Chess Tactics for Heroes

Last week I looked at the format of Checkmates for Heroes, the first of my series of books designed to take children, or indeed older players, who know the basics up to the point where they can compete successfully in tournaments.

This post considers the next book, Chess Tactics for Heroes.

The principle is exactly the same: start with simple concepts, gradually increasing the complexity. We start with the idea that Superior Force Wins, which underpins the whole of chess, and refer to Chess Endings for Heroes, which will explain how and why. So we should be trying to win points while making sure we don’t play moves that lose points. We explain the idea of a threat (as opposed to an attack), consider the ATD (Attacker Target Defender) idea, and look at how to avoid blunders (look at your opponent’s threats, don’t move defenders or pinned pieces).

We then explain that we can sometimes create a threat that cannot be parried and pose some puzzles in which the reader has to work out how to trap a piece: threaten it so that there’s no way out. Of course, checkmate is a special case of a threat that cannot be parried.

Usually, though, our opponents will meet our threats, but there’s something else we can do: create two threats at the same time. It’s quite likely our opponent will only be able to meet one of those threats, enabling us to carry out the other one.

We start by looking at forks: our students have to find some pawn forks (these are surprisingly common at this level), some knight forks, then some queen forks. Just as we did when teaching checkmates, we then pose some puzzles where you can use a fork to win material, but you have to work out for yourself which piece you are going to use.

The next stage is to look at the pin, a subject which is not so easy to explain. We can win material by pinning a stronger piece, very often using a rook or bishop to pin a queen to a king, or by pinning a piece that cannot be defended. But many pins are harmless, or at worst only mildly inconvenient. There are other things we can do with pins, though. We can sometimes capture a piece for free because the apparent ‘defender’ is pinned. This is a special case of capturing an unprotected piece, but much harder to see because you have to spot the pin as well. Because a pinned piece cannot move away we can often win material by attacking the pinned piece again. This again is a special case of trapping a piece. Our readers will have to solve lots of puzzles based on finding pins which win material, noticing when a pinned piece doesn’t defend, and spotting how you can threaten a pinned piece.

From there it’s natural to move onto skewers, a much simpler subject, and again solve some puzzles.

We can also create two threats at the same time using different pieces. The way we do this is by using a discovered threat. We have a line piece (queen, rook or bishop) in line with an enemy target, but one of our own pieces is in the way. If we can move that piece out of the way we create a discovered threat, which, if the enemy target is the king, will be a discovered check. If we create another threat with the piece we move out of the way we’re creating two threats at the same time. At this level discovered threats, even if they’re not double threats, are often successful because children tend to look only at the last piece that moved rather than the whole board.

We then have some puzzles based on discoveries and some revision puzzles before moving on to something a bit different, which will involve looking a bit further ahead.

Imagine you have an ATD (Attacker Target Defender) situation. You’d like to get rid of the defender. Our next section looks at ways in which you can do this. You might be able to capture the defender, possibly using a sacrifice. You might be able to threaten the defender and drive it away. If the defender is doing two defensive tasks at the same time it’s an overworked piece so you can take advantage. These ideas will be the subject of further puzzles for the student to solve.

Finally, we move onto positions where you have to look a bit further ahead. A typical example would be a position where you play a sacrifice in order to set up a fork and get back the material with interest. This sort of concept, where you have to see 2½ moves ahead, is very difficult for players much below 100 ECF (1500 ELO) strength, but the only way to make progress is to learn to think this far ahead. Understanding this idea is also vital when you come to study openings: particularly the open games which you’ll learn in Chess Openings for Heroes.

The positions from this book are all taken from the Richmond Junior Chess Club database, and played by children at this level. A quick search will reveal, for example, lots of games decided by knights forking king and queen. If you look at grandmaster games you won’t find this sort of thing: they see them coming a long way off. So this book doesn’t consider all possible tactical ideas, nor does it concentrate on the types of tactic appearing in GM games. Instead, and this is one of its USPs, it’s based on the tactical ideas which happen over and over again in games played at this level.

Richard James

The Importance of Tactics Six

In the last few articles, we looked at a tactic called the pin in which a piece of lesser value was stuck in front of a piece of greater value along a rank, file or diagonal. Should the piece of lesser value move, the piece doing the pinning, the attacker, swoops in and captures the piece of greater value. With a skewer, the piece of greater value switches places with the piece of lesser value. A typical pin might be composed of a Black Bishop on g4 pinning a White Knight on f3 to the White Queen on d1. With a skewer, we’d have the Bishop still on g4 but the White Queen would be on f3 and the White Knight on d1. Of course, this rearrangement wouldn’t work for the Black Bishop unless that Bishop was protected with, for example, a Black pawn on h5 to back the Bishop up. While there are similarities between a pin and a Skewer, there are definite differences between the two.

As with the pin, the pieces able to partake in a skewer are your long distance attackers, the Bishops, Rooks and Queen. As I’ve said before, tactics are important and can turn a game around in your favor when used wisely. I say “when used wisely” because many beginning and intermediate players depend on tactics too much. They play solely around the idea of setting up tactical positions in order to gain a material advantage. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with employing tactics, you have to be careful when setting a tactical play up. Why? Because you may have to weaken your position when making the first move or two in a tactical combination, setting the tactic up. Of course, if your opponent is oblivious your plan, you’re fine and the tactical play is successful. However, if your opponent spots the potential tactical play, you’ll end up trying to correct your positional weaknesses. Use your tactics wisely, allowing the opportunity to present itself through poor opposition moves (especially if you’re a beginner) rather trying to set up complicated positions that force tactics. As you improve, so will your ability to spot tactical opportunities and set up combinations. Remember, we first learn to walk before learning to run. Here’s an extremely simple example of a skewer:

As I mentioned earlier, a skewer takes place when a piece of higher value is pinned in front of a piece of lower value along a rank, file or diagonal. In our example, White’s Queen is stuck in front of the White Rook along the f1-a6 diagonal. The Queen is worth nine points or dollars (I use money because everyone, both young and old, can relate to the value of a dollar) and the Rook behind it on the diagonal is worth five points or dollars. Again, the set up is like a pin but the more valuable piece is in front of the piece of lesser value (the reverse is true for a pin). The piece attacking the Queen, Black’s light squared Bishop, is worth three points or dollars. It’s important at this juncture to remember that ideally, the piece attacking the skewered piece should be of lesser value than the piece stuck at the tail end of the rank, file or diagonal where this tactic takes place. However, the value of the pieces involved in a skewer can have varying values but we’ll get into that later on. In our first example, the Queen will have to move, otherwise Black will end up with an even greater material gain. When the Queen moves, 1.Qd1, Black snaps up the Rook with 1…Rxf1 followed by 2. Qxf1. Black has traded a three dollar Bishop for a five dollar Rook netting two dollars. Always consider the value of any exchange before engaging in one!

This skewer for Black was only profitable because Black’s Bishop had protection, namely the pawn on b5. If the pawn wasn’t there then White would simply capture the Bishop! This would be a problem for Black! Now let’s look at skewers in which the piece at the tail end of the skewer is of equal or lesser value that the attacking piece. In our first example, the Bishop was worth less than the Rook trapped behind the Queen. Therefore, trading itself for the Rook makes sense. However, what if a Queen is skewering a piece of greater value, such as the opposition King to a piece of lesser value such as a Rook. Take a look at the example below:

In the above student game example, White plays 1. Qh7+ which directly attacks the Black King. However, this is more than just a check because when the Black King moves, 1. Kc8, the Rook behind it on the seventh rank is then captured by the White Queen after 2. Qxa7! This greatly changes the balance of material in favor of White. While White had more material that Black going into this endgame position, the loss of Black’s Rook is a game changer! While the piece being captured (the Black Rook) was worth less than the Queen, it’s capture eliminated an opposition piece making it much easier for White to win the game. During endgame play, the loss of material is devastating since you have fewer pawns and pieces with which to deliver checkmate. Therefore, using a skewer to create a deficit in opposition material can be a winning tactical play for you.

In the above example, the skewer worked because of two factors. The first factor is that the black King was positioned two squares away from the Rook. To protect the Rook, the Black King would have to be on an adjacent square to the now captured piece, but this leads me to point two, the Bishop on f3. White’s light squared Bishop was on a square that allowed coordinated play between both White pieces. The White Bishop on f3 covered the c6, b7 and a8 squares which means the Black King had no access to those squares and couldn’t protect his Rook. Piece coordination is critical when creating or employing tactics.

When looking for potential skewers, as in the case of the pin, you want to keep an eye on any rank, file or diagonal on which there are pieces. Tactical plays can often fall into your lap when playing against opponents who don’t followed principled play. To avoid falling victim to a skewer, you should always look at any rank, file or diagonal on which you have pieces. The last example of a skewer is a common tactical theme during the endgame. To avoid such a loss you want to make sure you have, your pieces protected. During this student game, Black had an opportunity earlier in the endgame to protect his Rook but didn’t. While our last example used the White Queen to Skewer the Black King and Rook, a White Rook could have done the same job. The advantage the Queen has is her ability to cover diagonals as well. If you’re a beginner or just became an intermediate player, I’d suggest looking for potential skewers rather than trying to set them up with a series of moves. After you’ve developed better chess vision, being able to see the entire board and spot potential problems for both you and your opponent, then consider creating combinations that lead to skewers. Also, remember that tactics are a two way street which means your opponent might skewer you if you’re not keeping a watchful eye over the ranks, files and diagonals your pieces sit on. We’ll continue our examination of tactics next week but until then, here’s a game to enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

More On Chess Benefits

Despite the doubters I thought it time we had another post on the benefits of chess. I feel a massive debt of gratitude to the game because sure the game helped me a lot as a youngster. Meanwhile my chess project with Sam has coincided with leaps and bounds in both his confidence and how he’s doing at school.

Here’s a neurologist on the benefits of the game:

Nigel Davies

The Comeback Trail, Part 11

Another aspect of comeback preparation concerns whether you need to win, and most especially with Black. This can vary from player to player and also change over time. For example those who tend to be among the contenders in a particular section will be under pressure to win with both White and Black. Those who tend to be among the back markers will be a lot happier with draws.

I’ll be facing this issue when I start to play again. I’d like to think that I should be among the favourites in most weekend Open sections and as such will need a lot of wins. This issue will be compounded by the fact that I’ll probably need to take half point byes on the Friday evening game, leaving me needing four straight wins to get a high prize.

In such situations it makes sense to play openings which lead to a full blooded struggle, and especially with Black. Against most Black defences White will have simplifying lines, and although there are usually ways to make a fight of it, these should probably be avoided.

So it’s quite common to see the stronger competitors in weekend tournaments specialize in openings such as the King’s Indian and Sicilian Defence. Of course these might not be everyone’s cup of tea and there may also be a temptation to have a separate repertoire for stronger tournaments in which a lower percentage can win a top prize. This of course could get very time consuming, especially when the financial returns for professional chess are quite modest, at least under the very highest level.

Different players have different answers. In the UK Keith Arkell plays quite modest openings but specializes in the endgame where he can grind out wins from the most unpromising looking positions. Mark Hebden, on the other hand, has a superbly worked out opening repertoire which allows him to win a lot of quick games. On the other hand he takes some risks by playing very sharp positions in which a single mistake can decide matters.

What about my own solution? Actually I haven’t decided yet, though historically speaking I’ve been a jack of all trades. I guess we’ll have to wait and see!

Nigel Davies

1st English Correspondence Chess Championship

The 1st English Correspondence Chess Championship (ECCC) starts on 1st April 2017. It will be a bi-annual event and, as the name suggests, will only contain players registered under the England flag. There will be a Championship Final with between 11 and 15 competitors, two Semi-Finals with between 9 and 13 competitors and some preliminary sections with, if possible, between 7 and 11 competitors. The organiser is SIM Ian M. Pheby.

For the first ECCC the Championship Committee has asigned competitors to each section based on their ICCF rating to which a bonus of points is added, I.E. GM 75 points; SIM 50 points; IM 25 points; CCM 15 points; CCE 5 points. One game is played against each of the other competitors in your section on the ICCF webserver. The competition will run for about 21 months with a time limit of 40 days for 10 moves. Unfinished games will be adjudicated.

The Championship winner will receive an engraved trophy and £150, the runner up £75 and third place £25. There are further prizes and opportunities for all sections. Details can be found here: –efcchess.org.uk/eccc.html

Even though I already had plenty of games in progress I could not ignore this important new event in the calendar and have duly entered! I am lucky enough to have been included in the Championship section with the following top English players, ten of which I have played before: – GM John G. Brookes (2467), CCM John Brasier (2423), SIM Jerry E.C. Asquith (2410), Ken J. Owen (2403), IM Bill F. Lumley (2388), CCE Stan J. Grayland (2383), CCE Mark Eldridge (2382), Peter Catt (2377), Trevor Carr (2375), SIM Alan J.C. Rawlings (2367), David Evans (2352), LIM Dawn L. Williamson (2348), SIM Ian M. Pheby (2312).

The Championship Final cross table can be viewed here: –www.iccf.com/event?id=65892

Games can only be viewed when finished and when at least 10 have been finished. Anyway, here is a game I played against one of my ECCC opponents who I played in the British Championship 2016-18 and who happens to be the British Champion for 2015.

John Rhodes

ChessEssentials, Level 1

‘We raise Champions!”

We all remember our first steps in chess. Our first lesson about the chessboard and pieces probably came from our grandparents, parents or friends; if you were the curious kind maybe you saw someone play the game and asked what was that about. Depending on your age I bet the chessboard looked way too big and pieces way too many to control. How did you feel about the rules, eh? Did you spend a lot of time confused if indeed only white moves first or either can move if the opponent agreed on it? It seemed only fair to ask, isn’t it? I remember having a hard time convincing a number of beginners you were not allowed to start with 2 moves in a row; for some reason the local folklore had that as an important rule. How about the en-passant rule? That gives headaches even to average club players…

I was one of the lucky ones to have my father Valer Vasile Demian (IM-ICCF, national correspondence chess champion of Romania in 1968) as a mentor. Our chess library is today of a decent size and quality because of his passion. I got to learn chess bit by bit using invaluable books (collectibles today) he bought or magazines he was a regular subscriber for. The Eastern block had access to high quality magazines from former USSR (Shakmatny bulletin, 64) or former DDR (East Germany). They still contain buried chess treasures today (more about that in future articles). This is how I was exposed to the books written by G M Lisitsin. His book on endgames is IMO the best endgame book ever written and we were lucky to have it translated in Romanian (1960 edition). My father told me he read the book one summer when he was sick and by the end of it his chess understanding and strength increased by at least one category level. I did the same and found out I got the same jump. Years later I started to incorporate this into my chess teaching materials and proved this to be the case over and over again. We take pride in our students knowing the endgames from early on and playing them well above average.

These days the internet has radically changed the way we communicate and keep ourselves informed. The younger generations have apps at their fingertips and use them with ease. Of course there’s the danger of forgetting our brains are still the best apps we can use and here is where our mission comes from. Back in 2012 I have decided to create and offer a chess app based on our method, one containing the minimum knowledge a club player would need to be able to play at a solid candidate master level by the end of level 6. Of course there are tens of thousands of apps out there, many of them offering chess content in one form or another. It is not easy to make yourself visible and this is one reason why I am writing a series of articles about it. My hope is more players will see the benefit of checking our app out.

The app is called “ChessEssentials“, it was released in 2013 and it is available at the iTunes store. It has 6 levels out of which 4 are available right now (March 2017). I am quite a bit behind in my original optimistic schedule; in that one all 6 levels should have been available by now. Lately I have concentrated on doing a major app upgrade together with my programmer (released on Mar 17th, 2017), as well as working hard on putting together level 5 (about 60% done). It is not easy to do that in your spare time when the goal is to provide value to those choosing to download it.

Level 1 (reference ratings 0-400) is free and it focuses on the basic rules of the game. It contains 18 lessons, 18 puzzle sets and 18 tests paired as “lesson X + puzzle set X + test X”; the idea is to learn a chess concept presented in a lesson, practice it with the respective puzzle set and verify it with the test. All lessons, puzzles sets and tests are numbered, so it is easy to identify how they are paired together. The lessons have a description of the concept being presented, giving the user the opportunity to choose whichever one they want in any order. This latest update includes an improved monitoring feature showing how much the user has completed percentage wise. Another improvement is to allow the user to go back and redo or solve unsolved puzzles by going directly to the first unsolved one (skipping those already solved) and so on. A completed lesson, puzzle set or test would get a check mark on the respective list, while an unfinished one would get a dark circle for an easier identification. The main idea behind programming the app was to make it as simple and intuitive to navigate as possible.

  • Lessons 1-9 deal with the chessboard, how the pieces move and the original position. They include how to write down the chess moves and offer a particular feature for this level only: when you tap on a piece to move it, all its possible moves are displayed on the chessboard. This helps visualise them for the selected piece at a moment when the chessboard might look way too big and a Bh1-a8 move might as well be from one continent to another! We were all in those shoes and see it every day with our new students.
  • Lessons 10 covers the basic mates queen + king vs king and rook + king vs king.
  • Lesson 11 covers the basic mates 2 bishops + king versus king, bishop + knight vs king, 2 knights + king versus king + pawn (to show it is possible) and one sample king +2 pawns vs king. All are mates in 1, except one mate in 2. These are fundamental endgame positions a player needs to know for an obvious reason: we need to know what the target is. The fact we have the minimum number of pieces on the chess board for the checkmate to be possible, helps learning how to keep track of them.
  • Lesson 12 deals with the stalemate concept.
  • Lesson 13 with deals with other draw types such as perpetual, 3 fold repetition, lack of mating material, 50 moves rule and draw by agreement. It is important to know them as soon as possible to have a clear idea how any game could end.
  • Lessons 14-18 deal with 1 move checkmate from any position, checkmate delivered by a queen (#14), rook (#15), bishop (#16), knight (#17) and pawn (#18). Here the idea is to make you aware any piece (except the king) can checkmate at anytime if the right conditions/ positions are present; in other words any player must pay attention to the board constantly from the first to the last move!

Below I have chosen a few simple puzzles for better understanding. Please select each puzzle from the pull-down menu on top of the diagram.

Conclusion: level 1 teaches the rules and the object of the game. This way a beginner learns what to play for and it is less likely it will wander around aimlessly in their games. Hope you find this presentation interesting and the app worth giving it a try!

Valer Eugen Demian

The Pawn Duo In Endgames

The rook endgame in this game was a good example of the strength of a pawn duo. Mikhail Botvinnik had a pawn on the 7th rank but Kopilov’s e- and f-pawn duo was too much.

This game was also a big upset as Botvinnik was World Champion at the time.

Sam Davies

Checkmates for Heroes

We all know that checkmate ends the game, and yet, if you visit your local primary school chess club you’ll see that many children get more pleasure from promoting lots of pawns and getting lots of queens than from actually winning the game.

Furthermore, you’ll see that most games end with the equivalent of a two rook checkmate. It is more likely to be a rook and queen checkmate, and is sometimes a two queen checkmate.

You’ll also see a few games finishing early on with a variation of Scholar’s Mate: a quick checkmate on f7/f2.

At this level children will try to remember something they’ve been taught or seen before, but they won’t be able to work anything out for themselves. So if they don’t see a familiar checkmate on the horizon they will just play random moves, hoping that it will be checkmate.

If we want to help children become good at spotting checkmates we need to do two things. We need to get them to remember the basic patterns, and we need to teach them how to think about a position and work out for themselves whether or not a move is checkmate.

Checkmates for Heroes starts by looking at the familiar two rook checkmate, and extends the idea to look at other checkmates on the edge of the board: the almost equally familiar back rank mate along with positions where one or two possible escape squares are controlled by enemy pieces. These ideas are reinforced by several pages of puzzles on this theme.

Then we look at Scholar’s Mate (there will be more about this in Chess Openings for Heroes) and the general concept of mates with the queen next to the king, sometimes known as Support of Helper Mates. We see how the castled king can often be mated in this way on h7/h2 or g7/g2. This idea is again reinforced by some pages of puzzles.

We also look at two types of checkmate which are harder to spot. We consider the pin mate, where it looks at first as if it’s not mate, but the enemy piece that might have been able to block or capture cannot do so because it’s pinned against the king. Then we consider the discovered check, where another piece moves out of the way to open up a checkmate by a queen, rook or bishop, along with its close relation, the double mate, where two pieces check the enemy king simultaneously.

Next, readers will learn the technique for finding mates in one if you don’t immediately see something you recognise. You have to look at the board and ask a series of questions to identify whether or not the position is checkmate, but this doesn’t come naturally to most young children. To make it easy we start by giving a clue as to which piece is used to get checkmate. As the queen is the most likely piece to give checkmate we have some pages of queen checkmates. Then we do the same thing with the rook.

Once they are confident about working out whether or not a move is mate rather than just making random guesses it’s time to solve some mate in one puzzles where the piece and type of mate are not specified. This is an important skill so there will be several pages of these puzzles.

Now we move on to positions where you have to find more than one way to mate on the move. You might think that one is enough, which is true in a game, but there are two points to this. Firstly, this is a good way of learning more checkmate patterns, and secondly this sort of puzzle trains skills such as perseverance and attention to detail, which are very important if you want to become a good player. We start with positions where you are told how many mates there are, before tackling similar positions where you have to work out for yourself the number of solutions.

Once you’re really good at spotting mates in one you’re ready to learn the most important skill in chess, the ability to think ahead. You’ll then apply this to solving mates in 2 (and more) moves.

At this level, children, if they think ahead at all, will either think “I go there, then I go there, then I go there” or “I go there, then I hope you’ll go there when I’ll be able to go there”. The one single skill which will turn you into a real tournament player is the ability to think “I go there, then if you go there I’ll go there, or if you go there, I’ll go there”. This does not come naturally to most young children. If you ask them what they think their opponent will do next they tend to shrug their shoulders and wonder why you asked such a strange question. How could they possibly know what their opponent’s next move will be? Positions where your opponent has little choice (because they’re in check or because they have few pieces left) are good places to start teaching this skill. We look at how to calculate mates in two moves, and introduce the idea of the sacrifice, where we deliberately give up a piece (sometimes even a queen) because we’ve seen that we can force checkmate. Children often learn the word ‘sacrifice’ before they realise you can look ahead in this way, and think that it applies to any move that loses material, using it as a synonym for ‘blunder’.

Then children have to solve some mate in two (or more) puzzles. I haven’t yet written this part of the book. Perhaps we’ll start with puzzles with some sort of clue.

There might also – and I haven’t yet decided how to do this – be some puzzles where you have to defend against a threatened checkmate. Defensive puzzles are important: I see that Susan Polgar has recently written a book for less experienced players devoted solely to this subject.

A quick note on the source of most of the material for this book: I was originally planning to use the RJCC database but discovered that I’d get a better selection of positions just by taking random games from commercially available databases. Almost any game, no matter how simple, will offer the opportunity for good quiz questions at this level.

Richard James

The Game Gangster Style

We’re going to take a break from tactics to look at one of the many places I teach chess but will return to our tactical studies next week. Teaching chess to children is only part of my chess teaching career. I teach teenagers, adults, coach chess teams and teach chess to extremely hardened criminals, both young and old. Many of my incarcerated students are members of violent street gangs. I put my personal feeling about people who commit crimes aside when I teach the game of chess to these men. My job is not to pass moral judgment on these students but to teach them how to make better life decisions through chess. Imagine being in a room with four to six men, some of whom have committed acts of terrible violence, with the guards standing outside the classroom, close but not close enough to save my life if need be. Surprisingly, I am comfortable there because these men know I’m there for them, working pro bono as their lawyers would say. I don’t charge for my services when working in the jails. I work without pay because if I can get just one of these men to make better life decisions and not end up back in jail, I’ve succeeded and that’s reward enough! When I explain the game of chess, I do so in their terms, terms they can relate too. They don’t need another smart guy in a suit and tie using large words that they don’t understand. They need to hear it in the language of the streets, gang-speak. Here’s how I explain the game of chess:

“The streets are owned by those who take them. Gangs own the streets and the more streets you own, the more power you have. When one gang wants to increase its power they take control of streets belonging to another gang. Of course, the gang losing their hard fought for streets are not going to give them up without a fight. The gang trying to expand their territory sometimes decide to take out the other gang’s leader, their King. Chess is about taking out the other gang’s King, plain and simple. However, you have to play it smart because you only have so many soldiers in your army. Lose those soldiers and you’ve got no one to fight for you and worse yet, no one to protect you. While you might think yourself strong and tough, one man can’t hold back an army.”

When I introduce each player’s army, I do so using street hierarchy, the pecking order within the chain of command. I also introduce them to the word hierarchy, pointing out that you get a lot farther in life when you sound smart because in the end words hold more power than fists. Here’s my introduction of each player’s army:

“In the game of chess, both players start with an equal number of gang members. In other words, you start the fight with the same number of soldiers and firepower. This means you both enter the war with no real advantage.” At this point, someone will yell out “well then, how the #%$# am I going to win?” This is a great question since most of these guys win street wars by going into the fight with a superior force or firepower. It brings up an important point: All things being equal, you win by being smart, knowing where and when to fight your battles, not just jumping in with all guns blazing. We talk about a few historical battles in which the side that one was greatly outnumbered. How did they do it, my students want to know. They become engaged very quickly, often thinking they can use this information on the hard and unforgiving streets. I make a point to remind them that our goal, via chess, is to make better life decisions or life choices and it was bad decision making that landed them behind bars. Now we meet the gang:

“You are the Kingpin and with that title comes power and respect. However, being the Kingpin also means that other Kingpins are out to get you any chance they have. You’re worth more dead than alive to your enemies. This means you have to have protection for if the King falls, so does his empire. On the flip-side, you’re trying to topple your sworn enemy’s empire so your gang needs to divide it’s activities between protecting you and taking down your rival Kingpin! You life as Kingpin is one of constant offense and defense, always carefully balancing the two.”

We then meet the gang or army, starting with the Corner Boys. “The Corner Boy is a loyal soldier who dreams of being the Kingpin’s top lieutenant on day. It’s an entry level position which means he has to do all the dirty work, such as being the first into battle. In chess, we call this soldier the pawn. The pawn is first into the fight and, if he can reach the other side of the board, he is promoted. He’s no coward which is why he can only move forward. However, don’t think that just because you have eight pawns at the games start you can carelessly throw you foot soldiers, the pawns, into the meat grinder of battle. You’re going to need these troops until the bitter end. Those Kingpins who keep more Corner Boys around when the battle winds down will stand a better chance of winning. Remember, every pawn that can cross the board and reach it’s end can promote to the deadliest of assassins, the Queen. We’ll get to her later.”

We talk about a bit about war and how armies work together to win the battle. It’s important to understand that you have to use your army in a coordinated fashion.

“Next we meet the up and comers who are a few rungs up the chain of command ladder. These soldiers, the Knights and Bishops, have their own individual fighting skills and follow closely behind the Corner Boys or pawns. They don’t stand around waiting for the fight to come to them. They get into the fight early on during the opening but pick where they fight very carefully. Their power is strongest when they’re in the thick of the fight, the middle of the board. Bishops are soldiers armed with a sniper rifle, meaning they can attack and do great damage from long distances. When you can’t get a clear shot with your snipers, you bring in the Knights who, because of their ability to jump over other pieces and pawns, can drop into an attack like a special forces soldier parachutes into battle behind enemy lines. We call this special group, the minor pieces and like the army’s special forces, you have a limited number of these highly trained fighters. Use them wisely because they rule the beginning of any fight on the chessboard. Now we’ll look at the game’s big guns, the major pieces the Rooks and the Queen.”

I usually give a pop quiz regarding the pawn, Bishops and Knights as well as the chessboard itself. You’d be surprised at how well my students retain the information I’ve presented them thus far. Their strong retention might come as a surprise though. Most of these students, no matter how bad their criminal activities have been, are not stupid and when you present the game in terms of the street, they get it. I continue:

“Rooks are seasoned warriors. They’ve survived as long as they have because they know just when to come into the fight. They know better than to jump into the fight as soon as it starts. They let the youngsters, the pawns, Knights and Bishops, tear into the enemy and wear them down. The Rooks are like powerful cannons that mow down everything in a straight line. They can blast across the ranks and files of the board so standing in their way can be a deadly affair. They like to have a clear shot, especially at the enemy King so give them a clear line of sight. Remember though, you have to bring your army into battle carefully. The pawns start things off, followed by the Knights and Bishops. Once this part of your army gains control of the board’s center, then you can bring the heavy hitters into the mix. However, you don’t want to throw your Rooks directly into the fight but instead, use them for holding down lines of attack, the ranks and files.”

I introduce the Queen next. In the male dominated culture of gangs, woman are not considered to be equals. However, as I explain, “ The Queen is the deadliest of killers, combining the powers of the Bishop and Rook. She’s the toughest member of the gang. She can destroy all who walk across her path. Yet as powerful as she is, you must take care with her not because she’s a lady but because as dangerous as she is, she will be mercilessly hunted down if she enters the fight too soon. Her power is so strong that she can make a threat and the enemy will stand up and take notice. The queen is often the assassin that goes after the enemy King. However, she often only gets one chance so use her powers wisely.”

That is how I get tough guys interesting in chess. The game not only helps them with making better life decisions but I’ve seen rival gang members form friendships through the game. Speaking of games, here’s one to enjoy until next week when we resume our tactical studies. Enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

Karpov on the Minority Attack

Anatoly Karpov was one of the all time greats. He was known especially for his positional play and accuracy in the endgame. One of the positional techniques he was particularly good at was the minority attack. He has several sparkling victories in which the minority attack was a featured contributor.

In this first example, Karpov saddles his opponent with the characteristic weak pawn. However, in this case, he doesn’t actually win the pawn. However, it’s presence is a constant reminder of the technical flaw in Black’s position, and Karpov engages in an endgame technical melee which ends when his own passed pawn threatens to promote.

In the following game, Karpov shows a couple common themes within the minority attack. First, he trades off his opponent’s light-square bishop. This bishop often defends the weak c-pawn. Second, Karpov brings his queen’s knight to a4, where it can often find a home on the c5 square. In this case, it gets traded off quickly, but Black subsequently loses the weak c-pawn and the game.

In our final example, Karpov shows that the weak pawn doesn’t have to be the c-pawn, as his opponent’s chooses to leave the a-pawn by exchanging first with his c-pawn during the classic minority attack’s b4-b5 advance. Karpov then gives us a master class on the proper use of the rooks in the endgame. Enjoy this video with my commentary on this beautiful game.

Anatoly Karpov is a master at many aspects of chess. However, his skill in executing the minority attack in all of its nuances have given us many masterpieces to study to improve this particular positional plan.

I hope to have given you a good start, but continued study of Karpov’s games will be rewarded both aesthetically and with a better understanding of the minority attack and positional play in general.

Bryan Castro