Category Archives: Basic (Rating below 1000)

Novice Versus Amateur

One genre of chess book I find useful involves games between masters and amateurs. This originated with a series of books by Max Euwe and Walter Meiden in the 1960s, and there have been a few others since. I’ve always thought that you can probably learn more from the play of those rated, say, 300-400 points above you than from the top players. If I see a game played by a 2200 strength player I’ll be able to understand it and think ‘Yes, I could play like that’, while a game played by Carlsen will be over my head.

So perhaps there’s scope for a book for novices which uses games played by amateurs as teaching materials. The games would have to be simple to understand and free from obvious oversights. As it happens, one of the books in the Chess Heroes project, Chess Games for Heroes, will be similar to this, but as it uses the ‘How Good is Your Chess’ principle the games are, of necessity, short.

Here’s a training game I played against one of my pupils which might be useful.

1. e4 d5

I usually play e5, which is what he’s used to, but wanted to see what he’d do when faced with unfamiliar problems. Of course the natural move is to take the pawn, but he noticed I had a threat and chose to defend instead.

2. Nc3 c6

I decided to transpose to a Caro-Kann. How would he cope with that? Rather illogically, perhaps, he now decided to trade pawns.

3. exd5 cxd5
4. d4 Bf5
5. Bf4 Nf6
6. Nf3 e6

Rather careless. I’m trying to develop my king side pieces first, but not considering possible replies. White now has the opportunity to play 7. Bxb8 Rxb8 8. Bb5+ when I’d have to play the uncomfortable Ke7 as Nd7 would lose immediately to Ne5. White has another interesting option in Nb5, which was also possible last move. I’d have to reply with Na6 when the knight on b5 will be safe for some time to come. I really should have played Nc6 by now.

7. Bb5+ Nbd7
8. O-O Bb4

With a positional threat. We haven’t yet spoken much about weak pawns so here’s an opportunity to teach him a lesson. The engines prefer h6 here, to prevent White playing Nh4 and trading off my light squared bishop.

9. a3

Just what I was hoping for. Now I’m going to trade on c3 when White will have backward doubled pawns on the half-open c-file as well as an isolated a-pawn. In an analogous position type where Black has a c-pawn rather than an e-pawn White might be happy with his two bishops, but here I’m hoping to tie him down to defence by targeting the front c-pawn with my major pieces.

9… Bxc3
10. bxc3 Rc8

I could also have played Ne4 here, but I would have had to analyse lines like 10… Ne4 11. Ne5 Nxc3 12. Qh5 Bg6 13. Bxd7+ Qxd7 14. Nxd7 Bxh5 15. Ne5 Ne2+ to justify it.

11. Qd2

He spots my threat and chooses the most natural defence. There were better alternatives, but at novice level it wouldn’t be possible to find them for the right reasons.

The simplest option is 11. Nh4 Bg6 12. Nxg6 hxg6 13. Qf3 Ne4 14. c4.

White can also give up the c-pawn for counterplay:
11. Qb1 Rxc3 12. Qb4 Rxc2 13. Ne5 with more than enough compensation, although Black shouldn’t take the second pawn.
11. Rb1 Rxc3 12. Bd3 Bxd3 13. cxd3 b6 14. Qa4 with compensation for the pawn.

11… O-O

After playing this move I realised that I could have played Ne4 at once, although my move is also strong. Around this point my pupil became stuck, and was unable to find reasonable moves. Understandably so because his position is very difficult to play and he probably doesn’t have any reasonable moves. Some of his moves, including the next one, were my suggestions.

12. Bd3

I’d suggested that he might want to trade off my dangerous bishop. I have no intention of taking it, though, as I don’t want to give him control of c4 and e4. After he’d played the move I realised that Ne4 was very strong.

12… Ne4
13. Bxe4 Bxe4

The wrong recapture. I didn’t want to double my pawns (as I was trying to teach my pupil about the weakness of doubled pawns) or block in my bishop, but dxe4 is excellent as it drives the white knight back to e1.

14. Qe3

If I’d noticed it left the c2 pawn en prise I’d have suggested that he played an alternative. My computer thinks Ne5 is the best try, but Black’s still a lot better.

14… Nb6
15. Nd2 Bxc2

The rest of the game is just a matter of technique for an experienced player. I offered my pupil the chance to switch sides and see if he could win with Black at several points but, to his credit, he preferred to play it out and see how I beat him.

16. Rac1 Bg6
17. Bg5 Qc7
18. Bf4 Qc6
19. Rfd1 Nc4
20. Nxc4 Qxc4
21. Bd6 Rfd8
22. Be7 Rd7
23. Bg5 b6
24. Rd2 Qb3
25. Bf4 Qxa3

A second pawn falls.

26. Rdd1 a5
27. Re1 Rc4
28. Qd2 Rd8
29. Re3 Rdc8
30. h3 b5
31. g3 b4

The third weak pawn falls. White finds a good tactical try but I manage to calculate the win.

32. Bd6 bxc3
33. Bxa3 cxd2
34. Rd1 Rc1
35. Bxc1 Rxc1
36. Rb3

Another good tactical try, threatening mate but allowing an amusing finish. My pupil shows admirable tactical imagination as well as tenacity which will stand him in good stead in the future.

36… Rxd1+
37. Kg2 Rg1+
38. Kh2 Rh1+
39. Kg2 Be4+
40. f3 Bxf3+
41. Kf2 g6
42. Rb8+ Kg7
43. Kxf3 d1=Q+
44. Kf4 Qxd4+
45. Kf3 Rf1+
46. Ke2 Rf2+
47. Ke1 Qd2#

I guess you might find this a useful example of how an amateur can beat a novice by creating weak pawns, attacking them and winning them. This is not the only training game of this nature I’ve played recently so I guess learning about pawn weaknesses, how to avoid them, how to create them and how to exploit them, is a useful lesson for novices who want to become amateurs. There may be more on this topic in Chess Openings for Heroes.

Richard James

King and Rook Checkmates

What I often do when playing young children who are lacking in confidence is head for an overwhelmingly won ending and turn the board round to let them win.

I was playing a boy at a school chess club the other day and duly turned the board round when I had a rook and lots of pawns against a few pawns. On swapping the positions my king soon captured my opponent’s pawns and, when I captured his last pawn we reached this position, with Black to move:

I explained to my opponent that he could mate me in two moves by playing a king move, and, more by luck than judgement, he was able to find it.

At the end of the club at this school I usually do a quick 10-minute lesson on the demo board for children who have finished their tournament games. I set up this position and asked if the students could find the mate in 2 (being careful to explain exactly what a mate in 2 was). There was one boy, the strongest player in the club, who had just missed out on qualifying for the Delancey UK Chess Challenge Gigafinals at the weekend, had some idea how to go about trying to work out the answer, but the rest of the class were unable to do anything other than making wild guesses.

I then changed the position slightly:

Again, they had the same difficulty trying to find the mate in 2 for Black. When they eventually found the answer I made another slight change:

When our strongest player found Rc6 I asked the whole class how many different answers there were to this question. At first they just made random guesses (2? 3? 22?) and I told them it wasn’t a guessing game: they had to work it out. Finally, someone found Re6 and it dawned on them that there were in fact five ways for Black to force mate in 2 moves in this position.

I would have liked, if I’d have had time, to have rotated the positions by 90% and 180% to see whether they would realise the answer was, in effect, the same, or whether they would go back and try to solve the puzzles from first principles. But it was the end of the session and the parents were waiting outside to collect their children. Another time, maybe.

The teacher who was in the room with me at the time, not a chess player herself, told me the lesson was very hard for them, and was impressed with their answers as well as with their enthusiasm and concentration during the lesson.

For chess players these examples are very simple and very basic. We know that, in order to play even reasonably good chess, we need to think “I go there, you go there, I go there”, but this type of thinking, even when “you go there” elicits only one possibility, is very hard and very unnatural for most young children, especially if they are not used to playing simple strategy games at home.

I suspect it’s because this sort of exercise introduces children to a totally new thinking skill that scholastic chess in the classroom might have a short-term effect in ‘making kids smarter’.

I also suspect that teaching kids how the pieces move in half an hour and putting them into a competitive environment will have no effect at all in ‘making kids smarter’. A ten-minute lesson of this nature after they’ve finished their tournament game will also have little effect unless the thinking skills are reinforced. Otherwise most of them will have forgotten it by the following week.

Richard James

Chess Endings for Heroes

I’m currently writing a series of books for children (or adults) who have learnt the moves and would like to reach a good enough standard to play adult competitive chess successfully.

Chess Endings for Heroes will give readers the knowledge and skills they require to reach this level.

You’ll certainly need to be quick and efficient at mating with king and queen against king, and with king and rook against king. Learning how to mate with two bishops and with bishop and knight is not yet necessary as they are much less common but will be covered in brief more for the sake of completion than anything else. At this level, many students will also find the bishop and knight checkmate difficult to grasp. If you want to get beyond this level, though, you will need to know it. The world is very different now from when I was learning chess more than half a century ago, when most league games and some tournament games would be adjudicated at move 30. These days, if you’re at all serious about playing at a high level, you need to know endings like bishop and knight against king, and rook and bishop against rook (and I write this having just been directed to a game in which a 2015 rated player spent more than 75 moves making less than no progress with bishop and knight against king, despite having started with the opposing king on the edge of the board).

Beyond this, what you need to know more than anything else at this level is pawn endings. When you start to learn chess one of the first things you learn is the value of the pieces. We teach about favourable, equal and unfavourable exchanges, so children understandably tend to think, for example, that whenever you trade rooks it’s an equal exchange – 5 points for 5 points. But of course, we, as experienced players, know that very few exchanges genuinely are equal. The point count is very much like stabilisers when you’re learning to ride a bike or water wings when you’re learning to swim: very useful for beginners but once you’re fluent it’s more of a hindrance than a help.

At this level, one of the most frequent mistakes is to convert a probable draw into a loss by trading your last piece into a lost pawn ending. As pawn endings are, by and large, the easiest to win, if you’re a pawn down you should do your best to avoid trading your other pieces. If you’re ahead on material trade pieces but not pawns, if you’re behind on material trade pawns but not pieces.

So we start with king and pawn endings. First, you’ll need to know the result of any position with king and pawn against king. You’ll then need to know the how to win simple positions with an extra pawn: create a passed pawn and, if you can’t promote it, rush your king over to capture some pawns on the other side of the board. With pawns on only one side of the board you’ll need to be a lot more subtle, and have a fairly sophisticated understanding of the opposition.

We then look at other common ideas in pawn endings: the outside passed pawn, the concept of the spare move, the sacrificial breakthrough to create a passed pawn, calculating races where both players are aiming to promote their passed pawns and so on. The lessons are reinforced by quizzes based on games from the RJCC database.

Looking at pawn races leads us onto the important ending of queen against pawn on the seventh rank, which you’ll need to know at this point. This in turn brings us to queen endings: all you need to know at this point is a few basic principles.

At higher levels rook endings are the most important type of endgame. At this level, you’ll need to know the Lucena and Philidor positions along with a few basic principles, such as keeping your pieces active and placing rooks behind passed pawns. You’ll probably also need to know a bit about rook versus pawn.

Positions where you’re a minor piece ahead in the ending can prove tricky at this level. You can’t just trade off all the pawns and mate so you have to win some enemy pawns first. One technique is to target pawns that can’t be defended by friendly pawns (backward or isolated) and attack them with both your minor piece and your king. Another technique is to play for Zugzwang and force the enemy king back so that your king can infiltrate. We’ll also look at bishops against knights, and discuss good and bad bishops. The ending of bishop and wrong rook’s pawn against king is essential knowledge.

And that, really, is all you need to know to reach say 100 ECF or 1500 Elo. Chess Endings for Heroes, coming, with any luck, sometime fairly soon.

Richard James

How Good is Your Endgame?

Many readers will be familiar with the popular magazine feature, known in various places as How Good is Your Chess? and Solitaire Chess, in which the reader is invited to predict the next move in a master game, and is awarded points for selecting good moves.

Some time ago I showed you a couple of lessons based on shorter and lower level games suitable for use at intermediate level (up to about 100 ECF/1500 Elo).

As part of the Chess for Heroes project, which I’ll come back to in more detail, quite possibly next week if nothing else interesting happens in my life in the meantime, I decided to produce a few lessons using king and pawn endings, with the games taken from the Richmond Junior Chess Club database.

Here’s the first one, which was tested successfully at RJCC the other day.

Set this position up on your board. At various points in the game you will be asked to select a move for either White or Black. Sometimes you will have three moves to choose from, and sometimes you will have a free choice. In this position it’s Black’s move.

If you find a winning move you’ll score up to 10 points. If you find a drawing move you’ll score up to 5 points. If you find a losing move or an illegal move you’ll score no points.

Choose a move for Black:
a) Kc6 b) Kd6 c) g5

10 points for Kd6 – head to the king side to attack White’s weak pawns
5 points for Kc6 – the wrong direction for the king
0 points for g5 – loses to an en passant capture

1… Kc6

Choose a move for White:
a) a4 b) f4 c) Kg3

5 points for Kg3 – get your king into play
0 points for a4 or f4 – creating targets for the black king

2. f4 Kd5
3. Kg3 g5 (Ke4 was one of many winning moves)

Choose a move for White (free choice)

10 points for hxg6 – a winning en passant capture
5 points for fxg5 or Kf3 – both these moves should draw
0 points for anything else

4. fxg5 fxg5
5. f4 gxf4+
6. Kxf4 Ke6

Choose a move for White:
a) a3 b) Ke4 c) Kg4

5 points for Ke4 – taking the opposition (a4 and b4 also draw)
0 points for a3 or Kg4 – both of these moves should lose

7. Kg4

Choose a move for Black:
a) b5 b) Kd5 c) Ke5

10 points for Ke5 – Black will be able to approach the white pawns
5 points for b5 – this should lead to a draw
0 point for Kd5 – this will lose after Kf5

7… b5

Choose a move for White:
a) a3 b) b4 c) Kf4

5 points for Kf4 – the only move to draw by keeping the black king from advancing too far
0 points for a3 and b4 – both these moves should lose
8. a3 a5 (Black had the same choice as on the last move. Again Ke5 was winning.)
9. b3 (Again, White had the same choice as on the last move. Kf4 was still a draw, as was b4.)

Choose a move for Black (free choice)

10 points for a4, b4 or Ke5 – all these moves should win
5 points for Kf6 – this move should lead to a draw
0 points for any other move

9… b4
10. axb4 axb4
11. Kf4

Choose a move for Black (free choice)

10 points for Kf6 – Black wins by taking the opposition
5 points for Kd5 – this leads to a race in which both players promote
0 points for other moves – White will win the h-pawn

11… Kf6
12. Kg4 Ke5
13. Kf3

Choose a move for Black (free choice)

10 points for Kf5 – taking the opposition
5 points for all other moves

13… Kd4

Choose a move for White (free choice)

5 points for Kf4 – leading to a drawn position with black queen against white pawn on h7
0 points for anything else

14. Ke2 Kc3
15. Kd1 Kxb3
16. Kc1

Choose a move for Black (free choice)

10 points for Ka2 – the quickest way to win
8 points for Ka3 or Kc3 – these moves are less efficient
5 points for Ka4 or Kc4 – both these moves lead to a draw

16… Ka3

Bonus question 1: what would you do if White played Kb1 here?
a) Ka4 b) Kb3 c) b3

10 points for Kb3 – winning by taking the opposition
5 points for Ka4 or b3 – both these moves lead to a draw

17. Kc2 b3+

Bonus question 2: what would you do if White played Kb1 here?
a) Ka4 b) Kb4 c) b2

10 points for b2 – winning as White has to play Kc2
5 points for Ka4 or Kb4 – both these moves draw as long as White plays correctly

18. Kc1

Choose a move for Black (free choice)

10 points for Ka2 – forcing promotion
5 points for other moves – all of which are only drawn

18… b2+
19. Kb1 and the game was eventually drawn

At the end of the exercise you’re assigned a Chess Hero rating:

95-120: Chess Superhero

70-94: Chess Hero

45-69: Trainee Hero

Below 45: Future Hero

If you teach chess at this level, please feel free to use this yourself. I may well decide to change the marking scheme in future, perhaps awarding 5 or 0 points rather than 10 or 5 in questions where there are only winning and drawing options: I’m still thinking about this.

Richard James

Fourth Time Unlucky

Here’s a puzzle for you, taken from a game I played the other day. It’s White’s move. What would you play?

While you’re thinking about your answer, here’s what was happening three boards away. My teammate, a new club member who, until a few weeks ago, had never played competitive chess, never recorded his moves or used a clock, and knows very little opening theory, was playing black against a seasoned campaigner (ECF 129). He’s very keen to play and improve so we’re selecting him for our matches whenever we can. It’s always important to encourage new members.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. d4 exd4
4. Bc4

A common choice at this level. You have to know what to do next. The usual reply is Nf6, which is fine as long as you know the Two Knights Defence and have good lines against both 5. O-O and 5. e5. If you prefer defending the Giuoco Piano to the Two Knights then you’ll probably prefer Bc5, which again will probably transpose after 5. c3.

On general principles, even if you don’t know the theory, you should get one of your pieces out rather than make a nervous reaction like..

4… h6

At one level it’s natural to be scared by the idea of Ng5, but after, say, 4… Nf6 5. Ng5, you can defend with either d5 or Ne5.

5. O-O Bc5
6. c3 dxc3
7. Nxc3 a6

Another unnecessary pawn move – just the sort of move we all tell our pupils not to play, and quite rightly so too. Perhaps he wanted to play b5 next move. The first time we met at the club we played a few friendly games, in one of which I played a similar gambit in the Ruy Lopez after he’d played some unnecessary pawn moves. After the game he asked me why I gave up the pawn.

Now White really ought to be pretty close to winning. He has several attractive attacking moves to choose from. The engines like Qb3 and Be3 (very happy for Black to trade and open the f-file) but White prefers a typical tactic in this sort of position.

8. Bxf7+

A temporary sacrifice to set up a fork.

8… Kxf7
9. Qd5+ Ke8
10. Qxc5 d6
11. Qh5+ Kf8
12. Ng5

I guess it’s tempting to threaten mate but there were probably stronger alternatives here. Black can meet the threat and then drive White’s pieces back.

12… Ne5

But not like this, though. The knight is open to attack here. It shouldn’t be too hard to spot 13. f4, which just wins at once, but instead White preferred…

13. Nd5 Nf6
14. Nxf6 Qxf6

Now Black has an awkward threat of g6, opening up a line of defence from f6 to h8 and winning a piece. The only way for White to keep an advantage now is to play 15. f4. Alternatively, 15. Nf3 leads to exchanges and a level position.

15. h3

Instead White misses Black’s threat and loses a piece.

15… g6
16. Qh4 hxg5
17. Qg3 Nf7
18. f4 Qd4+
19. Be3 Qxe4
20. fxg5 Bf5
21. Rac1 Rc8
22. Qf2 c5
23. Rce1 Qd5
24. Rd1 Qe6

Black has played sensibly over the past few moves and kept his extra piece. Now White spots a clever tactical idea to win a pawn…

25. g4 Be4
26. Rxd6

… but there’s a serious flaw.

If I told you Black had a mate in two in this position you’d have no difficulty finding it. If the opportunity for a snap mate comes along in a position in which you were just thinking about keeping your extra piece and checkmate hadn’t entered your head at all you could easily miss it.

But, as I keep on saying, you have to look at every forcing move: check, capture and threat.

It’s always nice to win a game with a queen sacrifice, but sadly for Black it wasn’t to be. There was an alternative win as well: Rxh3 when White has to trade twice on f7, ending up a rook down. No matter, though. Black’s still winning.

26… Qe8
27. Bxc5 Kg8
28. Rf6 Rxh3
29. Qd4

Now Black has another chance for an immediate win. It might not be so easy to find at this level, but 29… Rxc5 30. Qxc5 Qd7 leaves White with no defence against the twin threats of Qxg4+ and Rh1+ followed by Qd2+. He’s still winning easily, though after…

29… Rh1+
30. Kf2 Rh2+

Instead he could have traded to set up a fork: 30… Rxf1+ 31. Kxf1 Qb5+.

31. Kg3 Rg2+
32. Kh3 Rc7

Black stops to defend f7, but the computer finds 32…Nxg5+ 33.Kh4 Nf3+ 34.R6xf3 Bxf3 35.Rxf3 Qe1+ 36.Kg5 Qc1+ 37.Kxg6 Rc6+ 38.Bd6 Rxd6+ 39.Qxd6 Rxg4+ 40.Kf5 Qg5+ 41.Ke6 Re4+ 42.Kd7 Qg7+ 43.Kd8 Rd4, which is not possible for most of us to find over the board. The move also introduces the idea of transferring the rook to the h-file after the knight on f7 moves.

33. Re1

Now Black has a mate in six moves. Instead White might have tried 33. Rxf7 Rxf7 34. Rxf7, challenging Black to find the correct capture. The more obvious 34…Kxf7 leaves Black a rook ahead, but White can force a draw: 35.Qf6+ Kg8 36.Bd4 Qf8 37.Qe6+. Instead 34… Qxf7 35.Qxe4 Rxb2 should win.

34… Nxg5+
34. Kh4 Nf3+

An oversight, but it shouldn’t have mattered: I guess he must have overlooked that his bishop was pinned. The quickest mate was 34…Rh7+ 35.Kxg5 Rh5+ 36.Kf4 g5+ 37.Ke3 Rh3+ 38.Rf3 Rxf3#

35. Rxf3 g5+

There was still a mate: 35…Rh7+ 36.Kg5 Rh5+ 37.Kf4 g5+ 38.Ke3 Bb1+ and mate in two more moves.

36. Kh3 Rh7+

This should lose. Instead Black could draw by giving up his queen: 36…Rxg4 37.Rf8+ Qxf8 38.Bxf8 Bf5 threatening mate, when White can choose between 39.Qd5+ Rf7 40.Kh2 Rh4+ with a perpetual check and 39.Qxg4 Bxg4+ 40.Kxg4 Kxf8 with a drawn rook ending.

37. Kxg2 Bxf3+
38. Kxf3

The sort of obvious move you play without thinking – well at least I do, which is why I’m not a strong player! But it should only draw. Kf2, on the other hand, wins, as White will win the bishop later under more favourable circumstances.

38… Qxe1

Again, the obvious move you play without thinking – and again it’s a mistake. 38… Rf7+, taking time out to move the rook to a better square, would draw.

39. Qd8+ Kg7
40. Qxg5+ Kf7
41. Qf5+ Kg8

Or 41…Kg7 42.Bd4+ Kg8 43.Qg6+ Kf8 44.Bc5+ Re7 45.Qf6+ and wins

42. Qf8# 1-0

An exciting game but a sad end for Black. He’ll put it down to experience.

If you remember my articles from a few months ago (here and here) you’ll recognise the theme.

I was White, again facing the same opponent as in the first game quoted above, and again we both missed the same idea. In this case a bishop sacrifice decoys the black rook into a fork: 1. Bxd5 Rxd5 2. Qa8+. These ideas keep on coming up in my games – and every time I miss them, even though I’ve just been writing a chapter in Chess Tactics for Heroes based on this theme. The game, again, was eventually drawn. You may well see it in full here in a few months time.

We lost the 8-board match 3-5 but if we’d both taken our chances we’d have won 4½-3½ instead. Still, at least it was an end-of-season mid-division match with nothing at stake expect honour and grading points.

Richard James

ChessEssentials, Level 2

‘We raise Champions!”

A past review can be accessed here ChessEssentials, level 1
App link at the iTunes store ChessEssentials
Level 2 (reference ratings 400-800) costs $0.99 and it is an important piece of a proper foundation for any chess lover. It contains 22 lessons, 22 puzzle sets and 22 tests. They are listed in a well thought order covering the following aspects of the game:
Opening
Lessons 1-2 focus on the f7-weak spot called “Achille’s heel” and all basic checkmates in the opening connected to this weakness. Please have a look at one sample:


Basic tactics
– Lessons 3-4 cover the importance of attacks and defences: every time there’s an exchange possible, we need to count the attacks and defences, as well as the value of pieces involved in it. Lesson 3 looks at the options you need to consider when pieces in general are under attack, while lesson 4 presents the options available when the king is under attack. Please have a look at one sample:

– Lessons 5-11 go over the most important tactical weapons players should use during their games. Anyone will make big steps forward just by learning and practicing these tactics. There is the pin and here bishops pinning knights happen as early in the game as the first few moves. I remember a retired lady (avid chess enthusiast) from my junior years; she would come regularly at the club and play many games with anyone. She could not stand the opposing knights and was very afraid of them because of the unexpected forks they could deliver. Her strategy was very simple: trade them knights as early as possible! After a while you could have success playing her just by avoiding to trade your knights. Yes, sometimes the strategy you need to win games is as simple as this one!
– Lesson 5 covers forks
– Lesson 6 covers double attacks
– Lesson 7 covers pins
– Lesson 8 covers skewers
– Lesson 9 covers discovered attacks
– Lesson 10 covers discovered checks
– Lesson 11 covers double checks
Please have a look at one sample:

Opening
– Lessons 12-16 return to this important area of the game for any beginner; now armed with all those tactical weapons, it should be easier to navigate the first moves of the game while looking to develop, castle, occupy the center, etc. In case the opponents do not do it, the student can take advantage of it. Here I have proposed 3 basic openings for study with the Four Knights being one of the most played at this level. Learning any opening should start with learning tricks specific in each case. You can win many a game just by knowing tricks. Amateurs you encounter in any park or club in the World are well versed in all sort of opening tricks. The majority of them have learned those from own painful experience (tricks played on them), so it would save you grief to learn them ahead of time.
– Lesson 12 covers how to play the opening
– Lesson 13 covers how not to play the opening
– Lesson 14 covers the Four Knights Opening
– Lesson 15 covers the Bishop’s Opening
– Lesson 16 covers the Philidor Defence
Please have a look at one sample:

Endgame
– Lessons 17-20 jump all the way to the endgame. It is hard to reach your destination when you don’t know where you are going. This is the next step forward from level 1 and it shows how the queen/ rook has to fight against the lone remaining pawn ready to promote. It does happen in beginners games; have seen it often how the player having the queen would check endlessly the opposing king because of not knowing how to stop the pawn. The basic pawn endgames cover the important concept of the opposition in the most basic endgame of king + pawn versus king, followed by how to play in king + pawn versus king + pawn with the pawns blocked. Some might argue they are complicated and it is too early to learn these endgames; in my opinion the students must challenge themselves from early on and having to deal with only 3 to 4 pieces helps. Last but not least grasping the concept of the opposition brings a sentiment of excitement which can drive the student forward to study more. It gives great pleasure and a higher level of self esteem to be able to know when a pawn could promote or not. This moves anyone to a higher level of expertise, clearly above the masses called “woodpushers” who just move pieces around.
– Lesson 17 covers the basic endgame King+Queen versus King+pawn
– Lesson 18 covers the basic endgame King+Rook versus King+pawn
– Lesson 19 covers basic pawn endgames – the opposition
– Lesson 20 covers basic pawn endgames – blocked pawns
Please have a look at one sample:

Mates
– Lessons 21-22 continue what was started in level 1, reminding the student of the real object of the game. It moves gradually from checkmates in 1 to simple checkmates in 2. One can never do enough of these and focusing on the opposing king (as well as protecting yours from similar disasters) it is needed at all times. Later on you will see that an attack against the king will be more efficient than an attack against a piece or position not including the king. The reason is very simple: capturing the king ends the game. I remember the Romanian junior national chess final from 1979 where a completely unknown player at the time (MF Witezslav Lowy) rose through the ranks of the 9 rounds tournament to almost win the title; his greatest asset was his knack to attack the opposing king in all his games. He finished tied for first, surprising everyone and leaving a great impression on me as you can tell.
– Lesson 21 covers mates in 1
– Lesson 22 covers mates in 2
Please have a look at one sample:

Conclusion: level 2 helps the student establish a solid foundation. Using this knowledge could help them get noticed and be considered as promising players. Last but not least I will mention again that it helps the most by providing a plan for studying chess and all has to be tried over and over again in as many games as possible. Hope you find this presentation interesting and the app worth giving it a try!

Valer Eugen Demian

ChessEssentials, Level 1

‘We raise Champions!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valer Eugen Demian

Mr. Coach, I Don’t Know What To Do Next?

A common question, asked by post beginners after learning how to open the game, is what they should do next. Here I believe there are four most basic factors which can help you to find reasonable way to deal with the situation.

1) Look for tactics by eyeing for checks, captures and threats. Most of the beginners’ chess games feature missed tactical opportunities, and mainly due to double attacks and pins.

2) Mobility is perhaps the most basic and important concept ignored by beginners. If your pieces cover more squares in general they are more mobile. You can do it by centralizing them. Try to trade your passive pieces (less mobile ones) for your opponent’s active ones. I think that difficult concepts like space, open lines, outposts, piece improvement or even the pawn structure are based around mobility.

3) Find the target and attack. Finding a target is the most difficult thing for them and us as it has direct relation to our overall chess knowledge. It is also at the core of formulating a plan.

4) King safety is an area where there’s nothing new that I can add. The game ends with checkmate so do not try getting any kind of advantage by putting your king into danger.

Did I miss something? Please do comment here.

Ashvin Chauhan

King Up For The Ending

Like all chess teachers, I explain to all my pupils that the first rule of endings is to use your king actively. In the very early days of Richmond Junior Club, Mike Fox would use the acronym KUFTE (King Up For The Ending).

Here’s an example. I have the white pieces and am a pawn behind but as long as I remember the Philidor position I should draw with a bit of care. What could be more natural than moving my king up the board to g4? Let’s just shake hands and grab a swift pint in the bar before closing time. But I’m soon awakened from my reverie. The black pawn moves to h5. My opponent offers his hand, but not because he’s happy to share the point.

King Up For The Ending wasn’t such a good idea in that position, then. Perhaps I’ll do better next time.

I’m white again, and have a pawn on the seventh rank. I reach out for a queen, eager to promote my pawn and force resignation. “Check”, my opponent says. “Oh no, I missed that one. Never mind, I can move out of check and then promote. I must remember to bring my king up for the ending, and attacking an enemy pawn seems like a good idea, so I play Kf3. Now if Rg3+ I’m playing Kxf4, if Rg8 I can probably play Rd7 followed by Rd8, and if the rook moves horizontally I promote at once with mate. What could go wrong?

But instead, my opponent plays Rf2. “Checkmate”, he announces, apologetically, and stops the clock.

Perhaps it will be third time lucky.

This time my opponent has a knight rather than a rook, so I shouldn’t have to worry about checkmate. I must remember to watch out for knight forks: Kc4, for example, wouldn’t be too clever. So I’ll move my king forward again, both advancing and centralising: surely it must be safe this time. My opponent moves his knight to b6. From out of the blue it’s another checkmate.

It’s very easy, isn’t it, to make this sort of mistake. Many games are decided by opening tactics. At the start of the game we wear our Opening Hat. We think about quick development, central control and king safety, but if we forget our Tactics Hat we could easily overlook a fork, for example. While we wear our Tactics Hat in the middle game it’s all to easy to forget it when we have our Ending Hat on. We’re thinking about winning pawns, creating passed pawns, promoting them and mating our opponent with the resulting queens. We learn at an early age that in the ending the king is a fighting piece. We’re not likely to get mated with many pieces on the board so we can advance him fearlessly into enemy territory.

But as you’ve seen it doesn’t always work out like that. The Magic Question always has to take precedence. Just in case you didn’t know, the Magic Question is “If I play that move, what could my opponent do next? What checks, captures and threats will be at my opponent’s disposal?” With not many pieces on the board, it’s fatally easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. The clock is ticking away: perhaps you’re playing on increment. I guess we’ve all been there.

Here’s another example:

Of course you can guess what happened next: White played Kd4, advancing and centralising, but allowing Rd3#.

This one’s a bit different:

White is up by the exchange for a pawn. The king is already centralised so it’s time to think of another endgame precept: Passed Pawns Must Be Pushed. Another sad story: d6 was met by Bc6#.

So how did I find these examples? I’m currently in the final stages of research for Checkmates for Heroes, part of the Chess for Heroes project (about which much more later) and looking for examples of interesting black checkmates to be used as test positions. I also came across positions such as these which were interesting for other reasons.

One final, and rather different, tragedy, this time not an ending.

Anything reasonable will win for White. Nf3 is, according to the engines, mate in 9, while Qxg7+ is obvious and strong. Instead, White, not noticing there was a big difference, captured on g7 with the rook. As Tartakower said, the mistakes are all there waiting to be made. We’ll all do well to remember Tartakower, as well as the Magic Question, next time we play chess.

Richard James

Nine Eventful Moves

Here’s a question for all teachers.

When teaching, do you prefer to present your pupils with high level material, expecting them to fill in the gaps for themselves and make rapid improvement? Or do you prefer to present them with material which is at or slightly above their level, to reinforce what they already know and perhaps teach them one new skill.

Most chess teachers seem to prefer the first method, but, especially when working with younger and less experienced players, I prefer the second method. Showing lower level players a master game will, as often as not, leave them confused, giving them information which they are unable to contextualise.

Which is why I spent 30 years collecting games played at Richmond Junior Club, with the intention of producing coaching materials based on what actually happens in kids’ games.

One thing I noticed was how many games are decided by opening tactics, with the same patterns repeated over and over again. This is why I included a lot of opening tactics in my book Move Two!.

Consider this game, played the other day at Richmond Junior Club between two players of about 1000 (Elo) strength.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nf6

Black decided to try out a new opening, the Petroff Defence, but it transpired that he only knew the first two moves. In another game the same afternoon, played between two stronger (about 1500-1600 Elo) players, White tried 1. e4 c5 2. c3 but again only seemed to know the first two moves, being surprised that Black, who had seen the move before and knew what to do, replied 2… d5. He replied with the not very impressive 3. e5, when Black, instead of playing Bf5, leading to what you might consider either an advance French with the queen’s bishop outside the box or an advance Caro-Kann with an extra tempo, chose 3… e6, leading to an advance French which neither player seemed to know very much about. White seemed even more surprised when I explained that 2… d5 should be met by 3. exd5 Qxd5 4. d4.

As an aside, I consider the Petroff to be a reasonable choice for Black at this level as long as you know how to meet the tactics on the e-file. It requires a lot less knowledge of theory than 2… Nc6. The disadvantage is that it can easily lead to rather dull positions.

3. Nxe5 Nxe4

Now it’s clear that Black hadn’t made any attempt to study the Petroff. White, on the other hand, had learnt the Copycat Trap so knew what to do next. In future, Black will prefer the main line: 3… d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4.

4. Qe2

Most kids at this level know this, and when I demonstrated the game to a relatively small group (most of the club were at the UK Chess Challenge Megafinals) the following week, there were only a few who were unaware of what to do.

4… Ng5

Rather surprisingly, Black, a fairly experienced player, was still blind to what was going to happen next. One or two strong players have chosen this line, with 4… Qe7, as a surprise weapon, but as far as I can see Black’s going to be a pawn down with not a lot to show for it.

5. Nc6+

White was very well aware of what she should do next and gleefully pocketed the black queen.

5… Be7
6. Nxd8 Kxd8

White was ahead by a queen for a knight and just had to be careful. Her next move was absolutely fine.

7. d4 Re8

A black rook has appeared menacingly on the e-file, glaring at White’s royal couple. Alarm bells are ringing. Red lights are flashing. What should White do? Most of the audience the following week suggested 8. Be3, which looks extremely sensible to me, blocking the e-file and giving White time to get her king into safety by castling. 8. Nc3, intending to meet a discovered check with Be3, is also excellent. White saw that her queen was in danger and moved it out of the way, oblivious to the fact that the king was now exposed to a fatal double check.

8. Qd3 Bb4+

This time it was Black who knew exactly what to do, recognising the pattern of the familiar ‘Morphy’ rook and bishop mate.

9. Kd1 Re1#

And sadly, White was still a queen up, but a king down. All that in just nine moves.

Here’s what you might learn from this game:

  • If you want to try out a new opening you need to do more than learn the first two moves.
  • If your opponent plays the Petroff, play 3. Nxe5 and hope they fall for the Copycat Trap.
  • If you want to play the Petroff with Black remember to play 3. Nxe5 d6 followed by Nxe4 if the knight retreats (and be ready to play Qe7 in reply to Qe2).
  • Learn about how to place your line pieces (queen, rooks, bishops) in line with more valuable enemy pieces, understanding that if your piece is in the way you can play a discovered attack/check, while if your opponent’s piece is in the way it will be pinned.
  • Learn to understand and recognise (and see coming a long way off) discovered checks.
  • Learn about the idea of using discovered checks to win material (and being aware that the piece making the discovery will be, as long as it’s not next door to the enemy king, be immune from capture).
  • Learn about double checks – “the atom bomb of the chessboard” – and understand that a double check has to be met by a king move.
  • Learn the rook and bishop mating pattern – look at it in different contexts, for example Morphy v Aristocratic Allies.
  • Look at every check you could play – and look at every check your opponent could play in reply to your intended move.

Nine important lessons in just nine eventful moves. Cheap at half the price. And also just the sort of game I’d use for a very low level ‘How Good is Your Chess’ lesson.

Richard James