A Grandmaster’s Guide to Sucking Less at Chess
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because a win is a win!
By Eugene S. Robinson
There are certain things it behooves you to be able to do if you’re a civilized person. You should be able to dress well if the occasion calls for it. Being able to play at least one song on any instrument other than the bagpipes is good too. And to round out the James Bond troika of cool stuff that you could do if you care about cool stuff, playing chess is also nice (read: sexy).
But who has the time to learn? Maybe if you were locked inside and couldn’t do anything else. Like if there was a massive global shutdown and we were all homebound for months. Yeah, well, guess what? It’s time to master at least one of the aforementioned, and given that chess grandmaster Maurice Ashley volunteered to help us out, chess it will be.
Ashley, the son of a dance pro father and an office clerk mother, moved to Brooklyn from Jamaica when he was 12. He had already been playing chess with one of his brothers — he’s the fourth of five siblings — but he got serious about it when he was a 15-year-old sophomore at Brooklyn Tech, one of New York City’s three specialized high schools.
Ashley hit the parks famous for giving those who were game good games, and he also started reading books on chess. Then, he had an epiphany: “There were professional players all around the world and I wanted to be just like them,” Ashley, 54, says. Which is precisely how he graduated from park play to national and international tournaments.
The road to grandmaster though? For the rest of us it will probably start right here. So forthwith, Grandmaster Maurice Ashley’s Guide to Sucking Less at Chess.
- Aim to control and occupy the center of the board. From there, the pieces have the most mobility and therefore control the most squares.
- Always engage the entire army in the battle, not just one or two pieces. Focus on systematically bringing out all the pieces from the back row (except the king) into the game and toward the center of the board.
- Whisk the king to safety by castling early.
- Castling is a special move to protect your king and activate your rook. It’s the only time in chess you can move two pieces in one move. The king moves two squares to the right or left and the rook moves directly to the other side of the king. You can only castle if neither the rook nor the king have moved and there are no pieces in the way. You cannot castle when in check, into check or through check.
- Don’t use the queen too early. It’s a valuable piece and will be chased down by less valuable pieces if exposed too soon.
- Make smart trades by using the following general table of value: Queen = 9; Rook = 5; Bishop and Knight = 3; Pawn = 1. The values are not absolute, but they are very useful.
- Don’t get stuck on liking to play with white or with black. Learn to punch and counterpunch equally well.
- Remember that losing is learning!
OK, ready? While maybe not so much so that we’re all about challenging grandmasters, but surely we could put away some media entertainment types, yeah? I mean, how good could noted Wu-Tang Clan founder and chess aficionado be?
“The RZA can definitely play! The GZA as well,” Ashley says. “I think they are up there with Will Smith and Woody Harrelson as far as celebs I know. It would be cool for all of them to get together and do battle while trash-talking. I would stop everything to watch that.”
Yeah, whatever, bro. We’ll get there. Baby steps.