Apology for Lessons 

It must be understood that I lay no claim to any of the theories or strategies set forth in this work.  This is not a disclaimer as to the veracity of these theories but a bold disclaimer as to any notion that I have formulated them; for numerous renowned chess theorists and grandmasters have long established them.  If I must claim anything it is merely that of organization and presentation; and my meager attempt at a graphical depiction of the multiple complex dynamics transpiring between the elements as the game moves forward.  Thus, for my part, I have merely collated and attempted to present these elements in a learner-friendly format designed to instruct the average player up to master level. 

Play beyond master level possesses a certain and requisite creative genius.  That is to say: despite the mastery of theory—a truly necessary enterprise in and of itself—the complicated nature of executing this theory in advanced chess is such that without an intuitive brilliance for the game one is necessarily limited to a certain level.  This is especially true in competitive play wherein players also face the challenge of the clock.  The clock makes innovation all the more important, because each original move causes the competitor to spend valuable time in analysis.  This causes pressure and pressure can lead to mistakes.  So then, at top levels of play the mastery of theory is requisite, but so too are a certain creative genius and a competitive temperament that thrives under pressure.

But facing the realization that we are not likely to compete with the world’s greatest players should not discourage our pursuit to master the game to the best of our ability, any more than coming to the realization that we are not able to compete with the world’s greatest golfers or tennis players would stop us from mastering these sports, if such was our interest.

Finding books that present these advanced theories is no easy task.  I had trouble finding them at first.  At least I had trouble finding books that clearly set them forth in a concise, comprehensive, and cohesive learner-friendly format.  Perhaps this is because, as Capablanca acknowledged, “leading players have seldom shown an inclination to discuss their methods.” (Capablanca, A Primer of Chess, p 78).

I do not mean to imply there are no good books on chess theory, indeed there are many; but I say concise, comprehensive, cohesive and learner-friendly for a reason.  With few exceptions, what I found at first was a passel of works that, although instructive, were something other than learner-friendly.  Few were comprehensive or cohesive in and of themselves and none were concise.  I was looking for lessons that plainly set forth the grand principles from the opening to the endgame in a crisp and systematic fashion; something both average and advanced players could easily understand and immediately apply to game situations.  What I found for the most part were works mired in the detail of annotation—most discussing a particular game and its multiple variations at certain critical junctures. 

While I certainly learned from them and I greatly enjoyed knowing what the grandmasters where thinking during the game and how they analyzed the game postmortem, this did not satisfy my desire for comprehensive, cohesive and concise systematic lessons on theory.  Repeatedly, I found that in order to unearth a particular theorem I had to dig through numerous pages of these annotated games to discover the almost cryptic lesson I sought. 

I was looking for the arching principles by which I could guide one’s game, but largely what I found were exhaustive detailed annotations of a player’s thoughts during a given line of play.  Although, at length, I did find works that made strides in this direction, most were either too simplistic for my purposes or, like many advanced works, soon bogged down in the minutiae of detailed annotated explanations of critical variations in select games of comment.  Again, although very helpful, they were not the type of lessons I sought; for, as Capablanca admitted, typically such books, “do not teach the general laws and principles which govern the game of chess.’ (Ibid., p 152). 

Unable at first to find what I looked for, I decided to write it myself.  Then, several books into my research I began finding works more along the line of instruction I desired.  But by then I was well on my way and I had already devised my model of the complex and circular association of the elements, which may prove to be a novel tool for improving the game of intermediate players.  Thus, my goal then has been to present the essential elements of master level chess theory in a learner-friendly format.  As much as possible I have outlined these elements as they pertain to the three phases of the game—the opening, the middle and the endgame. 

Because it is important to see these theories in action, I have also included annotated games that (like the other books) detail the minutiae and provide critical variations in select games of comment.  However, I have relegated this commentary to appendices so it does not interfere with the concise lessons on the elements of the game, which is the topic at hand. 

Furthermore, to make the annotated commentaries more learner-friendly I have included entire games in pictorial format so readers can concentrate on the concept being discussed without the burden and distraction of having to imagine and reconstruct the play in their mind from a series of algebraic notations.  Not that reconstructing lines of play in one’s mind by merely reading the notation is useless, indeed it is a very helpful exercise, but it simply is not the object of these lessons and its employment merely confuses the issue at hand, which is theory. 


Although I have played chess for so long that I literally cannot remember having ever learned to play, it was only a little more than 12 years ago that I decided to truly study it as a discipline—to master it if you will.  What I quickly realized is that despite how proficient I become, I am far too old (now in my 60’s) to ever become a world-class competitor.  But this is not to imply that I do not understand the game, or that I cannot teach it.  What it does imply, and indeed mean, is that today’s competitive chess is a young person’s game.

The advanced, sophisticated nature of today’s competition is far more intense than it used to be; and tomorrow’s game will be even more so.  The simple mastery of chess theory, or even the more difficult proper execution of this theory, is simply not enough.  The well-published and easily accessible proven-lines-of-play (resolved by both man and machine) for nearly countless variations of the most likely positions, makes attaining and retaining top competitive status in the modern world of chess a most demanding occupation.  To stay ahead or even abreast of their peers modern competitive players must learn and retain a dreadful amount of material—continuously studying their competitors’ games, mastering both established and innovative lines of play. 

Then too, like any grueling competition, chess at its highest level is very much a matter of determination and focus.  It takes—if I may reference Mickey’s explanation to Rocky—“the eye of the tiger;” again, a facility of the young.  I remember having “the eye of the tiger.”  I would not lose (not that I never lost, but this was my mindset), I would not give up at any competition I was passionate about: baseball, trap shooting, golf, pocket billiards, even table tennis.  But through the years this need to win has waned so that now I take pleasure in losing to young, hungry competitors.  Somehow I enjoy watching them mature more than beating them.  Somewhere along the way I have lost the “eye of the tiger.”  With few exceptions, the older mind, no matter how intelligent or how well it understands the game, simply no longer has the requisite capacity of devotion for such a demanding task.  It is not just a matter of mastering theory—understanding the complexities of position, strategy, weaknesses, strengths, best lines of play, etc—this can be learned even by the old; but it is very much a matter of the desire or even energy to take it to the next level with the intensity necessary to compete in today’s world.

To those aging die-hards who would argue that many years of study and experience at high-level play along with a certain innate ethereal ability are the vital components to compete effectively, and that age has nothing to do with it; I merely point to the numerous grandmasters who are yet in their twenties, some still in their teens, and to the number of grandmasters who retire from competitive play by their mid-forties, perhaps—and I merely speculate—because they are unable to maintain “the eye of the tiger” at the level of intensity necessary to keep up with these youngsters. 

Credentials Continued
Such was the case with the renowned grandmasters facing the young Bobby Fischer after his unprecedented winning streak in which he had beaten grandmasters Mark Tiamanov, Brent Larsen and Tigran Petrosian on his march to defeating Boris Spassky for the 1971 World Championship.  As this drama unfolded a German chess expert commented that, “No master has such a terrific will to win.  At the board he rad-iates danger and even the strongest opponents tend to freeze, like rabbits, when they smell a panther.  Even his weaknesses are dangerous.  As White, his opening is predictable—you can make plans against it—but so strong that your plans almost never work.  In middlegame his precision and inventions are fabulous, and in the endgame you simply cannot beat him.” (Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess).
Returning to my own situation: that I no longer have the energy or the passion, “the eye of the tiger”, to use what I have learned with the requisite intensity to compete in today’s world does not negate my ability as a trained educator to teach.  As the adage goes “those who can, do; those who cannot, teach”; thus, as a trained researcher and educator with a respectable knowledge of chess, what I bring to the table are succinct, cohesive, learner-friendly lessons that are based upon the teachings of the great master theorists of the game.  These lessons are designed for those players who lie somewhere between beginner and master.  While the lessons are beyond the stark beginner, at the same time I seriously doubt any master will get much out of them.  But these lessons will improve the game of the average and even the very advanced player up to the master level.