Category Archives: Children’s Chess

Chess and Heavy Vehicle Rescue

We’ve all driven by vehicular accidents on motorways and silently hoped the victims weren’t badly hurt. However, we seldom give a moment of thought to the men and women who have to clear those wrecks off of the road. When a truck flips over and blocks the motorway, it’s these men and women who not only have to clear the road so traffic can flow again, but also have to rescue or save the valuable cargo contained within the truck’s trailer. Add to this the dangers of getting hit by a passing car while trying to clean things up and you have a job taken on by only a brave few.

I started watching a television program called Highway Thru Hell, about a heavy vehicle rescue team in Canada recently. This team patrols the Coquihalla Highway, one of the most beautiful and dangerous highways in North America. What does this have to do with chess? Surprisingly, everything. As I watched episode after episode, I couldn’t help thinking that the owner of Jamie Davis Motor Truck and Auto Ltd, Jamie Davis, uses his mind the way in which a strong chess player does.

The Coquihalla Highway, or Coq as it’s known, is a major transportation route for commercial vehicles in Canada. It’s busy every single day of the year. During the winter it becomes covered with snow and ice, requiring around the clock snow removal. During the winter months, ice is the enemy and an enormous number of truckers lose their battle with it every single day. If a large truck overturns and blocks a lane, traffic builds up for miles and miles. If all lanes are blocked, commerce comes to a standstill. Often all lanes have to be blocked to remove a large wreck. This highway depends on guys like Jamie Davis to keep it open. Still, what does this have to do with chess?

If you’re in the position Davis is in, every single day of the year, you have to solve very complex problems quickly. Those problems are multifaceted. On the one hand, you have to clear the road. Of course, you could use brute force and drag the wreck off the road. However, on the other hand, the owner of the cargo that’s inside the truck wants what’s left of the cargo to remain intact. If the load inside the truck’s trailer is unharmed but the trailer itself is completely damaged, you have to not only save the cargo but do it fast. The only people who can do this are people who can quickly and correctly analyze a problem and then create a flexible plan in case there are any additional, unforeseen problems. This sounds like positional analysis and planning in chess!

Chess players carefully examine candidate moves in order to determine which one is best. Davis carefully looks at the problem and comes up with a number of solutions, only choosing one after thoroughly working though each, comparing their individual merits to determine the best course of action.

Of course, this is where experience comes into the equation. We’ve all seen experienced chess players analyze positions as if it was second nature. They can analyze a position with little trouble because they’ve been doing it for a long time. The same idea holds true for Davis. Watching him work through a specific problem is like watching a strong chess player working through a position. When it comes to vehicle rescue and recovery, he’s a Grandmaster.

I’ve had a few chess players ask me while I seek chess knowledge outside of the realm of chess. You don’t have to be a chess player to make really great decisions based on logic and reason. Problem solving is the key to playing good chess. It’s also the key to being good at everything else in life. The reason I look at how other people solve problems in unrelated fields is because I sometimes find a new way to approach a problem that allows me to find a better solution on the chessboard. Just because chess has principled methods to guide you when solving positional problems doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look elsewhere, especially if you want to improve your methodology. Sometimes the best solutions are found far from the environment in which your problem resides.

Yes, you have to study chess to get good at chess but there are other avenues you can take to improve your game. Yes, you have to learn principled methods to solve positional problems, but your chess education shouldn’t stop there. I’ve taken to watching documentaries that revolve around problem solving. Some of these are medical in nature and some deal with truck wrecks on an icy highway. What they have in common is this: People being forced to solve complex problems in a short period of time. That’s how I develop my positional problem solving skills. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

The Wrong Rook’s Pawn

Every Russian schoolboy (and girl) knows that if you have just a king, and your opponent has a rooks pawn along with a bishop which doesn’t control the promotion square, you can draw if your king can reach the corner.

Let’s look, for example, at this position from a game in the 1991 Richmond Junior Championship.

Black was winning easily but erroneously queened a pawn on a1, which White captured with his knight. Black’s bishop took back, and White played his king from e2 to f2, reaching this position. You’ll see that he could have drawn most simply by playing g4, moving his king to h1 and waiting for his opponent to shake hands. But no matter: this position is still drawn.

Let’s play on a few moves.

1.. Kg4
2. Kg1

This move or g3 will draw: other moves lose.

2.. Kg3
3. Kh1 Kf2
4. Kh2

Now the white king is safely in the corner everything draws.

4.. Be5+
5. Kh3

If you don’t know this ending it might look natural to head towards the pawn, but this move loses. Instead Kh1 and g3 are both easy draws.

Now it’s up to Black to find the winning plan. At this point there are seven winning moves to choose from: five safe bishop moves along the h2-b8 diagonal, Kg1 and h6. His choice, as you’ll see, isn’t the quickest, but it’s good enough.

5.. Bg3
6. Kg4

It’s crunch time. Black now has only one winning move. Did he find it? Can you find it?

The only winning move is 6.. h6. The plan is to defend this pawn with the bishop and then force White’s king away.

A sample variation: 6.. h6 7. Kh5 Bf4 8. Kg4 Be3 9. Kh3 Kg1 10. Kg3 Bd2 11. Kh3 Be1 12. g3 Bd2 13. Kg4 Kg2 14. Kh4 Bc1 15. g4 Bg5+ 16. Kh5 Kg3 17. Kg6 Kxg4

He didn’t find this plan, though. Instead the game continued:

6.. Be5

Now White has one drawing idea: 7. Kg5 Bg7 8. g4. Without this pawn Black would be winning, but now he has no way of making progress.

7. Kh3

Now Black’s winning again. He has the same seven moves as two moves ago, and this time finds the quickest win.

7.. h6
8. g4

Black again has seven winning moves – bishop moves on the h2-b8 diagonal, Kf1 and Kg1. Bg3 is the neatest and quickest move, forcing White to play g5 and covert the h-pawn into a g-pawn, mating in 14 moves. Bf4, to defend h6, takes one move longer.

Alas, he chooses something else:

8.. Bf6
9. Kh2 Kf2
10. Kh3

There’s still nothing wrong with hiding in the corner: Kh1 is once again an easy draw, but this should stll give White a half point.

10.. Be5

Now the white king can’t return to the corner. There are two legal moves: a 50-50 shot. White still doesn’t really want to force the black pawn onto the g-file, does he? Perhaps he should try the king move instead. What do you think?

11. Kh4

The wrong decision: after 11. g5 hxg5 it’s an unexpected stalemate! If Black plays anything else the draw is also clear.

Now Black made no mistake. The game continued 11.. Bf4 12. Kh3 Kf2 13. Kh4 Kg2 14. Kh5 Kh3 15. Kg6 Kxg4 and White resigned.

If you like the sort of endgame questions like those I posed here, you’ll find a lot more, all based on games from the RJCC database, in CHESS ENDINGS FOR HEROES. The first draft of both this and CHESS OPENINGS FOR HEROES will be completed this summer.

Richard James

I’ll Play Chess Anywhere

I’m going to tell you a cautionary tale regarding the appropriate time and place to play chess, rather than offer any practical advice on improving your skills. Think of this as a life skill lesson regarding what not to do. While most people work chess into their often busy lives, I schedule my life around teaching and studying chess. It’s the nature of the obsessive, compulsive type. I have very mild OCD or obsessive compulsive disorder and have used it to my advantage when it comes to studying various subjects, such as chess. However, it’s been brought to my attention that I sometimes take my love of the game a bit too far. I play chess everywhere even if it’s not appropriate. Case in point.

A number of years back, a man I knew from the music scene had died and I decided to go to the service because I heard food would be served afterwards. Everyone at the service had tears and kind words for this fellow. Truth be told, he was a self serving insufferable jerk who I didn’t like. I was sitting in the back with a few friends. Our eyes were glazed over from the tedious lies being spewed from the pulpit regarding the love and kindness of the dearly departed. I had a travel sized chess set in my bag. I motioned to the guy next to me, seeing if he wanted a quick game to which he gave me a thumbs up. I know you’re probably thinking this is in bad taste, which it would be if I actually cared about the guy in the casket. I set up the board and we started to play, occasionally nodding our head to let whoever was speaking know that we cared. Things went well until my opponent, who was rather drunk, accidentally knocked his Queen off the board. I was starting to bend down to find it under our pew when my drunken friend screamed “where did that god damn Queen go.” When one of the ushers came to shut him up, he started a fight and everyone in our pew got thrown out. I refused to leave until I found the Queen. Make a note, don’t play chess at funerals. I still do but have smartened up, playing on my tablet which won’t say a word because I keep the volume down.

I’ve played chess at weddings as well. Trust me, it’s a great way to un-waste the four or five hours of your lifespan you have to commit to such celebrations. When I got married we got the entire event finished in three hours. Our guests thanked us for this months later. I once was at a wedding and the speeches were getting a bit ridiculous. I’m all for pontificating about how you grew up with the groom and what a fine man he was, etc, etc. However, the groom at this wedding was a womanizer and his bride found out about it thirty minutes before saying “I do.” While playing a few games, again, on the back pew in a church, the parents of both the bride and groom had a verbal argument over the groom’s terminal case of wander lust. Fortunately, we didn’t kicked out but the groom sure did. Was there any fallout from playing chess during a wedding? Absolutely! The bride’s sister said to me to me, years later, that I was a self indulgent psychopath because I played chess during what was supposed to be the happiest day of her sister’s life. I suggested she might want to vent her anger at the groom. After all, I wasn’t the one cheating on her sister.

I also play chess when I either play music live or go see others play music live. This is the one place where no body seems to mind you playing. I do it before my own gigs because it helps me both relax and focus my mind. The only time it became a problem was during a barroom fight in which a body was thrown across our table and the position ruined. For a brief moment, I thought about hitting the guy whose body ruined my winning game. However, looking at him crumpled on the floor, I realized that he’d already been punished. Besides, I’m a Buddhist and we’re not allowed to participate in barroom fights (it’s in the small print of the Staying Out of Trouble section of Buddhism for Dilettantes).

Playing chess on a tablet or your phone is great during family reunions. Rather than spending time listening to family members recalling precious moments that never actually happened, you can improve your game. Rather than remind your ninety eight year old mother that you didn’t fall off the boat while traveling down the Amazon because you were never there, you can improve your game. However, you have to train your family to put up with it. My family, because I earn a living teach chess, decided that they’d put up with my playing chess at the dinner table because they think I’m working. Actually, I’m avoiding being dragged into conversations that make me want to jump off the roof. Play freely, play anywhere, enjoy the game and disregard those who don’t Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

Training Exercises

Once you’ve learned the rules of the game, you can immediately start playing against human opponents. However, the results are going to be negative at first if you’re playing a more experienced player. Even playing a slightly more advanced beginner might be a losing proposition. What’s the beginner to do? Play a specific training game that will teach the beginner how to move all the pawns and pieces in a coordinated manner. Isn’t that simply playing regular chess? No. The training game I’m writing about uses only pawns, at first, introducing a new piece into the mix when a pawn reaches it’s promotion square and promotes. The name of the game is pawn wars.

GM Susan Polgar stated that her father had her playing pawn wars extensively after she learned the rules of the game and look where she ended up! I use pawn wars to train my beginning students just after they’ve learned the rules but before they start playing normal games of chess. When I first starting teaching, I felt that pawn wars wasn’t a good substitute for simply playing actual chess. However, I took a second look at it and realized that this simple pawn game prepares beginners for more advanced concepts such as pawn and piece coordination and pawn structure. The benefits won out and I started extensively using it in my curriculum.

To play pawn wars, you set up only the pawns on their starting squares, the White pawns being set up along the second rank and the Black pawns along the seventh rank. Players take turns as both Black and White. The key to winning is getting a pawn to it’s promotion square, promoting that pawn and using the piece the pawn promoted into to capture your opponent’s pawns. The beautiful thing about this game is that it forces players to intuitively develop good pawn structure and avoid weak pawns. You can introduce the passed, isolated and backwards pawn to students immediately via this game. It also helps students practice moving the pieces legally as well as teaching them to think ahead.

As for what each player should promote their pawns into? Many teachers allow their students to promote their pawns into only Queens. The problem with this is that students will often favor the Queen, thinking it the only piece that’s good for attacking and capturing. This can lead to them bringing their Queen out early in regular games which leads to disaster. I have my students go through the other pieces first before promoting a pawn into a Queen, starting with the Knight, then Bishop, Rook, King and lastly, the Queen.

Most beginners have trouble with the Knight, which is why that’s the first piece allowed into the game. By starting with the Knight, beginners get a better feel for it’s movement and feel more confident with it when they sit down and play normal games of chess. They get a better feel for it’s “L” shaped movement because they’re forced to practice with it. Many beginners tend to favor one piece because it’s easier to move than the others. This version of pawn wars forces them to become adept at moving all the pieces. It also allows them to start seeing positions tactically. They naturally discover that when placed on certain squares, the Knight can attack two or more pawns at once. When they eventually learn about forks, the concept will seem less foreign to them because they’ve already learned it.

Next comes the Bishop. The Bishop, being a long distance piece, can attack from a great distance. However, it needs mobility which is learned through this pawn game.
The idea of good and bad Bishops can be introduced as well. I teach my students to destroy a pawn chain, which beginners seem to figure out without knowing what it’s called, by attacking the chain’s base. A lot of the learning when playing pawn wars is intuitive and lays a solid foundation for more advanced techniques. It’s important to let students figure things out on their own when playing this game. We learn from our mistakes!

The Rook comes next. The great thing about Rooks versus pawns is that the player with only pawns will learn how to use pawns to protect one another. The player with the Rook will learn how to spot weak pawns and take advantage of them. Again, I let my students discover more advanced concepts intuitively, only teaching them about those concepts after they’ve discovered them.

Then there’s the King. I introduce the King into the game before the Queen because the King can be checked. This means that the player with the King learns how to move it through hostile territory safely. Students intuitively discover the King’s value as an attacker and defender. Using the King prepares students for endgame pawn and King play.

Lastly, I have them promote a pawn into a Queen. However, I remind them that the Queen shouldn’t be introduced early in a normal game. While my students get a taste of the Queen’s intoxicating power, they’re using it in a position that’s closer to an endgame. While many find it easy to win the pawn war with the Queen, a few end up losing their Queen which plants a good principled seed into their brain; be very very careful with your Queen!

Each student will play a cycle of ten games, five games as White and five as Black. Each pair of games sees either player promoting a pawn into one of the five pieces in the following order: Knight, Bishop, Rook, King and lastly, Queen. If you want to hone you basic skills prior to playing a normal game of chess, this is a great way to do it. You’ll learn about advanced concepts early on and understand them much better when you study them in depth. Here’s a short game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

Missed Opportunities

Last time I left you with this position, from a training game in which I had the black pieces against an 8-year-old pupil.

White had just checked on h8, and discovered that after I played Kd7 his queen was unfortunately trapped.

It doesn’t look very interesting, and, but for my tactical incompetence, it wouldn’t have been very interesting. Let’s play on.

30. Qxa8 Nxa8 31. c4 Nxe4

I noticed that the white rook was overworked.

32. Be1 f5 33. cxb5 axb5 34. Ra3 Nb6 35. Ra7 Nc4 36. a4 Qg7

White’s done the right thing so far. If you’re playing in desperation mode you’re not trying to find the objectively best move, but the best way of gaining some sort of counterplay and retaining practical chances. Now, though, he has to defend g2 and has no good options.

After the natural 37. Rc2 Black has lots of winning moves, but the quickest and nicest is Ned2, cutting off the rook’s defence. You might or might not consider this a Novotny Interference: the interference with the rook is deliberate, but the interference with the bishop accidental.

Instead White chose a move which should have lost much more quickly.

37. g3 Nxg3

There was a mate in 5 here: 37.. Rxg3+ 38. Kf1 (or 38. Bxg3 Qxg3+ and mate next move) 38.. Rg1+ 39. Ke2 Qg2+ 40. Kd3 Nb2+ 41. Ke3 f4#. I really should have seen this but automatically captured with the lower value piece.

Never mind: I still have a forced mate.

38. Bxg3 Rxg3+ 39. Kh1 f4

This is mate in 8, but there were two mates in 7: 39.. Qg6, threatening Qe4+ and meeting Re1 with Qc2, and 39.. Rg2, planning Qg3.

40. axb5 f3

Still winning, although it’s not quite so easy now. Here Qg6 was again mate in 7, while Qf7, Qh7 and Qg8 were all mate in 8. I was moving too fast and had completely overlooked the idea of checking on the long diagonal.

41. b6 Qh6

Again Qg8 was more efficient.

42. Rxc7+ Kd8 43. R1xc4

The rook was needed on the back rank. After 43. R7xc4 I have to find some tricky moves: 43.. Rh3 44. R4c2 Ke7 45. b7 Qf4 46. b8Q (46. Rf1 f2 47. Rfxf2 Rxh2+ 48. Kg1 (48. Rxh2 Qf1#) 48.. Rxf2) 46.. Rxh2+ 47. Kg1 Qg3+ 48. Kf1 Rh1# 44.. Ke7 is not at all obvious, I think.

Now I again have mate in 5, but again I missed it. I should have sacrificed my rook: 43… Rg1+ 44. Kxg1 Qe3+ 45. Kh1 Qe1+ 46. Nf1 Qxf1+ 47. Kh2 Qg2#

Playing the queen move first, as I did, should only draw. White now has rook and knight for queen, a lot of checks and a dangerous passed pawn.

43.. Qe3 44. Rc8+ Ke7 45. R4c7+ Kf6 46. Rf8+ Kg6 47. Rg8+

47.. Kf5

I thought I was winning after this move but had missed an important defensive resource.

Instead, I had to play either Kf6 or Kh6, when White can either take the perpetual check himself or capture on g3, when Black will have no better than a perpetual.

For example: 47.. Kf6 48. Rxg3 Qe1+ 49. Rg1 f2 50. Rf1 Qe4+ 51. Nf3 Qxf3+ 52. Kh2 e4 53. b7 Qf4+ 54. Kh3 Qf3+ 55. Kh2 or 47.. Kh6 48. Rxg3 Qe1+ 49. Rg1 f2 50. Rf1 Qe4+ 51. Nf3 Qxf3+ 52. Kh2 Qf4+ 53. Kg2 Qe4+ 54. Kxf2 Qxh4+.

48. Rxg3 Qe1+ 49. Rg1 f2 50. Rf7+

Not the immediate 50. Rf1 because of 50.. Qe4+ 51. Nf3 Qxf3+ 52. Kh2 Kg4 and Black wins.

White has to force the black king to e4 first.

50… Ke4

I still thought I was winning here because I’d overlooked that White could play 51. Rf1. The best I can do is 51.. Kxd5 52. b7 Qxb4 53. R1xf2, but this should be an easy win for White.

Fortunately for me, my pupil missed the idea as well, capturing the queen without pausing for thought. The rest of the game is not interesting.

51. Rxe1+ fxe1Q+ 52. Kg2 Qd2+ 53. Kg3 Qxb4 54. b7 Kxd5 55. Rc7 (Nf3 would have made it harder for me, but he’d lost concentration at the end of a long game and was playing instantly.) e4 56. Nf1 Qb6 57. Ne3+ (A one move oversight, but it only hastened the end.) 57.. Qxe3+ 58. Kg2 Qb6 59. Re7 e3 60. Kf3 Kd4 61. Rd7 d5 62. Re7 Qb2 63. Rf7 Qf2#

Afterwards, as we both had time to spare, he watched as I entered the game into ChessBase. I pressed a button so that he could see the names of famous players who’d played the same opening moves as him. I then pressed another button so that he could see the computer analysis and pick up when one of us made a mistake. Finally, I printed off the game for him (in scoresheet mode) so that he had a complete record. He was amazed at how much you could learn if you recorded your games. I’m not sure how much he learnt, but I learnt a lot from this game. Perhaps I should have been kind to him and offered a draw at the end.

Richard James

The Modern Italian

I’m thrilled that one of my private pupils has won a couple of Under 8 tournaments recently. However, I have a couple of problems.

One is that he always plays the Giuoco Pianissimo with white, while spending a lot of time watching videos on disreputable openings online. I’ve shown him lots of games with different openings and suggested he tries them. He prefers to stick with what he’s familiar with, but he’ll not make the next step forward until he learns how to play different openings. The other issue I have is that he won’t record his games, even though he knows how to do so. He tells me his opponents play too fast. At this age, if his opponents play fast he’ll automatically play fast as well, and will either forget to record his moves or will miss some out and get confused.

So in our most recent lesson we played a training game on the clock (25’+5″), both of us writing our moves down. He got most of the way until I started playing fast because I was running short of time. I also insisted that he tried out a different opening system, and helped him a bit with it. I gave him the white pieces.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5

Here I explained that one aim with White is to try to play d4 at some point. He asked me how to do that and I showed him 4. c3. He’s seen this before but, as it hasn’t been reinforced regularly at home, he’d forgotten the move.

4. c3 Nf6

I now gave him the choice: d4 or d3. If you play d4 here the ideas are easier to understand but you need to know a bit of theory. If your opponent’s studied this and you haven’t you’ll probably run into trouble. Likewise, if you’ve studied it and your opponent hasn’t you may well score a quick win. Alternatively, you can play d3, which, I explained, is sometimes played by Magnus Carlsen. In this system the individual moves are not so important: it’s more about understanding ideas and plans. He decided to go with Magnus.

5. d3 d6

A complex and flexible position typical of 21st century chess. Both sides have a wide range of plans at their disposal. White will look for the most favourable moment to play d4 while Black might also be thinking about playing d5 at some point. Learning to appreciate openings popular with top grandmasters is an important part of chess culture and will enable you to get more enjoyment and benefit from following live games online.

In this position the most popular moves are, in order, O-O, Bb3 and Nbd2. Bb3 might look strange at first: we all learn early on in our chess careers not to move pieces twice in the opening except to avoid or make a capture. White has two ideas: to be able to drop the bishop back to c2 if Black plays Na5, and to avoid being forced to move the bishop should Black play d5 at any point. Likewise, Black will often play a6 followed, without being prompted, by Ba7 in this sort of position. It’s all rather sophisticated. Assuming we want to stop our pupils playing Four Knights type positions, should we encourage them to play this system, or to play 5. d4?

My pupil’s next move, Bg5 is very natural, especially as he knows the idea from the Giuoco Pianissimo, but rarely played by stronger players as it’s a bit inflexible. I guess it should only be played after your opponent has castled. It should have worked on this occasion, though, as my play between moves 8 and 12 was poor.

6. Bg5 h6 7. Bh4 a6 8. O-O O-O

This would probably have been the right time to play g5: after White has castled but before Black castles.

9. Nbd2 Be6

Maybe not the best move but I wanted to see what he did. When I was learning chess the received wisdom was that you should trade on e6 in this sort of position. You’re losing control of the important d5 and f5 squares which you might want to use for a knight and giving Black what might become a useful half-open f-file. On the other hand, Black’s pawn formation becomes rather inflexible, which may be why strong players sometimes trade in this situation. 9.. g5 is possible but you’d have to be confident in your assessment of the position after Nxg5. The engines think at first that White has enough play, but if you leave them long enough they come round to preferring Black’s extra piece.

10. Re1 Bxc4 11. Nxc4 Qe7

This and my next move are both bad mistakes. If I want to unpin I really have to bite the bullet and play g5. Trying to unpin with Qe7 followed by Qe6 doesn’t work in this position.

12. d4 Ba7

12.. exd4 was slightly better as Black would be hitting e4. Now White has a very large advantage if he finds 13. Ne3. The threat is 14. Nd5, and if Black tries 13.. Qd8, then 14. Ng4 destroying the black king-side. It’s now too late to unpin: 13.. g5 loses to 14. Nf5. This opening is rather more poisonous that it looks. Just a couple of sloppy moves from Black and, in just 13 moves, White has a winning position.

I suggested this as an option but my pupil decided he preferred to chase back my knight on c6.

13. d5 Nb8 14. Qe2 Nbd7 15. Rad1 g5 16. Bg3 Kg7

I missed a tactic here: 16.. Nxe4 17. Qxe4 f5 18. Qc2 f4 when Black is better – an idea familiar from other openings such as the King’s Indian Defence.

17. Ne3 Bxe3 18. Qxe3 Nh7

He was stuck for a plan here. I suggested he might advance on the queen side starting with c4 or perhaps try to undermine my king side pawns by playing h4. He decided to play b4 rather than the more accurate c4, and, when I stopped his queen side plans, switched to the king side.

19. b4 b5 20. h4 g4 21. Nh2 h5 22. f3 gxf3 23. Qxf3 Nhf6 24. Rc1 Nb6

The knight should probably have stayed on d7, but even so White was better. My pupil’s last few moves have been excellent. Now the engines look at the rather ineffective bishop on g3 and try to reroute it or trade it for the black knight by playing 25. Bf2 with the idea of Be3 and Bg5. But instead White is seduced by the idea of playing a few queen checks.

25. Qf5 Rg8

25.. Rh8 was better, with the idea of Rh6. Now 26. Rf1 followed perhaps by a bishop manoeuvre to g5, would be a powerful plan. Instead White chooses a check which turns a good position into a bad position. All checks should be considered, but not necessarily played. All Qg5+ does is chase the black king where he wants to go.

26. Qg5+ Kf8 27. Qh6+ Ke8

Three moves ago I was practically lost, now I’m practically winning, and all because of a couple of checks. Now White spotted that his bishop on g3 was in danger, but chose the wrong way to defend it, closing off his queen’s escape.

28. Re3 Rg6 29. Qh8+ Kd7

He still looked happy here – until he noticed that his queen had no escape. In a slowplay game resignation at this point would be justified, but in rapidplay, and by now I was well behind on the clock, having been explaining the position while my time was running, anything might happen.

You’ll see the rest of the game next week.

Richard James

Types of Openings

Beginners are often confused when it comes to classifying openings and the type of game they lead to. As we develop our chess skills, we tend to gravitate towards openings that suit our style of play. However, trying to determine what opening suits you best can’t be accomplished unless you know what the four types of openings are. When I say “types,” I’m not talking about specific openings, such as the Ruy Lopez or King’s Indian Defense. I’m talking about groups of openings that are defined by their first move, for both white and black. This is how we categorize openings into types of openings.

It’s important to know the four types of openings because they give you an indication as to the type of game you’ll end up playing. If your an attacking player, you’ll avoid closed openings and concentrate on openings that allow more combat on the board, the open games. However, if you didn’t know what defines an opening, you might end up learning an opening that doesn’t suit your attacking style. Here’s what you need to know.

The Key Ideas

1. Open games are games that start with 1. e4…e5.
2. Semi-open games start off with 1. e4 but black doesn’t respond with 1…e5
3. Closed games start with 1. d4…d5.
4. Semi-closed games start with 1. d4 but black doesn’t respond with 1…d5
5. All chess openings fall into one of these four categories.

Open Games

The term open game refers to openings that start off with 1. e4…e5. In open games, pieces gain access to the board quickly due to the advancement of the of the “e” pawns. The Bishops, Rooks and Queen, have more mobility because there’s more room to move. Some of the more popular openings that lead to an open game are the Ruy Lopez (Spanish Opening), the Giuoco Piano (Italian Opening), the Scotch Game, the Four Knights Game, the Two Knights Defense, the Evan’s Gambit, the King’s Gambit and Petroff’s Defense.

Semi-Open Games

In semi-open games, white starts off with 1. e4. However, black doesn’t counter with 1…e5. One of the most popular openings for black against 1. e4 is the Sicilian Defense in which black plays 1…c5. This move attacks d4, while still maintaining the d7 and e7 pawns for further centralized play. Semi-open games can lead to positions that are open or closed. Openings leading to semi-open games include the Sicilian Defense, the Caro Kann Defense, the French Defense, the Pirc Defense and the Modern Defense.

Closed Games

Closed games typically start with 1. d4…d5. In closed games, the pawns and pieces can become locked into the defense of one another in and around the center of the board. This creates fewer open lines which means the Bishops, Rooks and Queen lose mobility. There is one pieces that does extremely well in closed games and that’s the Knight. Because the Knight has the ability to jump over pawns and pieces, the Knight doesn’t need much space in which to operate. Due to decreased piece mobility, the potential for tactics is reduced. Closed games require more long term strategic planning. Attacks tend to be built up slowly. You have to be extremely patient when playing closed positions. Closed game openings include the Queen’s Gambit (declined or accepted), the Slav Defense and the London System.

Semi-closed Games

In semi-open games, after 1. d4, black makes a response other than 1…d5. This is an asymmetrical opening. After 1. d4, black responds asymmetrically, making a move such as 1…Nf6. In semi-closed games, black often lets white gain control of the center opting for a more defensive position. Knights and Bishops both play important roles in semi-closed games. While mobility can be limited, lines can open up quickly. Semi-closed openings include the Indian Defenses (such as the King’s Indian) the Benoni Defense and the Dutch Defense.

That’s it in a nutshell. Of course, if you want to be a good chess player, you have to play openings of all four types, or at least understand them enough should you face one of them. After all, your opponent isn’t going to play an opening that your comfortable with because they’re trying to win as well. As the Boy Scout motto goes, be prepared. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

Some Tips on Chess Parenting

Having been a chess parent for eight years as well as a GM and coach, I thought I would offer a few tips on chess parenting. Despite my extensive background in the game itself I have been learning ‘on the job’ to a large extent. Richard James’s insights were very useful, certainly at the start, and I learned more by experience and watching other parents in action, both doing things well and making mistakes.

The first thing to understand is that when your kid becomes interested in chess then basically it’s their show. As I see it a parent’s job is to be quietly supportive in celebrating wins, commiserating with defeats and avoiding lectures or reprimands. It might be that you need to look after their interests now and then if you think they are being unfairly treated. But in this case you also need to listen to your child’s view on the situation.

The second big thing to consider is that becoming a good player and getting the most benefit from involvement with the game takes time and effort. A lot of it. In this our eight year I will be taking my son Sam to around 20 tournaments. He also works on chess at home, probably putting in around 8-10 hours a week on average. This is normal for anyone who takes up a musical instrument but many chess kids tend to do much less than that. As a result they may struggle to go from junior chess to fulfilling their potential, or even getting established in the adult game.

Number three is that they need coaching, and probably a lot of it unless they are autodidacts who can learn on their own. This is why so many of the young players who come through have a chess playing parent who can do the coaching ‘in house’, at least up to a certain level. For parents who can not play chess, or at least not well, they can try to organize enough homework for their kids to develop, or perhaps learn together with them. But I will not hide the fact that it is tough for parents who do not play, and they will need a lot of research and motivation to provide appropriate support.

Number four is that you should look for a genuine involvement with the chess scene rather than be day trippers. Parents who seem to be more successful often involve themselves with organization, providing transport to other players and making friends with those in the chess community. This is then rewarded at many different levels, not least of which is the fact that your kids will find it easier to make friends themselves.

There are other tips too but these are the four main ones that come to mind. Here meanwhile is an interview with a couple of tennis parents, Mr. and Mrs. Federer, who seem to be a perfect model:

Nigel Davies

Finding a Great Chess Teacher

I was recently solicited by an online company specializing in finding students for private teachers. I told them I’d look at their website before considering a listing. What I found was amazing and appalling at the same time. I have never seen so many listings for chess teachers in my life. I decided to see how many chess teachers were in San Rafael, where I live. The town has a population of rough;y 50,000 and about 200 chess teachers. That sounds great for anyone wanting lessons here but there’s one small problem, the teacher’s qualifications. As with the small print in contracts, most people don’t bother to look at the details. In this case, the important detail is teaching experience. I started reading the profiles of these teachers and was a bit concerned about their actual ability to teach.

Some profiles stated “I have an online rating of 2346” or “I’ve been playing chess since 1982.” To someone with no knowledge regarding chess teachers, this information might be impressive. The first guy has a high rating so he must be good. The second guy’s been playing chess forever, so he must be great. Wrong! While everyone who plays chess has taught the game to others, that doesn’t make them great chess teachers. So what makes a great chess teacher?

There are three qualifications. First, you have to play chess reasonably well. By reasonably well, I mean you have to be able to successfully use what you teach in your own games. If you’re teaching students how to set up a tactical combination, you actually have to know how to create them. Merely showing examples from chess books isn’t good enough. You have to be able to look at a position in one of your student’s games and suggest a tactical option. This only happens if you’re good at tactics. While your chess teacher doesn’t have to be a titled player, they should be a strong club player at the least.

Second, you have to be able to explain complex ideas in the simplest of terms. The best chess teachers aren’t the best chess players in the world. However, they have the unique skill of simple communication. A good chess teacher will take a complex concept and create a simple analogy that easily conveys the idea to the student. This can only be done when the teacher really knows the subject matter. They know the subject matter because they’re good chess players. I’ve been teaching chess for a fair length of time and have built up a repertoire of explanations and analogies because often an explanation that works for one student makes little sense to another. The best teachers have plenty of experience and because of that, they know what works and what doesn’t. Look for teachers that have taught chess in a classroom environment because they tend to have more experience. The best are those teachers who work with kids because their explanations will be easy to understand. I make all my adult students use kid’s chess books when they start for this very reason.

Lastly, you have to be entertaining. That’s right, you have to be an entertainer of sorts. Otherwise, you’ll put your students to sleep. I’m willing to sit through the most boring chess lectures ever because I do this for a living and often pick up great explanations I can use. However, I wouldn’t expect someone learning the game to remain awake during such a lecture. You have to captivate your students to hold their interest. I did a chess lecture once that started with me standing on a table flinging chess pieces out into the audience with a golf club. People paid close attention to my lecture not because they were afraid they’d get hit with a flying chess piece but because I use a bit of humor during the lecture. Humor works wonders. Just keep it within the boundaries of semi-good taste. I once gave a lecture to a chess club and started with the line “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you, the games of Bobby Fischer.” During Paul Morphy lessons I sometimes add the line “chess genius and women’s shoe fetishist or should I say, just your run of the mill chess master.” The point is to entertain people listening to me talk about chess. Even hardcore chess nuts like to be entertained.

The first two qualifications should be listed with the chess teacher’s information online. As for how entertaining a chess teacher is, either they throw some clever line in their advertisement or you find out after your fork out money for that first lesson. Speaking of money. Just because one teacher charges more than everyone else doesn’t mean they’re better than the rest. If the guy’s a Grandmaster, yes he’s going to charge more than other chess teachers. However, having a title doesn’t guarantee he’s a great teacher (Nigel being the exception). It only guarantees he’s really really good at chess.

Note how much time you get for your money. I do one or two hour sessions. All the teachers I’ve seen online advertise twenty and thirty minute blocks of time at twenty or thirty dollars each. I suspect they don’t want to tell you they charge sixty to ninety dollars an hour, fooling you with a lower rate instead. Don’t haggle over the price. If someone says “well, how about twenty dollars less per hour?” I reply with “ahhhh…..NO.” A good teacher is worth paying for. However, you have to do the research to find one. It’s like buying a car. You do research rather than buying a vehicle with no prior knowledge. As for the cheapest priced teacher in the group, don’t dismiss them and pick someone in the middle. Check their qualifications. They might charge a lower rate because they’re new teachers trying to get established. They might be the best teacher out there. Do your research.

While I teach my students to be self learners, they use me as a guide. That’s what a good teacher is, a guide who makes an otherwise complicated journey easy. A good teacher will be there for you when you get stuck, explaining what seemed incomprehensible. Speaking of teaching, I have to go teach a class so here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

Tactics Training

The use of tactics can give the player who employs them a decisive advantage. While tactics won’t always guarantee a winning game, it will give you potential advantage, materially speaking. Beginners often purchase apps or books with simple tactical problems which is a good way to start their studies. However, those puzzles have the tactic already set up, so all the beginner has to do is spot a single move that delivers the tactical blow. In reality, all tactics are set us using a combination of moves. Creating the combination of move is the really hard part. How does the beginner learn how to do this?

By actually starting with those simple tactical problems in which the tactic is already set up. You have to first learn to recognize tactical patterns before you can consider creating the combinations needed to create a tactical position. Pattern recognition is key to playing good chess. With tactics, certain patterns arise that lead to a tactical exploit. With forks, pins and skewers, you look for enemy pieces lined up on the same rank, file or diagonal. This is the pattern you’re searching for. Doing simple tactics in one move problems, you’ll start to develop an eye for spotting this type of pattern. Do as many of these as you can before moving on to tactics in two move problems. You have to spot a tactical opportunity in order to take advantage of it.

The tactics in two move problems are better that the tactics in one problems because you have to set the tactic up. However, the beginner who has just spent months on the one move problems will have a hard time (at first) because the tactical exploit will require making a move to set it up. To solve these problems, first identify enemy pieces lined up on the same rank, file or diagonal. Next, look for a piece that can deliver the tactic. In two move problems, there’s often an enemy piece stopping you from reaching your goal, getting a piece to the square where it can deliver the tactic. Can you either exchange material to remove the piece or force that piece off of the square its on? What if there’s no enemy pieces line up with one another? Then, the first move in the two move problem has to force the alignment of enemy pieces.

With more complex tactical problems, you have to spend a great deal of time examining the position. Sometimes, you’ll see a move that looks good. However, you’re looking at your pieces and not considering what your opponent can do. Examine the enemy pieces, looking for checks and possible counter forks. If you see that your King can be hit with a nasty check, making sure your potential move is forcing. Also reexamine the enemy pieces around the square your planning on using to set up the tactic to ensure your piece can’t be captured before it delivers it’s tactical blow.

Once you work through enough of these it’s time to start setting up tactical combinations in an actual game. I recommend that beginners start learning how to do this by playing a computer program at a low skill setting. The reasoning for this is simple. Playing programs perform badly at lower levels. This level of poor play will allow you to set up your tactics and see them through. If you try this with a program set at it’s highest level, you’ll never get a single tactic in. Most playing programs are extremely good at tactics and at stopping them so the beginner stands no chance. It should be noted that this low playing level should only be used to develop your combination skills. Eventually you’ll want to increase the level of play as your tactical skills get better.

I highly recommend books of tactical problems. Visually solving problems by playing through the moves in your mind helps develop your calculation skills. With books, you can work on problems while commuting or waiting in line. The best books use positions from real games and often present the tactic within a series of five or six moves. You get to see the full combination (of moves) and learn how to do deeper calculations.

You’ll find that the tactical play of strong tacticians works because their moves are very forcing. A forcing move is one that leaves your opponent little choice in terms of a response. When you limit someone’s reaction, you can force them into making a move that supports your tactical exploit. To create forcing moves you have to come up with the best opposition response to the move your considering. This means playing the position as if you were controlling your opponent’s pieces. Look for any way your opponent can stop or avoid the tactic. If they cannot do so, you have your forcing move. If they can get out of it, it’s time to consider another move.

Becoming a strong tactician is a long journey but a necessary one. You must become good at tactics to play better chess. However, don’t solely rely on tactics to win games. While learning tactics, you should also be studying closed positions. Why? Because you’ll face an opponent who creates positions in which tactic can’t be used. If you only know how to gain an advantage tactically, you’ll flounder in a position in which tactics can’t be used. Remember, the best chess players are well rounded, good at all aspects of the game. Speaking of games, here’s one to enjoy!

Hugh Patterson