Category Archives: Articles

For the Love of Doubled Pawns

Having doubled Pawns in a chess game is rightfully taught as being potentially disadvantageous, and a vital step toward improvement in chess understanding comes from learning how to play against them as a static positional weakness in one’s opponent’s position that has ramifications in the middlegame as well as in the endgame. However, to dive into deeper into the subtlety of chess, it is important to also know of the potential dynamic strengths of owning the doubled Pawns.

For example:

  • If you get doubled Pawns from recapturing toward the center, that may increase central control, which could be very important in the middlegame.
  • If you have doubled Pawns, you have an at least half-open file that you can potentially use for attack by putting Rooks on the file.
  • The front Pawn of the doubled Pawn pair can be used for attack, while the back Pawn of the pair can be used to defend the squares that were otherwise abandoned when the front Pawn moved forward.

Examples of the power of doubled Pawns

Bent Larsen was a great chess player who was famous for playing in unusual styles. One thing that he seemed to do often was invite having doubled Pawns and then making use of them effectively. Here are two games showing off how to make doubled Pawns effective. Notice that the doubled Pawns enabled setting up a “wall” behind which gradual positional maneuvering and improvement of pieces was possible while waiting for the opponent to go astray. Playing with doubled Pawns often takes patient regrouping.

Franklin Chen

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Building A Motivational Environment For Kids

Kids play chess for fun, but we all know that some seriousness is required for them to learn and improve. If you successfully build a motivational environment it can have an enormous effect on their chess development. Here are a few ideas you can use:

Kids love stars and trophies: In each and every session I usually come up with 2 to 3 puzzles with a star value, meaning that if the student solves those puzzles, he or she will get a star or trophy on his or her notebook. Believe me this is very nice trick to get kids involved. I got this idea from one of my student’s mothers. She told me that in schools teachers do the same if the child does good work.

Tournaments on a regular basis and a rating ladder foster a competitive attitude: One of my friends who has more than 10 year experience coaching kids has applied this technique with very promising results. We arrange tournaments on a weekly basis and based on their performance we decide where everyone ranks. If you want to improve your rank in ladder you can only challenge your immediate rival for example if your rank is 3rd then you can only challenge to 2rd rank and receive the challenge from the 4th player. Results will change their positions and the ladder keeps changing. This can also work with team events.

Points system: You can set some points for each right answer and at the end of the day the child with most points will be the winner and get a standing obsession.

Offer the chance to play with coach: It’s like dinner with a celebrity if you get a lucky draw.

Celebrate any success together: This helps the kids in your class bond with each other, despite the fact they’re competing with oneanother.

Ashvin Chauhan

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Is Chess Unhealthy?

In the wake of two people dying on the final day of the Tromso Chess Olympiad there have been a number of articles speculating that the strain of chess is unhealthy. There have always been stories like this, for example Harry Nelson Pillsbury’s early demise was attributed to blindfold chess. In fact Pillsbury died because of syphilis and the deaths in Tromso were nothing more than a tragic coincidence. Of course Coincidence in Tromso would not make a good headline.

So is chess good or bad for your health? Well I haven’t seen real any evidence either way. Certainly chess is known to burn a lot of calories, at least if you’re concentrating during the game. I also have an untested theory that the goal of improving your chess can motivate people to become healthier and spend much of their time on a unique and powerful brain training method. These would seem to be very good and positive things.

Of course you need to take it seriously for these effects to kick in, pushing the pieces around over a few pints won’t have the same effect. And for me this is what makes chess a beautiful thing, it’s a means of developing human potential.

Nigel Davies

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Nimzo’s Knights

As last week’s game showed, Nimzowitsch’s blockading knights were a great feature of his play. This week’s game sees a very strong master humiliated by the said steeds. After being landed with the doubled pawns, Mattison fails to seize the early chances to activate his position, even at the cost of a pawn, by c4-c5 or a later Nd2. Instead, he plays aimlessly and allows Nimxowitsch to establish an unbreakable grip. From move 15 onwards, it is all one-way traffic, and White resigns on move 23 in a position where, for the moment at least, he still has material equality. However, that is a purely temporary state of affairs, as the pawns on a2, c3 and e4 are all dropping off in short order.

The game is analysed in great depth in my new book, Nimzowitsch Move by Move, available from fine bookstores everywhere!

Steve Giddins

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Secondary Matters

It seems to me that you might have three reasons for running a national chess project for children.

Firstly, you could run a ‘scholastic chess’ project, designed to use chess as an educational tool for young children, without any particular expectation that the children will go on to become strong players.

Secondly, you might want to look for ‘prodigies’, children who will be strong enough to play in top junior international competitions such as the World and European Youth Championships, some of whom will, you hope, reach IM or even GM standard.

Thirdly, you might want to produce serious adult standard competitive chess players, not just titled players but players of all levels.

You’ll probably agree that all three of these reasons are worthwhile in themselves. Observant readers might note that after-school chess clubs for younger children in more affluent areas of the country, and this has been the model here in the UK for the past generation, seem to have been only moderately successful at producing a generation of IMs and GMs, not at all successful at producing lots of serious adult competitive players, and, given the areas in which they tend to operate, have probably not made too many children ‘more intelligent’.

In this post I’m considering the third reason.

Here are just a few reasons (you can probably think of more) why you might want to produce more adult chess players.

  • The chess players in your country form a pyramid. Without a solid base the pyramid will collapse.
  • You need to produce players who will take part in tournaments at lower levels, to provide prize funds for elite players.
  • You need to produce chess enthusiasts who will become club secretaries, treasurers and match captains.
  • You need to produce chess enthusiasts who will become tournament organisers and arbiters, and run tournaments for elite players, as well as average players, to take part in.
  • You need to produce adults who will have an interest in chess and know enough to teach their children in a meaningful way.
  • You need educators who will be enthusiastic about chess and encourage it within their schools and colleges.
  • You need business people who will be keen to sponsor chess events because of their passion for the game.
  • I would contend that, if this is the aim of your chess project, you should target secondary schools rather primary schools. Here again are just a few reasons.

  • Most children only reach the point in their development where they can play ‘real’ chess at secondary school age.
  • Most children only reach the level of self-control to stop and think about their moves rather than playing the first thing that comes to mind at secondary school age.
  • Most children only reach the level of emotional maturity required to cope with the stress of competitive chess at secondary school age.
  • Most children only reach the level of emotional maturity to learn from their mistakes at secondary school age.
  • Most children are unable to study independently until they reach secondary school age.
  • Primary school children’s idea of a game is involving have low level fun with your friends, while secondary school children will see a game as something more serious at which you can learn to excel.
  • Primary school children’s interests are usually chosen by their parents, while secondary school age children choose their own interests.
  • When children move schools (at 11) and reach puberty they make new friends and develop new interests, usually giving up activities they associate with primary school.
  • If children associate an activity with school they are likely to give up when they leave, so they need to be encouraged to join adult chess clubs, which run too late and are too strong for most primary school children.
  • Older children can organise clubs themselves with minimal adult support as well as teach themselves if they’re interested, so there’s less need to find or pay for a professional chess coach.
  • Older children can travel to chess clubs and tournaments themselves without needing transport from their parents.
  • Our experience running, say, Under 14 teams at Richmond Junior Club was that the top boards would be children who’d been playing competitive chess half their lives and felt they were growing out of it, while the lower boards were often children who had started later, for whom chess competition was something new and exciting. It was often these players, rather than the top board stars, who continued playing into adulthood.

    Fortunately, things are starting to happen here in the UK as Neill Cooper is doing a great job promoting secondary schools chess on behalf of the English Chess Federation.

    All secondary schools need (apart from some sets and boards) is an enthusiastic member of staff who will ensure that children have the chance to play chess every day, setting aside a classroom for this purpose at morning and lunch breaks, who will organise internal competitions and matches against other schools for children who want to play competitive chess, and who will encourage those children to join outside clubs and take part in tournaments.

    The trick, of course, is to locate that enthusiastic member of staff, and, because, here in the UK, we’ve been getting junior chess wrong for the past 30 years, there are not very many younger adults around who are genuinely enthusiastic about chess.

    Richard James

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    Getting out of the Squeeze

    In past articles I’ve talked about methods you can use to acquire an advantage during the opening and early middle game. We’ve explored some of these ideas, such as having a spacial advantage due to better piece activity or going on the offensive and attacking before your opponent gets a solid foothold in the board’s center. However, I have not yet addressed the subject of what to do should you find yourself in an unfavorable position. What do I mean by unfavorable? How about a cramped position in which your opponent has greater piece activity and therefore better control of the board, leaving you feeling the tightening squeeze of the opposition’s forces!

    Every chess player has found themselves squeezed into a cramped position by an opponent at one time or another. While we all try to follow sound opening principles that allow us to develop greater piece activity and subsequently greater control of the board, we eventually square off against a stronger opponent who gets the upper hand early on. By upper hand, I’m speaking of having greater control of the board’s center during the opening as well as control of squares on our half of the board. This type of positional dominance cramps our position which can render our pieces nearly useless. Some chess players made a career out of suffocating their opponent’s position on the board. Tigran Petrosian, the tenth World Chess Champion, was nicknamed “the boa constrictor” because he could create absolutely suffocating positions.

    Obviously, we want to avoid playing in such a way that would lead to a cramped position! As obvious as this may sound, the simplest way to avoid such a positional scenario is to “Always Think Ahead” (ATA, as its known to my students). We often hear the phrase “think ahead” as beginners but don’t take this simple phrase to heart. Let’s look at how thinking ahead relates to avoiding a cramped position.

    A cramped position can come about in one of two ways. Either our opponent moves his or her pawns and pieces to extremely active squares, keeping our pawns and pieces from safely entering the game or, worse yet, we cramp our own position because we make bad moves. We’ll look at this idea first, making bad moves that cramp our position. Let’s first define a bad move. Since we’re discussing cramped positions, we’ll define a bad move as one that restricts a piece’s mobility or blocks in other friendly pawns and pieces which in turn restricts those pawns and piece’s mobility. For example, after 1.e4…e5, 2.Nf3…Nc6, White decides to move the Bishop on f1 to d3 (3.Bd3). This is a terrible move because it’s blocking in the pawn on d2 which inadvertently blocks in the Bishop on c1 in. This means that it will take a few moves to correct the problem and since the opening is a race for central square control, you can ill afford to be behind in tempo. The Bishop on d3 is on a less active square. If we count the number of squares the Bishop on d3 controls the answer is seven. If that same Bishop had been moved to c4 rather than d3, it would not be blocking in any pawns or pieces and would be controlling ten squares. On move three. Black plays 3…Bc5, gaining much greater spacial advantages than its counterpart on d3. Always think ahead when considering the placement of a pawn or piece early in the game!

    When moving a pawn or piece during the opening, consider not only the activity of that pawn or piece but it’s effect, spatially speaking, on the pawns and pieces around it. The beginner should always think about making a move in terms of opening up a position for themselves (positive space) or cramping that position for their opponent (negative space). A question the beginner must always ask is whether or not a specific move blocks in their own pawns or pieces. The beginner should also ask whether or not a move will block in their opponent’s pawns or pieces, cramping their opponent’s position. Coincidentally, moves that develop a piece more actively for one player often have the reverse effect for the other player. Therefore, if given a choice of moves, chose the move that is most active. If given the choice between two good moves that both provide equal piece activity, chose the move that potentially blocks in the fewest friendly pieces. Think ahead!

    When I say think ahead, I should add that you need to think ahead in relation to the problem at hand. In other words, you don’t need to think ahead in terms of the endgame when you’re only on move five. You should think ahead only as it relates to the potential problem at hand. Playing 3.Bc4 rather than 3.Bd3 because it blocks in a pawn and a minor piece, is an example of thinking ahead.

    Let’s say you’ve done everything I’ve suggested but are now playing against an opponent who you swear is the ghost of Tigran Petrosian. As would be the case, had you actually been playing against Petrosian, you now find yourself squeezed by “the boa constrictor” into an unbelievably cramped position. What now? Now we deal with the immediate, not the future. Now is the time to create some space on the board. We know that the position is cramped which means moving your pawns and pieces anywhere is apt to result in their untimely demise! Therefore, you have to try something else, namely, trading pieces!

    One idea I try to embed into my student’s thought process is that you don’t capture pieces unless doing so improves your position. Does that idea apply here? Absolutely! You’ve managed to play Tigran Petrosian reincarnated and he has put you into one of his famously cramping positions. This means that no matter where you move your pawns and pieces to, they’ll become casualties of the war and be quickly captured. In short, you have no space so you’ll have to make some!

    Of course, you’re going to have to part with some material in order to gain any space for your pawns and pieces. How you go about gaining this much needed space, via material exchanges, is the crucial consideration here!

    In a perfect world, you’s simply trade off material evenly, minor piece for minor piece, etc. However, in the real world, you’re most like faced with having to trade material in an uneven way, such as trading one of your minor pieces for a pawn or trading one of your major pieces for an opposition minor piece. How do you decide what gets traded? Now you have to think ahead a little.

    Let’s say you have a choice of two exchanges. In one exchange, you’ll trade a minor piece for a pawn. In the other exchange, you’ll trade a major piece, a Rook for example, for a minor piece. In both of these exchanges, you’ll be trading a unit of greater value for a unit of lesser value. Which trade works better? Look at the position and ask yourself which trade will give you more overall space immediately and in the near future. If you see that trading your Rook for an opponent’s minor piece opens up the board more than the trade of minor piece for pawn, then you should trade your Rook. While you’ll be down the exchange, the position will become less cramped and your other pawns and pieces will become more active.

    Sometimes, you have to sacrifice material to open a position up. Trading a Rook for a minor piece will leave you down two material points. However, if that uneven trade opens up the position, giving you the opportunity to gain better piece activity, then that two point deficit is worthwhile. So the next time you’re in a cramped position, see if a bit of material trading helps open things up. Even if you come out down the exchange, you’ll at least have a chance to get the rest of your material into the action. While we should all try to avoid cramped positions by employing sound game principles, we sometimes get boxed in by a stronger player. When this happens, don’t panic. Work your way out of it! Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

    Hugh Patterson

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    Attack on Godzilla

    My opponent is from Japan, which is why I used the Godzilla reference in my title. The only other Asian player that I have faced on ICCF was Graeme Hall in Hong Kong.

    This win gives me three wins, two losses and six draws in this section. That temporarily puts me back into fourth place out of thirteen players. I need a second place finish in order to advance to the next round. I have one game remaining in this section and I have Black in it. In that game I have even material. If I can win that game I may get my second-place finish.

    Initially, I started off with a queenside attack while my opponent played a kingside attack. My opponent’s attack stalled out while I switched my attack over to the Kingside. Like many of my opponents on ICCF, once he started losing he slowed the game down big time and he had only 3 days of reflection time left when he resigned. At the point in which my opponent resigned he was down 6 passed pawns and was four moves away from getting checkmated. I have no clue why people play out hopelessly lost endgames in correspondence chess!

    Mike Serovey

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    Beware of Trying to Win Poisoned Pawns

    An important and advanced theme in chess openings is that of the “poisoned” Pawn belonging to one’s opponent, a Pawn that is unprotected and may be attacked with hope of winning it. I like to call “poisoned” the specific Pawn on one of four squares, directly diagonal to the opponent’s Rook in the initial position, that is often tempting to try to win using one’s Queen when the protecting Bishop is away:

    • White’s Pawn on b2 (which Black can try to win with a move like …Qb6)
    • Black’s Pawn on b7 (which White can try to win with a move like Qb3)
    • White’s Pawn on g2 (which Black can try to win with a move like …Qg5)
    • Black’s Pawn on g7 (which White can try to win with a move like Qg4)

    A paradox in pedagogy

    An important part of one’s chess education is understanding the value of material, of trying to keep one’s Pawns and pieces protected and finding opportunities to win material by capturing the opponent’s Pawns and pieces, either for free or for an advantageous trade according to a heuristic formula of worth (such as taking a Rook, worth 5 points, in return for giving up one’s Knight, worth 3 points).

    The paradox is that once one has absorbed this lesson, at some point one must learn to balance the hard-earned attention to material with more nuanced attention to other factors in a game. On general principles, as the next step after internalizing the value of material, I advise against club players trying to play opening variations involving winning a poisoned Pawn, because the effort to win it usually requires wasting three moves:

    1. Moving the Queen to attack the Pawn.
    2. Capturing the Pawn.
    3. Retreating the Queen to avoid getting captured or trapped.

    Three moves is quite a lot of time to lose for the sake of winning a Pawn in the opening, when development and one’s own King safety are critical and can be compromised. Granted, there are some very popular opening variations that involve taking the risk and winning such a Pawn, but they require absolute precision to even be able to defend a draw against a fierce attack coming from falling so behind in development.

    At some point after one’s tactical and defensive strength has improved enough, it may be worth trying these risky ideas, but I have seen too many instances of a club player moving a Queen out early in the game to win material and then failing to consolidate well. This is a habit that, although it sometimes works against weak competition, results in postponing one’s development as a more principled middle game player.

    Some concrete examples of disaster

    Quick one

    Here is a brutal example of punishing an early Queen excursion.

    More subtle one

    The following is a more subtle win in which Black, a world-class defender, won 2 Pawns at the expense of a whopping 9 Queen moves in the opening and middle game, and finally lost after hardly developing any pieces.

    Franklin Chen

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    Working Together At Chess

    In business a partnership can bring more mutual benefits compared to being a sole proprietor. In chess too, if you work together with understanding, you can improve efficiently and effectively. But there are a few points which you should consider before working with someone.

    First and foremost the partners should be of about equal strength. They should also be very serious about their chess careers, casual players should not be welcome.

    You can work together on any phase of the game but what’s important is where to focus. What I have learned from experience that it would be much better if you focus on soft reasoning and ideas rather than finding or guessing good moves and concrete variations. For example take a look at the following position:

    White can win by playing any pawn move except a4, but for me the important thing is why White is winning with material balance on the board. The reasons are as follows:

    - Ability to create a passed pawn
    - Position of both kings
    - Pawn crippling

    Based on this you can find good moves, and it’s merely a matter of time. So focus on soft reasoning and ideas rather than calculating variations.

    Keep your ego aside: This is a common problem among chess players who are working together or discussing any position. They want to prove they are right at any cost after which healthy discussion becomes debate (and this sometimes happens between coach and students!). Avoid it by accepting your mistakes.

    Knowledge sharing: It is possible to choose different topics, work on them separately and then discuss them together. This can be a real benefit of working together as it saves lots of time and energy, but be honest as it is chess players’ tendency that they don’t want to share or disclose their preparation or knowledge.

    Ashvin Chauhan

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    Is It the Chess?

    It was great to see a chess player, Sharon Daniel, win Child Genius 2014 on Sunday evening. Sharon actually mentioned that one of the reasons she liked chess so much was because the tactics and strategy helped her mind.

    My impression whilst watching was that she was better under pressure than the other competitors and I thought she’d win after watching the early rounds. But can chess turn your child into a genius?

    I’m fairly sure that it helps, though everything depends on degree. Doing an hour of chess a week at school may have some effect but this is in no way comparable to studying the game deeply for 10 or so hours per week and then testing your abilities in competition. I believe that the latter is where the real gold lies.

    Actually I’ve had an opportunity to test this, and on my own son. Prior to teaching him chess he was languishing at the bottom of his year in every subject at school. His mental arithmetic and memory were very strong, but a dire weakness in English comprehension undermined his ability to grasp anything.

    Four years on and he’s moving up strongly, getting glowing reports at school and becoming very interested in both academic and chess success. How did the ‘miracle’ occur?

    Even members of staff at his school now put it down to the chess. Basically he has done something like 60,000 chess ‘problems’, from basic captures and material saving moves to forced checkmates. With English comprehension being taken out of the equation it gave him an opportunity to build his confidence by getting things right, and then competing on even terms with other kids. More recently he has been dipping his toes in adult tournaments and within a year or so should be well established there.

    Knowing that we take it rather seriously I’ve had plenty of well meaning comments of the ‘as long as he’s enjoying it’ variety. Actually I can say that he would have enjoyed some XBox games much more, especially Grand Theft Auto and the like. But I’ve seen my job as helping him develop rather than providing entertainment, and it looks like it’s working.

    Can other parents do the same? Well for chess it helps a lot if you know something about the game yourself and can at least supervise any training activities. But I’m fairly sure there are other fields that will work very well, for example playing a musical instrument, reading or developing mathematical skill. Many people have some sort of skill that can help their kids develop, but do they have the time and patience? In most cases it looks like they don’t.

    Nigel Davies

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