Category Archives: Children’s Chess

A Modest Proposal

I’ve written many times about the problems facing junior chess here in the UK. Two weeks ago I considered GM Simon Williams’s critique of what’s happening at top levels of junior chess. Last week I looked at some contradictions in the public perception of chess.

Today I want to highlight the one thing that is really not working and see how we might go about putting it right.

A lot of what we do is great.

Promoting chess in secondary schools is great, and the ECF is quite rightly putting a lot of effort in this direction. At present, though, it’s not easy to get that much interest outside single-sex selective schools.

Junior Chess Clubs are great, especially for parents who want to fast-track their children, for children who are doing well at school and want to take things more seriously, and for children who want to learn the basics in a non-competitive environment.

We run some great tournaments, at least they would be great if more of the participants were developing their skills in tandem with gaining experience in competitions.

There are a number of very devoted parents out there, doing a wonderful job in encouraging their children to play chess, and, in many cases, doing a lot of voluntary administration as well. Only a small number, though. We need to make it much larger.

Putting chess on the curriculum is great: more children will learn chess, they’ll learn the basics correctly rather than being taught at home by parents who are unaware of their own ignorance. It might also make them smarter. We can then feed them through to competitions and junior chess clubs when they’re ready.

There’s a lot of great work going on in junior chess in this country, and yet the whole set-up is ineffective. If you look at what actually happens in primary school chess clubs in my part of London you’ll see why.

There are some school clubs which are reasonably successful, where there’s a member of staff who is committed to chess, who is present in the classroom to ensure children are quiet and well-behaved, and who encourages children to take part in both team and individual competitions and to join junior chess clubs, but these schools are very much in a minority.

A few weeks ago I spoke to a friend and colleague, an IM who has, for some years, been running an after-school club at a primary school very local to Richmond Junior Club. I asked if he had any players who might be good enough to represent Richmond in national competitions. No, he told me. It’s just a low-level fun club, although there was one boy who might be good enough next year.

A year or so ago I emailed another friend and colleague, another IM, about the players at another local primary school where he’s been running the chess club certainly since the last century. I asked if any of his players were going to take part in our forthcoming individual tournament. He replied that his members were only interested in taking part in team tournaments where they represented the school, not in individual competitions.

Now my two friends are both outstanding players, brilliant chess coaches and great guys. The two schools are among the highest rated state primary schools in the country. So we have two fantastic teachers working in fantastic schools, who, at least in these two schools (I’m well aware that they both get better results elsewhere) produce very few if any children who reach a reasonable level of chess proficiency or take a long-term interest in the game. IMs and GMs, along with many others, including myself, are trying to make a living providing low-level entertainment for children who are not serious about chess and whose parents don’t want them to be serious about chess. It would be a much more productive use of their time if they were teaching smaller numbers of children who were ambitious to succeed, but, the way things are at the moment, they can earn more money doing what they’re doing, and who can blame them?

We first need to make sure that more children learn chess. I can’t see chess on the curriculum in the UK being made compulsory in the near future, and, personally, I wouldn’t be in favour. So let’s put together an attractive package for a potential sponsor. We’ll put a couple of chess sets in every junior classroom (Year 3/2nd Grade upwards) in the country. (Yes, a project of this nature was started by the ECF a few years ago but turned out to be a complete fiasco.) Just putting chess sets into schools without accompanying instruction won’t work, though. We’ll also produce some attractive, colourful, child-friendly posters to go round the room showing the rules of chess. We’ll encourage children in Year 3 to play mini-games so we’ll also produce some mini-game posters. We’ll encourage teachers to get those children who wish to do so to play chess before school and at break times. We’ll provide an information pack for class teachers. We’ll produce a booklet giving the rules of chess, some mini-games, some basic advice on tactics and strategy, and links to recommended resources, email this to schools and ask them to forward it to all parents.

Let’s then set up a network of chess academies providing individual and group tuition, competitions, and time and space for children who enjoy chess to socialise with each other. In more affluent areas parents should be happy to pay for this. These academies will also provide tutors for schools who are ambitious to excel at chess.

We also need to flood the media with positive stories about competitive chess, particularly as played by older children and young adults, both male and female. At present chess has a good reputation among the general public for ‘making you smarter’ but a poor reputation as a hobby, which is one reason why many parents want their children to ‘do’ chess but not to be good at chess. Last week’s post considered the image of chess players. They are seen as geeks who either dress too formally or too informally, have poor social skills, will probably go mad (like that Fischer chap), are almost all male (wasn’t there a player who said women were useless at chess the other day?), are either very young or very old, and are so unhealthy that they will probably drop dead at the board. Getting away from these stereotypes and promoting a positive image of chess should be a top priority.

While I continue to support primary school chess clubs because it’s better for schools to have a club than not to have a club, the current model of the primary school chess club led by a professional chess teacher is, in my opinion, demonstrably not fit for purpose. By continuing to support it we are letting down both the children and the wider chess community. Surely we can come up with a way of using our talented chess coaches to teach children who want to learn and improve rather than just running low-level children’s entertainment.

Richard James

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The Sinking Ship

Every chess player has found themselves in a position so seemingly bad that it’s as if they were on a sinking ship. I say seemingly because often appearances can be deceiving. Beginners, who lack playing experience, tend to give up hope when hitting the smallest bump in the positional road. Of course, there are positions where one should simply resign, but there are also many positions that look worse than they actually are. I have seen countless student games in which one player will resign even though they have a completely playable position. They resign because not only can’t they find a way to improve things but they have no way in which to accurately measure the position’s true nature. Can it be saved or is resignation in order? To answer this question, one must look at a position objectively, questioning that position by using principled elements to arrive at an answer.

For beginners, it’s best to start with the simplest questions, such as do I have more or less material than my opponent? Taking stock of material balance issues can be a good first step in determining just how much trouble you’re in. With beginners, an early deficit in material, being down a pawn or two or perhaps a minor piece, can be overcome. However, being down a Queen can have devastating consequences. Beginners love to bring their Queens out early, often losing them in the process. Therefore, I have a training rule to prevent this. If you bring your Queen out early and lose it during a practice game, you have to resign. Needless to say, this curbs early Queen play! You should always try to maintain a material balance. If you do find yourself with less material, consider the material you’re missing and how that affects the position. In the opening and middle game, minor pieces are critical. If you’re down a minor piece or two, you’ll have play more defensively because you don’t have key pieces that can aid in potential attacks. When in this kind of trouble, hang on to your material and play to reestablish material balance. Your opponent may try to trade material which means they will have a greater advantage in the endgame. Avoid trades if possible, when down material, and aim for equalization.

Development is another principled consideration. Beginners have trouble with good development when they first start playing. They often move the same piece again and again while their opponent follows principled play, bringing a new piece into the game with each move. Development is critical during the game’s opening phase and going into the middle game. You should examine whether or not your opponent has better development, pieces being on their most active squares, when determining how much trouble you might be in. If your opponent has better development, they have greater control of the board which makes it difficult for you to launch successful attacks. Beginners often panic when faced with an opposition position in which their opponent controls the board. However, before throwing in the towel and simply resigning, remember that position’s are fluid, they sometimes change drastically within a few moves. Look to improve your own position by challenging your opponent’s control of board space. Use pieces of lesser value to challenge pieces of greater value. Doing so will force your opponent to give up some control, allowing you to gain it!

Potential attacks against your pawns and pieces is another consideration when trying to work your way out of a bad position. Beginners hang pieces or lose a series of exchanges because they don’t carefully consider the number of attackers versus the number of defenders. If you have a pawn or piece under attack and your opponent has three attackers to your one defender, you’ll more than likely have to give up that pawn or piece. It’s a lost cause and trying to defend a lost cause will only make the position worse. Look for a counter attack elsewhere. If you can attack an opposition piece of greater value, your opponent will first have to deal with your threat. This could change the dynamic of the position, giving you room to regroup. Know when to give up material to an overwhelming opposition attack. You can’t hope to put out a raging fire with a thimble full of water!

Timing is everything. For example, since White moves first, White has a free turn. White starts off one move ahead of Black. If you move the same piece over and over again while your opponent brings a new piece into play with each move, you’re essentially giving your opponent a free turn with each move of the same piece. How far behind are you in tempo? If your opponent is ahead by five tempi, you have a lot of catching up to do. If behind, try to catch up but don’t try to catch up by launching an all or nothing attack. Think pawn and piece activity.

Determine the safety of your King. Beginners learn the reason for King safety the hard way by not Castling and getting checkmated. You’ll want to see if your King is facing a mating attack and determine what kind of damage will result when having to avoid such an attack. Questions one should ask are will my position be irreversibly weakened or damaged defending against an attack and will I lose so much material in avoiding mate that winning is no longer an option? Of course, one should ask if checkmate is unavoidable? Beginners often have trouble with this last question because they are still learning mating patterns and sometimes can’t see a mate in three or four.

Are your Rooks activated? I see so many junior level games in which both players Rooks are sitting on their starting squares gathering dust! Beginners will wring their hands in despair, thinking a position is lost because they can’t move a pawn from its starting square because it will be captured upon doing so. Why not use a Rook that is still on its starting Rank to protect that pawn?

These basics ideas are all interrelated, one being intimately tied to the others. Each move you make should have purpose. If someone asked you why you made a specific move, you should be able to provide a sound explanation. Just this idea alone will go a long way towards keeping your positional ship afloat! When you find yourself in a troublesome position, determine why you’re in that undesirable situation. Determine the basic cause of the problem and see of you can work your way out of it. Not every position can be fixed but panicking and giving up before looking for a solution will not help you improve your game. Trying to think your way out of a bad position will help improve your game, even if you don’t end up winning the game after working your way through the problem at hand. We learn from our losses. However, don’t assume a position is hopeless until you ask a few questions. Sometimes a sinking ship can remain afloat long enough for a rescue to ensue! Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

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Teaching Kids Through Classical Games (11)

Gruenfeld, Ernst – Alekhine, Alexander,
Karlsbad 1923

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Bg5 Be7

4…Nbd7 can also be played here as White can’t win the pawn on d5: 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Nxd5 Nxd5 7.Bxd8 Bb4+ wins piece.

5.Nf3 Nbd7 6.e3 0–0 7.Rc1

A well known tempo struggle begins; White wants to develop his bishop when he captures the pawn on c4 while Black refrains from taking on c4 until White’s light square bishop has moved.

7…c6 8.Qc2 a6 9.a3 h6 10.Bh4 Re8 11.Bd3 dxc4

Gaining a tempo, but now White has a majority in the center. It is truly said that chess is a generalized exchange.

12.Bxc4 b5 13.Ba2 c5

Freeing Black’s game with the c5 lever. 13…Bb7 14.0–0 c5 is also playable.

14.Rd1 cxd4 15.Nxd4 Qb6 16.Bb1 Bb7 17.0–0 Rac8

With a threat of Be4.

18.Qd2 Ne5

Improving the position of this piece by heading to c4. The knight was not doing much on d7.

19.Bxf6 Bxf6 20.Qc2 g6

Though the pawn structure around Black’s king is slightly weakened by this there is no way White can exploit it. A weakness is only a weakness if it can be targeted.

21.Qe2 Nc4 22.Be4 Bg7

22…Bxe4 23.Nxe4 Bg7 is also possible.

23.Bxb7 Qxb7 24.Rc1 e5 25.Nb3 e4!

Creating a nice outpost on d3 which can be used by knight.

26.Nd4 Red8 27.Rfd1 Ne5 28.Na2 Nd3 29.Rxc8 Qxc8

“Grünfeld, completely outplayed by his mighty opponent, correctly seeks his last chance in destroying Black’s powerful fore post on d3. Note that a protected knight on d3 or e3 (respectively e6 or d6) is normally worth an exchange because of its ability to paralyze the opponent’s activity and to participate in dangerous combinations.”
– Kasparov

30.f3?

Here Kasparov suggests 30.Nc3 as an improvement which might lead to pawn down queen endgame for White. If you have Chessbase you can check the variations given by Kasparov.

30…Rxd4! 31.fxe4

Black’s rook can’t be taken because of 31.exd4 Bxd4+ 32.Kf1 Nf4 33.Rc1 Qxc1+ 34.Nxc1 Nxe2 35.Nxe2 Bxb2 which gives a winning endgame with two extra pawns.

Pause for a moment and try to find the winning continuation for Black

31…Nf4!! 32.exf4 Qc4!

White is at least losing a piece.

33.Qxc4

33.Re1 Qxa2.

33…Rxd1+ 34.Qf1 Bd4+

And mate on the next move.

0–1

Ashvin Chauhan

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Schrödinger’s Game

You will no doubt be aware of Schrödinger’s cat, which is simultaneously both alive and dead.

It occurs to me that public perception of chess is full of similar paradoxes.

Times journalist Tom Whipple, writing about Nigel Short’s views on women’s chess, chose to tell us the reason why he game up competitive chess in his teens:

“No, the reason I quit aged 15, at a time when my friends (or rather, given I played competitive chess, tormentors) were starting to go to the pub, was something else. It was because I looked round one day and realised I was myself in a minority: I was the only person in the immediate vicinity not wearing a bow tie.”

He then, by way of further explanation, that he quit because chess was ‘too geeky’. A quick search of the ECF grading database reveals that his grade at the time he quit was a not terribly impressive 74. So I’d suggest that he quit because he just wasn’t very good at the game. Or perhaps he’d never been taught to play well.

Perhaps Mr Whipple played chess in a different universe to me. There was one junior a few years ago, now an IM, who used to wear a bow tie regularly. Another junior, now a GM, was wearing a bow tie the first time I met him, but that was because he’d just been to a party. I wouldn’t say that bow ties were de rigeur in the Thames Valley League, though.

But there’s a different stereotype, isn’t there? Chess players are often portrayed in the media as scruffily dressed, wearing anoraks, unwashed T-shirts and torn jeans, with their sandwiches in a carrier bag.

So there you have Schrödinger’s chess player, who simultaneously is geekily well-dressed and sporting a bow tie, and is badly dressed with an anorak over his T-shirt.

You might have thought a highly regarded journal of record (well, not everyone has a high regard for their chess correspondent) would encourage its writers to avoid lazy stereotypes.

I think the paradox stems from the perception that chess is for geeks, and that there are two public, and rather contradictory, views of geeks: the bow tie wearing eccentric mathematician and the scruffy trainspotter. But serious competitive players are, in one sense, anything but geeks. You need a lot of mental toughness to succeed in chess at a high level. We should be celebrating our best players, male or female, juniors, seniors or inbetweeners, for that quality as well as for their talent, hard work, commitment and dedication to chess.

I don’t think is the only paradox in the public perception of our game.

On the one hand chess is seen as something which requires genius level intelligence, an astronomically high IQ, to master. On the other hand it’s portrayed as a game so easy that it’s suitable for mass participation by very young children. Schrödinger’s game, very easy and very hard at the same time. This always reminds me of what the great Artur Schnabel said about Mozart’s piano sonatas: too easy for children and too difficult for artists. So parents are often totally confused about what chess really is. The answer to this question is, as CEM Joad would have said, it depends what you mean by chess.

If you mean learning how the pieces move, then, yes, it’s easy for most young children. If you mean playing ‘real’ chess, considering alternatives, thinking ahead, that’s something very different. You don’t need a very high IQ to do this but you do require a certain amount of cognitive and emotional maturity which most young children don’t have. Parents who have some knowledge of ‘real’ chess understand this, which is why, for instance, Magnus Carlsen’s father dropped the game for a few years when his 5-year-old son found it hard to get beyond the moves of the pieces. Parents who don’t understand ‘real’ chess, which, here in the UK must be about 80-90%, have no understanding that their children aren’t really playing chess because they don’t know how to play real chess themselves. You can tell when you ask kids joining a school club to name the rook and they tell you, as they nearly always do, it’s called a castle. You know they’ve been taught the moves by someone who has never read a chess book, and who was taught the moves himself by someone who had never read a chess book.

And this perhaps explains another paradox.

The other day I received my six-monthly royalty statement from my publishers. It’s gratifying that Chess for Kids is still selling well, and providing me with a significant amount of money every year: the only book I’ve written which has done this. However, The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids isn’t selling at all. Unless something remarkable happens it’s never going to get anywhere near paying off its advance.

In a sensible world it would be the other way round. If you really do see chess as a very hard game you’re going to need a guide on how to teach it. If you’re not a proficient player yourself you need to learn enough to help your kids. Even if you are a proficient player you’ll appreciate that some guidance on how to go about teaching something so difficult wouldn’t come amiss. All parents wanting to teach their kids chess should read a book on the subject first. And there’s really no other book on the market which will help you in this way.

There are, on the other hand, plenty of attractive books on the market teaching the rudiments of the game to kids. Once you’ve read my book on how to teach chess you’ll then, when you think your kids are ready, want to buy them a book. You might choose mine, but you might prefer one of the rival volumes which teach very much the same material in different ways. It’s up to you: it doesn’t really matter too much which one you prefer. In a world where chess was recognised for what it really is, my book for parents would sell many times more copies than my book for kids, rather than the other way round.

The right, non-confusing message we’re putting out about chess should be that, although it’s fairly easy to learn the moves, it’s really a game for older children and adults at which some exceptional younger children with exceptionally supportive parents can excel, a game which requires mental toughness as well as intelligence.

Richard James

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Logic and Reasoning Skills

One of the thought processing skills that chess helps develop is logic and reasoning. It’s the understanding and employment of logic and reasoning that allows a chess player to determine the best course of action within a given position. The problem that many novice players face when examining a position on the board is not so much finding the solution but determining the the correct questions to be asked that lead to that solution. After all, if you ask the wrong questions, you’ll identify the wrong problem and you won’t be able to determine the correct solution because you’re not seeing the real issue at hand. To solve any problem, you must first ask the correct questions, using logic and reasoning as your guide. This is why I teach my students problem solving skills they can use away from the chessboard first, only then applying them to the game of chess, once they’ve be mastered.

To teach logic and reasoning, I give my students some geographical problems to solve. The first of which has to do with travel. I tell them I’m taking a trip. I’m leaving from San Francisco to a destination that is roughly 3,000 miles away. Their job is to ask the appropriate questions in order to determine the right answer. Our overall goal is to ask the fewest possible questions to achieve the correct answer, which takes practice. From San Francisco, you can go roughly 3,000 miles in any direction and arrive at some destination. Therefore, the first question you might consider is which direction am I traveling? North, South, East or West? Let’s say I’m traveling East. You might then ask, how wide is the United States? It’s roughly 3,000 miles wide. Just two questions have now brought you close to the answer. Because there are many large metropolitan areas within 3,000 miles of San Francisco, you might ask what State am I traveling to and I’d answer New York. Here, many students jump the gun so to speak and say “you’re going to Manhattan, the Big Apple.” I’d say sorry, wrong answer but you’re on the right track. You might ask, is it close to Manhattan? I’d say “yes, just a subway ride away and there’s a bridge named after it.” If you said Brooklyn, you’d be correct. These questions follow a logical sequence rather than a random sequence, forming a pattern leading towards the answer.

Next we gear up the challenge. I tell my students my new destination is roughly 5,500 miles away. The parameters have now changed. With greater distance comes a greater number of possible destinations. Students know from the first problem that direction of travel is a key question to be asked. North, South, East or West? I tell them East. They know from the first problem that the United States is roughly 3,000 miles wide. This means that the first 3,000 miles leads them to the Eastern side of the United States. However, they now have to consider the remaining 2,500 miles. My more astute students will ask for a world atlas with the idea of determining the width of the Atlantic Ocean. I allow them to use an atlas, which I keep with me when we do these exercises. Once they determine that the Atlantic Ocean is close to 2,500 miles wide, it’s time to hone in on my destination a bit further. Because there are two large bodies of land, Europe and Africa, those could be destination points, so their next logical question is which of the two continents is it? Europe, I reply. Here things can get a bit tricky because there are a number of destinations near the Atlantic Coast of Europe that could be my target. Older students who have worked through these problems before, might narrow it down by asking for rough coordinates or longitude and latitude. They might also ask if my destination is on an Island, narrowing the field down quite a bit. The point here is that my students are logically narrowing down my destination sequentially through their questions. I’ll either give them my target’s rough longitude and latitude or perhaps tell them it’s an island. Working through the exercise, employing the right questions, they conclude my destination is England. Where in England? Here I tell them to narrow it by considering my destination to be a metropolitan center for chess in the UK. Many students don’t at first realize that London is the target. However, by asking further questions such as, does this metropolitan center also serve as the country’s Governmental center? Does it have a famous Bridge? It my target address 44 Baker Street? (Yes, a shameless plug for the London Chess Center) Eventually they deduce the correct answer!

You might ask, what does a geography challenge have to do with chess? The answer is simple: As I said early, beginning players often have trouble with positional problems on the chessboard because they’re not fully identifying the actual problem. They might identify “a problem” but is it the correct problem. If you identify the wrong problem, even a good answer to that identified problem does you no good if it’s not the answer to the real or underlying problem. The exercises we employ help students with their chess playing because they learn how to ask the right questions which will ultimately lead them to discovering and addressing the real problem being faced. It’s an introduction to logical thinking and the application of reasoning to problem solving. If you ask the right questions, you’re more likely to discover the real problem. Here’s how this might work when a beginner is trying to identify a positional problem on the chessboard (note, this is a very broad example):

Often beginners apply the opening principles correctly and find themselves going into the middle game with a decent developmental position. So far so good. Then, their opponent makes a few moves that create noticeable problems for our novice player. The problem with multiple problems within a given position is identifying those problems and then deciding which problem needs to be addressed first. If one problem’s solution avoids material loss and the other avoids checkmate, avoiding being mated takes precedence.

Beginners have great trouble identifying a single positional problem let alone multiple problems. The key again is asking the right questions. One reason I use geographical problems in my student’s training is because chess positions are geometrical in nature. Geography is geometrical in nature! In a middle game position, for example, my students use a mental checklist to identify positional problems. They follow a logical sequence of questioning learned via my geography exercises. Imagine trying to determine a problem using random questions. With enough random questions asked, you might eventually identify the real problem. However, if you’re on the clock, your time might run out long before you identified the real issue at hand! Therefore, your questions should be sequential in nature. My students will look at the position and start narrowing things down using the right questions, starting with the most obvious ones. Are any opposition pieces attacking my pieces? If so, are those attacking pieces of greater or lesser value than the pieces being attacked? If the attacking piece is a Knight and the attacked piece a Rook, we might consider moving that Rook. However, before moving the Rook, we should ask if doing so weakens our position? Will moving the Rook cause a ripple effect, weakening our position so much that its moving (the Rook) would create a greater number of problems? Can we launch a counter attack of an opposition piece of equal or greater value? While this is a very generalized example, it serves to show how one can employ basic logic and reasoning skills to determine a problem and its solution. In our example, we would continue to work through our questioning. If we move our Rook out of harms way can we move it to a square that allows us to maintain our positional strength? If so, what square should we move it to? The idea here is to use logical questioning to discover the true nature of the problem and only then trying to solve it.

Once we look at the opposition’s pieces we look at ours. We might ask, if I make this move, what’s my opponent’s best response (move)? The key is always to ask questions that illuminate the biggest problem at hand, starting with an examination of our opponent’s pawns and pieces in relationship to our pawns and pieces. We examine each of our opponent’s pawns and pieces and question its relationship to our pawns and pieces which often reveals the problem. Logically, we’d start by examining the opposition pawns and pieces closest to our own material and work our way outward, using logical questions to guide us.

Again, if you don’t ask the right questions, you won’t get the right answer. With practice my student’s questions become very precise, with each question bringing them closer to the correct answer. I have my students keep a small notebook to write down questions they should ask and the order in which they should be asked. Every time a good question is asked, one that brings my students closer to the answer, they write that question down in their notebook. They refer to their questions when analyzing a position, eventually committing those questions to memory. Try some geography problems to sharpen your logic and reasoning skills and you’ll be rewarded when faced with a tricky positional problem. This is an extremely shortened version of how the process works (I could fully describe it in about twenty pages) but it will give you an idea of how to get started. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

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Teaching Kids Through Classical Games (10)

The most important single feature of a chess position is the activity of the pieces. This is absolutely fundamental in all phases of the game.

Michael Stean in Simple Chess

Jakob Rosanes – Adolf Anderssen
Breslau – Breslau -, 1862

1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5

The Falkbeer Counter Gambit.

3.exd5 e4 4.Bb5+ c6 5.dxc6 Nxc6 6.Nc3 Nf6 7.Qe2 Bc5!

Q – Is it good to sacrifice another pawn?
A – Black is offering another pawn in order to complete his development. After 8… 0–0 White will be behind in development and the fact that his queen and king are on the same file which gives Black some attacking chances.

8.Nxe4 0–0

Black is threatening to win a knight.

9.Bxc6

Q – Was it compulsory to take on c6?
A – Yes, as 9.d3 Nd4 or 9.Bd3 Re8 10.Kf1 Bf5 lose in a straightforward way.

9…bxc6 10.d3 Re8 11.Bd2 Nxe4

11…Bf5 and Ng4 are also winning. Can you work out how for yourself?

12.dxe4 Bf5 13.e5 Qb6

Compare the relative positions of the two armies. White is two pawns up but his army is poorly coordinated and passive. On the other hand all Black’s pieces are active and ready to launch an attack on the opposing king.

14.0–0–0?

More proof that chess masterpieces require the generous cooperation of the loser (Kasparov)! With 14. Nf3 white can prolong the fight.

14…Bd4

Very straightforward.

15.c3??

15.Bc3 is a better option though it is also losing. 15…Bxc3 16.bxc3 Rad8 17.Nf3 Qa5 (with threat of Qxa2) 18.Rxd8 Rxd8 19.Nd4 Qxa2 wins.

15…Rab8 16.b3

Forced.

16…Red8

16…Qa5 17.Kb2 Bc5 and 16…Bc5 17.Be3 Qa5 18.Rd3 Red8 are also winning.

17.Nf3??

Now it is checkmate in 5 moves. 17. Kb2 or 17.g4 are also losing, but not immediately.

17…Qxb3!!

Opens the b-file.

18.axb3 Rxb3 19.Be1 Be3+

Followed by checkmate on next move after 20.Qxe3 Rb1#. White resigned here.

0–1

Do remember this checkmate pattern with rook and bishop.

Ashvin Chauhan

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Your Chess Environment

Something that chess improvers rarely consider is the quality of their chess environment. Who are they playing against and mixing with? And are these influences good or bad?

This can be a huge factor in an overall improvement plan, it’s important to be part of the best peer group you can find. Without this a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings can creep in. Are the Latvian Gambit and Morra great for improving because they develop tactical skill? Are you sure about that?

For some there’s no such problem of course. A nationally recognised talent will, in many countries, be well looked after and groomed for success. They’ll get the best trainers, be flown to the best tournaments and receive a good helping of support. At least they will in India!

With this in mind here’s a name to watch out for, young Nihal Sarin. He’s been blazing a trail at U10 level and in a country that loves and respects chess talent he’s an odds on favourite to do very well.

Nigel Davies

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Simon Says

Nigel Short is not the only grandmaster to have made controversial statements in chess magazines recently.

An interview with Simon Williams in the May 2015 issue of CHESS will no doubt attract less interest, but, in my opinion, what he has to say is much more important, at least for those concerned with junior chess, than Short’s attention-seeking soundbites.

You might know Simon for his creative and imaginative attacking play, for his devotion to the Dutch Defence, or for his excellent books and GingerGM DVDs, so you might express some surprise that he has strong views on junior chess.

Simon was the subject of the magazine’s 60 seconds with… feature. Here’s what he had to say about the ECF’s selection policy for major junior events (I presume he means the World and European Youth Championships).

“At junior level, I have been amazed in the past by the level of some players who have represented England. My impression has been that only wealthy families, who are willing to pay a large amount of money, can send their kids to tournaments and not always for the right reasons. Not for long-term improvement, but as another thing that they can put on their CV.

“Meanwhile chess tuition and improvement for juniors seems to be stuck on an artificial level in England. No long-term plans are in place. How can a coach teach a child everything in the space of a week at a world junior event?

“Parents are really in a tough position and I admire any who supports their child with coaching and travelling, but it would really help if there was more support available from the national federation. At this rate England will struggle to generate any future grandmasters.”

Trenchant stuff from Simon. His views should be taken seriously by everyone concerned with junior chess in England. It’s many years since I’ve had any direct involvement with elite players so it’s good to hear what I believe to be an honest opinion about how things are at the moment.

Let’s take his points one by one.

If you read my articles regularly you’ll know that, a generation ago, we were one of the world’s leading powers in junior chess. You’ll also be aware that we’re now very poor in terms of strength in depth (people I meet who haven’t followed chess news recently are surprised and dismayed by this), and you’ll be aware of my views on the reasons for our decline.

A few years ago our policy was only to invite one player from each age group to represent the BCF/ECF in the World and European Youth Championships. Complaints were received that talented players who wanted to take part, and whose parents could afford to pay, were not able to do so. So the rules were changed and (relatively low) rating targets were set. The ECF is, according to its website, unable to take financial responsibility but does offer a bursary fund which can provide some financial support in cases of genuine need.

In recent years we’ve been sending more players to these events but, although a few players have finished in or near the top 10, our overall scores tend to be on average just above the 50% mark. Should we be satisfied with this? Simon, I guess, thinks not.

The next point he makes is that some of the participants are taking part because being able to say they’ve played for England looks good on their CV rather than because they have any genuine interest in long-term chess development. This is something that concerns me as it happens here in my area on a local scale. In our area there’s an excellent selective fee-paying secondary boys’ school which is very big on chess. Their teams perform well in competitions both locally and nationally. They offer all-rounder scholarships with reduced fees for boys who demonstrate excellence in more than one area, including sports, arts and chess. So every year several parents ask me to provide references for their sons. Perhaps they’ll send them along to Richmond Junior Club for a few weeks or book a couple of private lessons in the hope that their chess will improve as a result. And if they get in they will suddenly find they have too much homework and stop playing chess. Most parents, it seems to me, sign their children up for chess not because they want to give their children a lifelong interest but because they think they’ll gain extrinsic benefits from chess, and, once they’ve received those benefits they’ll give up the game.

Simon goes on to make the point that, while it’s all well and good providing a coach for the duration of the tournament, children really need to be working with a coach on a regular basis throughout the year. Well no doubt most of them are, but perhaps not all of them. In an ideal world the child’s regular coach would be in contact with the tournament coach in advance. To what extent this happens I really don’t know.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Simon’s impression is that the events are expensive to take part in and, while there is, at least in theory, some financial support available in cases of genuine need, it’s mostly the wealthy parents whose children take part in these events. I guess the only answer to this is sponsorship, and no doubt the ECF are actively pursuing this as I write.

Just as a digression, though, I wonder to what extent these tournaments offer value for money. They often take place at distant venues, the conditions are often less than optimal, many of the participants are either underrated or unrated so it may well not do your rating any favours, there is a feeling that these events exist mainly to make money for both the organisers and FIDE. Yes, it’s great to represent your country, to work together as a team with your friends, to make new friends from other countries and cultures. But there are those who think that sending a team to an open Swiss event on the continent would offer better value for money. Of course if your only reason for entering your children is because playing for England in the World or European Championship looks good on their CV this may not be an option.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the magazine’s Executive Editor, IM Malcolm Pein, also brought up the subject of costs in this month’s editorial. In comparison with other activities, chess is relatively cheap, but for many families in the more deprived inner-city areas where Chess in Schools & Communities operates, even taking part in local events can be a problem.

“It is worth mentioning that the CSC program in Newham and in other boroughs around the UK, including Cardiff, Liverpool and Teesside, is starting to produce some useful junior players… Unfortunately there is little awareness in some quarters of the practical difficulties faced by children from inner-city areas in travelling to tournaments or even affording entry fees.

“CSC is working to ensure as many children as possible have a chance, but my experience with organisations like EPSCA (the English Primary Schools Chess Association) and the UK Chess Challenge has not been uniformly positive, even though I am Honorary President of the former.”

Well, I’m not sure how constructive it is to criticise organisations without mentioning specifics, but I’m still sympathetic. Anyone who knows me well will be aware that, although many of my pupils have gained a lot of enjoyment and benefit from playing in the excellent events run by EPSCA and UKCC I also have reservations about them. But that, perhaps, will be for another article. Meanwhile, the comments made by both Simon and Malcolm need careful consideration by those involved in junior chess in England.

Richard James

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Pawn Checklist

Beginners have the bad habit of becoming intoxicated with the power of the Queen, bringing her out prematurely which usually leads to disaster. These same beginners often treat their pawns as expendable, considering them of little value due to their seemingly limited abilities (in the novice player’s mind). Of course, the pawn has the lowest relative material value and this causes beginners to treat their pawns with little care. In reality the pawn is extremely powerful but only when used properly. Pawns can be the glue that binds a position together and if that glue fails, the position falls apart. I have my students repeat the phrase “pawns win games” over and over until it becomes a permanently embedded mantra.

It’s no fault of the beginner to assume that pawns aren’t very valuable. After all, each player has eight of them at the game’s start and they’re the lowest valued unit in one’s army. However, it’s usually the lowly pawn that first stakes a claim in the center of the board at the game’s start. The pawn also has the unique ability to promote into a major (Queen or Rook) or minor (Knight or Bishop) piece upon crossing the board and reaching its promotion square. Even pointing these ideas out to students, they still find themselves at odds when it comes to the question of working with their pawns. This is why I created a small list of things my students should be doing with their pawns and actions they should take against opposition pawns:

Keep you pawn structures intact! The perfect pawn structure can be found in the game’s starting position with white pawns on the second rank and black pawns on the seventh rank. Of course, this perfect pawn structure is altered the moment a pawn is moved. To keep pawn structures intact, consider moves that allow your pawns to work together. Pawn chains are one of the first pawn concepts my students learn. In a pawn chain, each pawn in the chain is supported by another pawn. So, looking at a chain of white pawns, for example, you’d have a pawn on b2, a pawn on c3, a pawn on d4 and a pawn on e5. With the exception of the b2 pawn, you have pawns protecting pawns. The point here is to make sure that you have at least one pawn on an adjacent file to lend support when needed. A pawn with no support pawns on either adjacent file is a pawn not long for this world. Try to develop pawns chains. This way, you don’t have to use your pieces to protect your pawns.

Your opponent will try to create pawn chains as well. These chains often control key squares in the center of the board. This means you’ll have to try to break those chains up. To do so, you’ll want to attack the base of the chain. In the above example, the base pawn is the b2 pawn. If you remove that pawn, the c3 pawn now has no support, making it vulnerable.

Create as few pawn islands as possible. Pawn islands are groups of pawns separated from one another by empty files. The more pawn islands you have, the greater the the number of resources or pieces you’ll have to employ in their defense. Imagine having a single piece to protect to defend your pawn islands. While that piece might be able to defend a single pawn island, defending two or three pawn islands would overload that piece (giving it too many jobs to do at once). Overloaded pieces are not participating fully in the game.

When advancing pawns, try to protect them with other pawns. If you’re thinking of advancing a pawn, make sure you can protect that pawn with another pawn on an adjacent file if possible. Of course, you can’t always do this, which means you may have to protect that pawn with a piece, but try to use pawns to protect or back up pawn advances. This is another reason why pawn chains are so important.

If you pawns are locked in place (they cannot move forward due to a material obstruction), try to use other pawns to free those locked pawns. Using pieces to do this job means you may have to give up extremely useful material to unlock the position. Pieces should be used for control of space rather than unlocking pawns. If you don’t see an immediate way to unlock your pawns using additional pawns, be patient. Remember, positions can change greatly within a few moves. If you cannot immediately unlock locked pawns with your own pawns, continue with active development, holding off on unlocking your pawns until you can do so with a pawn. Sometimes you can’t but again, be patient before giving up more valuable material to unlock your pawns.

Ending up with an isolated pawn is an occupational hazard for the average chess player (especially if you’re me). This means that sooner or later you’ll end up with one. An isolated pawn is one that has no fellow pawns on either adjacent file to help protect it. This is why pawn structure is so important! If you have an isolated pawn, consider keeping it mobile, moving forward towards its promotion square and protect it. Of course, having to protect it with a piece means that piece isn’t really working at its full potential. Therefore, avoid the isolated pawn! Examine your pawn structure before making any move and ask the question, “what does this do to my pawn structure and will this result in an isolated pawn?”

Create passed pawns when given the opportunity to do so. A passed pawn has no opposition pawns on adjacent files to stop its promotion. This means your opponent is going to have to use a piece to stop the passed pawn’s progress. So, if you create a passed pawn, push that pawn towards promotion, using a piece, such as a Rook to protect that pawn. Of course, if your opponent has a passed pawn, you must stop it, blockading it with a piece. While a passed pawn doesn’t always make it to its promotion square, it can tie up opposition pieces trying to stop its progress and that can be good for you if it’s your passed pawn!

On the other side of the coin, if your opponent has a passed pawn, you have to stop it. Try to use pieces of the least value to blockade the opposition’s passed pawn. The reasoning is simple: Pieces of greater value, such as the Rooks and Queen normally control more space on the board. In the end game, these pieces can be decisive because of their power. Beginners who know basic checkmating patterns can deliver mate with Queens and Rooks much easier than when using minor pieces. Therefore, you should use your minor pieces, the Knights and Bishops for blockading passed pawns. Of the two minor pieces, the Knight is a better choice for blockading because the Bishop is a good long distance attacker.

When down to a King and pawn against a lone King in the endgame, keep the King in front of the pawn (in opposition) rather than the pawn in front of the King until you can ensure its promotion (see my earlier article about pawn promotion for a full description of how to do this). Use you King as an active piece in the endgame to protect pawns heading toward their promotion squares. The King has to work in pawn endgames. If you have the lone King against an opposition King and pawn, do your best to use your King to control the enemy pawn’s promotion square.

Play the pawn game in which both players have only pawns. You have to get at least one pawn to its promotion square, promote that pawn into a Queen and capture all your opponent’s pawns to win. It’s a great way to learn about pawn structures, etc.

This is only a smattering of pawn concepts or ideas I present my students. However, I try to get them to grasp these basic ideas first, only later working on multiple pawn endgames (two or three pawns and their respective Kings for both players). Pawns are so important in chess that volume after volume has been written about working with pawns. However, I don’t expect my students to delve into these texts until they’ve played for a while. Be kind to your pawns because they often save the day! Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

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Teaching Kids Through Classical Games (9)

De Saint Amant,Pierre Charles Four – Morphy,Paul
Paris, 1858

In general it has been advised not to move your king side pawns, or more precisely the pawns on the side where you intend to castle. In this game Morphy’s opponent did this and paid the penalty.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Bd2 Bxd2+

Q – Is it advisable to take on e4?
A – 7…Nxe4 8.Bxb4 Nxb4 9.Bxf7+ Kxf7 10.Qb3+ d5 11.Qxb4 and Black is fine here. Remember that it is more often worth to take risk to capture a center pawn than a wing pawn.

8.Nbxd2 d5

Update your pattern bank: This is a typical way to attack the opponent’s mobile pawn center.

9.exd5

9.e5 is met by 9…dxc4 10.exf6 Qxf6.

9…Nxd5 10.0–0 0–0 11.h3

With this move the king side becomes slightly weakened, but in the hand of Morphy this is enough to win.

11…Nf4 Transferring pieces towards his opponent’s weakness.

12.Kh2?

Sacrificing a pawn for nothing. Instead it was worth considering 12.Ne4 Be6 13.Bxe6 fxe6.

12…Nxd4 13.Nxd4 Qxd4 14.Qc2 Qd6 15.Kh1??

15.Ne4 Qe5 16.Ng3 was better.

15…Qh6

Bxh3 is now threatened.

16.Qc3

More support for h3.

16…Bf5

Q – Can you find better continuation than Morphy?
A – 16…Rd8 is better version of Black’s attack than the text move, with the same idea that was executed in the game.

17.Kh2 Rad8 18.Rad1

How could you win at least a Queen?

18…Bxh3!

The final blow. Attack on the side where you are better placed than your enemy.

19.gxh3 Rd3!! 20.Qxd3 Nxd3 21.Bxd3 Qd6+ 22.f4 Qxd3

These were the consequences of 11 h3, a typical weakness on the king side.

0–1

Ashvin Chauhan

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