Category Archives: Basic (Rating below 1000)

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

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 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guavaween

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?

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

15…Bg7
16. Qxg7+!!

This leads to checkmate in three moves.

16…Kxg7
17. Nf5+

Double check.

17…Kg8
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.

20…Ne5

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