Master Chess Theory

Blog by Desmond Allen

Even those who possess a photographic memory, if they are to improve their play, must learn advanced chess theory. If one does not have a clear understanding and command of these essential elements, around which the game necessarily revolves, one can never seriously expect to play at advanced levels. For even with a photographic memory, embarking on the laborious journey to memorize every variation played for a certain position is necessarily fruitless. Furthermore, rote play would be extremely boring.

This is not to discount the value of remembering familiar positions; but in reality how many of these countless variations can even those with a photographic memory recall? There are 400 possible positions that could be established after each opponent’s first move, and this grows exponentially. Mathematicians have determined there are 318,979,564,000 different ways for players to play the first four moves. No; that is not a misprint: 318 billion, 979 million, 564 thousand possible positions in the first four moves.

There are roughly 169, 518, 829, 100, 544, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000 (that is 169 nonillion plus) different ways to play the first ten moves. Some have estimated the possible positions that could be reached in an extended game to be as many as 10 x 1050 (whatever number that is): simply an incomprehensible figure. If expressed as a one followed by zeros, the zeros would not fit in this book, or in any book. In fact, the zeros necessary to express this figure would not fit in volume after volume of books filling even the largest library you have ever seen.

Granted, relatively few moves for any given position would be considered tenable; nevertheless the possibilities are still daunting. Consequently, serious players must master advanced theory and apply it impromptu. As the fame Grandmaster Jose Raul Capablanca once said, “Never be content simply to learn a series of moves by heart, in the opening or elsewhere, but strive to find the reason for each move in the series.” (Capablanca, A Primer of Chess, p 80)

To play at master level one's brilliant intuition must be grounded in a thorough command of advanced chess theory.

Departing from the traditional and laborious algebraic discussions of various potential lines of play, herein, the time tested essential elements by which grandmasters direct their every move are presented in a learner-friendly format.