Category Archives: Basic (Rating below 1000)

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

Rook Endings (2)

Having been sent the rook ending you saw last week I decided to look at the rook endings in my Richmond Junior Chess Club database to see how young players handled them.

I started by looking at endings with rook and pawn against rook.

Before you learn rook and pawn against rook you’ll need to know how to mate with king and rook against king (obviously) and have a complete knowledge of all king and pawn against king positions. At any point one player will be trying to trade rooks while the other player will be trying to keep rooks on the board. At lower levels, of course, this knowledge is sometimes lacking.

There were several games where this sort of thing happened. Black, in a position which should be a comfortable draw, decided to play Rxf4+. I guess this is caused by false logic. Black thinks “If my opponent gets a queen I’ll be 9 points behind, so I should capture the pawn now when I’ll only be 5 points behind”. Time and time again, if you ask children why they played their move, they will give an answer involving some sort of false logic. He saw that he’d lose his rook but thought it was the right thing to do.

Children at this level also tend to think in terms of threats rather than plans. This policy might work well in your primary school chess club, but at higher levels you need something more. In endings, more than any other part of the game, you need a plan. The man with the plan wins. In this position White’s winning because the black king is cut off. His plan should be to bring his king across to support the pawn’s advance while using his rook to stop the enemy monarch approaching. Instead he saw the chance to create a threat and played Kf6. Black was alert to the possibility of a skewer and White’s win turned into a loss.

Several lessons from this:
1. You need to operate with plans rather than immediate threats.
2. You need to watch out for skewers in rook endings.
3. You need to remember the idea of using your rook to cut off the enemy king.

This is similar to our first example, but perhaps White had a different reason. Up to this point White had defended impeccably, but now forgot that he could continue checking and thought the only way to stop the immediate mate was to play Rxg3. If you know the Philidor position you’ll know that Rf1+ is an easy draw.

Black has an extra pawn but should only draw. Instead, she played a natural move, pushing her passed pawn to h4. Sadly for her, a rook check will drive her king away and she will lose her rook. Another game where the rook beats the rook and pawn, and another tactical idea you need to know.

One more lesson:
4. Look out for positions where a rook is defended by a king: a rook check might force the king away from defending the rook or into a potential skewer.

At the end of a long game, when you don’t have much time left on the clock, it’s all too easy to forget to ask yourself the Magic Question (if I play that move what will my opponent do next?). In this position Black promoted his pawn without enough thought, and yet another skewer cost him his new queen. Instead he had four winning moves, Kf1, Kf2, Rh3 and the attractive Rf3+, when, if Black captures, it’s White who has a skewer.

Next time we’ll look at some slightly more complicated endings with rook and pawn against rook, so stay tuned.

Richard James

Kids and Chess, Part Six

This Was a Blunder-fully Short Chess Game!

This is my final win against Benson Walent, so this will be the last time that I pick on him. This seems to be my second shortest chess game against a beginner and my sloppiest one that I have examined so far! I blundered on move number five and Benson started to punish my error. Then, I continued to make more bad moves! However, Benson let me off the hook by making a few bad moves himself and a couple of outright blunders that were worse than mine! In a matter of just seven moves I went from losing to winning.

One thing that has plagued me, as well as inexperienced players, is failing to win a won game. In this chess game, it was my opponent who failed to win a won chess game.

Mike Serovey

Kids and Chess, Part Five

For this week’s article I decided to pick on Benson Walent again. In this OTB chess game Benson played fairly well but he still lost in under 30 moves. The time control for this event was Game in 40 minutes with a 5 second delay. When Benson resigned he was down to about three and a half minutes while I still had 25 minutes. I moved too quickly at certain points in this chess game and thus I missed a couple of chances to win more quickly than I did. Benson took too long to move and ended up in time trouble.

When playing against beginners I can get overly confident and thus a little sloppy. My play was a little sloppy in this chess game because I was playing the Botvinnik system and did not check to see if I had better moves. Also, I will often trade down into an endgame and outplay my opponents there.

In recent events I discovered that I no longer have the endurance to grind out endgames and that strategy does not work well for me when I have no time to rest between rounds. In future rapid events, I will be slowing down in the openings and looking to crush my opponents there and try to win before we get to an endgame.

Mike Serovey

Kids and Chess, Part Four

In my previous articles about kids and chess I posted my losses to kids that were pretty strong. In this article I have posted one of my three wins against a little boy who was a beginner at the time that I played him. Benson Walent was a student of “Coach Mike” at the time that I played him. “Coach Mike” taught his students to play the Kings Indian Defense against anything other than 1.e4 by White. I played the English Opening and Benson went into the Kings Indian Defense as he was taught to.

One advantage of playing system openings is that you do not have to memorize as much. The drawback is that you become predictable. The Kings Indian Defense against the English Opening has never given me any real problems and in this chess game Black started having problems on move number 10. By move number 12 Black was losing.
Benson Walent between adults playing chess

In the photograph above, Benson Walent is the little boy who is between the adults on the right. At the time that this chess game was played, my rating was twice his, I was about three times his physical size and four times his age. I also had White. This gave me a huge psychological advantage! Behind Benson are two masters who are playing against each other on Board One.

The Tampa Bay area has many traditions that I never really understood. One of them is Guavaween. This chess tournament was played on or around the day of Guavaween and thus it was named after that event. You can find some information on the supposed origins of Guavaween at

Mike Serovey

Typical Errors in Children’s Games

I was watching a game between two young girls, both fairly good players for their age, at Richmond Junior Club yesterday.

As I reached their board the position, in its essentials, looked something like this:

I watched White playing Qxf7+. As soon as she saw the check Black picked up her king and moved it to its only legal square, h8. Now White noticed she had a passed pawn so moved it from c6 to c7. Black now spotted that the white queen was en prise and captured it with her queen. But it was too late: White was promoting a pawn and soon won the game.

In this short sequence we see several errors which are very typical of the play of children at this level.

White sees what she thinks is a good move and jumps at the opportunity to play it without checking whether or not it’s safe. Backward diagonal moves are often the hardest to see, and here White’s move could and should have thrown away the win.

Black does what so many children do when then they hear their opponent announce ‘check’. She picks up her king without stopping to look whether there’s a better way to get out of check, such as blocking or, even better, capturing. This is an automatic reaction: my king’s in danger so I’d better move it. It’s something children really have to get out of, the sooner the better.

Then White reacts to the first thing she notices – the passed pawn on c7. She doesn’t notice that she has a very simple checkmate in one move, or that she can capture her opponent’s queen. When you see a good move, look for a better move rather than playing it straight away. Use a CCTV to look at the chessboard: look for Checks (for both players), Captures (for both players) and Threats (for both players) in that order and you will be rewarded with Victory. In this case White happened to notice a Threat before she looked for Checks (one of which was checkmate) and captures (one of which won a free queen).

At this point, though, it doesn’t matter. Black now notices that she can take the queen on f7, but White promotes and Her Majesty makes a quick reappearance.

A few lessons to learn:

Don’t jump at the first move you see that looks good. Make sure it’s safe, and stop to see whether there’s a better move.

Don’t automatically pick up your king when your opponent says ‘check’. It’s sometimes better, especially early in the game, to block the check. It’s often better still if you can capture the piece that’s checking you safely.

Watch out for backward diagonal moves: they’re often the easiest moves to miss.

Most chess games are not won by playing good moves: they’re lost by playing bad moves. Ensuring you’re not making a mistake is, at this level, the most important chess skill of all.

One of the things I explain to my pupils is that one way (and there are many others) in which I’m different from other teachers is that most teachers teach you to play good moves: I teach you not to play bad moves.

Richard James

Recognising the Patterns : Challenge # 10

Today’s challenge: Find the typical pattern and react accordingly. White to Move

A.Carmer against P. Zilverberg 1992

Q: Black’s last move was 15…Bg7, was it wise decision?

It was not wise decision as game ended very quickly. It was better to play 15…Nc7 or 15…Qe7.

16. Qxg7+!!

This leads to checkmate in three moves.

17. Nf5+

Double check.

18. Nh6#

This method of checkmating with knight and bishop is called a suffocation mate.

Gyula Sax against Jan Banas in 2001

Q: Black can’t castle on the king-side. Is castling long preferable?

A: Castling long is not preferable because that loses at least a rook.

19…0-0-0 20.Nb5!!

Threatening checkmate with Na7.


A tricky move.

If 20…Qb6 then 21. Nd6+ Kb8 22. Nc4+ Ne5 23. Nxb6 wins the rook.

21. Na7+ 1-0

Black resigned in view of Nxc6+ followed by Qxa5 is winning. Of course not 21. Qxa5 then …Rxd1+ followed by …axb5 and Black can get back into the game.

Steinitz Against Brokenbrough in 1885

Q: Of course White is winning. but can you see a way to finish off it quickly?

A:Yes, he can sacrifice his queen as follows:

18. Qxf6!! gxf6

What else?

19. Bh6+ – Kg8

20. Re3

Threatening checkmate with Rg3 or Ne7 and the queen can’t protect both the squares.

20… Qc7 21. Rg3 Qxg3 22. Nc7# 1-0

Even 21. Ne7+ also leads to mate.

Ashvin Chauhan

Chess Games for Heroes (2)

Here’s another Chess Games for Heroes offering in which students are shown a game, asked to find the best move in certain situations, and are rewarded with points for making good choices.

Game 2
Howard Staunton – Alfred Brodie
London 1851

This game was played in the first ever international chess tournament, held in London in 1851. Howard Staunton, the winner of this game, was one of the strongest players in the mid 19th century as well as the organiser of the tournament. Alfred Brodie was an amateur drafted in at short notice when some of the expected players failed to arrive on time. Can you play as well as Staunton?

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6

Choose a move for White

3. d4

5 points for this move, Nc3, Bc4 or Bb5. 3 points for c3 or Be2. This is the SCOTCH GAME.

Choose a move for Black

3… exd4

5 points for this move, Black’s only good reply. 2 points for d6, Nf6 or Nxd4.

Choose a move for White

4. Bc4

5 points for this move, Nxd4 or c3. Nxd4 is the main line of the SCOTCH GAME. 4. c3 is the GÖRING GAMBIT. 4. Bc4 is the SCOTCH GAMBIT. White plays for quick development rather than stopping to take the pawn back.

Choose a move for Black.

4… Bb4+

3 points for this move. 5 points for Nf6, Black’s safest reply, which is a variation of the TWO KNIGHTS DEFENCE. 3 points also for Bc5, Be7 or d6.

Choose a move for White

5. c3

5 points for this move, gaining time by attacking the bishop. 2 points for Bd2.

5… dxc3

Choose a move for White

6. 0–0

5 points for this move, bxc3 or Nxc3. White again goes for quick development but taking the pawn on c3 was also good.

6… Qf6

Choose a move for White

7. e5

3 points for this move. 5 points for Nxc3, probably the best move. 3 points also for bxc3, Bg5, Qc2 or Qb3. White sets a trap, hoping Black will capture the pawn.

Bonus question 1: what would you play if Black played Nxe5 here?

5 points for Nxe5.

Bonus question 2: what would you then play if Black played Qxe5?

10 points for Re1.

7… Qe7

Choose a move for White

8. a3

2 points for this move which is a bit slow. 5 points for Nxc3 or bxc3, taking a pawn back.

8… cxb2

Choose a move for White

9. Bxb2

No points: this is the only sensible move. Otherwise Black will capture the rook on a1 and get another queen. Lose 5 points if you played anything else.

9… Bc5

Choose a move for White

10. Nc3

5 points for this move, getting the knight out onto a strong square. 2 points for Qc2 or Qd3.

10… d6

Choose a move for White

11. Nd5

5 points for this strong move, attacking the black queen. 2 points for exd6.

Bonus question 3: What would you play if Black played Qe6 now?

10 points for Nxc7+, a FORK winning the queen.

11… Qd8

Choose a move for White

12. exd6

5 points for this move. This capture opens two lines of attack for White: the e-file and the long diagonal. 3 points for e6 and 2 points for Re1.

12… Bxd6

Choose a move for White

13. Bxg7

5 points for this move, capturing a pawn and trapping the rook in the corner. No points for anything else.

13… Bg4

Choose a move for White

14. Re1+

5 points for this move, moving the rook to the open file, checking the black king and setting a trap. 5 points also for Bxh8: capturing the rook must also be good.

14… Nge7

Choose a move for White

15. Nf6#

10 points for this move. White spots a clever checkmate. 5 points for Bxh8 which will also win easily.

Howard Staunton won this game by developing his pieces quickly and opening lines for an attack on the enemy king. Black played a risky opening, accepting the gambit pawns. He then made two mistakes. He should have played Ba5 rather than Bc5 on move 9, to capture the knight if it went to c3. His 10th move, d6, was also a mistake, allowing Staunton to open the e-file.

Finally he overlooked the checkmate but he was going to lose his rook on h8 anyway. It would still have been easy for Staunton to win the game.

If you didn’t score well on this game think about how you can develop your knights and bishops quickly. Exchanging pawns will help you open lines for your pieces. Castle quickly and then use your rook in the centre of the board.

Richard James

The Milner-Barry Gambit Versus Killer Dan Smith

This is another correspondence chess game from the 1978 Golden Knights Postal Championship and another “What was I thinking?” game. Back then I did not own a computer and I did not have access to chess databases or chess engines. I did not even have a book on the French Defense! I was playing from memories of what stronger players had shown to me and I was winging it.

Prior to this correspondence chess game I played another Dan Smith in an Over the Board (OTB) chess game in Tampa, Florida and lost. My friends called my opponent in that OTB chess game “Killer” Dan Smith so I transferred the nickname over to this new Dan Smith.

One of the drawbacks to playing gambits is that if my attack fails I can end up going into an endgame down material. That is what happened in this correspondence chess game. Because I made a couple of missteps, my attack fizzled out and I went in to the endgame down a pawn. Another miscalculation cost me a second pawn and I resigned.

Mike Serovey

Chess Games for Heroes (1)

Last week I introduced you to the concept of Chess Games for Heroes: short games for use by chess teachers in clubs, small groups or one to one, where students have to guess the next move (or rather select what they consider to be the strongest move) and receive points for good suggestions.

Here, as promised is the first game.

Game 1
Gioacchino Greco – NN
About 1620

This is one of the earliest surviving games of chess. Gioacchino Greco was an Italian chess player born in about 1600. In 1625 he published a book of games, which were probably his opening analysis. Here’s one of them. Can you find his moves?

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6

Choose a move for White.

3. Bc4

5 points for this move, Nc3, d4 or Bb5. 3 points for c3 or Be2. This is the ITALIAN GAME.

Choose a move for Black.

3… Bc5

5 points for this move, the GIUOCO PIANO, or Nf6, the TWO KNIGHTS DEFENCE. 3 points for Be7 and 2 points for d6.

Choose a move for White.

4. c3

5 points for this move, d3, Nc3, 0-0 or b4 (the EVANS GAMBIT). White plans to play d4, controlling the centre.

Choose a move for Black.

4… d6

2 points for this move. 5 points for Nf6, the best move, attacking e4. 3 points for Qe7 or Bb6.

Choose a move for White.

5. d4

5 points for this move. 3 points for 0-0, d3 or b4. White has two strong pawns in the centre.

5… exd4

Choose a move for White

6. cxd4

5 points for this move, keeping his two pawns in the centre.

6… Bb4+

Choose a move for White

7. Nc3

5 points for this move, or for Kf1 (it’s usually better to block in this sort of position but Kf1 creates various threats here). 3 points for Nbd2 or Bd2.

7… Nf6

Choose a move for White

8. 0–0

5 points for this move, d5 or Bg5. 3 points for Qd3 or Qc2. Black can now win a pawn but White is getting his pieces out quickly and Black hasn’t castled yet.

Bonus question 1. Suppose White plays 8. d5 here. Choose a move for Black in that position.

5 points for Bxc3+

Bonus question 2. Now suppose that after 8. d5 Black plays Ne7. Choose a move for White in that position.

5 points for Qa4+, a FORK winning the bishop. This is why Black had to play Bxc3+ after d5.

8… Bxc3

Choose a move for White

9. bxc3

No points for this obvious recapture. Also no points for d5. If you played anything else you lose 5 points.

9… Nxe4

Choose a move for White

10. Re1

5 points for this move, putting a rook on the open file and PINNING the knight. 3 points for d5, Qc2 or Nd2.

10… d5

Choose a move for White

11. Rxe4+

5 points for this interesting sacrifice. 5 points also for Ba3, stopping Black from castling. White has lots of good moves here: 3 points for Bxd5 (after Qxd5, Ng5 will win the piece back because of the PIN), Bg5, Bd3, Nd2 or Ng5.

11… dxe4

Choose a move for White

12. Ng5

5 points for this move, threatening to capture on f7.

Choose a move for Black

12… 0–0

No points for this move, which, as you’ll see, loses. 5 points for Ne5 (White can’t take the knight because he’ll lose his queen). 2 points for Rf8 or Be6.

Choose a move for White

13. Qh5

5 points for this move, giving White a winning attack.

Bonus question 3. What would you play if Black played g6 here.

5 points for Qxh7# – CHECKMATE ends the game.

13… h6

Choose a move for White

14. Nxf7

5 points for this move, giving White a winning attack. 2 points for Bxf7+.

14… Qf6

Choose a move for White

15. Nxh6+

5 points for this move, a DOUBLE CHECK leading to mate. 2 points for Bg5 which wins the queen.

15… Kh8

Choose a move for White

16. Nf7+

5 points for this move. 2 points for Nf5+, Ng4+ or Ng8+, which take longer.

16… Kg8

Choose a move for White

17. Qh8#

5 points for this move: it’s CHECKMATE!

Black played a natural but not very good move on move 4 after which he was always in trouble. White occupied the centre with his pawns, developed his knights and one of his bishops quickly (he didn’t need to use the other bishop), castled quickly and put his rook on the open e-file. Black tried to castle to make his king safe but this gave White a winning attack.

Richard James