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September 20, 2018

Yes I insist, basics have to be learnt in order to excel in this game

Solution: 1….g5 2.Qxh6 Ng4+ 3.fxg4 Rf5+ 4.Rxf5 Bg3+ 5.Nxg3 Qxg2#
Solution: 1….g5 2.Qxh6 Ng4+ 3.fxg4 Rf5+ 4.Rxf5 Bg3+ 5.Nxg3 Qxg2#

I got a number of curious inquiries regarding last week’s column on studying chess. Apparently the readers were surprised that one needs to delve into books in order to improve one’s game. I shall therefore provide more light on this.

Many books have been written on chess openings, middle game and endgame. Opening theories and tabiyas (not manners in Kiswahili, but rather the standard opening moves that must be made, after which several other options are available for deployment), are as vast as one can imagine.

Chess really fascinates me, with all the intrigues that arise after the first move. Did you know that white has 20 first moves available; 16 pawn moves and 4 Knight moves? And that there are 400 different positions possible after each player makes one move and that after their second moves the arising positions can be 72,084? And as the game progresses, it only gets more intricate.

That is why it is a general consensus that it is better to learn opening principles rather than specific openings, because they apply to any opening across the board, literally! The primary reason that informs this is that no matter how much you study openings, you are going to run up against someone who plays rare, bad or side variations that you haven’t studied and this will cause you to panic and probably lose the game.

Just this week, I was horrified when I witnessed a former national team player and Olympian fail to convert a queen and king versus a lone king endgame into a win and his time in blitz (5 minutes game) ran out. The principal here in not to check the king but drive it any corner by keeping a knight’s distance between the queen and opponent’s king.

Once cornered, any attempt to maintain the knight’s distance will lead to a stalemate, so at this point the king finally joins the fray to support the queen in delivering the inevitable checkmate. And mid last year, a 5-time Olympian also didn’t know that the term isolani only refers to the isolated queen’s pawn and not any other isolated pawn as generally misunderstood!

So, you cannot divorce yourself from learning the basics if you are to be excel in chess. This is a good foundation on which to build your future prowess on. As I train kids, I place emphasis on the importance of understanding the position in line with chess principles.

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