This series is for players new to atomic. Later installments will feature material geared towards correcting beginner mistakes and developing a rounded skillset.
This first post in the series is about getting off on the right foot: by playing games. More so than any concrete advice, it’s better to jump right into a couple games with a vague idea or two about the variant (see the end of the article) and the intention to have fun.
You can pick up the gist of how atomic works after playing a few games by yourself, but I’d highly recommend reading the detailed rules at some point. There are a few points that might surprise you the first time you see them in a game (kings can’t capture, kings can be next to each other, you can ignore check to explode the enemy king.) If there’s anything in doubt, do check out the rules of atomic chess.
Approach to playing
Play more games, in longer time controls/with increment especially if you’re struggling to visualise the positions after captures. If possible, try to play longer series against each opponent, so that you can develop some opening knowledge over the course of several games. For instance, in the first game your opponent plays 1. Nc3 and you lose quickly. The next game, you play 1. Nc3 to see how he responds; it turns out he plays 1…e6 and it seems solid enough. Then the game after that starts 1. Nc3 e6 and you see what 2nd move he chooses…
To test whether the lines you worked out are sound, play them against a variety of players, in case you and your opponent were both missing something obvious in the lines. Try a little bit of all openings at first, and eventually you’ll settle into a few lines you’re comfortable with.
Against players above 2100 (to pick an arbitrary number), you may get destroyed very quickly as black. A lot. Maybe also as white. Importantly, do not get discouraged, it’s perfectly normal especially when just starting out. White does start with a very strong intiative in atomic, and usually makes common lethal threats in quick succession. Getting acquainted with these tactical patterns and avoiding them will let you survive the opening much better. In the meantime, do see how the stronger players use these tactics to punish weaker moves, and apply them in your games.
Don’t play against Stockfish on lichess at this point, especially not on the weaker settings. On the stronger settings it will give no quarter tactically, and on the weaker settings it tends to play weak and strange moves. In neither case will it teach you good opening lines nor good strategic play (not even against SF level 8!) Stick to playing against humans, and use Stockfish analysis on your finished games if you feel the need for computer validation (again I emphasise, for tactics and not for opening advice).
Some people do think it more polite to play at least 2 games against an opponent, at least one of each colour (arena tournaments notwithstanding), since White does start with a theoretical advantage. Personally, I try to play at least 2 games against any one opponent if I start out as white in the first.
Sometimes though, if the game ends too quickly against high-rated players and they don’t give a rematch, it could be because of lichess itself. The rematch button is simply not available for either player if the game is too short/ends too quickly, even if both players are still in the game. I am not fully aware of the details of this behaviour and believe it is an anti-sandbagging/anti-rating-abuse measure, but it affects atomic games with a large rating mismatch. It’s certainly not because the higher-rated player has some “no-rematch option”, blocked you or did anything suspicious like that.
We’ll end this post with some broad tips for atomic games. More detailed articles on atomic chess principles will come later.
- You can defend squares by occupying them with your pieces; for instance, to prevent white playing Nb5, you can play …b5, even if in normal chess this pawn would be undefended.
- Think twice before leaving your pieces next to each other - they might both get destroyed in a single capture.
- If you get to an endgame but are down lots of material, try to get your king adjacent to your opponent’s so that at least it’ll be immune to checks.
- Material values (this doesn’t have too much practical value, I’ll explain why in a future post): B, N 1.5 pawns, R is worth about B+P or N+P, Q is generally worth about 3 other pieces. The proper rule is unfortunately the cliché “it depends on the situation”.
Until next time!
Fun fact: I considered naming this “Novice Nuke” but decided against it in the end.