A Question of Thought

The BBC television quiz A Question of Sport includes a round in which the panellists are shown a clip from a sporting event and are invited to guess what happened next.

Here’s one for you: from a game played recently at Richmond Junior Chess Club. It’s Black’s move.

You probably guessed correctly: Black played Qxf3, losing his queen, and eventually the game, to a knight fork.

There’s a level at which children have achieved a basic competence. They learn to look for their opponent’s threats and to check that they’re not moving their piece to an unsafe square. At this level it’s all too easy to make a mistake of this nature. There are several ways in which this might happen. Moving a key defender. Moving a pinned piece. Blocking a line of defence. Or, in this case, moving into a fork. It’s fatally easy for Black (who is a queen for a knight ahead after his opponent overlooked a simple threat) to see the pawn on f3, check that it’s not defended, and capture it without further thought.

The extra step children have to learn to take is to ask themselves “If I play that move, what will my opponent do next?”, or, to put it another way, they have to learn to look ahead. Once they can do that they’re on their way to becoming real chess players.

The same small batch of games included two other similar examples.

In this position, White, a pawn up, continued with 23. f4 exf4, and, without thinking any further, played the automatic recapture 24. Rxf4, resigning after the subsequent knight fork. Again, at this level it’s so easy to do this, to assume a move is safe because your piece is immune from immediate capture.

This was played on the same day as the previous example. The player of the black pieces was the same as well, but this time he met with a different fate.

Black has to decide where to move his queen. Without examining the consequences he moved to d6, again walking into a knight fork. You could also see this as Black only noticing one of his opponent’s two threats – another frequent type of mistake at this level.

So there you have it. If your chess students want to play competitively they have to learn to ask themselves the question “If I do that, what happens next?” before they make their move. It’s easy for many older learners to realise what they’re doing wrong and self-correct, but not so easy for younger learners, who will need help with this. Not so much a question of sport as a question of thought.

Richard James

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About Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard is currently the Curriculum Consultant for Chess in Schools and Communities (www.chessinschools.co.uk) as well as teaching chess in local schools and doing private tuition. He has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966 and currently has an ECF grade of 177.