Category Archives: Articles

Blunder Or Sense Of Danger

For us a mistake which turn the table or decides the game is called a blunder, but for kids it’s nothing special. I have seen lots of kids win games with a single piece against a huge army. The reason is that a sense the danger has not been cultivated. We normally teach kids to check the square twice before moving and check what the opponent’s last move threatened. Without experience kids can’t do this instinctively.

For example, in the following position you will often see kids play a bishop to f5 with Black or f4 with White:


I have tried to find the cause and came up with following conclusions:

1. We coaches are not focusing on that area as we believe that, some skills come only with time.
2. If I tell the parents of my private students that they are playing very few games, they are not particularly bothered. They are much more interested in the by products of chess training than the game itself. They believe that chess is a tool that will help their kids develop their minds so they ask kids to learn chess even if they’re not very interested.

As a coach we can’t do much about the second factor except increase playing time during the class. But we should try to work on the first factor, that with proper attention we can reduce the amount of time in acquiring a sense of danger.

Normally I prepare very simple diagrams to explain how piece moves, attack and capture. Now I am going to add some diagrams where kids have to mark where his or her piece is not safe. You can start with very few pieces and gradually make it more complicated, for example:


Once he or she is doing reasonably well we should focus on his or her real game and should compose new positions from them which can be presented in the next class.

Ashvin Chauhan

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Critical Objectivity: Part II

“Find Fault …
Judge with severity …
… readily.”

If you were with me last week, you will likely remember that the above is the phrase I suggested that every chess player should live by with regard to each game they play if they are serious about their chess and would like to improve. In our constant search to further our chess understanding and to be better exponents of the game, we carry out post-game analysis. This, in my opinion, comes in two parts and we apply the above phrase to both. The first part, is the so-called ‘post-mortem’ analysis, which is done straight after the game, and preferably with one’s opponent. This was covered in my blog last week, and I advise you to read that first if it’s a stranger to you. The link is shown below.

http://chessimprover.com/critical-objectivity-part-i/

This week, we deal with the other part of post-game analysis, namely: Home Analysis.

Home analysis is very different from the post-mortem. It is usually done alone and takes a lot longer to carry out. In Home Analysis, our purpose (some would say ‘duty’) is to scrutinise our game — not only the one’s we have completed, but also our game as a whole. In order to do this, we must be prepared to make some sacrifices. The first is time, for in order for home analysis to be effective, it can not (and should not … must not) be rushed. The second sacrifice must be our ego, for a chess player who is too proud to be bluntly honest with his or herself wont progress very much. Before problems can be worked on (and trust me, no matter how strong a player, ones game is full of problems) they must first be identified.

As daunting as this sounds, it actually should be welcomed. After all, it means that it is possible to get better. With some dedication and hard work, honesty, and a strong will –not to mention a love for the game of chess, which is most important– it is my strong belief that any chess player can improve in some way, shape, or form. When a player tells me that they think they can not improve and have reached their peak, I usually ask them if they analyse and am not surprised that most don’t.

“I don’t have time”,
“I can’t be bothered”,
“it’s boring”,
“that’s only for grandmasters”. I’ve heard most excuses and this is more often the cause of any lack of progress.

So, we have covered the ‘why’, let’s turn our attention to the ‘how’ …

There are no hard and fast rules with home analysis, just like there aren’t with the post-mortem, it varies from player to player, and the more that one carries it out, the more it will gel and one will discover what works and develop their own technique. I do have a few general points of advice, however:

- Be alone and quiet. If possible, be totally free from interruption and distraction.

- Be comfortable.

- Analyse over a 3D, physical board, on which you can move pieces, not with a chess engine. This way, you will learn more, you will retain more information, you will gain more pattern recognition, and you will recall it easier and more accurately in your future games. It goes without saying, that the chess engine, opening book, and database/tablebase have value and can help a lot, but I think they have a danger of being over-used to the detriment of the brain.

- Be thorough, don’t rush or leave anything out.

- Treat the whole exercise as middlegame. Speaking for myself, I found that my analysis improved and became much more productive once I discovered this. Even if you have got in to trouble in the opening or endgame, I urge you to try to resist the temptation to open your openings book or tablebase. You can do this later on, and target those areas of your game specifically and that is best all-round. The point of post-game analysis should be to dissect the game that we have played, and to therefore evaluate how we play. Accordingly, we focus on our strategic understanding, our positional judgement, our calculation of variations, our tactical vision, our sense of danger. These things are the bread and butter of the chess game.

- Be Honest … bluntly honest.

When analysing, play through the game, armed with your notes from the post-mortem conducted with your opponent. These will already have given you some things to look at more closely. Do this at each move, not only from your perspective, but also from that of your opponent. What was played? What else was there? Explore the options, write the variations down along with your evaluations. Was the best move chosen, or was there something better? What was missed? What did you feel were critical positions? Again, you will already have an idea on this, make a note of it/them and delve in as deep as you like. This is a super exercise in itself and will be great for your pattern recognition.

Only when the analysis is completed should it be taken to the computer. Just a point of caution, however, computer evaluations of positions should be taken with a pinch of salt. You may think this is a bold statement, but even the best chess engine is very capable of giving a minus score in a position where White is actually doing very well. Likewise, it might show that White is up by +0.50 just before Black’s cramped position is about to explode in a fashion that would make Smyslov proud, and begin to dominate the whole board. Please bear this in mind. If you felt fine at a point in the game and your engine says your opponent is better, it does not necessarily mean you are wrong. Better does not mean winning, winning does not mean won. This is a unique feature with regard to chess engines, they are just sometimes not human enough.

Where your engine really does come in to its own, however, will be its calculation capabilities. What is it saying about your analysis of variations? What is it telling you that you have missed both during the game and after it? Which of your moves is it having a heart attack to? What brilliancies is it telling you were missed? Ignore them at your peril, include them in your annotations … and, very importantly, credit the engine.

When you’re done, click ‘save’ and then ‘print’. You will hold in your hand one of the most valuable things to your chess you could ever posses. From here, you should return to your board, and play through the finished product again. At the end of the exercise, you will have a much better understanding of chess, and a better insight into your play. Not only will it present technical areas to target for improvement, but it will also highlight some bad habits with which you are shooting yourself in the foot.

And believe it or not, that’s the easy bit. The hard bit is putting it all right — and, just like me dear reader, you are aiming to be the first player to have ever completely succeeded … ;-)

John Lee Shaw

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The Second Front (1)

With the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings only recently having passed, it seems an appropriate time to to look at the second front in action on the chessboard. It is a basic rule of thumb of positional play that a single weakness is rarely enough to lose by itself. The key to the winning plan is usually to create and attack a second weakness, so as to stretch the defender’s resources beyond their limit.

This week’s game is a typical example. Exploiting his opponent’s errors in the early middlegame, Epishin establishes a monster passed d-pawn, which he pushes all the way to d7. But by move 29, he seems to have reached an impasse, as Black has managed to blockade the pawn at the last moment, and it is not obvious how White can force its further advance.

Epishin’s solution is very simple. At move 30, he pushes the h-pawn, intending to shove it all the way to h6, setting up mating threats against the black king. The combined task of defending against these threats, as well as maintaining the blockade of the d-pawn, soon proves too much for Black, and he loses in a few moves.

Steve Giddins

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Flipping Good

I wonder if you’re aware of the concept of Flip Teaching.

Flip Teaching reverses the traditional classroom – children learn their subject at home and practise at school.

If you’re teaching maths in this way you’ll get your students to watch an online lesson introducing a maths skill at home and then practise that skill within the classroom. Likewise, if you’re teaching history, children could watch an online lesson or read a chapter of a book about, say, Henry VIII, and then write an essay in the classroom. I could think of a few disadvantages of this method but it seems to me there are also many advantages.

It occurred to me that I’ve been running my chess classes in this way, in theory but not in practice, for many years. Unlike other chess teachers I don’t very often stand in front of a demo board giving a lesson unless I’m specifically asked to do so. My experience is that children learn more from playing games in fairly serious conditions than they do from watching me give a lesson on a demo board.

So here’s how Flip Teaching can work within the chess classroom.

Children who want to do well at chess need to do three things. Firstly, they need to play games under serious conditions, with feedback from a stronger player. Secondly they need to learn specific chess skills. Thirdly, they need to spend time solving puzzles on a regular basis. Now if you’re good enough to be on the tournament circuit you’ll be playing lots of games under serious conditions anyway, but most children within a primary school chess club will only be taking part in occasional competitions. So the main purpose of a primary school chess club, at least the way I run them (almost every other chess teacher here in the UK will disagree with me) is to enable children to play games in as close to possible tournament conditions. They can develop skills at home in various ways as long as we provide the parents with the appropriate resources and ensure that they help their children learn the skills. We would also provide resources for children to solve puzzles at home.

There are, it seems to me, many advantages in this. Junior chess clubs, by their nature, will include children of various ages with varying amounts of experience. If all children follow a predetermined course they will be able to progress at their own speed without having to spend 15 minutes or so watching their chess teacher demonstrating something which may well be too easy for some of the students and will certainly be too hard for others. Children will be able to repeat the lesson at home as often as they need, and pause or go back if there’s something they don’t understand. Parents will be able to help or learn with their children. The lesson could be available in different formats to suit children’s learning preferences. There could be a written version, an interactive version (like the lessons on chessKIDS academy), a video lecture on YouTube, a computer program set up to enable children to practise the skill, puzzles to reinforce children’s understanding of the skill. Children, with the support of their parents, can choose the combination of media that works best for them.

If instead you teach a lesson in the chess club, it will just be the teacher standing at a demo board or interactive whiteboard in front of the class. There won’t be time to ask questions, and if you want your pupils to spend time mastering the skill you’ve taught them they won’t have much time to play against their friends.

I believe strongly that the future of junior chess clubs lies in this approach to teaching. First, we need a syllabus, then we need all the coaching materials to back it up, in various formats.

I’m working on setting this up at the moment, and will provide more information later. Who will join me?

Richard James

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Theory and Practice

Improving your game requires effort in the form of studying. The greater the effort, the greater the improvement. No one is born with a chess gene that allows them to play like a Grandmaster from moment they first sit down at a chess board. We get better at chess though hard work. Like mastering a musical instrument, mastering chess requires a balance of theory and practice. Favoring one over the other can have a negative effect on your game. The balance of theory and practice is crucial if you wish to improve your playing ability. Theory and practice are the Yin and Yang of chess. An even balance of the two is the key that unlocks the gate that allows you to start your journey along the road to mastery.

This idea of carefully balancing theory and practice has been discussed and addressed in many books and countless articles, yet many serious beginners and intermediate chess players fail to balance their use of these two concepts. In fact, one of the reasons I’m addressing this issue is because many beginners I work with have a problem with balancing the two. Lets start off by defining, in chess terms, these two concepts.

To make things simple, I’ll define “theory,” as it relates to chess, as the study of the game and its subsequent principles. Therefore, the opening principles I’ve written about in past articles, can be considered theory. We study theory, the opening principles for example, to improve our opening game. We learn about these opening principles through books and DVDs. In reading/watching these books and DVDs, we are studying specific aspects of the game (specific theories), such as the opening. In order to apply a specific theory to your game you must first study it.

Practice, on the other hand, is actually playing chess. Like learning how to play a musical instrument, the novice chess player must practice his or her playing in order to progress or improve. You cannot master a musical instrument without practice and the same holds true for chess (or anything else you desire mastery of). Practice is where the rubber meets the road, as my chemistry professor used to say. Practice is the place in which (in this case the chessboard) you take what you’ve learned (theory) and test it out. You can study theory for eight hours a day, seven days a week, but unless you apply that theoretical knowledge to a real life situation (a game of chess), you’ll never know if it holds true. Chess theory is has little meaning unless it can be successfully tested on the sixty four square battlefield, and it is at this juncture that students often have trouble combining theory and practice.

It seems easy enough. The student studies the theoretical and then applies it to their game (practice). What could be easier, you study something and then test it out! However, the beginner faces a few hurdles when studying chess theory.

To become a good chess player these days, you can’t be a specialist. A specialist is someone who knows one of the game’s phases well but not the other two. For example, we all know someone who is good at opening play but becomes lost when entering the middle game. That person is an opening specialist and while he or she might play brilliantly during the opening, they often become lost when the middle game begins because they only studied the opening. You have to have an all around knowledge of the complete game. The beginner looking to truly improve must therefore study all three phases of the game and that’s where the trouble often starts!

The serious beginning student understands that he or she must put an equal amount of time into studying each phase of the game. Just knowing this however isn’t enough. Our student needs to chose their study materials well. This can be difficult because many chess book and DVD publishers advertise their products as being suitable for beginners when they’re not. Therefore, I would advise students to take a good look at a book’s contents, reading a few pages to see if it make sense or if it goes over your head. The holds true with DVDs. You can usually find a sample of the DVD online. Watch it and see if it makes sense. Unfortunately, simply acquiring the appropriate book or DVD for your skill set is only half the battle. Having to remember the numerous principles (theory) taught in various chess books/DVDs is the other half. This can be a big problem for the beginner.

Beginners learn the opening principles with relative ease. The reason for this is simple. All chess games have an opening phase. However, a beginner’s game may not reach the middle or end phase due to an early checkmate. This means that a beginning student will play through more openings than middle or endgames. The beginner might put a great deal of time into studying middle and endgame basics but may forget specific ideas because they never get that far in their own games, at least during the early part of their chess careers. Therefore, I suggest that you keep a sheet of paper with you as you study books/DVDs about the middle and endgames. One side of the sheet will be for the middle game while the other side is for the endgame. Write down key concepts to keep in mind when playing the middle and endgame. Create a key concept list.

For your middle game list you might write down key concepts regarding piece activity, pawn structure and passed pawn creation. On your endgame list you might write down key concepts regarding King activity, pawn structure, etc. The point is to keep a list of concepts you’ve learned in your studies. Read through the list before each game and keep it close by for reference during friendly games. By keeping this list and adding to it as you progress in your playing and studies, you’ll become a stronger player because the theory you’ve studied will become ingrained in your memory as you refer back to your list.

Chess improvement is really a balanced combination of theory (study) and practice (playing). All the theory in the world does a player no good unless her or she tries it out on the chessboard. Play as much chess as you can. I play constantly because it allows me to test out my new found knowledge. Like the old joke goes, how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice!

Keeping notes from your studies and referring to them prior to play is an excellent way to reinforce your new found knowledge. I have taken this one step farther in my own training by keeping detail chess journals for each phase of the game. However, if you’re just starting out and are not quite a full blown chess lunatic, stick with a single sheet of paper for your notes. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

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Pawn Moves in Front of Black’s Castled King: Looking at h6 and f5

I stopped by the Pittsburgh Chess Club recently, met someone new, and played a couple of quick casual games with him. I felt that one of the games we played was instructive, illustrating the theme of king safety in the middlegame (and by extension, thinking about this straight from the opening).

King safety and Pawn advances

One important theme when paying attention to King safety in the middlegame is sometimes expressed, too simplistically, as “don’t move Pawns in front of your castled King”. Let’s focus, for this article, on so-called classical development, versus modern development: we mean by “classical” that Bishops are developed toward the center rather than fianchettoed away from the center onto diagonals.

Taking the side of Black developing “classically” as an example, the maxim “don’t move Pawns in front of your castled King” means not moving the f, g, or h Pawns unless necessary. The tricky part of interpreting this advice is understanding what “necessary” really means, and also an advanced player will want to know not only when to do something when it is necessary, but when it is not necessary but nevertheless advantageous. I will ignore the advanced case in this post.

I would like to begin a series of articles on concrete guidelines for when it is good or bad to move a Pawn in front of one’s castled King. The quick game I just played illustrates two of the easiest considerations starkly.

Black’s h6 when White may create a diagonal threat on h7

In the game, Black made a serious error by playing an unnecessary 11…h6. First of all, White had no real threat to place a piece on g5. But more generally, even if there is such a threat, the cure may be worse than letting it happen.

Here is a rule of thumb: in classical positions where Black no longer has a Knight (usually on f6) protecting the King side, h6 is often a serious weakening move. This is because it prevents Black from being able to solidly playing the “other” defensive Pawn move in the future, g6. Being able to play g6 is often very important to block White from delivering a mating attack on the light-squared diagonal from b1 to h7. The move h6 weakens not only the h6 Pawn (if White has a dark-squared Bishop aiming at h6), but also weakens h7 light-colored square and the g6 light-colored square, making defense of the King much more difficult. For example, with only the f7 Pawn protecting the g6 square, if Black ever needs to put either a Pawn or a piece on g6 to block any attack, White can potentially attack that square with multiple pieces, outnumbering Black. This is the kind of forward looking that a chess player must attend to when creating a defensive middlegame plan out of the opening, especially as Black.

In the game, you can see each of these dire predictions come true. Being on the other side of the board, knowing about these weaknesses around you opponent’s King, you can often create a lethal attack very quickly!

In the annotations, note that if Black had just castled, and then defended with g6 only when forced to, the resulting position if White tried the same brute force mating plan against h7 would have been quite acceptable and solid for Black, with Pawns on f7, g6, and h7 blocking any quick mate. As White, I would therefore have refrained from the committal e5 advance, which has the disadvantage of ceding control of the d5 light-colored square and opened up the diagonal from a8 to h1 to my own King!

Black’s f5 to block a diagonal threat on h7

The final error by Black was that of not cutting losses by pushing back and at least blocking White’s powerful King side attack by fighting with well-timed f5. f5 looks very ugly, because White can take the f-Pawn en passant and leave Black with an isolated e-Pawn. For this reason, I have seen that many club players avoid playing such a move until it is too late to make maximum use of this blocking attempt/counterpunch.

When you are on the defensive, you have to ask yourself: what is the lesser evil, getting a weak Pawn and a King side that looks like Swiss cheese because of holes on g6 and h7, or getting mated through too-passive defense? If it seems that all other defenses will fail, choose to avoid getting mated, and choose to fight on even with an ugly-looking position. In fact, 13…f5 results in a position that, while rather unpleasant, at least offers opportunities for Black counterplay. Black does get rid of White’s powerful e5 Pawn, open up the f-file, and develop the Queen, all while fighting White’s center and avoiding getting suffocated to death.

The complete annotated game

Franklin Chen

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Playing With A Material Imbalance

Recently I went through a book on the middle game where a nice explanation was given on material imbalance. I have distilled these down to a few of points which might be useful to readers.

When you give up some material what should be the compensation?

1. Strong attack on opponent’s king: This is well known and don’t need any explanation. Any kind of material sacrifice can be given if you are getting a mating attack.

2. When your pieces are nicely coordinated and on the other hand your opponents are not. Here is the game Spielmann vs. Moller where Spielmann had sacrificed a queen for two minor pieces:

3. If you have a lead in development and can force your opponent king to stay in the centre, you can give up some material. Here is a nice game of Paul Morphy, normally I use this game for explaining use of pin in practice but it applies here too:

4. You get a strong passed pawn or pawns and your opponent can’t create a real blockade. I really enjoyed the following game when I was preparing against the Sicilian in the past. Rauzer sacrificed a piece sacrifice just to play better endgame. A nice explanation is given by Garry Kasparov in his DVD Play the Najdorf using the game Bronstein against Najdorf:

Ashvin Chauhan

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Critical Objectivity: part I

There is one very important ability needed by every chess player wanting to improve their game. Of course, chess has many different aspects to it, but without this certain ability, they all fade in to the background, and many may not even develop. The ability in question, is that of being able to be critically objective about one’s play.

It is very important to emphasise the word ‘critically’ here — taking a definition from the dictionary, “inclined to find fault or to judge with severity, often too readily.” For our purpose, let’s shorten it, thus:

“Find fault. Judge with severity. Readily.”

The chess player who strives to improve, should implement this after each game they play. After all, how can we get better without knowing our flaws? In truth, all areas of our chess are flawed in some way, (there is yet to be a player who has perfected the game), the challenge is pinpointing specifics so that we can work on them. This is done, of course, by carrying out post-game analysis. And this, dear reader, is the subject for my next two blogs.

It still startles me that many chess players do not analyse their games. This really is a great pity because they deprive themselves of great learning opportunities. However, perhaps there is a logical reason for this, as among the plethora of chess books on the market, there are not many (if any) covering the analysis of ones games. This is probably quite a commercial decision, considering that many strong players (and many not so strong players for that matter) make money carrying out the service.

Anyway, I am going to try to regress the balance, and offer what I can on the subject. It goes without saying, that there is no winning formula for analysis, no set rules or technique. Each person is different, as is each game, and what works in the case of one may not work in the case of the other. However, I do believe that it is possible to give sensible guidance on the subject, based upon experience, and what seems to work for me. The more that one analyses, a unique style develops and the framework will become like second nature.

My blogs this week and next week, will be of use to players who have either not yet embarked upon analysis of their games, or who feel that they are perhaps not getting what they should be from it. The reason that I have decided to split the blog in to two parts, is that in my opinion, there are two aspects to post-game analysis:

1). The so-called ‘Post-Mortem’ (immediately afterwards with the opponent).
2). Personal home analysis.

The Post Mortem

In my experience, it is very easy to tell a serious chess player, from a casual woodpusher, and even at tournaments there are examples of both. Serious players will find a quiet corner after they have finished playing, and embark upon a post-mortem of it with their opponent. Casual players might do this with good games, as an opportunity for glory, and their losses will get crushed up and disposed of.

The importance of the post-mortem can not be over-stated, it is one’s opportunity to gain the insight of the opponent — how was he/she feeling at certain points? Why did he/she play 18…Qb6, the move that caused great bemusement? Because chess is a battle of minds, this is a very crucial part of development. To approach chess solely with the self in mind is very often counter-productive — it certainly is in a game, after all. During the post-mortem, a player may already be startled at just how much they had missed in the game, and just how wrong he/she had been in evaluating the position, and the opponent’s options at certain stages, not to mention their own. This can be immensely deflating, especially when thinking that one has played a fabulous game, but it is a necessary pain that we must all go through in order to pursue that fabulous game.

Of course, the main objective is to discover what your opponent was looking for with their moves, what did they think they had, what did they think the moves achieved? What did they see that you didn’t and vice versa? Seek perspective, evaluations and opinion. Whether you won, lost or drew the game, you can learn from all of this. For your moves, you want to know their reactions, good or bad. Where did they feel you got it right? Where did they feel you got it wrong? What were they expecting — and was that better or worse than what you played? You might be startled at how often your opponent seems to have had a better plan for you than you did — and vice versa.

What did your opponent feel were crucial points in the game? Spend some time on what are seen to be crucial positions, this will give you some work already for stage 2, home analysis. How was your opponent feeling at various stages of the game? This will give you important feedback regarding how you are reading not only the situation on the board, but also the body-language across it. Did you think your opponent was worried when you played that check on move 21, prompting him to hunch over the board? Only to find out that he was encouraged, thinking it was wasteful or over-ambitious on your part and that it signalled to him that you felt you had nothing better? Indeed, was he right? This would show a tendency to bluff, or to show some wishful thinking or denial … and it’s really going to bite one on the behind if it doesn’t get sorted out.

Very often, a post-mortem might only last a few minutes, but those minutes will often have you bursting with things to look at and use to improve your game. I started taking a notepad with me because post-mortems gave me so much feedback. One more thing: I always try ‘dig’ and discover if my opponent knows the opening he/she played well? The mere comment “I’ve never seen this before” or “interesting line” can prompt many to volunteer lines in order to show off their theoretical knowledge. This can give you some things to look at if you found yourself surprised or if the game has highlighted a particular gap you have in a certain line. Just as you don’t want to miss a trick in the game, try not to miss any after it either.

Above all else, if you have never taken part in post-game analysis with an opponent before, then you really should give it a go. It can be a very rewarding exercise. Perhaps the next time you play, write down your moves and go over the game afterwards with your opponent. See what you can discover about their thought process and feelings during the game. If the opponent is stronger than you, if you have felt out-done somewhere, see it as open season to pick their brain.

You will very often find, during the exercise, that you will have much cause to … “Find fault. Judge with severity. Readily.” If you don’t, no matter how great the game in question, then it is more likely to be the fact that you are yet to master the art of being critically objective, than it is that you have mastered the art of chess.

And if you think that’s fun, just wait until part 2 …

John Lee Shaw

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Lessons from a Single Game

The above was the title of a Dvoretsky article, analysing in depth the game Taimanov-Fischer, Buenos Aires 1060. But one often comes across single games, which are rich in instructional value, and those games are frequently not very well-known or ostensibly brilliant ones

I recall being deeply impressed by the following obscure game, played in the Moscow city championship. It is a model of the exploitation of the two bishops, but I was especially struck by Gulko’s dynamic play between moves 15-23. Rather than passively defending his c3-pawn at move 15, when his bishop pair advantage would have been very small, he realised that his temporary development lead was what was really important, and played very dynamically, to maintain and enhance it. Utilising tactics, such as back-rank threats, he succeeded in making it hard for Black to develop, and eventually forced transition into the sort of two-bishop ending White dreams of. Finally, immaculate and highly instructive technique wrapped up the full point.

I gave a full analysis of the game in my book 50 Essential Chess Lessons, but if you have not seen that, I recommend that you study the game carefully yourself.

Steve Giddins

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Land of Hope

Perhaps you know about the Sally-Anne test, a test used by developmental psychologists to determine whether or not young children understand that other people may not have the same beliefs that they do.

The experimenter introduces the subject to two dolls, Sally and Anne. Sally is playing with a marble. She puts it in her basket and goes out. Then Anne comes in. Naughty Anne takes Sally’s marble from the basket and hides it in a box. Anne leaves, and then Sally returns. Where will she look for her marble?

We know that the marble is now in the box but Sally doesn’t, so she’ll look in the basket. Children who give the ‘correct’ answer demonstrate ‘Theory of Mind’, the understanding that others have different beliefs to us. Children who give the ‘incorrect’ answer lack this ability. (Of course, you could think of several reasons why Sally might look in the box. Perhaps Anne often moves the marble so Sally expects it to be in the box rather than the basket. Perhaps Sally was looking through the window and saw Anne move the marble.)

There’s a typical thinking error young children make when playing chess which, it seems to me, is similar to this. Children play a move thinking – or hoping – that their opponent will do what they want them to do.

Consider this.

A book I use a lot is Winning Chess Exercises, by the wonderful Jeff Coakley. For those of you who are not familiar with the book (and, if you’re a chess teacher you should be), it comprises 100 Best Move Contests of increasing difficulty. Each BMC comprises three checkmate puzzles, three winning material puzzles, three best move puzzles, and, at the foot of the page, a verbal chess/maths puzzle. I used the first BMC at a local (fairly strong) primary school chess club the other day for a group of some of the more experienced players who had finished their tournament game early. They set up the first position on the board and set off to find the mate.

After a few minutes thought they rushed up to me excitedly and told me they’d worked out the answer. I asked them what it was and they told me: R1c2. They explained that after Black captured on c2 they’d take twice on d8 with checkmate, and if Black instead captured on c8 they’d recapture, again leading to checkmate.

You can see what they were thinking, can’t you? They first looked at capturing on d8, but then one of them noticed that the rook was defended twice. So they then looked for a way to deflect one of the defenders and chanced upon R1c2. After that move there is indeed a forced checkmate in two moves, but sadly for Black rather than White.

On one level you might see this as a ‘Theory of Mind’ issue. They believe, or at least hope, that their opponent will play the move they want him to play, rather than the move he wants to play. It’s also why children try for Scholar’s Mate, or sacrifice most of their pieces to play their queen to the g-file and their bishop to h6, hoping their opponent will allow Qxg7#.

On another level it’s a fixation with one idea to the exclusion of everything else rather than changing tack and trying Plan B if Plan A doesn’t work. Inflexible thinking, perhaps. A failure to apply Scientific Method, perhaps.

On a third level it’s a failure to ask the Magic Question “If I do that, what will my opponent do next? What checks, captures and threats does he have?”.

To give them credit, though, a few minutes later they came back to me with the correct answer, and, I hope, learnt something from the experience. At least they had little trouble solving the next two checkmate puzzles.

I’d like to call this sort of mistake, hoping your opponent will overlook your threat or fall for your trap rather than considering what he is most likely to do, ‘Hope Chess’, but Dan Heisman has already claimed this term for something slightly different and rather more general. Heisman defines ‘Hope Chess’ as playing without anticipating your opponent’s reply and hoping to be able to meet any forcing move successfully. This is exactly sort of chess played, in general terms, by stronger primary school players: moving from ‘Hope Chess’ to ‘Real Chess’ requires learning to think ahead accurately. In my example, my pupils were trying to anticipate their opponent’s reply but, possibly because of an inadequately developed Theory of Mind, were ‘hoping’ that he would make a weak reply rather than looking for a possible strong reply. So I need to call this something other than ‘Hope Chess’. Any suggestions?

Richard James

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