Author Archives: Richard James

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 ( or 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 ( 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.

Chess Homework

The week before last, a studious new member of Richmond Junior Club asked if I could demonstrate some Evans Gambit games. So last week I showed a couple of games from Move Two! (which, incidentally, is just being republished with minor updates) to the lower half of the club, most of whom are among the stronger players in their primary school.

One of the games reached this position, where I asked the class for White’s next move.

None of the group had any idea at all how to go about solving this, so they just shouted out random moves. Occasionally someone would suggest the correct answer, but immediately retract his suggestion thinking it was a blunder. Even telling them it was mate in 2 didn’t help very much and it was some time before someone found the right answer for the right reason.

Next time I have a position like this I’ll probably get someone up to the demo board to work through their answer and demonstrate to them how to go about solving tactical puzzles.

The boy who asked to see the Evans Gambit games carries a copy of Chess Openings for Kids by John Watson and Graham Burgess (I have reservations about this book) with him, but I suspect that, at his current level, he’d be better off spending his time solving tactics puzzles than learning openings.

Quite frankly, there’s little or no point in standing in front of a board demonstrating a Morphy game, a Carlsen game or your own latest masterpiece, or in showing them the Fried Liver Attack or the Lucena Position, if your pupils don’t know how to look at the board or how to think ahead.

The idea that children serious about learning chess should spend 10 minutes or so each day solving tactical puzzles is absolutely standard across much of Europe, from the Steps Method in the Netherlands (which I’ll revisit in a later post) to any number of tactics based courses from Russia.

I have in front of me at the moment 7-year-old Ben from Baku’s chess homework for the week.

He has four pages, each with four composed mate in 2 puzzles. Here’s an example:

Not easy for a seven year old, I think you’ll agree, and as Ben’s parents are not themselves chess players they won’t be able to help very much. But then he’s been solving puzzles (starting with simple one-movers) regularly for two years so it won’t be too hard for him.

When he’s finished that there are two more pages to solve, from a different book, each containing six ‘find the winning move’ puzzles, this time from games rather than composed. I found these a lot easier than the composed problems.

From my experience, very few children here in England do very much of this sort of work at all apart from an occasional photocopied worksheet at the chess club. This, I believe, is why we’re now lagging behind many countries in terms of strength in depth in junior chess.

If you want to use chess as a learning tool in the classroom, that’s fine. If you want to run an after-school chess club to entertain children who are waiting to be picked up from school that’s also fine. But if you want to produce a significant number of good players who take a long term interest in chess you need to get the message across that, especially if children start young, unless they are solving puzzles on a daily basis they will be unlikely to make much progress.

Sadly, I haven’t yet been able to get anyone high up in English chess to listen to me.

(Answers to puzzles: (a) 1. Qf7+! Nxf7 2. Ne6# (b) 1. Bc7! threatening Bg8#, 1.. Rxa1+ 2. Bb1#, 1.. Rxh8 2. Kf2#, 1.. Ra6 2.Bg6#, 1.. Ra5 2. Bf5#, 1.. Ra4 2. Be4#, 1.. Ra2 2. Bc2# . Other bishop moves along the same diagonal fail to Ra7.)

Richard James


The Smartest Kids

In her new book The Smartest Kids in the World (Simon & Schuster 2013), journalist Amanda Ripley, trying to find out why the US lags behind other countries in international education statistics, follows three American students who spend a year at school abroad, in Finland and South Korea, two countries with very different education systems but which both feature regularly at or near the top of international league tables, and in Poland, a country with a rapidly improving education system.

There’s nothing directly about chess in the book, but perhaps there are lessons to be learnt from Ripley’s conclusions.

The first point she makes is that the countries that are most successful are those which teach critical thinking in maths, science and reading. Their students were learning to solve problems rather than just remember facts. I think there are several lessons we as chess teachers can learn from this. Firstly, we should teach chess in terms of solving puzzles rather than just memorising openings, traps, patterns or procedures. Memorisation is important and can be useful but it’s only part of learning chess. Using critical thinking as well, children learn to ask questions about the possible advantages and disadvantages of each move we consider rather than just playing the first move that comes to mind. If we’re using this sort of chess instruction we can then, if we choose, promote chess as a means of teaching critical thinking.

The next point is that countries with a successful education system see teaching as a valued profession. Teachers have to be highly qualified, not only in their subject, but in the whole process of teaching. I made the point two weeks ago that chess courses for children should be written by a combination of players, teachers and psychologists. Many books which are marketed as being suitable for children are actually adult books with added cartoons, which do not take into account the fact that young children do not learn and process information in the same way as adults. These books are usually written by strong players with little or no experience of teaching beginners. Again, if you’re a strong player, a nice person and good with children, the members of your after-school chess clubs will have a good time, but unless their parents are exceptionally supportive they won’t become good players, and much of what you teach them may well be counter-productive because they’ll just remember things out of context.

Ripley also proposes that the purpose of schools should be for education: sports and other extracurricular activities should take place outside school, in clubs or community centres, and shouldn’t be run by schoolteachers. Many American schools, she suggests, are more interested in success on the sports field than in academic rigour and success. Kathryn Asbury and Robert Plomin, in G is for Genes, the book I considered last week, put forward a different model: of schools running extracurricular activites after hours.

The final point I’d like to consider is that of the role of parents in education. In the US, parents tended to support their children by joining the PTA and getting involved in the school’s extracurricular activities. Korean parents, on the other hand, were coaches: “…they spent less time attending school events and more time training their children at home: reading to them, quizzing them on their multiplication tables while they were cooking dinner, and pushing them to try harder.”

“This type of education”, Ripley adds, “was typical in much of Asia – and among Asian immigrant parents living in the United States”. It’s noticeable that a large number of the top young chess players in the US, and also in countries such as Canada and Australia, are Chinese, and here in the UK many of the top players are of Indian or Sri Lankan origin. A child who does no chess other than one game a week at primary school and possibly the occasional game at home against a parent with little knowledge of the game, will make little progress. Children of this age will be too young to teach themselves, so if we want to produce young players who are successful and take a lasting interest in the game we have to find a way of involving parents in the learning process.

I’ll write a lot more about these issues in future posts. I think they’re of vital importance in considering how we should teach and promote chess. For now, consider young Harmony Zhu, from Toronto, Canada. Last month she became the World Girls’ Under 8 Champion. Here’s a short game:

But chess is not Harmony’s only talent. She also plays the piano.

Like this.

I’ll just leave you with one more thought. Do you consider improving children’s IQ, maths and reading scores the only purpose of education? Or even the most important purpose of education?

Richard James


Gene Genius

I’ve just been reading a new book about how genes influence children’s academic performance. G is for Genes (Wiley Blackwell) is written by Kathryn Asbury, a lecturer in educational psychology and Robert Plomin, a behavioural geneticist, and is based on a long-running study of both identical and non-identical twins. This controversial volume provides a lot of food for thought for anyone involved in any aspect of education.

Asbury and Plomin offer a very different view of human potential to that put forward by those who claim that anyone (barring physical limitations) can achieve mastery in a specific field with 10,000 hours deep practice.

Their view is that different people have different abilities based on their genetic makeup, and that those abilities follow the normal distribution, although what they achieve is based partly on external factors. The first half of the book outlines the results of their research, while the second half outlines their proposals for how the education system could be reformed.

Based on their researches, they believe that learning should be personalised. The national curriculum should only cover the basic skills of reading, writing, numeracy and ICT. Beyond that, children of secondary school age should be able to choose what they study. The larger schools are, the more choice their pupils will have. “For instance, a child with a developing talent or interest in music, game design, sport, history, astronomy, or art should be able to use some of the school day to develop their interest or talent further, and should be able to access resources and (ideally) a teacher who can help them to develop their particular interests and talents…” No doubt the authors would be happy to include chess in their list. Genetics could be used to identify children who might have a talent or interest in chess.

Asbury and Plomin also propose that extracurricular activities should take place on school sites so that all parents have easy access to high quality private lessons in music, sport, arts, and, we might add, chess. Vouchers would be available for less affluent families so that all children will have the opportunity to achieve their potential in these fields.

Another recommendation is that all schools should provide a weekly Thinking Skills session for every child designed to boost their IQ. This will involve Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning puzzles and philosophy exercises. No doubt you could also include some activities based on chess as well if you wanted to.

So there you have it. In Asbury and Plomin’s school of the future genetic profiling will be used to identify children’s strengths and weaknesses. Chess will be available as an on-site extracurricular activity and perhaps also on the curriculum for children who are interested, and schools will also be able to identify children who are likely to be good at the game. Chess could also be used in a non-competitive way as part of a Thinking Skills course in the classroom.

I like a lot of their ideas, but there are one or two things I’m slightly uneasy about. What do you think? Better still, go away and read the whole book for yourself first.

Next week I’ll look at another recent book on education which makes some very different proposals.

Richard James


Three Wise Men

I’m writing these lines on 6th January, the feast of Epiphany in the Christian Church, where believers celebrate the visit of the Magi, the Wise Men, to the infant Jesus.

One of the most interesting suggestions made at the recent Chess and Education Conference was that chess courses for young children should be written by a combination of chess players, teachers and psychologists. Three (at least) wise people. You need chess players to ensure the chess content is both useful and accurate. You need teachers, who will also need to have an interest in chess, who will understand what happens in classrooms, which types of activity will work and how they will work, how lessons should be paced, how much a class will get through in one lesson. You also need educational psychologists, preferably also with an interest in chess, who understand children’s cognitive development, who will know what you can expect children to understand at any particular age, and how children process information.

All this, at least in an ideal world, makes perfect sense to me, especially if you want a lot of children to benefit from chess. You can be an excellent chess player, a really nice person, brilliant with children, but none of this makes you a good chess teacher. It’s quite possible that if you stand in front of a class demonstrating a grandmaster game, one or two will understand it and become good players, and you’ll believe you’re a good teacher. Well, if all you want to do is produce prodigies no doubt you are, but the other children, while perhaps enjoying the lesson will learn little or nothing from it.

Even the Dutch ‘Steps Method’ goes slowly, with children solving puzzles of gradually increasing difficulty, with every child actively involved rather than watching a lesson on the demo board.

I wrote last week about the need for formal structured chess education. The course should be written not just by chess players but by experienced primary school teachers who understand how children think, learn and process information.

Richard James


Black Belt

Regular readers will know my views: that here in the UK we teach chess too quickly, start children playing complete games too soon and put children into highly competitive environments before they are ready in terms of either chess or emotional development.

Yes, I’m passionate about promoting chess for children both as a learning tool and as a great game which they can play, if they choose, for the rest of their lives. I’m much less passionate about promoting chess as a fun activity suitable for a child-minding service for kids waiting for their parents to pick them up from primary school.

Let’s look at a few suggestions about how we can improve the service we provide for children learning chess.

Many young children, especially boys, take an interest in Martial Arts such as Judo and Karate. They will be very familiar with the ‘belt’ system as a way of measuring progress. Likewise, children who are serious about their music lessons will strive to reach the next grade.

So let’s consider introducing a similar system for chess. Different coloured badges, medals, certificates, belts, t-shirts, baseball caps or whatever. Let’s not use words like ‘grade’ and ‘grading’ because this will cause confusion, at least in the UK. We’d probably need to use a word like ‘level’ instead. I appreciate that this may not be appropriate if you’re putting chess on the curriculum as a learning tool, but I would recommend it for use within school or community chess clubs.

You might, I guess, experience a short-term decline in your club membership as not all children will want to take the game this seriously, but when children start showing their badges or whatever to their friends they will want to join in.

You’d need, first of all, a step by step structured chess course, something I keep on banging on about. You’d aim for each level to be achievable by the average student in, say, three to six months. Not too quick and easy to be meaningless, but close enough for children to maintain interest. There would be a network of local centres where the tests could be taken, and a network of teachers qualified to administer the tests. The format of each grading would include a written test comprising a variety of puzzles and a short session with an examiner which might include, for example, demonstrating the en passant capture or how to mate with king and queen. So the first grades will just be about learning the moves and values of the pieces and the basic concepts of attack and defence. You’ll then move onto check and checkmate, and the other rules and concepts you need to know in order to be successful in competitive chess.

Just as you need to pass a test to drive a car, I believe children should also pass a test before they play in a serious chess tournament. Junior tournaments would require entrants to have reached a certain level, and, along with tournaments restricted by age you’ll have events with sections restricted by level so that children will avoid having to play those who are too strong or too weak to give them a good game. Children who are less attracted to the competitive side of chess will also be able to continue their interest by increasing their skill at solving tactical puzzles.

Of course there are problems. You or I could run our own internal system but it really wouldn’t mean very much. We’ll also get lots of complaints from parents saying that chess won’t be fun if children are forced to take it seriously. (They’re entitled to their opinion, but, to my mind, they might just as well sign their children up for a Top Trumps club.) The system has to be national, introduced and run by your national chess federation. It also has to be compulsory in order to be valued.

Just think for a moment who will benefit from this.

Children, at least those who are serious about chess, will benefit by receiving tangible rewards for making progress at chess. There’s no reason why schools could not encourage informal play for those who are not so serious: some of them might be encouraged to take chess seriously when they decide they’re ready for the challenge.

Parents will benefit: they will have access to the syllabus and be aware of what their children need to learn and how to help them.

Chess teachers will benefit: they will be able to work from a syllabus, and will be teaching children who are more serious about chess rather than providing a child-minding service. They may find there is more demand for private tuition, and may be able to charge more because parents will want their children to reach the next level.

Adult chess clubs and tournament organisers will benefit because more children will take chess seriously and retain their interest longer.

Is there anyone out there who is prepared to listen?

Richard James


Move Two! Chapter 16

My last post for 2013 concludes the exploration of my book Move Two!, a book I wrote in the 1990s for children who have learnt the basics and are ambitious to move into competitive chess.

The book comprises 16 chapters, one for every piece you start with, alternating openings, tactics and endings. Most chapters also include a quiz. The second half of each chapter has an Activities section followed by Masters of the Universe, a history of international chess based on the world champions and their games. It’s currently available for free download (there are a few mistakes and typos in this version) via the link above.

The openings looked at in detail in this book are those starting 1. e4 e5. I encourage children to understand these openings before moving onto anything else because they are based more on tactics than strategy. The last chapter introduces the reader to some more gambit openings (the Danish Gambit was dealt with in an earlier chapter).

Most of the chapter is taken up by the King’s Gambit: there are several White wins which demonstrate the attacking ideas of this opening. We then look at its close relation, the Vienna Game (little played at this level, but a good practical choice as after 1. e4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. f4, Black’s best reply, 3.. d5, is not so easy to find, and taking the pawn, which is fine in the King’s Gambit, is just bad after 4. e5). Our final gambit is the Evans Gambit, another opening which will score well at this level against unprepared opponents.

The final quiz in the book presents ten combinations arising from games played with the King’s Gambit and Evans Gambit. Many readers will recognize the last two as being from Anderssen’s Immortal and Evergreen Games.

The last Activities section of the book features two popular chess variants. Exchange (Bughouse) Chess is a great game to play with your friends between rounds of a tournament and always very popular, especially with young players. We didn’t encourage it at Richmond Juniors apart from the last meeting of each term, which was devoted to chess variants, because it tends to be noisy and it takes time to sort out all the pieces after the game.

Another of our favourite variants at Richmond Juniors was Kriegspiel, the other game featured in this section. Again great fun both for players and spectators, but not really suitable for beginners.

The last episode of Masters of the Universe introduced the reader to some of the leading teens and pre-teens at the time of writing. The games come from Peter Leko and Richmond Junior Club member Luke McShane, who won the World Under 10 Championship at the age of 8 in 1992.

So, what next? There was originally going to be a Move Three! as well, but as I no longer had a publisher it was never written. It probably also needed a stronger player than me to co-author it.

Maybe one day. Meanwhile there’s a lot happening in my life and a lot more to discuss next year, not least feedback from the Chess and Education conference.

Best wishes for 2014 to all my readers, and do stay tuned.

Richard James


Move Two! Chapter 15

The presentations from the Chess and Education conference at Olympia are gradually appearing on the conference website. As I write this (Monday afternoon) there are as yet only two papers there, so I’ll return to this in the new year and conclude 2013 by taking you to the end of Move Two!.

Chapter 15 of 16 is our final endgame chapter, looking at endings without pawns. We assume our readers know the basic queen and rook mates before starting the book. (They were covered in the original Move One! but are not dealt with in, for example, Chess for Kids.) I’ve never actually had any of these endings myself but, with the increase in incremental timings, it’s more and more important that serious players know how to win these positions.

We start with a demonstration of how to mate with two bishops. Not so hard for you, maybe, but it can be tricky for players at this level. You need your king a knight’s move away from the corner, you have to watch out for stalemates and understand about making a waiting move to get the timing right.

Bishop and knight against king is a lot harder. If I had it in a serious game I’m afraid I wouldn’t be comfortable about winning it myself. I did have it once in a social game about 35 years ago, but it was closing time so the game didn’t reach a conclusion. Rather than demonstrating the complete procedure we start with the king in the wrong corner (with a white squared bishop we can only force mate on a white corner) and explain how to force the enemy king to go where we want him.

We then take a quick look at Queen against Rook, which can be very difficult to win. Much of this is beyond the scope of the book, but we consider a position where the black king and rook are close together and show wins (forks, pins or mates) against different defences.

The section finishes with a quick guide to the likely results in other pawnless endings. Some of this (rook and bishop v rook, for example) would probably need expanding in a future edition.

A mini quiz of five questions tests the reader’s knowledge of endings without pawns, and the Activities section invites the reader to try out some more gambits which will be considered in the final chapter of the book.

Masters of the Universe takes a look at the chess scene in the mid 1990s. We quote Kasparov’s prediction that Vladimir Kramnik would eventually beat him and take the world title. How right he was. It’s easy to forget that Kramnik started out as a fearsome tactician.

Finally we look at the story of the Polgar sisters, and demonstrate a game played by Judit at the age of only seven.

Richard James


Move Two! Chapter 14

I spent last weekend at the Chess and Education conference at Olympia, held in conjunction with the London Chess Classic. A fascinating and stimulating event which provided much food for thought. When I’ve had time to digest everything I’ll have much to say about this, but in the meantime, back to Move Two!.

Chapter 14 reverts to tactics and looks at some more complicated combinations. More complicated either because there are more options to consider or because you have to look further ahead. The reader is also introduced to some of the most famous combinations in chess history. You’ve probably seen them before, but the chess neophyte probably won’t have done so.

Black to play: Bernstein-Capablanca from 1914 where White has a lot of plausible but unsuccessful defences after 1..Qb2.

Almost certainly a sham, possibly based on analysis between Carlos Torre and his sponsor, EZ Adams, rather than a genuine game between Adams (a weak player) and Torre. More back rank mate tactics, this time for White, after 1.Qg4.

The famous ‘gold coins’ game between Levitsky and Marshall where Black won with the spectacular 1..Qg3. Overrated, in the opinion of many (including me) as the idea was not original and Black has many other winning moves. (My analysis here is not very good. If after, say, 1..Qa3, White threatens mate with 2.Rc7, Black has 2..Ne2+ 3.Kh1 Rxh2+ 4.Kxh2 Qd6+ picking up the rook.) Nevertheless, knowing these classics is, I believe, an essential part of anyone’s chess education.

(You might also argue that using classics like this is a lazy way to write a book. I wouldn’t disagree, but would reply that I’ve never been paid for writing it, and, if I was writing an introduction to tactics now I’d approach it in a very different way.)

Those who are (like me) interested in historical accuracy might like to research the origins of the Adams-Torre game and the gold coins story in, or example, Edward Winter’s Chess Notes.

After a few more examples, the student gets the chance to solve some harder puzzles in a ten question quiz. Clues are provided in the form of descriptions of the tactics involved.

Masters of the Universe looks at the English Chess Explosion in the 1980s and moving into the 1990s, featuring England’s two leading players of the time, Nigel Short and Michael Adams.

In each case there is a brief biography and a game from early in their career.

Nigel at the age of 14: (I failed to mention that that 20.Nf5 was a more efficient win)

Micky at the age of only 10:

Richard James


Use Your Eyes

A common mistake made at lower levels is just to look at the last move, not the whole board. Players at this level can play reasonably well in simple positions, but in more complex situations they will get confused and sometimes a position will be reached where both players have several pieces en prise.

Witness this game, played between two younger, less experienced players. White goes to a school which is very keen on chess. The head teacher is a 2200 strength player and children get the chance to play regularly during the week, as well as attending two chess clubs run by very strong players (a GM and a strong FM). Black goes to a school with a weekly chess club run by two teachers and a chess coach (me) but the children have no other opportunity to play at school.

We join the game after Black’s 10th move: Ng4. This move threatens and traps the bishop on h6. White reacts by creating a bigger threat:

11. d6

Black looks at the pawn and decides to take it, rather than looking at the board and finding Nxh6.

11.. cxd6

White carries out his threat:

12. Bxf7+ (Nxf7 was better but at this level it’s obvious to go for the fork) Kh8

White looks at Black’s last move, observes that the king doesn’t threaten anything, and, having forgotten that his last move was a fork, moves his queen to what he hopes will be a better square.

13. Qc1

Black notices the attack on his rook, so moves it.

13.. Re7

White sees no threat so attacks the rook again. He doesn’t stop to ask himself “If I go there, what will he do next?” or look at the whole board, so is unaware that he is allowing a Big Fork.

14. Nd5

Black looks at this move, sees his rook is attacked, so moves it to the only safe square.

14.. Rd7

You might expect White to attack the rook again with Be6, but instead he spots that he can play a pawn fork (in fact Ne6 is the winning move here).

15. c3

Now Black is forced to consider his knight on d4 and notices that he can fork the white king and queen.

15.. Ne2+ 16. Kh1 Nxc1

You might expect White to capture the knight here, but you’d be wrong. Perhaps thinking about knight forks himself, or perhaps wanting to attack a stronger piece, he chooses an alternative.

17. Be6

Black, confused by the number of pieces en prise, decides to defend the rook again, just to be safe. Both players have completely forgotten, if they were ever aware, of the possibility of Nxh6.

17.. Nf6 18. Bxd7

In this sort of position, players at this level will usually capture with the least valuable piece ‘because it’s safer’ – they might possibly have failed to notice another enemy piece controlling that square. And so, not asking the question “If I do this, what will he do next?”, Black plays..

18.. Nxd7

White, having been reminded about knight forks by his opponent, seizes his chance.

19. Nf7+ Kh8 20. Nxd8

Now White’s threatening mate in 2 and Black, with his pieces all offside, has no way of stopping it (Kh8 is met by Ne7 followed by Nf7#). At this level, though, it’s not surprising White misses it.

20.. Nc5

Quite possibly not noticing that he has two pieces en prise. White notices that he can capture a piece, but not that he has mate in 2.

21. Raxc1

Black spots that he can capture a pawn.

21.. Nxd3

White sees his rook is under attack and moves it to threaten the knight.

22. Rcd1

Black sees that he can capture an undefended pawn with his threatened knight.

22.. Nxb2

White again moves his threatened rook to hit the knight.

23. Rb1

At this point Black notices that he has two pieces en prise and plays..

23.. a5 24. Rxb2 Bc5

Now, with nothing else happening on the queen side, White turns his attention to the other end of the board and decides to throw in a check.

25. Nf6+ Kh8

White plays another check and, much to his surprise, finds that he’s delivered a beautiful minor piece checkmate.

26. Nf7#

I should add that I went through the whole game with White, and part of the game with Black, immediately after it was played, so have some idea what they were both thinking about.

At this level, knowing openings (beyond basic principles) and endings doesn’t matter much. Children need to learn looking and thinking skills first.

Look at the whole board, not just the last move. Once you’ve learnt how to do this, train yourself to ask the question “If I play that move, what will my opponent do next?” every move. Or, to put it another way, look for every check, capture and threat for both players.

The complete game:

Richard James


Move Two! Chapter 13

It’s been a long time, so I really ought to return to my series on Move Two!, a ‘second chess book’ for children which was originally written in 1992, with an updated and corrected edition in 1997.

At present it’s available for free download (there are some mistakes and typos, and it needs a lot more updating) but I hope at some point to do a complete rewrite.

Chapter 13 features what used to be our favourite opening in the Richmond Junior Chess Club morning group: the Danish Gambit. This starts 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Bc4 cxb2 5.Bxb2. Of course Black has ways to avoid this (3.. d5, for example, is fine for Black), but this position is great for young players. I’m a big believer in the idea that children should learn by playing tactical openings before being introduced to more subtle positional play. We start by asking our students to consider this position and ask whether they’d prefer to play White or Black. They will point out the first player’s raking bishops and lead in development and choose to lead the White army. Yes, I admit. White has a lot of advantages. But what advantages does Black have? They look at me blankly. Eventually I ask them to count the pawns and they tell me that Black is two pawns up. I explain that if Black manages to trade off all the pieces he’ll be able to win the ending with his two extra pawns. This will be easily comprehensible to children who are familiar with the SFW (Superior Force (usually) Wins) principle and who have studied pawn endings. This position is a great example of conflicting advantages. White has an advantage in position. Black has an advantage in material. White is trying to attack the black king. He has to act fast, before his adversary has the opportunity to complete his development. Black, meanwhile, has to get his pieces out fast and try to exchange off to reach an ending. Both players need to stick to their plan while calculating accurately. There’s no better opening for teaching attacking and defensive skills in open positions.

We present a short selection of quick white wins in the Danish Gambit, which can be used, like all games in the book, for a ‘find the next move’ lesson suitable either for classes or individuals. We also demonstrate how Black can, if he chooses, defuse the gambit by playing 4..d5.

The Danish Gambit can often lead to quick mating attacks, so the quiz in this chapter features ten more games starting with this and other similar openings in which White forces checkmate. As I wrote last week, checkmate training should be a vital part of every child’s chess education.

The Activities section features a second selection of chess variants: Snooker Chess (queens and bishops can bounce off the side), Cylinder Chess (imagine the board is a cylinder with the a- and h-files connected), Pocket Knight Chess (the players start with an extra knight which they can place on the board instead of making a move) and, not strictly speaking a variant, Blindfold Chess.

Masters of the Universe, the last section of each chapter, you may recall, follows the history of World Championship chess. The previous chapter brought us up to date as of the time of writing with an introduction to Garry Kasparov. Chapter 13 offers a brief history of the Women’s World Championship, starting with Vera Menchik, the first woman to make her mark in international chess, and taking us up to Xie Jun and Zsuzsa (Susan) Polgar in the 1990s.

Here are the two featured games.

Richard James