The Chess Elements Explained by GM Yasser Seirawan

January 31, 2020 0 By Sebastian Fry


Hello, everyone, and welcome to something very, very different. I’m gonna be your host, Chess Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan for the next 40 minutes, 60 minutes. I’m gonna do an online lesson, something that, well, maybe is very unusual for Chessbrah. So as we begin our, let’s say, lesson today, one of the things I think could be really, really helpful for you is if you have a notebook or just a piece of paper. I like notebooks because then, if I do a series, and I am intending to do a kind of a series while I’m here in Calgary, chess lessons, you would have your notes all together. So, if I can encourage you for a second to get yourself some paper and pen, just write whatever it is about this lesson that appeals to you, to please write it down. So, for this lesson, I’m talking about elements. Elements, elements… Elements in chess, what are we talking about here? Fire, earth, water, air? No, the elements that comprise the game of chess. And when I started playing chess, I kind of thrilled to the books I read the topic about, for example, Capablanca. And one of the things that Capablanca was like, you just gave him a position and he automatically knew what the best move was, or he automatically knew how to evaluate the position and say, “Oh, white’s better,” or “black’s better,” or “this is the plan,” or “this is the right move.” And this idea was very, very attractive to me, this idea that some chess grandmasters just knew, or had so much knowledge that literally from their fingertips came the right moves. Thought to myself, “How could I develop that knowledge, and what did it take to be able to be given a position and to come up with the right plan, the right strategy? Or even any plan or any strategy, how do you do that?” There were so many complicated positions. There were simple positions, complicated positions, but how do you develop a plan, how do you evaluate a situation, any situation? And it was broken down for me by the chess elements, and there’s five of them, five elements to every game of chess. And what are these? I think that for many of you, you know them already, and they are pawn structure, space, material, or force, if you will, time, and king position. So let’s just talk about these five elements for a moment. When we talk about time, we talk about, for example, white plays two moves, e2 e4, knight on g1 to f3. So he invests two moves, a tempo, two tempos, or tempi, to play the moves e2 e4 and knight f3. You can invest your time wisely, you could bring out a knight and for example, you could move a pawn. You could move a pawn, you could move a pawn, or you can squander time. You could play a poor move, knight f3 to g1, and instantly black is up two moves, or he has two extra tempi in the position. And this idea of time is you wanted to develop your pieces quickly, bring them out from the barracks, and to bring them into attack. And when you talk about time, the way I think of time is that it’s not just the pieces that count, but the pawns as well. So in this position, you have two forces of black, the knight on f6 and the pawn on d5, that are not on their original squares, and you say black is ahead in time. Then, of course, you talk about pawn structure, and we kind of all know what that means. You could have a pawn structure of d… F7, e6, d5, for example. King position is very obvious as well. Your king could be checkmated on the king side. If black has a pawn on f3, a queen on h3, and you have a king on g1, then mate is inevitable. But one of the most important elements, and I think an element that every beginner to master really spends a great deal of energy to try to understand is force or material. Okay, and that’s what I wanna concentrate here on today, is force and material. Okay, so what am I talking about when I talk about force or material? We have these chess pieces, and they’re different from one another. Kings, and queens, and bishops, and knights, and rooks, and pawns. And what is their relative value to one another? So we have a table, what is the pawn worth, what is the knight worth, what is the bishop worth? Many of us have in mind already a table… By the way, you can go to www.chesshistory.com and read an article, The Value of The Pieces by Edward Winter, where he gives this wonderful, historical explanation of these tables, of values. And it’s like really bizarre, because people came out with some incredible, incredibly stupid tables of values. Okay. So, let me just check on my channel, see if I haven’t lost anybody yet. Okay. And what I wanna do is I’m gonna create an empty board. And I can’t really do that. That’s okay. That’s okay. So, I wanna ask you, if you would, write down on your piece of paper what you think the table or value is. What I’m specifically asking you to do is find a number for a pawn, what is a pawn worth? Place a number for a knight, bishop, a rook, queen and a king. What are the six pawns and pieces all worth according to your table of values, okay? I hate this board. I wanna blow that up, I don’t like it. One, second, how do I clear the board, Dan? I clicked on all of these squares and they look terrible. Oh, there it is, perfect. Okay. So, take your time, write down your table of values and I wanna bring a particular question to you. Like, we all know what knights and bishops… Knights and bishops, a lot of people think they’re worth absolutely the same. Some people think that the bishop is worth a little bit more from the knight. And this is for you, this isn’t for me, but your table of values, if you think the knight is more valuable than the bishop, well, give the knight a higher value than the bishop. If you think the bishop has value than the knight, give it a higher value. And so on. Your queen and your rook. How’s it going? Hi. Hi. Do you have any questions about the board? About a few… No, everything’s good. Colors? No. Okay. I was just… If you wanna make pretty colors or highlight certain things, there’s a… Way of doing it? Yeah. No, I got that. Okay. Yeah. Yeah, I’m pretty good here. You’re good? Yup. Okay, let’s see. Okay. So, good, we’re just kind of setting the lesson together. Now we’re gonna go to one of our five elements and that… Okay, sorry, I kinda… I’ll go forward and backwards to make sure I get it right. So, in the table of values that you’ve written down, you may have written down the most popular table, the most popular table is to give a pawn the value of 1. To give the knight a value of 3, to give the bishop a value of 3, a rook the value of 5, the queen, a value of 9. I think a lot of you may have trouble giving the king a value, because if you lose your king, you lose the game. So, what’s the purpose of that? But this is just an intellectual exercise. Try as best you can to give the king a proper value or a value that you think is right. Now, you might ask yourself a question like, “Well, is the king really a strong piece?” Well, imagine you have only a pawn and a king, that’s all you have. And your opponent has a king and a rook. But the king, your opponent’s king is far away from your pawn. So, your king can force your pawn through and force your opponent to give up his rook. So, you can see that the king can be a valuable piece and in the right circumstances might be very powerful. Powerful than… As a knight, as a bishop, as a rook? Your choice. It’s your table of values that we’re creating here and I just wanted to prompt you to think that the king is not just some weakling that cowers in the corner and says, “Please don’t checkmate me.” It can later become a very powerful piece. Okay. So, now we come to a very important question. How did these values come about and do they make sense? So, we have to understand the element of space. Space is very important to the chess board, obviously, it’s an element of the game, but it also teaches us why the pieces and the pawns have the value that they do. Okay. Think of the chess board as the 64 squares, obviously, and think of these squares that I’m highlighting, white side of the board, these 32 squares, they belong to me. They’re my squares. The other 32 squares of the chess board, the ones from a5 to h5, to h8 to a8, those are black’s space, those 32 squares belong to our opponent. So, whenever I talk about space, I’m only counting the space that I control of my opponent’s, not the space that I control for myself. Okay. Now, let’s bring up a pawn. So, I removed everything from the board, and I have only an a2 pawn in the position. The a2 pawn, on its original square, how many squares of my opponent’s space does it attack? Zero. I move my pawn to a3. How many squares of my opponent’s space does it attack? Zero. I move it to what I call the equator. I’m still on my side of the board, I’m on a4, but now, suddenly my pawn attacks the square b5, one square. I move my pawn across the equator, just across the equator into my opponent’s territory and once again, I control one square of my opponent. In the space count, this pawn at this exact moment controls one, a very important important point, as we’ll come back to that in a second. Now I’m gonna put the… I’m gonna use another pawn, in this case the d2 pawn, everything I just said about the a2 pawn is the same, except this time, the d2 pawn, when it comes to the equator controls two of my opponent’s space. Two. I moved the d pawn across the equator into my opponent’s territory. Oops, sorry, get this again. And the d5 pawn controls two. So, when I had the a pawn, it could only control one square, the d pawn controlled two squares. Are all pawns created equal? Maybe in your table, your chart, you just had a single pawn and a pawn is worth 1. Well, here, when we look at the pawn on d2 versus the pawn on a2, we see that the d pawn is actually more powerful because it can control two of our opponent squares. As the pawn… Oops, excuse me. As the pawn advances even more, even though it only controls two squares with each advance, it becomes more powerful. Promoting a pawn, we get the pawn to the back rank, the eighth rank or the first rank, depending upon your point of view, we can promote to a queen. So, a pawn can actually become more valuable, greater it goes down the board. But does our table of values reflect that or not? Now, let’s imagine that the pawn, when we control two squares of our opponent’s space, we give one point to the piece of the pawn controlling two of our opponent’s space. So in this example, with the pawn on d6, we would say that the pawn is worth 1. Let me put a knight on the board. Okay. So from the starting the position, the knight controls none of our opponent’s space. If we go knight a3, as an opening move, we now control this square e5. Okay. Now, if we go knight d2, the knight… I was about say, it couldn’t get the knight… The knight controls or attacks, if you will, six squares of the board from the d2 square. But none of our opponent’s squares, we don’t attack any of our opponent’s space. If we put our knight from the starting position to the square c3, we attack two of our opponent’s squares. If we brought our knight to the e4 square, so we’re right at the edge of the equator, but we haven’t crossed into our opponent’s territory, we’re on our side. But the knight attacks four of our opponent’s squares. The knight is getting more powerful in terms of the space count. Let’s go back for a second and bring our knight just across the equator, and we see that the knight attacks four of our opponent’s squares. If we move our knight deeper into our opponent’s territory, for example, the f6 square, how many squares of our opponent’s does our knight attack? Well, our knight attacks eight squares, but only six of them are in our opponent’s territory. Two of them, the g4 and e4 squares, are our territory, six are our opponent’s territory. In fact, the maximum squares that our knight can attack is six. We can move our knight around inside our opponent’s territory and the knight, the maximum it can attack is six squares. And it’s really a good exercise to move the knight around and just for yourself confirm that it’s true that the knight at its most powerful can attack on only six of the space count. So, the pawn that could attack at its maximum two is worth 1; at its maximum the knight can attack six squares, worth 3. Interesting. Now, I tend to look at chess as a game of war, and I think of myself as a very good general. I should know the chess board, and know the territory very well. So, from the starting position, I should start to understand where my knight is at its most powerful and it can control six squares. So, a quick question for yourself is: What squares on the chessboard can the knight go into my opponent’s territory where it controls six squares? Answer the question for yourself, for just a moment. I’m gonna check my chat. Well, the c5 square, for example, that’s not a maximum square, it could only control four squares. So the knight would not be at its greatest power on c5. On b6, the same thing, the knight would not be at its greatest power, as from the b6 square, it only controls four squares. Again, we’re doing this because you’re a good general of your army, and you want to know where the knight would be at its most powerful and control or attack six squares. So you start to realize that, for example, on c7, well, that would be a pretty good square, that’s six. And then very quickly you start to realize where the best squares are that the knight is worth six or attacks six, and those squares in red are those squares. Now, I come to a concept called prime squares. So, what are the prime squares for a knight? When I talk about prime squares for a knight, I’m talking about squares where the knights are manifestly at their best, at their most powerful. So, in your notebook, write down for yourself what you think the prime squares are, the very, very best. And I’d like to limit you to four squares. Okay. What are the very, very best squares for white’s knights? Imagining that he has two, where would you put them? D6 and f6. None of your business, 64. C3, c6, f3, f6. Very good, c6, f6, c6, f6, the sixth rank, yes. Yes, yes, yes. D4, e4, d5. Okay. D6, f6. Okay, it’s very interesting. The four squares I like are these squares: C6, d6, e6, f6. But now I would like you to imagine those four squares as the prime squares, now reduce it to two. Imagine that you had two knights, and you could magically drop them on two of those four squares. What are the best squares? Would you like your knights on d6 and e6? Kinda look really attractive. Would the knights be better off, for example, on f6 and e6, like side by side on that side of the board? Why on that side of the board? Or maybe the knights would be better off on c6 and d6, on that side of the board. What would your intuition, your gut say? D6, f6, because they attack the castle position and they can quickly reinforce one another. D6 and e6. C6, f6. Very nice, very nice. D6, f6. Closer to the enemy king. Okay. There’s some very, very good answers, those are intuitively fantastic answers. The correct answer, the prime squares for the knights are f6 and c6. Let me repeat myself. The prime squares for the knights are f 6and c6 and/or if you’re black, c3 and f3. And why are they better than e6 or d6? And the answer, and it’s not so obvious, has to do with the king. When you think of the knight on f6 and the king on g8, you go, “Oh, that knight on f6.” There’s so many checkmating patterns thanks to the knight on f6. And if black’s king is castled, queen side, then the knight on c6 is, like, again, it’s such a powerful piece. So, as a good general, before the start of the game, it’s a really important idea that you understand the terrain of the chess board and you know what are the prime squares for your pieces. Knights on f6 and c6 are the prime squares, they attack six of your opponent’s squares, giving them a value of 3 each. I’d like to turn our attention now to our bishops on the board that I have in front of me, I opened up the position, emptied the position, rather, and I only have two bishops. From the starting position, this bishop on c1 goes and attacks the squares g5 and h6, that’s two. The bishop on f1 attacks two squares, a6 and b5. Have you ever heard the expression that, let’s say, you move your bishop to d2, or you move the bishop to g5, that you’re moving the bishop along its natural diagonal? I always thought that was very interesting, the natural diagonal. Why is that bishop natural? Well, it’s the longest diagonal and it attacks two of the opponent’s squares. Let’s see if we can increase the powers of the bishop. Let’s imagine that we play the move bishop on f1 to b5. So we cross the equator into our opponent’s territory and we attack one, two, three, four of our opponent’s squares. Pretty good. Let’s go back and… Oops, sorry. I’m getting funny with the pieces there. Let’s move our bishop to the c4 square and we see that we attack four, five, six of our opponent’s squares. Six. We’re gonna move the bishop around and inside our opponent’s territory. One, two. Our bishop attacks two, three, four, five, six. Like the knight, the bishop can attack six of our opponent’s squares. If we move the bishop around and inside our opponent’s territory, we can count up the number of squares that our bishop can attack. We start to learn that there are certain squares that our bishop is really good on, and better than on other squares. So for example, we can put our bishop in the a8 square, in the corner of our opponent, and we control or attack, pardon me, attack three of our opponent’s squares. Well, we’ve seen some squares where we can attack six of our opponent’s squares. Question for you, take the light square bishop and put it on a square where it controls or attacks seven of our opponent’s squares, seven. Majestic, got it on the button. On d4 and e4, the bishops attack seven squares. Exactly so, exactly so. If we move this bishop on f1 to d3 to e4, this bishop attacks on that diagonal three, and on this diagonal four, four squares, for a grand total of seven. If we move our dark square bishop to the d4 square, check it out, it also attacks seven squares. The maximum number of squares the knight can attack is six. The maximum number of squares that the bishops can attack is seven. Most grandmasters prefer bishops to knights. And if we used the space count in our table of values, we should properly give the bishop a value of 3.5 because they can, at their maximum, control seven of our opponent’s squares. So, I think of the bishop as being more valuable than the knight. And in my table of values, I would give the bishops not a value of 3, but a value of 3.5. When we talk about prime squares for the bishops, self evident, we talk about the bishops being on e4 and d4. And what else does that teach us about the bishops, by the way? If we say that the bishops’ prime squares are e4 and d4, notice that that’s on our side of the board, on the equator, to be sure, but on our side. Unlike the knight that has to be inside our opponent’s territory to be able to attack six squares, our bishops are actually more powerful on our side of the board. So, we start to have an insight into the power of the bishops, that they’re actually very powerful long range pieces and they don’t have to necessarily be inside our opponent’s territory; knights do have to be in our side of our territory. When we were talking about your table of values, what did you put on your table of values for the rook? What did you put? Tell me. Bishops are like ninjas. 5, 5, 4.8, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5. Very good. 5. And let’s understand the nature and the value of the rooks. Okay. From its original square, the rook on a1 looks right down the board and attacks four squares, a5, a6, a7, a8. If we like, we can move the rook to the equator, just on our side, and it’s still worth, in the space count, only 4. We can move the rook across the equator, but just into our opponent’s territory on the c5 square and lo and behold, our rook suddenly attacks 10 squares. Seven, eight, nine, 10. Ten squares. And according to our space count, if the pawn attacks two squares, it’s worth 1, the knight attacks six squares, it’s worth 3. The rook attacks 10 squares. It must be worth 5. The interesting thing about the rook is no matter where it is in our opponent’s territory, any square, it attacks 10. Our bishop sometimes could only attack three, our knight sometimes can only attack four, our knight sometimes can only attack two. Our rooks, no matter where they are in our opponent’s territory, attack 10 squares. When we start to compare the nature of the pieces to one another, we realize that the rook is actually quite unique and there are no prime squares for the rook. The rooks are really, really good wherever they are inside our opponent’s territory. And of course, since we have two rooks, we could control as many as 20 squares of our opponents territory, of our opponent’s space with the two rooks. So we could say that the rooks are worth 5 individually and combined together, the rooks are worth 10. By now, you’re getting a pretty good idea where I’m going with the queen. So, I’ll jump ahead and ask you all a question. What is the maximum number of squares that the Queen can attack at one time? What’s the maximum number of squares the queen can attack? Let’s see, easy math, you bet, easy math. 16, 16, 16, 14. 20. Wow, that’s pretty good. Remember, there’s only 32 squares of our opponent’s board. Okay. So, let’s imagine from the starting position, the queen attacks one, two, three. Come on. Sometimes I don’t hit the mouse just right, and it doesn’t work. Okay. From its starting position, on d1, on the empty board, I count five. If we moved our queen up the board to, say. Let’s say, we move it to d3 and then to e4. The queen that has the power of the bishop, instantly we know that on the e4 square, the bishop has seven in the space count. So the queen now has seven, but the queen also has the power of the rook, so seven and four is 11. Now, if we move the queen into our opponent’s territory, as the power of the rook, we instantly know the queen has a 10 count, that once we’re inside the opponent’s territory, the bishop, the power of the bishop can be no greater than 6. So the maximum that the queen could ever attack in terms of squares is 16. 16. On your table of values, did you, therefore, put the queen as having a value of 8? It’s a yes or no question. Is the queen at a value of 8. Counting is hard. 9, I see a lot of, a lot of 9s. Okay. But by just using what I’ve been proselytizing, teaching, that if we use the space count as a way of gaining the value of the piece, the queen, we get a value of 8. But I give the queen a value of 9, but I can only control 16 squares. Why suddenly, hey, man, explain it to me, why does the queen suddenly gain a value of one point? And it’s not that intuitively obvious, but the moment you think about it, it becomes clear. Like the knights, remember the prime squares for the knights are like the f6 square and the c6 square. And those squares for the knights… Let’s do this again. The f6 square and the c6 square are because of the king, the black king, if the black king was on e8 or g8, the knight is great on f6. If the black king is on e8 or c8, the knight is great on c6. So those two squares become prime as a result, black’s king. When we think of the queen, one of the incredible things about the queen’s power is that it cannot checkmate by itself, it needs help, but it can give a perpetual check by itself. So, imagine you’re in a situation where you’re down tons of material, your opponent’s just absolutely killing you. And you send your queen on a mission to save the game with a perpetual check. And there are many, many perpetual checks where the queen can go back and forth and the opposing king cannot escape. That’s an incredible power. The power of the perpetual check is what elevates the queen from a mere power of 8 to the power of 9, the perpetual check. Now, let’s just see here. I want you to do me a favor. In your table of values when you started this chess lesson, if you had written down a value for the king, what king value did you give it at the start? Is the king worth 4? Infinity? 4, 5. I got here late. You’ll have to go back and watch the show. 9, 9, 9. 4 in the end game. It’s very interesting how you get this value for the king. Well, let’s do it, let’s put our king up the board and come to the equator, our side of the equator. And instantly we see that the king on our side of the equator attacks three squares. That would be worth 1.5 in our point count value. Let’s say that the king, this goes up the board. Why doesn’t it wanna do this, okay. Ah ha, there we go. And we cross the equator and suddenly, oops, one, two, three, four, five. Okay. And we cross deeper into our opponent’s territory. And now, we count the number of squares that our king attacks. Three, four, five, six, seven, eight. So, according to our space count value of the pieces, based upon the number of squares that our king can attack, our king, all other things being equal, is actually worth 4, making the king a little bit more powerful than the bishop, and certainly more powerful than the knight, and almost, almost pretty close in power to the king… To the rook. Pardon me. Oops. And now, let me see if I can do something else. I want to do… I’m not so good at this, but I want to do this. Show you just as a for instance how powerful the king can be. King e4, with a double attack, working both rooks, the rook on f5 as well as the rook on d5, and white is going to capture one of these rooks on his next turn. The king can be an extremely powerful piece, and when you think about the king in an end game as being worth 4, you start to understand that you’re obliged in end games to utilize your king, you cannot have the king just sit back and let your opponent’s king, who’s going to become very powerful, move up the board and be worth 4. As we leave our first lesson here, I’d like to take… I’m gonna empty the board for a second. And I’d like to just emphasize what we’ve learned. One of the things we’ve learned is that the knight, the two prime squares for the knights are f6 and c6. The two prime squares for the bishops are e4 and d4. We also learned that there aren’t any prime squares for the rooks, that any square in our opponent’s territory is really, really good. Practice will convince us that the seventh rank or the second rank, in case you’re black, are really, really good. Oftentimes, the rooks on the seventh rank can set up checkmating patterns and wipe out the opponent’s pawns. We understand that the queen… There are a number of really, really good squares for the queen, prime squares, where the queen is worth 16, it attacks 16. I tend to think of the center squares, the e5 and the d5 squares in case you’re white, as being the best squares, the prime squares, but that’s a little bit not 100% true. Because the queen can be very, very good on f5 and c5 as well. But if you look at the set up, you start to see an extraordinary coordination. The rooks, protected by the knights, the bishops protected by the knights, the bishops protecting the knights. The bishops protecting the rooks, the rooks protecting themselves, the queen protecting everybody. So, as a good general, just before you start the game of chess, you can all automatically get an idea of, as an attacking player, what are the best squares, the best set ups for you to attack. And when you see this picture that I’ve shown in front of you and you start to recognize and relate it to many, many chess games that you’ve played, you can see how these patterns reinforce themselves. And as a good general, you have to know where you’re gonna wanna put your pieces. And this is just our first lesson in learning how to coordinate the pieces, what the natural squares are for the pieces and how by understanding the elements of chess, you’re going to be able to decipher an advantage for any kind of a position. And we’re gonna do more of these exercises and I’m gonna teach you how to think strategically, but also how to think in terms of evaluating and judging a position. And we’re gonna learn that by learning the elements. So, I do hope you’ve enjoyed this first lecture. I’ve got many, many more to come, and we’re gonna have a lot of fun figuring this stuff out together. It’s not complicated, and I’m going to teach you how to create a plan and to make a judgment for any type of position. And I will challenge you with those judgments as well. So, I hope you enjoyed this first lesson, there’s gonna be plenty more. Don’t forget, please do support the channel. Donations, subscriptions, of course, are the best but also let your friends know where you’re hanging out. Alright, see you later.