How Not to Play Chess

How Not to Play Chess

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by Eugene A. Znosko-Borovsky

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Beginners and even fairly advanced players agree on one thing: analyzing the strength or weakness of a position (material being equal) is the hardest part of chess to learn. It is also one of the hardest elements to teach, and there are some who claim it is unteachable. But this wonderfully lucid book, written by one of the outstanding chess expositors of the


Beginners and even fairly advanced players agree on one thing: analyzing the strength or weakness of a position (material being equal) is the hardest part of chess to learn. It is also one of the hardest elements to teach, and there are some who claim it is unteachable. But this wonderfully lucid book, written by one of the outstanding chess expositors of the twentieth century, presents the basis of analysis in such a disarmingly simple way that even the most casual player will be able to improve his game immensely.
Sticking to a few well-chosen examples and explaining every step along the way, the author shows you how to avoid playing a hit-or-miss game, from move to move, and instead develop general plans of action based on positional analysis: weak and strong squares, the notion of controlling a square, how to seize control of open lines, weak points in the pawn structure, and other aspects of analysis.
He includes as well a number of tips (not often found in books for beginners and average players) that the reader would do well to commit to memory: such hints as “Never omit to blockade an enemy passed pawn,” and “Do not be content with attacking an existing weakness; always seek to create others.” Throughout the book he defines and illustrates typical chess mistakes, and anyone reading his book carefully will learn in a few hours what he might otherwise have spent years to attain. For this revised edition, the author added 20 problems from master games on which the reader can test his understanding of the principles found in the text.

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How Not to Play Chess

By Eugene A. Znosko-Borovsky, FRED REINFELD

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1959 Sterling Publishing Company, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-15837-2



IN giving my little book its strange title, HOW NOT TO PLAY CHESS, I had no desire to be original. So many people, however, try to teach how to play chess, and the results are in general so poor, that it was only natural to seek to attack the problem from the other end. Before trying to teach men how to become saints, is it not well to show them how to avoid sin?

Perhaps, when you have finished reading this book, you may tell me that I, like so many others, have, after all, taught how to play chess. That, however, is my aim in this book. There are many mistakes which you must avoid, if you are to play chess well. Every piece of negative advice which I give must therefore lead to a positive conclusion.

Avoid Mistakes.

To avoid mistakes is the beginning, as it is the end, of mastery in chess. If you make no mistakes you can be certain of never losing a game, and very constantly you will win it. And how difficult this is! Even the strongest masters cannot avoid them. How many games have been lost only because of them? Tchigorin overlooked a mate in two in the final game of his second match against Steinitz for the world championship and thus lost the match!! Here is a position from the game Rosselli v. Alekhin, from the recent tournament at Folkestone, which was really a "game of errors."

White here won a P by 28 R × R, P × R; 29 Kt × P on which Black answered P—B6?? and after 30 Q-B2 White was content to come out one Pawn minus but with Bishops of opposite colours. As a matter of fact White could simply win another P by 30 Kt × Q, P × Q; 31 BxKtP, because Black could not play P × Kt, for if so then 32 P-Kt7 and queens the next move.

But the man is not a machine and in the heat of battle and under the pressure of the clock even the champion of the world may make mistakes. Less pardonable are obvious mistakes in simple positions, especially in the beginning of the game, which is now so carefully analysed. One despairs when one thinks of all the effort expended on the study of chess, and of the poverty of the results. Year after year the same elementary mistakes are repeated, the same antediluvian traps claim their victims. It is almost incredible, yet so it is, and all that the masters may teach or practise does not seem to help the amateur in his play one whit. I will give an example of an error which is continually being committed.

After the moves 1 P—K4, P-K4; 2 Kt—KB3, Kt-QB3; 3 B—B4, P—Q3; 4 P—Q4, P—KR3; 5 Kt—QB3, B—Kt5?; 6 PxP, Kt × P? we arrive at the position shown on Diagram 1.

In this position White plays 7 Kt x Kt, offering the sacrifice of the Q, and after 7....., B × Q, mates in two moves by 8 B x Pch., K—K2; 9 Kt—Q5 mate. (It will be obvious that if Black does not accept the sacrifice of the Q, but makes any other move, e.g., 7....., PxKt, White with 8 QxB has won a pawn.)

This, the "Blackburne Trap," so called because that master used to catch three or four of his opponents a night with it, and was really the first to popularise it, was first brought off by M. de Kermar, Sir de Legal, Philidor's teacher, in 1702! It has been published in one of its many forms scores of times. The former Russian champion, M. J. Tchigorin, was actually caught by a variant of it in his match with Dr. S. Tarrasch, in 1893, in the position resulting from the following moves: 1 P—K4, P—K4; 2 Kt—KB3, Kt—QB3; 3 BKt5, P—QR3; 4 B—R4, Kt—KB3; 5 Kt—QB3, B—QKt5; 6 Kt—Q5, B—R4; 7 O—O, P—QKt4; 8 B—Kt3, P—Q3; 9 P—Q3, B—KKt5; 10 P—QB3, Kt—K2?? II Kt x KP! Tchigorin was too great a player blindly to take the offered Q, which would lead to mate in three moves, or loss of material and decisive positional disadvantage, but his game was hopeless nevertheless. This example is given to show that the famous trap may crop up in many ways. For instance 1 P—K4, P—K4; 2 P—KB4, P—Q3; 3 Kt—KB3, Kt—QB3; 4 B—B4, B—Kt5; 5 Kt—B3, Kt—Q5; 6 KtxKP, BxQ; 7 B×Pch., etc. It is probably—it should be—the best known of all chess traps, and one would imagine that it was familiar to every player. If you have once really understood, you need never be caught by it. Yet it is constantly recurring: in fact there are few simultaneous displays in which one or more games are not won by it.

What must we infer from this? That many amateurs have never seen or heard of this trap? Probably most know it or have been shown it, but they have forgotten all about it, because they never made the principle underlying it their own, nor imagined that it could ever be brought off against them, never really understood it, and so failed to recognise it in another context. The importance of a combination such as this had never been properly explained to them. The combination is only made possible by the cramped position of Black's K, which allows White, at the cost of his Q, to launch a violent attack leading to mate, or the recovery with interest of the material sacrificed plus great positional advantage. In the first example quoted, White nets a whole piece, if Black does not submit to a mate; in the second, if the Q is taken, after 12 Kt × Ktch., K—B1 (if PxKt; 13 B × Pch., K—B1; 14 B—R6 mate); 13 either Kt—Q7ch., Q × Kt; 14 Kt × Qch., K—K1; 15 R × B, K × Kt; 16 B × P, White's winning advantage is clear.

I give a further example of another mistake to show that I have not in the above taken an exceptional case. One would imagine that every chess player must know the brilliant game of Morphy's which he won in Paris, in 1858, during a performance at the Opera of "The Barber of Seville." It has perhaps been more often published than any other game.

White: Paul Morphy.

Black: The Duke of Brunswick and Count Isouard.

1. P—K4 P—K4.

2. Kt—KB3 P—Q3

3. P—Q4 B—KKt5?

4. P×P B×Kt

5. Q×B P×P

6. B—QB4 Kt—KB3

7. Q—QKt3 Q—K2

8. Kt—QB3 P—QB3

9. B—KKt5 P—QKt4

See Diagram 2. In this position Morphy brought off the following beautiful combination:

10. Kt × P P × Kt

11. B × KtPch. QKt—Q2

12. O—O—O R—Q1

13. R × Kt!. .....

Maintaining the pin.

13. ....... R × R

14. R—Q1 Q—K3

15. B × Rch. Kt × B

16. Q—Kt8ch. Kt × Q

17. R—Q 8 mate.

Black's first mistake is on his third move, which would lead, even if it were not followed by other errors; to an inferior game in any case. Morphy's combination is so beautiful and so well known that such an error should never be repeated. Yet it is being committed over and over again. How many times have I not myself had the opportunity of playing this combination in simultaneous displays! Indeed I once saw almost the whole of Morphy's game repeated by a master, whose opponent was by no means a very weak beginner.

Again, how must we explain this? It is difficult to suppose that these players have never seen this game of Morphy's. They must have seen it several times, for there is hardly a book on chess which does not reproduce it. They have seen it, but they have forgotten it. They may have been asked to remember it, they were not made to understand the reasons which justified Morphy's combination. What were the reasons? White has four pieces beautifully in play converging on Black's cramped King's position with a fifth, the QR, which can at once be brought up in support. Against these Black has only two pieces developed, and of these one, the Kt, is pinned, while the Q obstructs her own KB. This is all the result of Black's early mistakes, such as 3....., B—Kt5; 6....., Kt—KB3; 7....., Q—K2; and especially of 9....., P—QKt4, all of which merely served to develop White and bring embarrassment on himself as the sequel showed. The sacrifice of the Kt, clearing all avenues of approach to the helpless enemy King, is therefore fully justified. Admire the final position in which White has only two pieces left, just enough to give mate and in exactly the same time two of Black's pieces have not even moved. Note White's 13 R × Kt!, maintaining the pin and hence keeping up the tension until the KR is brought into action. Had he played 13 BxKtch., Black would have been out of half his troubles. The number of won games thrown away by needlessly or prematurely relieving the enemy from the tension of a pin is legion.

It is better to understand a combination, the principles underlying it, than to memorize it. Analogous combinations may be possible in other positions, after other opening moves. Provided you have an understanding of the combination, you can take advantage of the position, or avoid the danger, even if you have forgotten the game. If you have only learnt it by heart, nothing can help you, if you forget it.

Do not make the opening moves automatically and without reflection.

I think that there are several reasons for these mistakes. The first is that amateurs often make the opening moves quite automatically, without thinking of their meaning. They have seen them made in many master games; they repeat them as being good moves, but without understanding the idea which is behind them, their possible weaknesses or dangers, or what they may threaten; so that if their opponent make some unfamiliar move, possibly a very weak one, they are at once at sea, and know not how to reply to it, or take advantage of it. It is impossible to remember all the variations and sub-variations in an opening, but if you really understand the main line of play, if you have grasped the spirit of the opening, you will seldom be at a loss for a good reply to an unfamiliar move of your opponent's.

All amateurs know the following initial moves in the QP Opening, which is now so popular: 1 P—Q4, P—Q4; 2 P—QB4, P—K3; 3 Kt—QB3, Kt-KB3; 4 B—Kt5, and they have many times seen Black play here 4.... ..., B—K2 or QKt—Q2. They know that those moves are made by the great masters, and therefore repeat them, without thinking about their meaning. They have no idea, for instance, that with 4....., QKt—Q2, Black sets a pretty trap, which may lead to a fine combination. The position is that given in Diagram 3.

A glance shows us that in this position White can win a P, because with his KKt pinned, Black's QP is insufficiently protected. Is this an oversight on Black's part? Cannot White safely play 5 P × P, P × P; 6 Kt × P? I am convinced that the majority of weak amateurs, playing together, would not understand the issue. White would not see that he could win a P. Nor Black that his P was in danger. Moreover, I am equally sure that if White did play PxP, Black would not find the right reply, and would blame the Masters for leading him astray.

I said that with 4....., QKt—Q2, Black was really laying a pretty trap, for after 5 P × P, P × P; 6 Kt × P, Black plays 6....., Kt × Kt, giving up his Q! But after 7 B × Q, B—Kt5 ch., White has no option, he must interpose his Q, so 8 Q—Q2, B × Q ch.; 9 K × B, K × B, and Black, having regained his sacrificed Q, is a whole piece up. I would wager that ninety-nine out of every hundred players in making the move 4....., QKt-Q2, do not realise that they are offering to sacrifice their Q, and they would be greatly astonished if anyone told them that this was the case.

A very similar combination occurs in the following variation in the Centre Counter Game: 1 P—K4, P—Q4; 2 P × P, Q × P; 3 Kt—QB3, Q—Q1; 4 P—Q4, Kt—QB3; 5 Kt—KB3, B—Kt5; 6 P-Q5, Kt—K4?; 7 Kt × Kt!, B × Q; 8 B—QKt5 ch., P—B3; 9 P × P and wins. This simple combination which sometimes is no more than a trap can often become a very complicated one and then even great Masters fall.

Diagram "B" shows a position from a tournament game between Rubinstein and Duras. The latter played here 1...., P—QKt4, giving White the opportunity of bringing off the splendid combination which follows: 2 QKt—K5, Kt × Kt; 3 Kt × Kt!! B × Q; 4 B × P ch., Kt—Q2; 5 B × Kt ch., Q × B; 6 Kt × Q, B—R4; 7 Kt—K5 and wins. If 4....., K—QI, then 5 R × B ch., K—BI; 6 B—R6 ch. Wins. If the fact that even Masters occasionally overlook such combinations consoles us, good!! but it must not be allowed to discourage us or induce us to imagine that our continued studies would be of no avail. On the contrary we must understand that such cases are rare exceptions in master practice, and that must give us the courage and the desire to do better, to become at least the equal of the Masters.

Do not memorise variations, try to understand them.

There is another reason for these mistakes, and an important one. In my experience the majority of books on the openings are concerned more with giving numberless variations than with giving such explanations of the game as would lead the beginner really to understand the why and the wherefore of the moves he sees made; and in this way encourage the development of his Chess sense, thus enabling him to think his own thoughts in Chess, based as they will then be on the wide principles underlying the game. As it is, the reader, after wading through these endless variations, has probably really understood but a very small number of the moves given. He sets out to memorise the variations. And what will be the result? There can be only one. In a couple of weeks most of these variations will have been entirely forgotten; the moves which he does succeed in remembering will have probably got into their wrong order, or otherwise be confused in his mind. As he never really understood them, he remembers only that such-and-such moves are made in a given opening, and the odds are on his making them at the wrong moment, or in the wrong variation.

An admirable example of the danger of confusing two variations in the opening appears in the following little game from a simultaneous display given by Nimzowitsch in 1920: 1 P—K4, P—K4; 2 Kt—KB3, Kt—QB3; 3 B—Kt5, Kt—B3; 4 O—O, P—Q3; 5 P—Q4 Kt × P? Black must play here B—Q2. He has confused, or tried to combine, two perfectly good defences to the Ruy Lopez, the Berlin Defence, 3....., Kt—KB3 followed after 4 O—O by Kt × P, and the Steinitz Defence, 3....., P-Q3. By playing 4....., P—Q3, he passes over to this defence, and if he had understood the idea of it, in fact the idea of either of these defences, he would never have dreamt of playing 5....., Kt × P. Punishment follows with great swiftness. 6 P—Q5, P—QR3; 7 B—Q3, Kt—B3; 8 P × Kt, P—K5; 9 R—K1, P—Q4; 10 B—K2!! P × Kt. Black is unconscious of his doom. 11 P × KtP! B × P; 12 B—QKt5 mate. A pretty aspect of the combination lies in the fact that if instead of B × P Black plays 11....., P × B; 12 P × R = Q, and Black cannot take White's Q at Q1 as his P is pinned. Instances of confusion such as this abound.

Again, a strange move by his opponent will throw him entirely out of gear, and even if the moves on both sides are all made "according to book," there comes a time when he is thrown on his own resources. The variation he has learnt closes, perhaps, with the words, "White has the better game." That is all very well, but what on earth is he to do with this "better game"? How is he to turn his superior position to account? To the solution of this problem the book does not offer him any help.

Is it surprising that many who have a real desire to learn chess give up the study of the game in the face of such disappointing experiences, as too difficult, or go on "wood shifting," neither knowing nor caring anything about theory? Our task, therefore, is clear. We must seek to remove the difficulties, and to convince the reader that there is such a thing as "chess made easy."


Excerpted from How Not to Play Chess by Eugene A. Znosko-Borovsky, FRED REINFELD. Copyright © 1959 Sterling Publishing Company, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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How Not to Play Chess 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This slender, inexpensive volume is one of the better chess books around for beginners and more experienced players. The author, a strong player and well-known writer in his time, teaches through the use of maxims and detailed prose. When I was learning to play I came across this book, and was amazed. Znosko-Borovsky examined a position in detail, explained how a player should envision an ideal position, how to achieve it, and still take enemy counterplay into account, I knew I'd learnt something that was more useful than any opening variation, tactics book, or game collection: I'd learned how to think 'chess.' If you've heard of Jeremy Silman's 'How To Reassess Your Chess' and his 'thinking method' (a book I highly recommend by the way) you'll see on pages 54-61 the method in a book published decades earlier! Don't be like the players at your club: random moves, changing plans, aimless play, always looking for tactical shots to save the day. Learn to play forcefully, logically, and consistently by using this book. A great price, a brief book, what more do you need to give it a try.
love-2-readJT More than 1 year ago
I bought this book upon recommendation of a friend. It was interesting how Borovsky tried to explain things in a different manner than other chess books. You still have to get a chess board and follow the moves to know what he is talking about.