Category Archives: Children’s Chess

Chess Games for Heroes (1)

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

Here, as promised is the first game.

Game 1
Gioacchino Greco – NN
About 1620

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

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6

Choose a move for White.

3. Bc4

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

Choose a move for Black.

3… Bc5

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

Choose a move for White.

4. c3

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

Choose a move for Black.

4… d6

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

Choose a move for White.

5. d4

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

5… exd4

Choose a move for White

6. cxd4

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

6… Bb4+

Choose a move for White

7. Nc3

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

7… Nf6

Choose a move for White

8. 0–0

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

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

5 points for Bxc3+

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

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

8… Bxc3

Choose a move for White

9. bxc3

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

9… Nxe4

Choose a move for White

10. Re1

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

10… d5

Choose a move for White

11. Rxe4+

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

11… dxe4

Choose a move for White

12. Ng5

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

Choose a move for Black

12… 0–0

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

Choose a move for White

13. Qh5

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

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

5 points for Qxh7# – CHECKMATE ends the game.

13… h6

Choose a move for White

14. Nxf7

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

14… Qf6

Choose a move for White

15. Nxh6+

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

15… Kh8

Choose a move for White

16. Nf7+

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

16… Kg8

Choose a move for White

17. Qh8#

5 points for this move: it’s CHECKMATE!

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

Richard James

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Unrealistic Expectations

Over the last 13 months, I’ve had the opportunity to interview people who stopped playing chess after a serious attempt on their part to study the game. The point of my interviews was to find out why they gave up on the game they once loved so much and, to see if there was anything I could do to help my students avoid such a fate. While there were a wide range of reasons sited, the overwhelming single answer was frustration because they weren’t progressing.

Of course, whenever you attempt to learn any skill, there will be bumps along the road to mastery. To succeed, you have to be able to ride over those bumps in order to arrive at your destination, in this case, playing good chess! However, the height and difficulty of those bumps in the road are more often than not, determined by the person traveling that road. We create these seemingly impassible obstacles by creating unrealistic expectations regarding our overall goal and it all boils down to becoming frustrated because we cannot meet our goal due to our approach.

One problem that creates an air of frustration is the need to learn how to do something as quickly as possible. Western society places a high premium on learning to do things quickly. Of course, I can’t fault someone for wanting to master a skill quickly. After all, if given the choice between being able to learn a skill in one month or one year, we’d all opt for the one month time line! However, chess, like music, requires a slow but steady course. You can’t buy a piano and expect to be playing like Mozart a week later. The same holds true for chess. Chess, like music, requires a careful balance of theory and practice. Like music, you can study all the theory in the world but unless you spend hours and hours actually playing, theoretical knowledge won’t get take you very far. Chess also requires practice, in the form of playing other people to hone your skills.

However, before you can find that balance between theory and practice, you need to have a long hard look at your expectations and reality. By this, I mean that our expectations are often greater than the reality they’re based in. So often, I hear beginning students say “I’m going to get my rating up to 1200 in six months time, then 1800 within the next eight months.” In their minds, they’ve created a very reasonable plan. However, reality can be a cruel mistress. With the mastery of any skill, those first steps go along quite smoothly. With chess, the beginner can make great strides very quickly. This comes about because the beginner has no knowledge at the start of their chess career so each basic concept learned can be quickly applied to their game, garnering them seemingly instant results.

In my daily classes, my beginners learn the basic opening principles. When I start with these beginners. They thrust flank pawns out onto the board, put their Knights on the rim and leave their King’s exposed. After learning the three primary opening principles, they are now opening with a central pawn move, developing their minor pieces towards the board’s center and castling their Kings. This happens quickly and they are rewarded for their efforts. They start winning a few games or at least don’t lose as quickly. They pick up a few tactical ideas and endgame principles and things are moving along quickly. Then they hit their first bump in the road. They play opponents with a bit more experience and they stop winning any games at all.

This is where frustration rears its ugly head. At the start of their studies, they gained knowledge that allowed them to see their game improve quickly. I tell my students from the start that they will make that initial rating jump quickly but it slows down after that. As they develop their skills and their rating goes up, they’re facing stronger opponents who have more playing experience. What my beginners see is that their newly acquired knowledge is no longer pushing them forward. While I now teach them further piece activation and how to transition into the middle game, they are still frustrated that progress is not coming at a faster pace.

This happens because they base their expectations on their experience, which in the case of chess, is limited because their still beginners. As you develop your skills, the knowledge you must embrace and understand becomes more complex, which means that improvement will be slower. The best approach to take is that of taking things slowly and not expecting too much. Measure progress in small increments not giant leaps and bounds. Take your time for Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a Grandmaster.

One of the root cause of chess frustration for the serious beginner is setting impossible studying schedules. The overenthusiastic beginner will think “I’ll study chess for four hours a day, seven days a week to improve quickly.” Chess requires enormous concentration and concentrating for too long can drain you, causing you to simply waste that time because you’re struggling to think. While a player with years and years of experience can study for many consecutive hours, they can do so because their brain is conditioned for it. They’ve built up their mental muscles! The beginner’s mind simply cannot concentrate for longs periods of time. Start slowly, maybe thirty minutes, four days per week. Yes, employing a lighter study schedule seems like it would take forever to raise one’s skill level. However, a beginner who attempts to study for three hours straight will find that their mind will start to wander after thirty minutes. This means they would spend two and a half hours trying to keep their concentration up. Start with short periods of concentrated study and you won’t waste time!

The beginner should also consider when and where they study. Study some place quiet and study when you’re least tired. Studying while sitting in busy train station after being up all night will get you nowhere! Quality must always come over quantity. Better to spend a week of thirty minute study sessions learning a single opening principle than trying to learn them all in one long study session. Remember the fable of the Hare (rabbit) and the Tortoise, slow and steady wins the race.

The trick here is to not have unrealistic expectations regarding your progress. Be happy with slow but steady advancement and you’ll avoid frustration. Learn one idea thoroughly and then move onto the next idea. Don’t be too critical of the speed at which you learn because we all learn at different speeds. Record all your games from the start because when you get frustrated at your lack of progress, you can play through your early games and see that you really have improved. Relax, take your time and remember, slow and steady really does win the race. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

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Chess Games for Heroes: Introduction

Most of you will be familiar with magazine articles and books with titles such as “How Good is Your Chess” and “Solitaire Chess” where the author asks you to guess the moves made in a master game. You score points for matching the master’s move or for finding other good moves. You may also lose points if you select a bad move.

I’ve often used Daniel King’s excellent (if over generously marked) “How Good is Your Chess” articles in CHESS with my older and stronger pupils but I wanted something different to use for younger children and within lower level groups in chess clubs. For this environment I required an activity which could be completed within 30 minutes using very short games (no longer than about 15 moves) with uncomplicated opening play and simple tactics.

So I decided, as part of my continuing Chess for Heroes project, to produce some of my own and try them out with my pupils. A couple of months ago I wrote up two games (one from Greco, one played by Staunton) and tested them with our new Intermediate Groups at Richmond Junior Chess Club as well as with private pupils.

Each game comes with a teacher’s sheet, giving the game along with the places where the pupils are asked to find moves and the scores they receive for their choices. Mostly these will be the winner’s moves but sometimes also (in the opening or at a critical defensive point) they are asked to find the loser’s moves. There are also bonus questions: what would you play if your opponent had played a different move. The pupils receive an answer sheet. They have to write each answer in notation (prior knowledge of how to record your moves is essential for this activity) and there’s also space for the number of points they score for each move. At the end the pupils add up their points and receive a rating: Chess Superhero, Chess Hero, Trainee Hero or Future Hero. If you’re working with a group the children will be keen to find out who has scored the most points. In a class environment you’ll probably want to use a demo board but you might also like to ensure that the children have the correct position set up on a board in front of them.

The response was interesting. My private pupils seemed to enjoy them. The children at Richmond Junior Club also enjoyed them but were taking a long time to think of their moves, some of them remarking that “This is really hard”. Children who will usually take little more than 10 seconds per move in their games were, when faced with the task of selecting the best move in the position, unable to come up with an answer within two or three minutes. I took pains to make it clear to them that their objective was to find the best move, not to guess what was played in the game, and that they might on occasion score more points for finding an improvement on the actual move. In order to complete the activity within the time I allocated for it I’ll need to impose a time limit of a minute for each move in future. If they haven’t written anything down by then they don’t score any points for that move.

This is precisely the difference between casual chess and competitive chess. If you’re playing a casual game against a friend you might not be too bothered about finding the best move or about the result. You might even get frustrated if you think your opponent is spending too long on his moves. If you’re playing a competitive game, though, your job is to find the best move you can in the time you have available. Perhaps the most important thing for chess coaches to do if they want to convert social players into serious players is to get them to understand the difference. If you agree with this, you might think this sort of lesson could be an effective way of achieving this aim.

I’ll be posting the first two Chess Games for Heroes lessons over the next two weeks and writing some more over the Summer holidays. It would also be good to find a publisher for this and the rest of the Chess for Heroes project at some point.

Richard James

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Only Fool’s Rush In

Wise men say, only fool’s rush in. While Elvis Presley was singing about love rather than chess, I think chess players of all levels can take these words to heart. After all, we’ve all launched a premature attack only to have it repelled, with the big pay off being the weakening of our position. Wise chess players never rush into an attack. However, there are times when an early attack can be beneficial. The trick is to know how to identify such an opportunity.

Beginner’s have the habit of throwing individual pieces at the opposition King with no real rhyme or reason. They end up losing material while making no real threat to the opposition. With a little experience they then move on to attacking the King with pairs of pieces with similar results. Often, this idea of a two piece assault becomes popular with the novice player because they’ve had some luck with the Scholar’s Mate. The Queen and Bishop combination then become the staple of the beginner’s early attacks.

As our beginner gains further experience, they move onto attacks against the weak f7 (for black) and f2 (for white) squares, trying to disrupt the King-side of the board. While these two squares are weak during the opening, attacking them comes at a cost that the beginner fails to see. What the beginner sees is a chance at a fast attack that may weaken the opposition’s position. However, if the word’s “chance” and “may” are used when considering an attack you may not want to take a chance because good chess is not a game of chance and the word may (as in “it may work”) should not be in a chess player’s vocabulary! The validity of an attack can be judged by what it costs you to embark on such an endeavor.

Of course, attacking is key if you hope to win a game of chess but you have to consider the cost of launching the attack. For example, many beginner’s think the idea of trading two minors, a Knight and a Bishop, for a Rook and a Pawn during the opening is an equal exchange. This might occur after 1. e4…e5, 2. Nf3…Nc6, 3. Bc4…Nf6, 4. 0-0…Be7 5. Ng5…0-0, 6. Nxf7 Rxf7, Bxf7…Kxf7. The player of the white pieces says, “ah ha, I’ve taken one of the black pawns that shields the castled black King and I’ve got the black King-side Rook as well. This means I’ll go into the end game with an extra Rook!”

However, what the player of the white pieces missed was the price paid for winning the pawn and Rook. What’s the price? Well, going into the endgame with two Rooks and a Queen against one Rook and Queen might have some value if both players were in the actual endgame but, they’re still in the opening. The two minor pieces white traded for the black Rook and pawn were active pieces in the opening. Minor pieces are critical in the opening and tactically important in the middle-game. Black’s Rook and pawn were inactive so white traded two active pieces for an inactive Rook and pawn. Then there’s the tempo factor! White moved the Knight three times to launch the attack. This allowed black to get ahead in development. In the end, the price paid by white was much higher than the results garnered! If you look at the final position, black has a firm grasp of the board’s center while white has nothing.

The beginner should learn to evaluate the cost of any attack in terms of game principles, only considering an attack early on if the outcome of the attack is far greater than the price paid. Trading those two minor pieces for a Rook and a pawn means that black has all four minor pieces to white’s two minor pieces. With the middle-game soon to start, black has a two to one potential tactical majority which means that black will have an advantage when it comes to developing any tactical plays. Minor pieces play a much more important role in the early phases of the game than the major pieces.

One thing I do with my beginning students is to have them keep a pencil and paper handy while playing practice games so they can create a list of pros and cons for any attack they’re planning. They write down their attacking goals and benefits in one column and the negative aspects in another. For an attack to warrant any merit, the benefits must greatly outnumber the costs incurred by launching such an attack. To be considered on their list are piece activity, central board control, King safety, tempo, potential tactics, etc.

One point, that is important for the chess teacher to keep in mind, is the thinking that leads the beginner to rush into early attacks. We become good at teaching only when we understand the point of view of our students. To simply think that a student doesn’t know any better doesn’t help the teacher to fully understand why a problem is occurring. Therefore, I ask my students a lot of questions to determine why they, in this case, launch an attack like the one shown above. As I mentioned earlier, students think that the removal of a major piece, the Rook, and one of the three pawns protecting the King gives them an advantage. It could be considered an advantage, again, if this took place towards the endgame. They also consider the idea of relative material value being absolute. To the beginner, six points of material for six points of material is an equal trade. Younger beginners don’t always understand the word ‘relative.’ To them, a Knight and Bishop are equal in value to a Rook and a pawn, period. Therefore, I explain to them that the term relative means that the value can change depending on positional aspects, such as open versus closed game, or depending on the actual phase of the game. Always ask students to explain the reasoning behind their actions on the chessboard. Otherwise, you’ll never be able to explain your reasoning in a way that makes sense to them.

Anyone who has taught junior level chess has seen the Fried Liver Attack, which is the next attacking phase most youngsters employ as they mature as players. The Fried Liver Attack, which occurs after 1. e4…e5, 2. Nf3…Nc6, 3. Bc4…Nf6, 4. Ng5…d5, 6. exd5…Nxd5, 7. Nxf7…Kxf7, 8. Qf3+, can prove disastrous for black if he or she doesn’t know what they’re doing. The person playing the black pieces is often a less experienced player (at junior level) which means the person playing white can deliver a crushing blow. Of course, the person employing this attack will eventually face an opponent who knows what he or she is doing!

Now, if we look at this series of moves, remembering that this is a junior level attack, we might consider this assault to be a bit more sound because the price paid in terms of game principles isn’t as steep as the previous example. White did moved the Knight three times to take down the f7 pawn and did stop the black King from castling. Of course, white should have developed a new piece with each move. However, white does have the black King in a bit of a positional pickle. Moreover, white has options to continue building up the attack. While I wouldn’t embark on this attack, it provides junior players with an opportunity to hone their attacking skills. There are numerous ways to continue the Fried Liver from this position and you can look them up. The point I want to make is that this attack has a bit more bite to it because the cost of employing it is less than the price paid in our first example.

If you wish to launch an early attack, add up the cost in terms of principled play and see if that cost outweighs the benefits. Losing the game is a price you don’t want to have to pay. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

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Walter Browne

As a musician, I’m sadly aware of the short lives many of us lead due to the rather precarious lifestyle many of us have led. When I traded in my guitar for the chessboard, I somehow felt as if my chess playing and teaching cohorts would have a longer shelf life. Sadly, I was reminded last week that this isn’t always true. The passing of Grandmaster Walter Browne on June 24th hit me hard. The six time U.S. Chess Champion served as an inspiration to both myself and my students. Fortunately, his games live on and provide insightful lessons in improvement for chess players of all levels.

I knew his name from books and chess magazines but didn’t start using his games in my chess classes until I watched an Andrew Martin DVD that featured a game between Browne and Miguel Quinteros. The game, shown below, has Browne playing the white pieces. What stands out about this game is the elegant simplicity that Browne employs against Quinteros. While Quinteros breaks some key opening principles, Browne correctly applies those opening principles to develop a superior position early on.

What makes this game such a valuable teaching tool is its clarity regarding the use of game principles. One of the challenges of teaching chess is presenting your students with games that clearly demonstrate the concepts you’re trying to teach. A game in which principles are applied in too subtle or abstract a way can go over the heads of beginners. However, this game clearly shows correct use of the opening principles.

Browne starts with the simple 1. e4, gaining a foothold in the center while allowing his King-side Bishop and Queen access to the board. Quinteros plays 1…c5, the Sicilian Defense. Browne plays 2. Nf3, a move that develops an important minor piece towards the center of the board. Nothing fancy, just the application of the opening principles. Quinteros bolsters his c pawn with 2…d6.

Move three, 3. Bb5+ brings up a few important ideas for the beginner. This first of which is the quality of this check. If the black c pawn had still been on its starting square (c7), this check would have been silly since the black c pawn could simply block the check, forcing the Bishop to retreat at a cost of tempo. However, the c pawn cannot do this so black is forced to use either the Queen-side Knight or Bishop to block this check. Quinteros uses his Bishop, 3…Bd7, to block and the Bishops are traded off with 4. Bxd7…Qxd7. It’s important for the beginner to understand that this is a fairly even trade because both players are trading Bishops that control the same color squares so neither player will have a Bishop advantage (such as trading a Knight for a Bishop, leaving one player with the Bishop pair). Browne plays 5.c4 next and this can be difficult for the beginner to understand. I believe the idea here is to gain control of the d5 square as a possible outpost for the Queen-side Knight later on. This move follows the basic principle of controlling the center.

Quinteros now makes a fundamental mistake by bringing his Queen out early with 5…Qg4. However, this kind of move strikes fear into the heart of the beginning player! The beginner sees that the black Queen is forking both the pawn at e4 and the pawn at g2. If the pawn on e4 is captured, the white King is in check which could lead to an early trade of Queens. On the other hand, if the pawn on g2 is captured, then the h1 Rook will have to move and white will not be able to castle. No problem for Browne, he simply castles and allows the black Queen to pick off the e4 pawn. This brings up a critical point for beginners, don’t capture material unless it helps your position. Beginners love to capture material and don’t realize that doing so for the sole sake of capturing often does more harm than good. After white plays 6. 0-0, black grabs the pawn with 6…Qxe4. At this point, I ask my students to come up with a few possible moves for white before we continue the game. 7. Re1 and 7. d3 are often suggested.

It’s a good idea to ask students for move suggestions to get an idea of their understanding of the opening principles. Both the suggested moves show that students are understanding the folly of early Queen deployment in that they push the black Queen back. When then see the actual game move, 7. d4, they’re not sure what to make of it. This move opens things up for the white pieces. Browne isn’t afraid of giving up another pawn in exchange for attacking possibilities!

Quinteros plays 7…cxd4 and my beginning students expect the Knight on f3 to capture back. However, Browne now plays 8. Re1 gaining time on the black Queen while putting the Rook on an active square. Of course the Queen has to move, 8…Qc6 and only now does Browne take the pawn on d4 with 9. Nxd4. Why capture now? Because doing so allows the Knight to attack the black Queen while positioning itself on a strong square! Guess who is on the move again? Quinteros plays 9…Qxc4 grabbing another pawn while ignoring sound opening development. This game exemplifies the power of development! White’s pieces are coming out in force while black is forced to shuffle the Queen around sadly. Again, grabbing material isn’t a good idea. Browne plays 10. Na3, attacking the Queen yet again.

This last move brings up a point regarding opening principles. We first learn that pieces should be developed towards the center of the board during the opening. However, there are times when moving a piece to the edge of the board can override the principle of central development. This is an example of that. The Knight on a3 attacks the Queen, forcing it to move once again. The black Queen grovels up to c8 (10…Qc8) and now the party really starts for white!

Browne plays 11. Bf4, centralizing his remaining Bishop. I tell my students to keep an eye on the e7 pawn because it is pinning to the King due to the Rook on e1. Black plays 11…Qd7. I hope the poor black Queen has been wearing comfortable running shoes during her jog around the board! Move twelve, 12. Nab5, puts a second attacker on the d6 pawn. Black plays 12…e5. My beginning students think, wow black is forking the white Knight and Bishop. I remind them that the e pawn is still pinned to the black King so the fork’s a bust. Next, Browne makes a move that beginner’s find curious.

Beginners are taught to make fair trades, a minor piece for a minor piece, or trades that garner them material such as a pawn for a minor piece. However, the game’s next move, 13. Bxe5 surprises the novice player. The point here, is that when you’re ahead in development, you can trade down to build up an attack (and set a nasty trap). Quinteros captures back with 13…dxe5 and POW, Browne plays 14. Rxe5+! I suspect Quinteros was really feeling the heat at this point. Rather than being able to actively develop his minor pieces, Quinteros has to use one of them to block the check, 14…Be7. Now comes the trap!

Browne plays 15. Rd5. I stop the game and ask my students if this is a free piece for black. They quickly look at the position and concur that it is. Wrong answer! If black takes the Rook with the Queen, white has the crushing Nc7+, forking King, Queen and Rook (on a8). You have to think ahead in chess! Fortunately, Quinteros saw this and played, 15…Qc8. However, even avoiding the trap, black’s game is utterly lost in this position.

Browne, who was know to get into time trouble on occasion might have done so here only because he had so many great moves to choose from at this point. This is what comes from good development and applying the principles. He chose, 16. Nf5, threatening the e7 Bishop. Quinteros decided to tuck his King away with 16…Kf8. Browne takes the Bishop with 17. Ne7 and black captures back with the King, 17…Kxe7. After 18. Re5+, Quinteros throws in the towel as they say! Please note that Quinteros was a wonderful Grandmaster and I mean no offense in my commentary here, but not employing sound game principles can leave you in a bad way.

A very instructive game for beginners as well as an entertaining one. I can only imagine Walter Browne, with that trademark look on his face, glaring at the black pieces during this game. Browne is probably my favorite American player and will always be a staple of my teaching program. Wherever you are Walter, I hope all your poker hands are Royal Flushes! Thank you for all you’ve given us!

Hugh Patterson

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The King’s Gambit

There was a time, not so long ago, when chess was played in a daring and romantic way. During the 19th Century, Gambits were King and swashbuckling sacrifices were the order of the day! One opening, the King’s Gambit, was commonly played and led to some of the most exciting chess games of this period. I teach it to my students because many good lessons can be found within this opening. So let’s travel back in time, to a world in which chess players didn’t depend on computers to aid them in their positional decision making. This was a era when a game of chess was truly a battle of two minds, a form of mental Kung Fu if you will!

For those of you who are new to the game, let me start by defining a gambit. When employing a gambit, one player (usually white) will offer a pawn (or even two) during the opening in exchange for a positional advantage. This means that the player giving up the pawn will not get material back. Instead, our Gambiteer (as gambit players are called) will gain an advantage in position, such as the ability to get all of his or her minor pieces into the game quickly due to a lack of pawns blocking in those pieces. An advantage in position during the game’s opening gives the player with the advantage greater opportunities such as the ability to launch a strong attack or gain greater control of the board. More opportunities for one player means fewer opportunities for the other player. Greater opportunities lead to winning games!

The King’s Gambit starts with the moves 1. e4…e5 followed by 2. f4. White’s second move is the gambit. Why would White simply offer up the f pawn, one of the three pawns that form a wall in front of the King when castling short (King-side Castling)? Well, if black plays 2…exf4, then white has two pawns on central files, the d and e file, while black has only has one pawn on a central file, the d pawn. White therefore has a two to one pawn majority in the center. This would give white an advantage when it comes to controlling the center during the opening. However, if white plays 3. d4, Black would provide a nasty response in the form of 3…Qh4+, a check that has some weight to it because of the black pawn on f4! This consequence of an early d pawn push helps to teach students to build up a position slowly and carefully!

Beginners who are taught to gain control of the board’s center quickly during the opening, often prematurely push the white d pawn to d4, thinking that two pawns on central squares are better than one pawn on a central square. Combine this with the discovered attack by the c1 Bishop on the black pawn on f4 and you can see why the novice player might opt for this often disastrous move. The correct move for beginners is 3.Nf3. Moving the Knight to f3 stops the black Queen from checking on h4, keeps her from loitering on g5 and puts pressure on d4 and e5. Once the white Knight is placed on f3, the Black pawn on f4 is locked in place and a later pawn push can be made, d2-d4. The immediate lesson here is that you have to build up a position carefully, considering your opponent’s best response. Black has been known to play 3…g5, using the g pawn to protect the f4 pawn. Already, black’s King-side pawn structure is messy. Here, further development by white is in order, such as 4.Bc4. Black might counter with 4…g4, attacking the Knight on f3. At this point, I’ll ask my students to suggest two possible moves. One move that is suggested more often than not is 5.Ne5 which moves the Knight out of danger and allows it to attack the black g4 pawn. It seems reasonable, the Knight going from being attacked by a pawn to attacking that very same pawn. When I suggest castling, many students will cry out in horror that I’m about to give up my well placed Knight! The problem with 5.Ne5 is 5…Qh4+, which checks the white King. Let’s not forget that the black Queen has a few useful pawns to aid her in this attack! Beginners have the bad habit of not considering what their opponent’s best response is to the move they’re about to make. This example of black’s Queen check on h4 (after 5.Ne5) helps reinforce the idea of considering how your opponent might respond to your potential move. To help teach this idea regarding your opponent’s best response, only after they understand the basic moves of the King’s Gambit, I have them switch sides back and forth during this opening. So, after move two for black, 2…exf4, the student playing the white pieces trades places with the student playing the black pieces. They continue to do so throughout the next ten moves.

This brings us to another key point of the lesson, giving up material in exchange for a strong attack. To the beginner, it appears as if castling King-side loses the Knight on f3 because they’re not looking ahead. They see a minor piece about to be captured by a lowly pawn. Beginners tend only to see only a single move ahead. By this, I mean that they see the g4 pawn attacking the Knight and, if the Knight doesn’t move, it will be captured. They’re not seeing that if (after white castles) the black pawn on g4 takes the Knight (5…gxf3), the white Queen can capture that pawn and suddenly, the Bishop on c4, the Rook on f1 and the Queen on f3 are all aimed at Black’s weak f7 square. Of course, there is still a black pawn on f4 standing in the way of checkmate but that little pawn is undefended! This is a very clear example of giving up material in exchange for attacking chances. White has a strong potential attack with only a pawn standing in the way of checkmate.

Of course, in the above example, it’s black to move, so the black Queen can move to f6 to stop the potential checkmate. However, black is on the defensive and has to play carefully to avoid checkmate. There are a few moves that black can make to stop white’s mating attempt, so I’ll ask my students to find them.

I have young students who interpret my enthusiasm for this swashbuckling opening as a guaranteed way to win the game as white. This means that they think playing black against the King’s Gambit means a painful loss. We have to remember that these are very young players who are new to the game and see things in a very black and white manner (pun intended). To cure them of this way of thinking, the first full King’s Gambit game I show is one in which Boris Spassky, as black, pummels his opponent who plays the gambit against him. I show them this game, which I’ve posted below, to warn them of the dangers of thinking a specific opening is a sure thing. It helps to demonstrate the folly of not using sound principles, such as building up a position before launching an attack. It also goes to show that employing a gambit doesn’t guarantee success. Of course, playing a gambit against the likes of Boris Spassky, a tactical genius, may not be the brightest of ideas. Enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

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Teaching Kids: Checkmate In Two

Learning checkmate in two is perhaps the most important step towards developing your fundamental calculation skills. Yusupov used this as a tool to improve the skill of calculating short variations in one of his books. There are various ways of teaching this to kids but what I am going to discuss is a multipurpose technique that is very effective.

I normally introduce this to kids once they show great accuracy in doing checkmate in one. I show them patterns first and explain fundamental ideas behind those patterns. It is advisable that you start with just a few pieces on the board first.

For example you can use checkmate with king and queen against king. If I am not missing anything, there are five ways to checkmate with these pieces:

The next task is to explain the basic idea behind this theme. In this case you can’t afford to allow the opponent’s king to leave the edge of the board (a-file,h-file, 1st rank and last rank) after which the rest is just matter of practicing it. Here is one example:

Here Black king will try to leave border line by moving to d7 so our first task is to prevent that. You can do it with Qd4, Qd2 or Qc7 (Qd6 is stalemate), so the king will be forced to move on f8 then Qd8 is checkmate.

Coaches have to find/compose lots of puzzles on separate themes. And yes repetition is the key thing as kids tend to forget patterns if they don’t practice them a lot.

You can add more pieces in order to increase the difficulty level but the basic ideas remain unchanged.

Ashvin Chauhan

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True Freedom

Novice chess players often consider a piece to have complete freedom if it has some mobility. Mobility is a piece’s ability to move to or control an optimal number of squares. Obviously, a piece does have some form of freedom if it can control a large number of squares from its position on the board. The piece is free to move to those squares if need be. However, this freedom is only partial if the piece in question is tied down to the defense of another piece (or pawn). True freedom means not being tied down to a defensive role but rather, being able to move around without weakening the position.

To determine how much true freedom a piece has, we have to ask ourselves two questions. First, how many squares does that piece control? The greater the number, the more freedom it has. We examine this freedom in terms of mobility. A Bishop that can move to ten squares has greater mobility than a Bishop that can only move to two squares. The next question, a critical one that beginners often fail to ask, is whether or not the piece in question is defending another piece or pawn? If a piece has to play a defensive role, it isn’t truly free because moving it might allow the opposition to capture the previously defended piece. This could lead to a weakened position and eventually a lost game.

The Bishop that controls ten squares has far less freedom if it’s tied down defending another piece that is helping to maintain a position’s strength. If our Bishop moves, the defended piece might no longer be defended which means it can be captured. If it’s captured the position might be severely weakened to the point of no return. On the other hand, our Bishop that has far less mobility (two squares) can freely move to either of those squares without incurring a weakness on the position. Eventually, it can become more active. This is where pawns come into play so to speak!

One of the reasons pawns make great defenders for our pieces is because they have the lowest relative value so most players won’t trade a minor piece for a pawn unless doing so strengthens their position. By strengthening the position, I mean that the player trading down (minor piece for pawn) will either open up the position for an attack or deliver checkmate. Using pawns for defense duties allows your pieces true freedom since they’re not tied down to the defense of their fellow pieces. True freedom means having the ability to move around with no strings attached.

Of course, we have to assign some of our pieces defensive duties. You can’t get through a game of chess without a bit of defensive play. Even the most aggressive players find themselves in positions that require defensive measures. However, we need to carefully consider how we set up our defenses. This is where good pawn play comes into the mix. My students will often ask me why one player in a game made, what looks like to the beginner, a random pawn move. In actuality, that seemingly strange looking pawn move is made to defend a specific square from opposition occupation. The pawn defends a specific square so a piece doesn’t have to. Defending a square with pawn will make your opponent think twice before trading down. Again, employing the pawn as a defender leaves your pieces truly free. Mobility is unhampered!

We should always think of our pieces in terms of being passive and active. Passive pieces have little mobility, are tied down to defensive duties or both. Active pieces have unbridled mobility, free of any defensive duties. As we play through the opening, middle and endgame, we should always consider these two ideas when contemplating a move.

Gaining true freedom for our pieces is a strategic goal. When I teach strategic ideas, I teach them as long term goals, goals that we achieve over time. Beginners often think that once they get a piece to an active square, one that gives that piece decent mobility, the piece’s position cannot be improved upon. They fail to continue that piece’s development. A piece’s ability to increase in activity or mobility can always be improved upon. Just because you move your four minor pieces to active squares during the opening doesn’t mean they’re on their most active squares. From move to move, the game’s position changes and with those positional changes come opportunities to further increase a piece’s activity. However, if you suddenly have to employ that piece in the defense of another, you’re decreasing it’s activity.

If you have to suddenly use an active piece for the defense of another piece, see if you can move a pawn to take over that piece’s guard duties. Pieces that are truly free can become fierce attackers when the opportunity arises. As I mentioned earlier, positions change from one move to the next. A seemingly strong position can quickly fall apart. The player with the more mobile pieces and well placed pawns has a much greater chance of equalizing the suddenly weakened position than the player whose pieces are tied down to defensive duties. Strategy means always thinking ahead. Strategic thinking means playing your opening to set up your middle game and playing your middle game with an eye towards the endgame.

When you consider a move that gives a piece freedom, ask yourself if that piece is truly free or is it actually tied down. Pieces that are truly free have unhampered mobility which allows them to go on the offensive (attacking the opposition) rather than the defensive, babysitting fellow pieces. Make moves that develop pieces actively or increase mobility and always look to increase activity with subsequent moves. Strong activity and true freedom are created over time, not instantly. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

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The Draw

I started our yearly summer program last week that runs until August. Every year, we do eight one week training camps for junior chess players. We divide the students into two groups, beginners and more advanced players. At the end of each week we have a non rated, informal tournament for each group to test their knowledge and our teaching program. I’ve kept records for the last four years of these weekly tournaments, including detailed information on the games themselves in an effort to see where I need to provide more educational information. For example, in the beginner’s section, there are a large number of games won employing the scholar’s mate. Thus, I know that our teaching staff needs to further reinforce defending against scholar’s mate. This last week, we had a large number of draws in our beginner’s section. While I expect a few draws here and there, the number we had was large enough to sound an alarm bell! Something was wrong!

From years of playing, teaching, coaching and working as a tournament arbiter, I’m pretty good at determining whether a position is drawn or not. With my advanced students, real drawn positions are reached. With my beginning students, what they consider a draw is often far from an actual draw. Let’s look at ways in which games can be drawn.

Perpetual check occurs when one player checks their opponent’s King repeatedly which can lead to a draw. You see this a great deal in the games of beginners who haven’t learned that pieces must work together, such as a King and Rook or King and Queen against a lone King. Beginners have a bad habit of checking the opposition King with their lone Queen as opposed to using their Queen with another piece (such as their King). The King gets checked and moves out of check. The King gets checked again and moves out of check and so on. Dozens of moves later and checkmate is no closer. Perpetual check actually leads to either a draw by threefold repetition or a draw under the fifty move rule (both discussed later on).

Stalemate is another way to draw the game. It occurs when one player’s King is the only piece that can move (the player in question can’t move any of their pawns because they’re stuck or immobile) but any square it moves to would place it in check. This is an extremely frustrating position for the beginner to be in because they often have the material necessary to win the game but don’t use that material correctly.

Then there’s having insufficient material to deliver checkmate. This problems arises when both players either trade all their material off the board, leaving just the opposing Kings or they only have their Kings and a Bishop each or a Knight each. This occurs in many young beginner’s games because they’re concentrating on capturing material. You can often hear young beginner’s say “I’m winning because I have more material!” This thinking leads to this kind of drawn game.

A draw by repetition means that both players make identical moves that produce the same position over the course of three complete game turns for both players. So one player makes a move followed by his opponent’s move and these exact moves are repeated two move times. Thus the term Draw by three fold repetition. Beginner’s who are not accustom to this rule often fall victim to it because, due to a lack of experience, they cannot find another way out of the position.

The fifty move rule is one that, surprisingly, I hear many of my young beginner’s claim as the reason for a draw. The rule states that if fifty consecutive moves have been made without a capture or pawn move then the game can be claimed drawn. Young beginners often translate this incorrectly, thinking that if no checkmate has been made in fifty moves the game is drawn. However, they often capture pieces and move pawns so the rule cannot apply.

Drawing the game by agreement is the young beginner’s way of saying “I can’t figure out how to checkmate my opponent and he or she is no closer to mate as well.”

With a few basic definitions provided we’ll now look at what happened with my beginning students and see how these rules actually applied. It should be noted that when many of these players started their summer session with me they only knew how to move the pawns and pieces, the most basic rules of the game.

In one game, one player had a Queen and King against an opposition Rook and Queen. Because I had two instructors watching the two sections for me, beginner and advanced, I caught the position when a draw was requested. The first question I asked was “why do you think this game is a draw?” Both of my young (1st grade) students replied that they didn’t think they could deliver checkmate because every time one of them checked, the other would simply move the checked King. Because our tournament was not rated, I offered a suggestion to both, you cannot checkmate with a lone Queen or lone Rook. Teamwork, pieces working together, is the only way to deliver a checkmate. While both players took this idea to heart, making an effort to coordinate their pieces rather than attempting further solo piece checks, they eventually requested a draw which I gave them. The fact that they tried counted for a lot!

In another game, when the request for a draw came up, one player had a Queen and a King against a lone King. Of course, this is an easily winnable endgame for the average player but remember, I’m working with very young children new to the game. I had given a lesson in basic endgame checkmates earlier in the week and suggested to the student with the Queen and King to think back to the lesson before considering a draw. “A lone piece cannot deliver checkmate. It has to work with another piece.” Both students went back to their game. When I walked by the board a bit later, I noticed some solid progress as King and Queen worked their way towards the lone opposition King. Sadly, the game ended in a stalemate. However, this was a legitimate draw.

There was a claim of the fifty move rule early on. I told my students that I wanted to see them play for a while longer so I could make sure they understood the true meaning of this rule. Not surprisingly, both players captured pieces and moved pawns only to then claim they’d adhered to this rule. When I asked them for their definition of the rule, they said “if you don’t deliver checkmate in fifty moves it’s a draw.” When I explained that they got the rule wrong, one student said his father told him the above so it’s true! Diplomatically, I explained the correct definition. Eventually, after they played for a while longer, I declared the game a draw because they would have ended up with a three hundred move game that got no where.

The overall reminder I got from this experience was that children new to chess don’t have the playing experience and knowledge required to know if a game really is drawn. They often reach a position beyond their scope of knowledge and don’t know what to do, which leads them to think the game cannot go on and is thus a draw. While this is the first time I’ve had a large number of draw requests in the beginner’s section it serves as a strong reminder that teaching programs must be flexible. These same students who I’ll work with during the coming week will start that week with a full two days of basic endgame situations and a thorough examination of what leads to a drawn game. While we did cover this during the previous week, obviously we have to provide further training. Teaching is an evolving process, one that can always be improved upon. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

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Teaching Kids Through Classical Games (13)

Morphy,Paul – Meek,A
USA, 1857

This is really good game to show students the importance of a space advantage and how to use it.

1.e4 e6 2.d4 g6 3.Bd3 Bg7 4.Be3 Ne7 5.Ne2 b6 6.Nd2 Bb7 7.0–0

This seems to be an unorthodox way of developing pieces but it has the advantage of leaving White’s f-pawn free to advance.

7…d5 8.e5

Gaining space on Kingside

8…0–0 9.f4

In chess a space advantage gives you more room for manoeuvre your pieces. And in general you should attack on the side where you have a space advantage.

9…f5 10.h3

Preparing the g4 lever. 10.exf6, taking on en passant, wouldn’t give much after 10…Rxf6.

10…Nd7 11.Kh2

The idea is to use the g-file for his rooks later on.

11…c5 12.c3 c4

It is not a good idea to shut the side of the board where you have space. Here it gives White a free hand to expand on the kingside.

13.Bc2 a6 14.Nf3

Improving the knight’s position and aiming to join the kingside attack.

14…h6 15.g4 Kh7 16.Rg1 Rg8 17.Qe1 Nc6

It would be better to play 17…Qe8 as moving the knight from e7 invites White to sacrifice on g6.

18.Nh4 Qf8??

Let’s check some other alternatives too:

(1) 18…Nf8 19.gxf5 gxf5 20.Ng3 is a stunning knight sac which if taken leads to an immediate win: 20…Qxh4 (20…Ne7 21.Nhxf5 exf5 22.Nxf5 Nxf5 23.Bxf5+ Kh8 24.Bc2 with the idea of f5 is horrible for Black but it is still comparatively better than the text move) 21.Nxf5 Qxe1 22.Nd6+ Kh8 23.Nf7#.

(2) 18…Qe8 19.Nxg6 Qxg6 20.gxf5 Qe8 21.f6+ is just winning for White.

19.Nxg6 Kxg6 20.gxf5+ Kf7

If 20…Kh7 21.f6+ Kh8 22.fxg7+ Rxg7 23.Qh4 and White is winning

21.fxe6+ Kxe6 22.f5+ Ke7 23.Qh4+

White is also winning with f6.

23…Ke8 24.f6 Bxf6

If black tries to save the piece with 24…Bh8 then 25.Qh5+ Kd8 26.Bxh6 is winning.

25.exf6 Rxg1 26.Rxg1 Nxf6 27.Bg6+ Kd7 28.Bf5+ Ke8 29.Bxh6

29.Rg6 is better than the text move and after 29…Ng8 30.Bd7+! Kxd7 31.Qg4+ Ke7 32.Qe6+ etc.

29…Qh8 30.Rg7

Attacking both the knight and bishop.

After 30…Ng8 there follows mate with 31. Bd7+ Kf8 32. Qf4 Nf6 33. Qxf6#, so Black resigned.

1–0

Ashvin Chauhan

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