Secrets of Key Concepts

Ask the average chess player if he knows what areas of chess are required for the various levels of play and you will probably get a entirely different answer from every one you ask.

For the master one might say he has to know everything. But what about the intermediate areas? What then? Does he know what is expected knowledge for the class A club player? Does he have any idea at all what is required knowledge for players between the class B Intermediate level to a Master rating of 2100 ELO?

The next question then is if you donít know this then how can you ever rise up to your next level of play if you donít know what to study next? Just like in math you canít get to calculus until you first study algebra.

Although in chess there are no requirements to know certain subjects to rise up in the levels, not doing so in some kind of logical order will cause one to be forever spinning his wheels in wasting his time in the pursuit of knowledge that may be or not be critical in going forward to the next logical level of play. It is like going to high school or collage and not knowing what to study next in order to rise up from a freshmen to a junior and from a junior to a senior. The major goal in any chess course is to develop a reliable method to first evaluate and then increase oneís chess strength based on the knowledge that is deemed necessary to dramatically and significantly make a rating improvement in your next level of play.

However the problem is knowing just what areas of study are required for that next level.

Obviously one can not be expected to try to study everything all at once. What is needed is a guide of just the key concepts and key areas to study that will produce an increase in just that next level. One of the problems however is that most average players have little sense as to the kind of depth that is required and necessary in chess thinking and analysis. It is more than likely that they may find difficulty to make the distinction between the kind of thinking and analysis that is necessary for the kind of longer Standard tournament games of 2 hrs/40 moves or even a 45/45 game and the faster forms of chess under 45 minutes.

Unless this realization occurs it matters little how much key material is presented to this kind of student, little progress will take place. On the other hand a highly motivated student that is given Key Concepts may improve markedly after given this material.

Before you start your studies in any chess course of study you first should measure your chess strength so that you may know just where to begin your study at and know just where you most need knowledge in your most weakest area.

For example if you are doing well on the middlegame but poorly in the endgame that would indicate that tactics are good but you lack essential endgame knowledge; a reverse performance would mean tactics are weak and need study to bring them up to equalize.

How many chess courses or chess tests do you know that can pinpoint your chess strength in about an hour? Very few if any and that is because too little has gone into determining the very specific components that comprise chess strength. There are many books and other programs that test tactical motifs, in which you have to find all kinds of mates and which test your ability to find forcing solutions to endgame positions or studies, but few which try to test and expand your knowledge in a holistic way.

They donít test with respect to the relatively uniform wholeness or to a complete knowledge base but rather with the analysis of or treatment of a dissection into just a few parts. Furthermore, most tests are concerned with moves. Moves should not be concerned as ends in themselves, but rather as symbols for concepts or chess knowledge which can be represented by a move, a sequence of moves, or patterns. Moves can be viewed as steps in a larger procedure which represents a plan or a grand theme or a knowledge based approach.

Another point here is that knowing a lot about just one aspect of chess like tactics or the openings is similar to some one going to school to become a attorney and spending all their time only studying about logic. To be able to play chess with any proficiency or skill requires one to have knowledge in several areas equally well.

If you were to play a game against some one rated near the masters level and he lost to you using the classic bishop sacrifice opening trap you would suspect him of cheating with a computer to have got to his lofty level. You just expect higher rated players to have a well rounded education in all the critical areas of chess for their level of play. So why should you not have the same well rounded education in all those critical areas for your level of play?

The Chessmaster Series Academy
The Diagnostic Rating Exam in the Chessmaster Series Academy is a true test in chess ability and one of the best ways to determine your ELO level to begin your progress in study. You may think you are at one particular level of play but until you take such a test as this you cannot be sure. Such a test is critical for you to understand just where you should begin in the study of key concepts and other required knowledge. This test will show you if you need more work in tactics or endgame etc, in order to balance your knowledge base for the level of play you are at.

The Chessmaster Series has a academy of study. They break it down into several areas for the different levels of play. Beginners level:
Basic Chess Concepts, defense, pins forks discoveries, openings etc.

Beginning Strategy by Yasser Seirawan:
Planing Concepts, Opening Principles, Pawn Structure, Rook Development, Bishop Development, Knight Development, Queen Development and Effective play based on Pawn Structure. Another section deals with Drills. Find the fork, find check, find mate in one, mate with king and queen, mate with king and rook mate with two pawns. Drills: Find mate in one, Find fork etc

Intermediate level:
Opening moves, Basic themes, Tactics and positions. Drills, Larry Evans: Endgame Quiz Diagnostic Rating Exam: Mates, Openings, Tactics, Strategy 1,2 and 3, Endings 1 and 2 Defense, Mistakes. Advanced level Match the masters Drills Nunnís puzzles

Larry Christiansen Attacking Chess Tutorials Christiansen vs. Chessmaster. Round 1 to 4

Josh Waitzkinsís Academy:
This is exactly what it says it is. A large Academy of chess knowledge The first section is the Arsenal. Forks, Knight Forks, Skewers, Pins, Removing the Defender, Discovery and then a Mastery Quiz on the subject material.

Strategy: Opening Principles, Pawn Structure, Weak Squares, Creating Outposts and a Mastery Quiz on what you learned.

Endgame Course: This is a huge section on all the basics of Endgame theory: King and Pawn, Bishops of Same color, Bishops vs. Knight, Bishop and Knight vs. Rook, Bishops of Opposite Color, Rook and Pawn.

Psychology of Competition is a Josh Waitzkins master piece. Here he goes over 19 tournament games he played and tells in spoken plain English in great detail about the game and why he lost or won. Here he is brutally honest about his bad play and goes into a lot of detail how he gained or lost an advantage and asks you at times to find his next best move.

Finally he goes into 12 highly annotated games he played.

For any one who wants to learn the basics of chess from beginner to Intermediate and then to Advanced level there is no equal for the price.

A lot of fun can be had playing against the 187 different personalities. 23 to 500 ELO 13 personalities 501 to 1000 ELO 23 personalities 1001 to 1500 ELO 40 personalities 1501 to 2000 ELO 37 personalities 2001 to 2948 ELO 74 personalities Total 187 personalities

The Player Statistics are very complete. They have a rating chart and tables, games results, color status, Openings used, and a graph game chart. At the end of the game you can request an auto annotation and analysis and Chessmaster will talk and explain your game with corresponding annotations. You will get a chart with the Chessmaster agreements for both white and black, errors in per cent, Missed mates. CMX agrees and disagrees with moves. Etc.

I bought my Chessmaster 10th edition from for $23.00. Supported OS: Windows 98/ME/XP only. 1.71 GB for full install. You may find it for less at E-bay but I donít trust them from a previous bad experience. If you pay the price you get a new product in a sealed box and a 90 day warranty and technical support.

Major difference between master thinking and the average player.
This is the major difference between how a master thinks and the average player. The average player is just concerned with finding a so called good move or best move not with the larger picture based on any long ranged plan.

Most average players on FICS take the very shortsighted approach to learning chess principles by engaging in memorization of the openings and being completely focused on winning quickly in just a few moves.

They donít understand that the key component on the road to chess mastery is to embrace the journey as opposed to a compulsive fixation on quick results. And that journey is one that will lead into deep endgame play.

Itís the endgame where you should focus the beginnings of your chess education, not openings. End game study is a key concept area that will bring about a lot more wins than will the memorization of an opening will. But if you donít have the patience for that then you never will play chess well and your game will forever fall apart when challenged with some one who has done so.

The problem with the average chess player is that he lacks certain specific knowledge which is critical to strong chess players and is necessary for their advancement to the upper levels. The other problem is that even though one may give this material to the average chess player he may not use it to gain that advantage.

Tell the average player that in order to play well he should be more concerned with the key concept area of making plans than to waste his time in memorizing opening moves and he will probably agree with you but will still not do so if he has little appreciation for the kind of depth that is required and necessary in chess thinking and analysis. He may still be convinced that the most important road to chess mastery is to study openings and only openings and no amount of logical thoughts on how to succeed passed his way will ever change his mind.

His basis for thinking this way is because this is what GMís do, and if itís the formula for wining games for a GM then why not for him as well?

What must be emphasized to give motivation to improve is that if one truly wants to improve is that there is the opportunity to read critical key chess knowledge that will ensure that your chess will definitely unequivocally improve. This material is available if one wants to seek it out.

Domain specific knowledge is necessary for strong and correct play, particularly at the higher levels. Here the term domain specific knowledge refers to knowledge which is specialized and is required for strong and correct play of the game in an area where this specialized knowledge is required for expertise. Like other domains where human expertise and excellence has been recognized such as mathematics and music, chess proficiency does not just suddenly appear. It is based on a long period of study and learning praxis practice to gain skill with a practical application of the theory.

For example in rook and pawn endings which may occur as frequently as in one in six games, rook and pawn ending specific knowledge can be studied from a distinctly knowledge based perspective. Be sure and read the Discussion of the Rook and Pawn Endings at the end of this page.

It has been known for a long time that from a given position humans only search somewhere between fifty and at most two hundred positions. While computers that play strong chess have involved searching or analyzing thousands and maybe many billions of possible positions. So the question is, how is it that top humans can play better chess than many top computer chess programs, even though they look at a relatively few positions? The answer is that these humans use chess pattern recognition to compensate for their deficits in short term memory and calculational power.

If you want to play better at chess than you do now you will have to pay more attention to the key concept area of pattern recognition just like the masters do.

In trying to find out what is the most significant difference between the strong players and weaker players it can be said from judging from tests conducted by university professors in this field that certain types of positional moves, or pawn moves called pawn levers play an important role in the strong players ability to find the best move in a position.

Generally weaker players usually those rated below the master level have a higher tactical component in their play than the lever component that masters have.

So that we may conclude that the primary improvement of players at and above the master level is the PAWN LEVER COMPONENT, and those lacking in positional knowledge therefore score significantly worse in the lever positions. This demonstrates the importance of domain specific knowledge in chess.

There are basically two broad groups of chess players. Those who have tactical knowledge and the knowledge of defense to some immediate threats and those who have significant key concept positional knowledge with pawn levers that can lead to a ultimate improvement in the pawn structure or cause damage to the opponents pawn structure. That is strong positional players have more Key Conceptual pawn lever knowledge that is critical for correct play and avoiding mistakes.

This is one of the near secrets that few average players have any knowledge of and probably would not appreciate to the extent that if one would tell them of it would take the trouble to ever study it.

This could be your secret weapon to success if you would take the time to study how to become a better positional player and find out all you could about pawn levers.

Comparisons of different levels of Key Concept Knowledge

It should be noted here that this list in no way attempts to give all the key areas that are necessary for a given level of play. But only represents some examples of what might be important so that one might gain some insight into what a player at this level is expected to know at the particular level given. If you want a more complete list, I suggest you buy the Chessmaster 10th edition and study The Chessmaster Series Academy section of tests and study mateirals.

Level in ELO 
Novice 	      1000 - 1399
Club Player        1400 - 1899
Expert		      1900 - 2099
Master 		2100 - 2399 
Senior Master	2400 Ė 2499

We will examine the following categories in ElO of some of the expected 
Key Concept areas that would be required for this level of play.

Novice to Intermediate ElO of 1000 to 1499 Opening knowledge: Legall's Mate Smothered Mate Boden's Mate Blackburne's Mate Greco's Mate Arabian Mate Anastasia's Mate Damiano's Mate Morphy's Mate Pillsbury's Mate Fork Trick Development of minor pieces before queen Development avoid second move with same piece Removing defender wins material Middlegame: Knight fork combination Back rank mates Sweeper/clearance lever Clearance/deflection sacrifice Attacking levers Overloaded piece combination Ending: Opposition in king and pawn endings Simplify when ahead Force penetration to 7th rank King and pawn endingí pawn tempo gains opposition Back rank Queening Rook belongs behind passed pawn Knight vs. bad bishop Zugzwang Intermediate to Club Player ElO 1500 Ė 1899 Opening: Recognizing Opening Threats Accurate Opening Play Sacrifice to exploit pin Tarraschís Trap Blackmar-Diemaer Gambit trap Costage Trap Alehhineís Defense trap Petrovís Trap Ruy Lopez, Noahís Ark Trap Discovery, double attack Evans Gambit, book trap Middlegame: Deflection, Skewers Undermining Combination Decoy, knight fork Back rank vulnerability Deflection sacrifice Decoy, the classic Bishop sacrifice, (Greek gift, or Greco's Sacrifice) Decoy sacrifice Knight decoy with Intermezzo Ending: Activate Rook Line opening lever Opposition King ahead of pawn Knight vs. bad Bishop Complex opposition theme Accurate simplification Prevent counterplay Advanced Player ElO 1900 Ė 2500 Opening: Line opening lever Equalizing lever Forcing exchange sequence Duo busting lever to Queen Lever to remove weakness, open file Pirc Ė Austrian; Know counter play French Winawer; Overloaded Black queen Ruy Lopez/Schiliemann Variation; piece sacrifice for attack Pirc-Austrian:Queen sacrifice gives counterplay to draw Modern Benoni: specific knowledge necessary French Winawer with Qg4, best defense knowledge necessary Ruy Lopez/Exchange Variation; specific knowledge necessary Nimzo-Indian Defense/Classical Variation: specific knowledge necessary Sicilian lever counterpunch Middlegame: Attacking Lever Mobilize Kingside majority Kingside lever to provoke a weakening of kingside light squares Original version of the Classic Bishop Sacrifice and its variations Wrap up rook lift to bring in more force Back rank force and forks Two Bishop advantage Sacrificial meleeís Endgame: Rook plus pawn vs. Rook Decoy, undermining promotion tactics Active king in rook and pawn ending Enforce undoubling lever King and pawn ending, triangulation Maximum file distance and rank for opposition Active rook behind passed pawn Pin, pawn play to prevent liberation Knight vs. Knight; fundamental lever King and pawn ending; chain lever Rook on 7th , mini chain lever
Advanced level Discussion

Advanced level players are knowable in tactics, strategy, endgame theory, levers and a lot of knowledge about long range planning.

In the openings they may have specific knowledge of an openings and finding the correct move in a given position essentially means knowing the opening sequence of moves which lead to the classic positions as well as knowing unique moves for the various variations. Some of these variations are as sharp as a razorís edge and if their opponentís proper move is not found, immediate bloodshed can result.

To some degree it is arguable that finding the correct move in these difficult positions is a matter of chess erudition, learning and education. Any illiteracy or lack of familiarity with the fundamentals of that opening could have immediate dire consequences playing against an advanced level player.

The amount of chess knowledge and experience which a person has will correlate to their understanding and ability to find the correct move or best moves in a position.

Todayís opening positions are by and large based on theoretical knowledge which has been accrued during the last ten to twenty years. More than twenty years ago many positions in an opening were hardly known, at least in terms of the necessary best move.
Many opening positions are hard, specific, sharp and challenging. As a whole they represent a quantum increase in difficulty in the past twenty years due to the increase use of computers.

In the middlegame the advanced player will involve all kinds of implementation of the notions of levers and diverse tactical motifs. Some of the key concepts may be, the attacking lever, central lever for counterplay against a wing attack, use of pawn majorities, exploiting overloaded pieces, original forms of well known attacking themes, sweeping, sealing, intermezzo check and a lot more.

Finally in the endgame a wide range of themes is known and may include Key concepts of specific rook and pawn ending knowledge, conversion of material advantages, triangulation in king and pawn endings. and a lot of knowledge of long range planning.

***** Discussion of the Rook and Pawn Ending *****

It is estimated that rook and pawn endings may occur as frequently as in one out of six games. There are many books, CDís etc that have tried to study and teach the correct play of rook and pawn endings from many perspectives. You hear about active rooks, rooks behind passed pawns, active kings, passed pawns, good pawn structures, bad pawn structures, outside passed pawn, pawn majorities, etc, but what does it all mean?

Observation has shown that most writers and students are too interested in finding and defining individual best moves as opposed to defining and understanding the pervasive or dominant themes in any position. That should be your purpose in the endgame to identify the three major pervasive concepts which hierarchically define the status and correct play of all general rook and multi pawn endings.

How can you talk about the best move in any chess position before you can demonstrate that you understand it? Any chess position should first be understood statically, that is, what are the current features of that position? Namely the material, the king safety, the piece activity, the identifiable strengths and weaknesses, such as powerful or weak pawn structures and piece configurations, etc. In other words, a position can first be viewed from a strategically, long term perspective, and then from a tactical short term perspective. The bridge between tactical and strategical considerations may be defined as a combination. Combinations in chess can be deemed to fall into four categories, including combinations which:

1.Force Mate 2.Gain Material 3.Force a draw 4.Improve oneís position.

In a rook and pawn ending you should not be concerned with obtaining just a better advantage but rather in terms of one of three possible factors.

1.A better rook 2.Better pawns and 3. A Better King position.

The correct play of any ending can be viewed as a combination of factors which typically transforms one identifiable advantage to two advantages. Better Rook and better king or better rook and better pawn structure or possibly all three identifiable advantages.

Here is a categorization for rook endings. The type of advantage indicates which pieces or piece plays the most significant role in providing a side with an advantage in descending order of importance.

Category	   Type of Advantage 

1			Rook, Pawn, King
2			Rook, Pawn
3			Pawn, King
4			Rook, King
5			Rook
6			Pawn
7			King
Here is an example of how one advantage can lead to two advantages and then to three advantagesí a better rook ties up the opposing rook (Category 5) Then the king comes in for help (Category 4), finally pawns are advanced to create a passed pawn or material is won (Category 1). Another example is a passed pawn advantage (for example, Category 6) The rook moves behind the passed pawn and the weaker sideís rook is forced into a defensive position in front of the pawn (Category 2), the White King comes in for decisive help. Thereby we have advantages of better king and rook and pawn (Category 1)

Whatever the category a position is in, the goal is to achieve Category1, not just to gain some advantage. This may be viewed as a form of window dressing but such a demonstration is usually sufficient to get the strongest players to resign, i.e. Zugzwang! (usually resulting in imminent loss of material or checkmate0 with no counterplay.

Against weaker players it is a sure recipe for making progress (BRIDGING) from one won position to another which is easier to handle. One of the underlying principles of this approach is that you never ever never trade your advantage of an active rook for a new advantage, unless you can get two pawns ahead and or can calculate a forced win. The point is that you donít want too many pawns to get traded via your opponentís active rook whereby both sides get passed pawns and the game become somewhat of a raffle. If it does deteriorate into a race of passed pawns, then make sure that it is a no contest race. For example, if you have the better rook, (that is your opponentís rook is passive) you donít want to let your opponent also get an active rook, after you win a pawn. In other words, an active rook is worth more than a pawn. However, if you can win two pawns which can quickly become passed, or if you can calculate, or see an easy no contest race then you might enter such a transaction.

The real idea behind this approach is to build upon existing advantages leading to construction of your opponentís play and options. Better rook, better pawns, better king = Resigns!

How you go about increasing your chess skills and rating level is primarily going to be due to your motivation to do so. In the material of this study page you have been given critical Key Concept information of what will be required for that advancement at different levels. If you choose to study and practice it you will undoubtedly progress. At what rate is entirely up to you. But remember that since most of the average players that you will be playing against do not have this information, you can make significant increases with only a minimum amount of effort. What is important though is that you study and play on a equally consistent basis balancing your play with study on a regular basis. But just as important is to balance your chess knowledge in all areas that the key concepts require it to be through testing.

This discussion on Key Concepts and Rook and Pawn Endings is one that you will never find in any book or will be told about by any coach that you may pay for. Take the time to study it and it will serve you well for the rest of your chess career.