Tag: Chess

Are tactics the same thing as strategy?

Some interesting nuggets of wisdom from Pandolfini’s Ultimate Guide to Chess. Make no mistake, the insights we can draw from this book transcend the chess board.

Are tactics the same thing as strategy?

The two terms are often confused and misused. At the beginning of the lesson I described tactics as local operations. For the most part, strategy refers to an overall plan, while tactics signify the individual actions needed to bring about that plan. Strategy tends to be long-term, tactics short-term. Strategy is usually general, tactics specific.

Attack and Defence

Defenders naturally focus on responding to an attack rather than a mistake, so they sometimes allow their opponents to play erroneously with impunity. A mistake by the defender, on the other hand, is more likely to be fatal, since attackers are usually more attuned to the possibilities of such lapses, having already factored them into their plans. Attackers generally have some sense of what they aim to do ahead of time, whereas defenders aren’t quite as sure what may hit until it happens.

Are attacks and threats the same thing?

Not really. You’re attacking something if you’re in position to capture it, even if it’s not desirable to do so. You’re threatening something if you’re in position to capture or exploit it to your explicit advantage. Indeed, a threat is an attempt to gain advantage, generally by inflicting some immediate harm on the enemy position. Most commonly, a threat is designed to win material, either by capturing for nothing or by surrendering less force than you gain. So an attack can be good, but not all the time. A threat is always good, unless it’s a false threat that enables the opponent to respond in a way that improves his situation.

Bruce Pandolfini Teaches Thinking, Not Chess

Bruce Pandolfini doesn’t have an MBA but he knows more about strategy than most people. Pandolfini is one of the most sought-after chess teachers in the world.

He’s also one of the most widely read chess writers. I have a copy of Pandolfini’s Ultimate Guide to Chess on my bookshelf.

Pandolfini makes it clear to his students that he’s not teaching them how to play chess. He is, instead, teaching them how to think.

“My goal,” he says, “is to help them develop what I consider to be two of the most important forms of intelligence: the ability to read other people, and the ability to understand oneself. Those are the two kinds of intelligence that you need to succeed at chess — and in life.”

On Thinking Ahead

There are lots of misperceptions that influence how people think about — and play — chess. Most people believe that great players strategize by thinking far into the future, by thinking 10 or 15 moves ahead. That’s just not true. Chess players look only as far into the future as they need to, and that usually means thinking just a few moves ahead. Thinking too far ahead is a waste of time: The information is uncertain. The situation is ambiguous. Chess is about controlling the situation at hand. You want to determine your own future. You certainly don’t want your opponent to determine it for you. For that, you need clarity, not clairvoyance.

“You should never play the first good move that comes into your head. Put that move on your list, and then ask yourself if there is an even better move.”

On Attacking

Great players want to build their position and to increase their power — so that, when they strike, there is no defense. Trying to win a game in the fewest number of moves means hoping that your opponent is incompetent. I don’t teach students to base their play on hope. I teach them to play for control.

On Small Advantages

Chess is a game of small advantages. It all goes back to Wilhelm Steinitz, the first great modern chess teacher. Steinitz developed the theory of positional chess, which assumes that, to get an advantage, you have to give up something in return. The question then becomes “How can anyone win? Why isn’t the game always held in dynamic balance?” The answer is that you play for seemingly insignificant advantages — advantages that your opponent doesn’t notice or that he dismisses, thinking, “Big deal, you can have that.” It could be a slightly better development, or a slightly safer king’s position. Slightly, slightly, slightly. None of those “slightlys” mean anything on their own, but add up seven or eight of them, and you have control. Now the only way that your opponent can possibly break your control is by giving up something else. Positional chess teaches that we are responsible for our actions. Every move must have a purpose.

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