How Many Letters Has Chess Alphabet? Four. What Are They?
The answer: A, P, R and B. If you are still a bit confused, read on…
* * *
“The whole is more than the sum of its parts.” Aristotle
* * *
Last time we have discussed some attributes of chessmen which possess and use power in space and time, as parts of a complex system, to achieve a shared goal – to withstand and possibly to feed our hard-wired impulse to triumph.
However, properties of any given system (physical, chemical, biological, social, linguistic) cannot be determined or explained alone by its component parts and their attributes (for example, how they make movements.) Instead, the nature and behavior of the system as a whole emerges from interactions between the parts of which the system is made.
Interaction is a kind of action that occurs as two or more components have an effect upon one another. A closely related term is interconnectivity, which deals with interactions of interactions within a system: combinations of many simple interactions can lead to surprising phenomena at a new integrative level emerging on preexisting phenomena of lower level(s). Think chess.
Other examples may include interconnectivity of atoms and molecules emerging on the fundamental interaction of elementary particles, or consciousness emerging on nervous system.
Another example at the social level: the modern world with globalization and the IT revolution has gone to hyper-connected thanks to Internet, wireless connectivity, Google, Facebook, Twitter. This, in turn, brings new possibilities and determines how different groups and teams with their “collective intelligence” behave, showing that such intelligence extends beyond the cognitive abilities of the groups’ individual members.
Features of the group are more important than features of the individuals that make up the group for determining outcomes. It is like creating some beneficial collective energy that contributes to the success of the team.
The same goes in chess. What starts with a definite number of pieces and a small number of rules generate surprising complexity which escapes our rational analysis and full understanding. On dynamic interconnectivity and interplay of pieces, emerge some new collective properties at higher integrative levels.
These interactions between pieces range from four elementary ones we are going to cover here, to highly complex ones, urging a world chess champion to say that coordinated action of pieces is a main chess principle that runs throughout, Capablanca, My Chess Career.
* * *
Interrelationships between pieces are spatial and functional.
Surprisingly, all interactions are spacial in nature and based on geometry of the line segment. Four functional relationships are well suited for understanding and getting the meaning out of the system, but in fact they can still be traced back to the elementary geometric element of the line segment.
There are four basic relationships in chess: attacking, protecting, restricting and blocking contact. Any position in chess consists of these basic contacts. In the pursuit of understanding, we break things down into ever smaller bits. And this works, to some extent… However, putting things back together in order to understand chess as a whole is harder, not to say almost impossible.
1. Letter A (Attacking contact)
Attack is the generic contact in chess. Geometrically speaking, it is a line segment defined with two endpoints: that of attacking piece and either an empty square, or an enemy unit.
2. Letter P (Protecting contact)
Protecting contact does not actually protect the friendly piece from capturing by the opponent. It does allow the protecting piece to recapture and keep material balance.
3. Letter R (Restricting contact)
The restricting contact is also reducible to the generic attacking contact. In the example below, the black king is restricted to go to squares d6, d7 and d8, as they are under attack from the rook.
4. Letter B (Blocking contact)
All three contacts so far involved two pieces, or one piece and a square. Interposition, or pin, features three pieces: attacker (Rd1), blocker (Pd5), and actual target (Kd6). Pin is actually a double contact. It consists of a direct attack (Rd1->Pd5) and a threat of attack (Rd1->Kd6) which in reality is an indirect, or concealed attack, just one move away from becoming an actual attack (you can find out more on all levels of chess hierarchy here)
And that is all!
All chess revolves around these four letters of the chess alphabet. The meaning of any chess position is coded with some combination of the letters A, P, R and B in the same way that the meaning of words and sentences lies in the sequence of alphabet letters.
* * *
It becomes perfectly clear now that we should start teaching and learning the game by introducing the chess alphabet first. Not individual moves. The good thing is that pieces make movements along lines of fire, or contact, anyway (with the pawn exception, of course).
In the same way that you never think of alphabet letters consciously when you read or write, the chess alphabet should become your second nature too. Your brain’s mind’s eye should see all board contacts effortlessly. This is what we call good chess vision.
Nimzovich was right…