Getting Started In Chess : Part 1 – The Board
Starting Off On The Right Foot
What I’ve noticed is that when people are teaching chess to beginners they skip right to the pieces and how they move. I believe the instruction should begin a little earlier. Most people don’t understand that the chess board orientation and dimensions are just as important to get right from the very beginning. This will be the foundation we will build on to position you for chess success.
Once you have played chess as long as I have you will start to appreciate the endless variety of boards that are available to you. I personally own somewhere in the range of 50 different chess boards. Most of them are from different countries and I believe they are all pieces of artwork by themselves. However, I only have three that are appropriate for playing a game on. I know it sounds a little snobby to proclaim that there is a proper board and anything else is offensive to the chess gods, but reserve judgment until you read the rest of this post. I guarantee you will never look at a chessboard the same way again.
Let’s take a minute to look at a few breathtaking boards that I found on the internet.
Each one of these is an honest work of art. I will say that if your plan is to only play chess on a single board forever than truthfully it probably doesn’t matter which board you choose. But we both know that as you improve you will want to test yourself by playing against stiffer competition. That inevitable progression is why these boards should not be used.
Why does it matter? Chess is a game of pattern recognition. This fact is usually overshadowed by most of the books, but when you break it down chess is about recognizing familiar positions. These familiar positions allow you to quickly identify threats and opportunities. Even if you aren’t sure about the best response in a specific position. The fact that you recognize the position may cause you to take a pause and analyze the position a little closer.
Training your brain to recognize these familiar patterns starts with having a board that is familiar as well. This fact is supported by the way the grandmasters train. Most of us think modern grandmasters are hunched over a computer monitor analyzing countless variations, but actually, they are using computers in conjunction with a tournament standard board. The grandmaster is focused on the physical board, not the computer. Grandmasters understand the value in training their minds to recognize these patterns on a board that is similar to what they will see in a tournament.
The Proper Board
Now that we have the “why” out of the way let us define exactly how you should get started on the right path to chess mastery. I’ve used the term tournament standard board several times throughout this post, and that was deliberate. I understand that you may be just starting out and a tournament might be the furthest thing from your mind, but a tournament board has advantages beyond just being approved for official play.
There are three requirements for a good chess board.
- The dimensions of the board and the size of the playing squares should be large enough to comfortably contain a chess piece of adequate size so that there is no confusion about what type of piece is occupying it. (More on chess pieces later.)
- The contrast between the light and dark squares should be pronounced enough to effortlessly distinguish between them.
- The board should not be a distraction.
Don’t panic I have some specific examples of good boards. The options are many so I’m going to give you the three boards I use regularly. These range from my goto vinyl tournament board to my Striped Ebony and Bird’s Eye Maple board.
These three boards are vastly different in price, but all meet the criteria specified above. The boards are all between 20 – 24 inches with 2.25 – 2.5 inch squares. You can see that the color contrast between the light and dark squares is perfect. Finally, I hope you noticed that the boards are not busy with intricate designs that might distract from the game. These boards are ideal for the casual and serious chess enthusiast.
According to the US Chess Federation the official rules on a tournament size board are:
The chess board must have 2 ¼” squares, and the king from the set of chess pieces be between 3 ¾” and 4 ¼”.
There are two more things to mention before I conclude this subject on boards. First, as I stated in the introduction, the orientation of the board is important and you can have a board set up where you are playing from the wrong side. The image on the left is oriented wrong while the one on the right is correct.
Can you tell what is different between these two images? It’s subtle, but here is the answer:
Whenever you sit down at a chess board you should always have a light colored square on your right. The easiest way to remember this is to say “white on the right”. The reason for this ties back to the points I made earlier about pattern recognition being so important in chess. By mandating that the board be oriented in this way helps to make chess patterns more repetitive and easier to identify. It also helps you not look like a noob when you sit down for a game.
Finally, when you decide to purchase a good board you may notice that some of them have numbers and letters on the perimeter like the one below.
I will cover this in detail later, but for now, all I will say is that this is algebraic notation. Having this on your board is EXTREMELY useful especially when you are first starting out. I highly recommend your board has this option.
Thank you for reading to the end. I hope your day is blessed and your chess games sharp!
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