Chess Pattern Recognition – Improve From Zero to Hero


Table of Contents

There is no other place to start any journey than where you are now! No matter how poorly you believe your chess pattern recognition skills are, you can improve them.

To get your heroic journey off to a good start, learn:

  • Chess tactics exist in all chess games rgardless of your skill-level. Chess pattern recognition is essential to help you make the most of these tactical opportunities.
  • Although most people immediately associate chess pattern recognition with tactics there are also positional chess patterns that assist you in finding the right strategy and piece placement.
  • Becone familiar with the concept of “hooks” in chess and how to use them to expose the castled king. You can use this knowledge to ensure you do not make it easier for your opponents to launch successful attacks against your king.  
  • The three crucial questions to ask before occupying an open file.

Chess Pattern Recognition: Why Is It Important?

Chess is difficult enough without us making the game harder for ourselves. The challenge chess provides is the reason why many players have worked hard on compiling guiding principles for all three phases of the game.

When it comes to making the most of a position or launching a successful attack chess pattern recognition will prove invaluable. Getting better at chess pattern recognition ensures you do not miss the opportunity to win the game and settle for a draw.

Knowing chess patterns that allow you to attack from a distance make it more challenging for your opponent to detect the danger.

Another benefit to studying chess patterns is they help you bring your pieces to the best squares when there are no direct tactics in the position. You can set pieces in the ideal position and make use of your chess pattern recognition to strike suddenly.

What Exactly Is A Chess Pattern?

A chess pattern is a particular sequence of moves or a typical position that arises in a chess game. Chess patterns can be tactical or positional.

Tactical chess patterns usually involve sacrifices. The bishop sacrifice on h7, or Greek Gift, is a tactical chess pattern.

Establishing a knight on d6 or f5 is an example of a positional chess pattern.

Chess pattern recognition allows you to recognize typical themes and characteristics of positions in your chess games.

Start Learning Chess Pattern Recognition While A Beginner

Chess tactics and calculation are essential for beginners to make progress in chess, but it is also important to learn about strategy. Learning chess pattern recognition will help you learn more about chess strategy in a fun and challenging fashion.

Chess pattern recognition is a vital element of becoming an all-around chess player. The sooner you start working on it, the sooner you will shed the beginner label.

There are sure to be elements of chess strategy and pattern recognition you will only understand as you become a stronger player. However, even if you start your chess pattern recognition training with only two or three patterns, they will make you a stronger player.

Start by learning chess patterns that involve exchanges, like removing the defender of a square you are attacking, because exchanges are much more concrete than the positional advantages. A knight on f3 or f6 often becomes a powerful defender when you castle short. 

One of the best ways of learning is doing, so even if you are not sure why a particular chess pattern works, test it in your games. Establish your knight on d6 and pay extra attention to the problems it causes your opponent.

Placing your knight on d6 is much more preferable to having your opponent establish his knight deep in your camp. Although, if he does, you will undoubtedly learn how challenging it is to play around such a strong piece.

The Foundation to Many Attacking Chess Patterns Are Checkmate Patterns

In chess, some beginners use chess patterns without being aware of them. Some of the first patterns we learn are checkmate patterns.

One example of a mating pattern is Anastasia’s mate which involves a knight, queen, and rook joining forces to deliver a checkmate. The three pieces each have an important role to play.

The Three Pieces Necessary for White to Deliver Anastasia’s Mate

The knight goes to e7 where it controls g8 and g6; the queen is sacrificed on h7 to open the h-file, and a rook makes use of the newly opened h-file to deliver checkmate.

In the next position white can win Black’s queen with a discovered check – 1.Ne7+

Although this would likely prove a winning material advantage it is important to follow Emanuel Lasker’s advice to look for a better move. Instead of capturing the black queen, White can deliver checkmate after 1…Kh8 with 2.Qxh7+ Kxh7 3.Rh1 checkmate.

Learning checkmate patterns is an excellent place to start learning chess pattern recognition. As with chess patterns involving exchanges, it is easy to see the outcome of using this pattern.

We usually begin our chess pattern recognition journey by learning checkmate patterns. For example, Scholar's Mate.

In the diagram to the left, notice how the bishops and knight deliver checkmate. The light-squared bishop on g2 covers the b7 and a8 squares; the knight controls c7 and defends the other bishop on a7, which delivers checkmate.

Let us place more pieces on the board and see how this chess pattern recognition can help us find the right move. See if you can spot the possibility of using the same checkmate pattern here.

Black defended a7 with …b6. How does White win?

That’s right – 1.Qa4 a5 2.Qxa5 bxa5 3.Ba7 checkmate

Chess Pattern Recognition: Making Use of Lolli’s Mate

Lolli’s mate is a checkmate involving the advance of the f-pawn with the queen pinning the g-pawn. Here is the basic pattern for Lolli’s Mate

White plays f6, which forces …g6 to prevent a checkmate on g7. However, this only delays the checkmate and doesn’t stop it after Qh6! Checkmate on g7 is now unavoidable.

In some cases, your opponent might anticipate your plans and move his king into the corner, so the rook can move over to defend against the checkmate.

Although you cannot deliver a pure Lolli’s Mate with the queen on g7 you can make use of the pawn on f6 controlling g7 to deliver checkmate with a rook on h3.

In this position, White wins by sacrificing a rook on h7. There follows 1.Rxh7+ Kxh7 2.Rh3#

Chess pattern recognition allows you to use Lolli’s Mate on the opposite side of the board. When your opponent castles queenside, you can use the c-pawn instead of the f-pawn. 

The vital square to control when Black castles long is b7 instead of g7.

If you only associated Lolli’s Mate with the moves f6, Qh6, and Qg7 checkmate, then you might not look for it if your opponent castles queenside. 

Of course, by using chess pattern recognition instead of only memorizing moves, you will not only look to use it on the queenside but also use it when you are playing with the black pieces.

Chess Pattern Recognition Improves Your Pawn Play

A standard piece of advice given to beginners is not to weaken your position with unnecessary pawn moves in front of the castled king.

Yes, it is sometimes necessary to give your king an escape square. However, many beginners and post-beginners play h6 or h3 simply to prevent a bishop from pinning their knight.

When you have practiced your chess pattern recognition, you will know how to take advantage of your opponent’s mistake.

Chess Pattern Recognition Teaches You About Hooks

You will save yourself from losing games or having to defend against attacks if you use chess pattern recognition to become more aware of hooks. This will also teach you the importance of not providing your opponent with a hook on the board.

How many moves does it take for the g-pawn to make contact with a pawn on h6 or h3? Two moves from the starting position are all it takes to reach g5 or g4.

In many positions, the pawn on g5 or g4 will make contact with the h-pawn and attack a knight on f6 or f3.

The next time you are tempted to prevent a bishop pin by moving your h-pawn, ask yourself, “Is it worth giving my opponent a hook?”

A hook is a positional chess pattern created when you advance the g-pawn or h-pawn. They are called a hook because when your opponent moves a pawn up the board it can attack the pawn.

The pawn on h6 allows White to open either the g-file or the h-file if Black plays …hxg5. If the pawn was back on h7 there would be no hook for White to use to open lines against the black king.

Go ahead and stop …Bg4 with h3 if you know you are castling queenside or your opponent has already castled kingside.

Of course, if you castle kingside, you must remain vigilant in case your opponent uses his chess pattern recognition to sacrifice a bishop. He might well decide to give up the bishop for two pawns with …Bxh3, and …Qxh3 is worth exposing your king.

Topalov used the hook to defeat his 2700-rated opponent Alexey Shirov in this game.

Chess Pattern Recognition Can Save You From Giving Up Chess

Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch said, “He who fears the isolated queen’s pawn should give up chess.” Learning the chess patterns associated with the isolated queen’s pawn will ease your fears.

One of the advantages of playing with the isolated queen’s pawn is free development and active piece play. Knowing how to take advantage of this and when to use another strategy is crucial.

In light of this, one of the vital strategies when playing White with the isolated queen’s pawn is knowing when to advance the isolated d-pawn. Playing with an isolated queen’s pawn will teach you a lot about chess and chess pattern recognition in particular.

Take a look at this position and see if you can calculate how White caused Black to resign in only four more moves.

Instead of retreating the bishop, White played 12.d5, and after 12…exd5 13.Bxd5 Nxd5 14.Nxd5 Bd7 15.Bc7 Black resigned.

Although simplification will often favor Black in these positions using chess pattern recognition, you can play d5 before Black is prepared for the position opening up. 

Remember, chess pattern recognition will also help you play other pawn positions, like hanging pawns, with greater success. 

Thanks to chess pattern recognition, you will know when taking on hanging pawns or doubled pawns benefits you or your opponent. Instead of memorizing winning lines, you will look at the other factors like piece placement or mating patterns that make a pawn weakness a non-issue.

As Nigel Short often says, “Checkmate wins the game.”

Chess Pattern Recognition: Don’t Rush Into An Open File

One of the most common patterns in chess is doubled rooks, often supported by the queen, on an open file. The doubling or tripling of major pieces on an open file can prove decisive.

Sometimes it will only lead to mass exchanges on the file, so it is not always a good idea to rush into doubling rooks. Improving your chess pattern recognition will help you occupy the file at the perfect time and in an ideal manner.

There are several crucial aspects of occupying an open file to consider. Remember to ask yourself these three vital questions:

  • Will exchanges lead to an improvement in your pawn structure?          
  • Is it possible to double your rooks behind a bishop or a knight that blocks the open file?           
  • Can I recapture with my other rook or queen, so I don’t close the open file with a pawn?

White can take control of the a-file and this is what Yudovich did with 22.Ra2. He could play this move because if Black captured on a2 Yudovich could recapture with his queen.

Ra2 works because the answer to the third question is “Yes.”

Black can attack the white queen with …Qa8, but Yudovich could play Ra1 and meet Qxa2 with Rxa2. This allows him to keep the a-file open for his rook.

Notice that the knights on c3 and f3 prevent Black from entering on the e-file with his rook. The knights control the e1, e2 and e3-squares.

Yudovich did make excellent use of the open file and won the game in thirty-six moves.

Occupying an Open File Is Not Compulsory

Yes, it is very natural to see an open file and immediately begin doubling your rooks, but always look for a better move. Perhaps you can create more problems for your opponent to cope with besides your control of the open file.

In this position, Yudovich played 22.Ra2 intending to double rooks on the open file. He could have sacrificed his knight on b5 instead and created connected passed pawns after 22.Nxb5 cxb5 23.Bxb5.

Connected passed pawns are extremely powerful in the endgame. They can sometimes prove more powerful than a rook.

After 23.Bxb5 White could continue with Bc6 and advance his passed pawns. All of this is possible while challenging for control of the a-file.

Final Thoughts On Chess Pattern Recognition

When we think of chess strategy, we tend to first think about concepts like outposts, preventing our opponent’s plans, bad bishops, and pawn structures. Chess pattern recognition includes these concepts but shows you how to put them to good use in your games.

Think of chess pattern recognition as the application of strategic concepts in a concrete manner.

Instead of struggling to find candidate moves in a position, you will start to look for possible patterns. Once you see the possibility to use a chess pattern-finding the right moves become easier.

Even if you are a beginner, you can start your journey to becoming a chess pattern superhero. 

Many beginners get disheartened by material that is too difficult, but another approach is to look at it as a challenge. Completing more of the puzzles or understanding more of the concepts becomes a visible sign of your chess progress.

How quickly you progress is not important. You might need a year or two before completing all the exercises successfully.

The most important part of your chess journey, in pattern recognition or any other area, is seeing some progress-no matter how small.

Three Chess Pattern Recognition Courses That Take You From Zero to Hero

And to help you become a chess pattern recognition superhero, we have three excellent courses to help you build up your pattern recognition muscle.

The sooner you get started on your chess pattern recognition journey the sooner you will take your game to the next level. Fortunately, for chess beginners, there is a chess pattern recognition course designed especially for you.

Don’t hesitate to begin your chess pattern recognition journey now!

After you have worked through the beginner course keep the momentum going with the second of three great courses on chess pattern recognition.

Go all in now that you have built up a great head of steam! Ride the crest of the wave and achieve superhero status by completing our third excellent course and achieve superhero status in chess pattern recognition.

Chess Pattern Recognition: Frequently Asked Questions

Is chess just pattern recognition?

There is more to chess than pattern recognition. There are things like development in the opening, central control in the middlegame, and the technique of creating passed pawns in an endgame. These are only a few aspects of chess that do not involve pattern recognition.

How do you identify chess patterns?

Piece placement is the key to identifying what chess patterns are available in a particular position. For example, the absence of a knight on f6 or f8 suggests that White could have an attack starting with a bishop sacrifice on h7. 

How can I improve my chess pattern recognition? 

Becoming familiar with the tactics of your chosen opening will help you improve your chess pattern recognition. You will learn when a particular attack works and when to adopt another strategy from the placement of the pieces.
Instead of memorizing lengthy variations, seek to understand why an attacking pattern works. What tactical motifs are present that allow an attack to work? Does the pattern work because of an overloaded defender, or is it a weak back rank that proves decisive?
Take note of what squares the pieces need to be on for an attack to work? Instead of only playing the winning line, test other moves and see if you can figure out why they don’t work.

In this position, Bxh7 works instead of Qxh7 because the queen on h6 controls the f8-square. This forces Black to play …Kh8 when the mating pattern is Bg6+ …Kg8 Qh7+ …Kf8 Qxf7#. 
Notice the difference in the position between starting with Qxh7 and Bxh7. Starting with the Bxh7 and placing the bishop on g6, White can deliver checkmate on f7.

How do you train pattern recognition?

Solving tactical puzzles is an excellent way to train your pattern recognition. When solving tactical puzzles, always make sure you understand why they work. Say any themes you detect to yourself as you work through the puzzle. These might be things like, “The pawns block the king on h8” or “There is a loose knight on a4. I know “loose pieces drop off,” so how can I attack it? Oh, I have …Qh4+ and …Qxa4.”

Can you get better at pattern recognition?

Yes, you can get better at pattern recognition. The more familiar you become with an opening, the easier it becomes to recognize the different patterns of attack that arise in a particular opening and similar openings. Patterns emerge from specific piece placement, so learning why a specific setup is strong or weak will help you recognize different chess patterns.

What is an example of pattern recognition?

Pattern recognition is knowing the tactics and strategies specific to certain positions that appear in a chess game.
Some of the simplest examples of chess pattern recognition are checkmate patterns.
All chess players learn the danger of not creating an escape square for the castled king and how to take advantage of a weak back rank.
Scholar’s Mate is another well-known example of a chess pattern.
Chess patterns get more intricate as you improve your playing strength. The more challenging chess patterns to recognize are positional chess patterns. One example of a positional chess pattern is an exchange sacrifice to expose the castled king.

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