have an advantage, you should be able to turn that into a win. The only thing that’s stopping you is your opponent. Most of your attention should be spent assessing what threats your opponent has. Unless you have a checkmate plan that you can execute immediately, it’s often a good idea to concentrate on eliminating your opponent’s pieces.

Rule of Opposites

What’s good for you is bad for your opponent, and what’s good for your opponent is bad for you.

For example, from the Activate Your King principle (the first one), you know it’s not good to leave your king on an edge or in a corner. By the Rule of Opposites, then, we see that it is good for you if your opponent’s king is on an edge or in a corner, so a good plan would be to force or trap the king onto an edge or into a corner.

Endgame solutions

An endgame solution is a pattern or sequence of moves that forces the game to a particular result. Often a player can drive the game towards one of these endgame solutions by trading pieces, and then use the endgame solution to force a win or a draw.

Endgame solutions are dependent upon the sufficiency of checkmating material. If one side does not have sufficient material to force a checkmate, the best that side could obtain is a draw. If neither side has sufficient material for checkmate, the game is judged a draw and ended.

Having single bishop or knight plus a king is not sufficient to force checkmate on a lone king. Two knights plus a king versus a lone king are also insufficient to force checkmate. It may be possible to get a checkmate with these set-ups, but the player is likely to encounter a forced draw via the fifty move rule.

Here are some endgame solutions that we want to study, as they are useful as tools of forcing the final outcome of the game.

Two rooks + king vs. king

In this situation, the king with two rooks attempts to sweep the enemy king to an edge by alternating the rooks in the attack.

Suppose we have and endgame scenario that looks like this, and it’s black’s move. Black should easily win, but how do you do it without using way too many moves, or worse, allowing white to get a stalemate?

The first thing black wants to do is to select an edge of the board. The plan is to drive the enemy king towards this edge. In this example, black chooses the top edge of the board, or the eighth (8th) rank. She could have chosen any edge, but there is generally an edge that is easier, based on the location of the pieces.

Next she wants to move one of her rooks so it clamps the enemy king to a reduced section of the board, like so:

The rook at b4 is called the clamping rook, because it clamps the white king away from the rest of the board, driving it towards the selected edge.

Ideally, black would next like to move her other rook, called the attacking rook, to the fifth (5th) rank to put the white king in check. However, if the white king moves to d5, that rook would be vulnerable. Instead, she moves it as far as she can to the other side in a direction parallel to the chosen edge:

Now her clamping rook is vulnerable! She must move it as far as she can away from the white king in the same direction as the other rook but without interfering with her other rook:

The white king is now too far away to threaten either rook, so she can attack. She moves Rh5+:

Notice that now the h-file rook becomes the clamping rook, which means the g-file rook becomes the attacking rook. Her next move would be Rg6+, forcing the white king even closer towards the edge.

This process continues until the white king runs out of board. The rooks will alternate in their roles, from clamping rook to attacking rook.

The important things to remember are:

  • Always move the attacking rook, and leave the clamping rook in position until the enemy king gets close.
  • When the enemy king gets close, move as far away as you can parallel to the target edge.
  • Don’t let your rooks interfere with each other (and keep your king out of the way).

Please note: you can use this pattern with a queen and a rook also. However, you have to be careful with a queen, because it gives you more options for attack, but it also makes it easier for your opponent to get a stalemate! (That’s why I usually recommend to my players to get a rook, rather than a queen, when a pawn promotes.)

If you use this endgame solution, you can beat ANYONE!

One rook + king vs. king

In the situation of one rook plus a king versus a lone king, the player with the rook should be able to force a checkmate using a technique called opposition and press.

In opposition, the two kings are in the same rank/file but separated by one square. The king whose turn it is to move is opposed.

Suppose we start with this endgame scenario:

White has used his rook to clamp black to one side of the board. His goal is to drive the black king towards the top edge of the board.

Notice that white has maneuvered his king to be on the opposite side of the attack line (the rank/file the rook is on) from the enemy king. This endgame solution doesn’t work if your king is in the way!

It is black’s move. What white would like is for black to move Kf6, moving into opposition with his king. When this happens, white can then press, or move his rook to attack:

The white king prevents the black king from moving into the fifth (5th) rank, and the rook does not allow it to stay in the sixth (6th) rank. The black king must move into the seventh (7th) rank, one rank closer to the edge.

Suppose the black king moves Kg7, threatening the white rook. White simply moves the rook all the way to the other side of the board, but parallel with the chosen edge:

Suppose that black responds with Kf7… what should white do?

If white moves Kf5, then he would be the one moving into opposition. That would allow black to simply slip out of the trap. Instead, white should move Ke5. Then, if black wants to move towards the rook, it will be black moving into opposition, which allows white to press with the rook.

Suppose we have 1. Ke5 Kg5. What should white do?

In this case, white simply chases the black king with Kf5. If play continues along this line: 1. Kf5 Kh5 2. Kg5, white will be forced to move into opposition.

What if we have this situation:

It’s white’s move. If he moves into opposition, black slips out. Instead, he can make a zwischenzug and move the rook forward one square (sometimes this is called a “stutter step”):

The move Rb6 solves the problem. Now black is faced with moving into opposition.

One last thing to look at: what if the enemy king moves towards the edge?

In this scenario, white just made the move Kd3. Instead of staying in the fifth (5th) rank and moving towards the white rook, the black king moves into the sixth (6th) rank and closer to the edge.

The rule to remember is this: if the opponent gives you a rank or a file, you take it.

White should move Rh5 and tighten the clamp.

King + pawn vs. king

This is one of the most common endgames. The goal of the lone king is to get in front of the pawn (or force a capture). In this case, the game is a draw. The player with the pawn wants to prevent this so the pawn can be promoted to a rook or queen, yielding an endgame solution we have looked at previously.

In the case of a rook-pawn (a pawn on the a– or h-file), the king with the pawn may be forced into stalemate if the king can’t get out of the way for the pawn to advance.

The goal of all of the endgame solutions in this category is to control the two squares in front of the advancing pawn. If the minority player controls one of these squares, the game is a draw.

Let’s look at the following situation:

In the diagram above, regardless of whose move it is, white can force a stalemate because white can get her king to d3 before black can prevent it.

Now consider this one:

In this situation, if it’s black’s turn to move, black can protect the pawn advancement with Kd3, because the white king can’t get around to the front of the pawn, nor can the white king separate the pawn from the black king.

If it’s white’s turn to move, though, the white king can easily keep the black in opposition around the d-file, which could possibly lead to a pawn blunder, white getting control of the d2 or d1 squares, or the threefold repetition rule, all of which are draws.

One more possibility to consider:

In this one, the black king is able to prevent the white king from getting in front of the pawn, thus guaranteeing a win.

Bishop pair + king vs. king

If one player has both of his or her bishops (a bishop pair) in the endgame against a lone king, it is possible to force checkmate on either a corner square or the square adjacent to the corner.

The goal of the player with the bishop pair is to use his or her king to force the enemy king back through opposition and some clever corralling with the bishops.

The goal of the player with the lone king is to stay in the center. If he or she can force a mistake and capture a bishop, the game is a draw.

The procedure is somewhat lengthy (at least 17 moves) and requires precise play, but the goal is to force the lone king into one of the positions shown in the diagrams below:

Chess clock operation

When playing official games, such as in a chess tournament, players will be required to use a chess clock.

A chess clock is actually a pair of timers linked by a switching mechanism to control the amount of time each player gets to make their moves. There are two kinds of chess clocks:

Analog clocks have a round clock face on them and operate mechanically.

Digital chess clocks have a digital display and a computer chip that controls the timing.

A chess clock has two buttons on the top which are used to start each player’s turn.

Analog clocks begin with both buttons in a neutral position; both buttons are level. When the game official signals the start of the game, the player playing black presses his or her button to start white’s turn. white’s clock will then begin to tick down.

For more modern digital clocks, there is usually a “start” button on the clock, and this is pressed to start the timer for white.

Before the game begins, the player playing black chooses which side of the chess board the chess clock will be located. However, some tournaments require all chess clocks to be in the same location.

During play, as a player ponders their move, time elapses from his or her clock. When the player makes a move, he or she presses their button, passing play to the opponent. This action stops the player’s clock and starts the opponent’s clock. It is general practice for regular games to press your clock button with the same hand that you use to move your pieces.

Before the game starts, the chess clocks are set according to a time control rule. Time controls indicate the time limit enforced upon game play. Time control rules are typically stated to indicate how much game progress is expected in how much time. Some common time controls used are:

60/90 — This time control states that each player must make sixty (60) moves in ninety (90) minutes.

G/60 – For this time control, each player must play his or her entire game in sixty (60) minutes.

60/60/15 – This time control is a little more complicated. It says that each player must make sixty (60) moves in sixty (60) minutes. After that time period elapses, then each player is given fifteen (15) minutes to finish their game.

G/60/d5 – In this time control, each player has sixty (60) minutes in which to play their game. Additionally, there is a delay of five (5) seconds on each turn before the timer starts counting down.

While many tournaments, especially at the scholastic level, supply chess boards and pieces, chess clocks are usually not supplied. For that reason, it is generally recommended that players (or teams) bring their own clock to tournaments.

Also, it is essential that players learn how to set their own clocks! As there are so many different brands of chess clocks, it is not always the case that the tournament director can set your clock for you.

Analog clocks are very simple to set. To set the chess clock, subtract the amount of time for the first time period from “6:00” and set the clock face for each side to this time. For example, using a “G/30” time control, both timers of the chess clock would be set to “5:30,” because “6:00” minus 30 minutes is “5:30.”

On an analog clock, when a player uses up all of his or her time, the minute hand on their clock will cause a flag to fall on their timer. If the flag falls while it is your move and you have not completed the required number of moves, you lose the game on time.

On a digital clock, there is general some sort of flashing indicator to indicate that time has run out.

If your clock runs out of time on your turn, you lose the game on time. It doesn’t matter what the situation is on the chess board; if you run out of time, you lose.

Serious chess players learn to use their opponent’s clock rather than their own. In other words, while your opponent is thinking about their move and their clock is ticking down, use that time to think about your next move or moves. That way, when your opponent moves and your clock begins to tick, you won’t need to use as much of your time to think about your move.

If you are interested in getting a chess clock, you should look here and here. The chess clocks we use in our Chess Club are these, which I think are very good clocks for scholastic players.