Category Archives: Basic (Rating below 1000)

Guidelines For Teaching Kids Endgames and Tactics

Once a student is familiar with piece movements, attacks, check and checkmate, my next topic is to teach him or her elementary mates. This was explained by Capablanca in his book Chess Fundamentals.

“The first thing a student should do, is to familiarise himself with the power of pieces. This can best be done by learning how to accomplish quickly some of the simple mates.”

In my view tactics and endgames should be learned in parallel. For tactics it’s best to proceed step by step to develop tactical skills very gradually and effectively. I have had very good results with that. But for the endgame I referred to many books before finally choosing ‘GM RAM’. This seems very strange at first as there are just 256 dry positions to work out without even knowing who is to move! But once you go though the you realise that the first 58 endgame positions are really essential. I realised that 70% or more of my endgame knowledge is based around those 58 positions, and these cover the following topics:

– Key Square
– Rule of Square
– Opposition
– Shouldering
– Pawn breakthrough
– Essential Rook ending (Philidor and Lucena)
– Queen vs. Rook endgame
– Essential Queen endgames

These elements are all vital for practical endgame play. And as there is nothing ready-made it can actually actually inspire us to work through them in our own way.

There is a problem when a coach focuses on the endgame. A few of my students see the endgame as boring, insisting that I teach them more and more tactics, but the problem is that they can’t understand that they are not knowledgeable enough to decide what is good for them.

Accordingly I have not changed my way even at the cost of some students going elsewhere for lessons. Quality demands sacrifices.

Ashvin Chauhan

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Blunder Or Sense Of Danger

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Ashvin Chauhan

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World Rapid Chess Championship

The FIDE World Rapid Chess Championship 2014 recently concluded with Magnus Carlsen winning, followed by Fabiano Caruana in 2nd place and Viswanathan Anand in 3rd.

There was an interesting endgame between the FIDE World Champion, Carlsen, and former World Champion, Anand. Carlsen uncharacteristically went wrong in an ending. In taking a pawn with his knight he missed a simple rook move that skewered his bishop and knight. Anyone can make such mistakes, especially in rapid chess, but when the World Champion does it, it’s called a blunder! Despite this loss, it wasn’t enough to stop Carlsen becoming the 2014 World Rapid Champion. You can view the ending play with commentary on the clip below.

Angus James

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Legal Aid

I’m sure you all know about Legal’s Mate (or, if you prefer, Legall or Legalle, with or without an acute accent). It’s named after François Antoine de Legall de Kermeur (1702–92), a French chess player who taught Philidor and was probably, until he lost a match to his pupil in 1755, the strongest player in the world. Sadly, the games of that match are not extant: all we have of his play is the one game with the mate that bears his name.

Here’s an example from the RJCC database: Ray Cannon giving a simul back in 1987.

Black resigned, seeing that 8.. Ke7 9. Nd5 was checkmate. He would have been better advised to capture with the pawn rather than the knight on move 6.

There are, as you would imagine, many games on my database where one player unwittingly moves the pinned knight, losing the queen. Beginners will see the attack on the knight, decide they don’t want to lose it (even though it’s defended twice) and move it away. Alternatively, as in the next game, a more experienced but impatient player will get excited about the idea of creating a threat and forget to ask himself the Magic Question.

Of course, this is a really important topic that we need to teach to young children.

Firstly, they have to understand the pin, recognise the typical position type and be aware that if they move the knight their opponent will be able to capture their queen.

Then they need to learn that sometimes, but not very often, they will be able to move the pinned knight with impunity because they, like Sire de Legall or Ray Cannon, will have a mate at the other end of the board. Apart from its practical merit, it’s always good to show children queen sacrifices. There’s a section on Legal’s Mate in Move Two!.

But there are two possible problems that can arise. The first one happens when they find the mate they’d planned was illusory. One of my earliest coaching experiences was a game at RJCC where, after we’d given the class a lesson on Legal’s Mate, one player did just this. It might possibly have been this game:

If this was the game I’m thinking of, Black played Ng4 fully aware that White could take the queen but hoping that he had a mate in reply.

Another thing that can go wrong is that the mate’s there but the sacrificer hasn’t considered what happens if his opponent doesn’t take the queen.

Here’s the start of another RJCC game from the same period:

The mate’s there OK if Black takes the queen on move 6, but he unsportingly captured the knight instead when White had nothing for the piece.

Failing to check for this sort of thing is not recommended, but in another RJCC game nearly 20 years later Black got away with his indiscretion:

A little bit of thought would have persuaded White to play 12. Nxe4, leaving him a piece ahead. So there you have it. Teach your pupils about Legal’s Mate: it’s an important part of their chess education. Don’t forget to provide some Legal aid as well. Teach them to ensure that the mate is actually there if their opponent snaps at the bait, and to check what happens if their opponent doesn’t take the queen. Perhaps a worksheet could be produced where the students have to tell you whether or not the unpinning sacrifice works.

Richard James

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Where to Place Your Pieces?

Recently I have observed that a few of my young students get confused when they face an opening other than 1. e4 e5 and it is not wise to teach them particular opening when you have just introduced opening principles. So I’ve come to the conclusion that when we teach opening principles we should focus the rapid development in detail in order to overcome this issue.

What points to be considered while we talk about rapid development? Well I mainly focus on those below:
1) Piece activity
2) Its mobility
3) Targets

Here I would like to mention that I just want to give them what they can digest. All the points are interrelated so I show them the two positions below on different boards and ask the following questions:

i) What is the total number of squares that piece is eyeing on after its development?

ii) How many squares are controlled in the opponent’s half?

iii) Is that piece targeting anything?

They will automatically understand that a bishop on c4 is much better than on e2.

Another point I want to emphasis when I talk about mobility is retreating as I have observed that their pieces get trapped because there is no retreating squares. Again I show them below two examples on different boards.

Here I talk about the different boards, the logic being that if they see two boards together they can save that data as a picture in their subconscious minds which is easy to recall. It is like comparing two similar looking images and finding the differences. No matter how difficult the topic is to grasp it can be presented in a way that can be understood.

Ashvin Chauhan

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Future Masters

Future masters have to start somewhere and most in England learn their skills on the weekend tournament circuit, in junior events and adult events. It used to be the case that it would take many years, even for the most talented, to become masters, but now things seem to have speeded up with access to databases and coaching.  It is remarkable how quickly juniors can improve now. One kid from nearby went from a beginner to the top player in the county for his age category in just 3 years. I guess he will have his first master title in another 3 years, such is the trajectory of his progression.

I recently had a look through some of my games in the 1990s, the decade when I first started playing chess. In 1996, I played in the World Amateur Championship in Hastings. I played a future IM, Thomas Rendle. He was only about 10 at the time, graded perhaps around 1500 elo, while I was about 1700 elo – although the ratings are a bit irrelevant as we were both heading for ratings hundreds of points higher. While I was a bit more experienced, he had the confidence of youth. He was in the habit of wearing bow-ties, as I recall. I thought he was a bit reminiscent of Walter, the arch enemy of Dennis and Gnasher. Anyway, he played the French Defence, which he still does today, although he’s no longer wearing the bow-ties!

In the game below he played well until he saw an opportunity to win two minor pieces for a rook, missing that his king would get into trouble.

Although I won this encounter, ten years later he become an IM while I hit a wall and stopped making significant progress. I like to think that the reason why I didn’t progress to master level was that I only came to chess as an adult, and annoying things like having to earn a living got in the way. While there is probably a little bit of that involved, it is probably more because I didn’t want to improve as much as he did and didn’t prioritise it enough. What are you prepared to sacrifice to improve? If you’re not giving 100% to chess, forget becoming a master. And watch out for the kids – some of them may be future masters!

Angus James

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Improving Concentration

Being able to concentrate at the board is easier said than done, yet it is vital if you are going to play your best chess. Among the issues that could impact on your concentration are tiredness, fitness level, health, distractions and worries at home/work, etc.

Health and fitness are easily taken for granted, until you reach middle age and realise they are not a given. To be fit, well and rested for a tournament or match you have to train not just your chess brain, but also take care of yourself. It is notable that professional chess players spend a large amount of time preparing for matches just focusing on fitness. Great stamina is required to play at a high level for hours. Concentration is something that can be improved by increasing your fitness level and maintaining good health.

Getting a good night’s sleep before playing chess is an obvious one, but not always easy to achieve when you’ve got a family. Try to get an early night and avoid too much alcohol or caffeine.

On the day itself, get some fresh air before the game with a walk or some form of exercise. This is likely to help to get your body and mind energised for the game. Last minute opening preparation will most likely be a waste of time.

Some players find it useful to turn up 15 minutes early to games to get into ‘the zone’ before the game starts. Apparently Botvinnik did this. If you only get into ‘the zone’ 15 minutes after the game has started the whole game could be decided by then. Being calm will most likely put you in a better position to cope with whatever is about to occur at the board or around it.

When you do finally get started – after you’ve done your fitness program, healthy lifestyle regime, got a good night’s sleep, had a walk in the morning and turned up early – there can be really irritating distractions. Like talking in the background by inconsiderate folk, eating at the board (especially crisps and wrapped sweets), slurping tea/coffee, table shaking, etc. These things are often more distracting than someone’s mobile going off, but no one gets defaulted for them. Your opponent is not supposed to distract you, but rather than having a dispute that requires arbiter intervention, it might be better to remain resolutely focused on the position and not let yourself be distracted by it all. Maintain a Zen-like calm, and don’t let those pesky distractions get to you!

Spend as much time at the board as possible, concentrating as hard as you possibly can. You might find it helpful to get up regularly to take a little walk around, but try and limit these leg stretches in terms of time so that you’re not tempted to take your mind off the position. There is nothing worse than returning to the board and thinking, ‘what was I planning to do next?!’ and spending 15 minutes to re-acquaint yourself with the position.

Staying hydrated by drinking water before and during games is wise, particularly if the venue temperature is warm. This may mean you need to visit the bathroom once or twice, but better that than being dehydrated, which is proven to negatively impact body and mind performance. If you need to eat during the game, apparently bananas are good for slow release of carbohydrates, so that you don’t have any high or low blood sugars.

Angus James

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Defence Skills

Defence skills are just as important as attacking skills. At a basic level, that means noticing when, for example, an undefended piece is attacked and threatened with capture. Usually, defending it or moving it is required – unless there is something more important going on elsewhere on the board, like a checkmate threat. In chess clubs at primary schools, players can often miss that their pieces are en prise (‘in a position to be taken’). Just getting them to check before they move whether any of their pieces are en prise is a good habit, and a breakthrough if they can manage it. When I see players hesitating even for a moment before making a move, it is a good sign that they are considering things that previously they would have ignored or overlooked. With experience they learn that mistakes like leaving pieces en prise for no good reason, can and usually will get punished by experienced opponents.

Scholar’s Mate, and variants of this, are simple attacks right out of the opening, but they are remarkably effective at school chess clubs and junior tournaments. Learning how to defend against this most basic attack is an important first step on the road to improving defence skills. Players that can survive the opening without being mated or losing material often find that their opponents start to lose heart. The game is not over in seconds; the first attack of the game has failed; and they have a fight on their hands. Having easily repelled an attack the initiative can pass to the defender.

Here is the classic Scholar’s Mate:

Here is a kind of Scholar’s Mate that was played at a recent junior tournament. Note how Black overlooks the vast array of defensive moves he has at his disposal to avoid mate (not to mention White’s own blunder):

Most of the time juniors at school chess clubs don’t need to play amazing attacking chess to win a game. They just need to be alert to threats and have some basic defensive skills. Training and practice that cultivates defence skills is just as important as attack skills. Good tactics training will include both attack and defence problems to solve, because finding the right way to defend can be just as important as finding the right attacking moves.

Angus James

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Checkmate Patterns

Players who have moved beyond the beginners stage and have reached the stage where they wish to improve their play, need to do a lot of work on tactics. This will improve their board vision and help to eliminate mistakes such as leaving pieces en prise. Of course, mistakes  never get completely eliminated from one’s game – even masters drop pieces from time to time – but by making very few serious errors a player will be tougher to beat.

One of the good ways to start is to acquaint yourself with mating patterns. As many instructors have said before, pattern recognition is very important in chess. If you’ve seen a pattern and can memorise it, when something like it happens in a game you’re playing, you will hopefully ‘see’ the pattern and know what to do without really thinking. ‘Intuition’ at the board – just ‘knowing’ what to do without really calculating at all – could partly be to do with natural talent, but it is also likely to be the result of training and practice.

You can read about an array of checkmating patterns here. Some of the names of these mates I didn’t even know had names, although I was familiar with them having utilised them enough times in my own games! I leave you with one example game, which features Anastasia’s Mate. My students are always pleased to see the theoretical applied in practice, and this is certainly a pretty neat game.

Angus James

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Dutch Disaster

English GM Keith Arkell won the recent European Individual Seniors for those age 50+. But he is a relatively young veteran compared with some of those playing! Following the individual event was the European Senior Team Championship where the following miniature was played between a 69 year old and an 81 year old. Congratulations to these two old masters who create a wonderful spectacle. Who says chess is just a young persons game? With people living longer perhaps in the future we will see more adult age categories. Besides 50+ and 65+ perhaps an age 80+ category? Viktor Korchnoi, for example, is 83 and still playing. Anyway, this game is the kind of sparkling game that inspires people to play chess, so I can’t help repeating it here.

Angus James

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