Category Archives: Children’s Chess

Baking Flans for Nigel

Well, there’s been a lot of chess in the mainstream press recently, hasn’t there? As usual, it hasn’t presented the chess world in a good light, but they say there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

First we had Wesley So and his motivational notes to himself. A rather heavy-handed decision by the arbiter, I thought. He should have been given a time penalty before a forfeit. But why on earth he thought he was allowed to write such notes I can’t imagine.

Then there was Gaioz Nigalidze (whose surname is an anagram of Aidz Nigel) and his rather unsuccessful use of the Toilet Gambit. If he really was consulting his mobile which was crudely hidden in the toilet cubicle he deserves, at the very least, a lengthy ban from competitive chess.

More recently, the media worldwide have been making plans for Nigel. Short, that is. You can’t have failed to notice that, several weeks after the article was published in New In Chess, Nigel’s views on women’s chess were picked up by an English newspaper and subsequently went viral.

Short’s concluding paragraph:

“Men and women’s brains are hard-wired very differently, so why should they function in the same way? I don’t have the slightest problem in acknowledging that my wife possesses a much higher degree of emotional intelligence than I do. Likewise, she doesn’t feel embarrassed in asking me to manoeuvre the car out of our narrow garage. One is not better than the other, we just have different skills. It would be wonderful to see more girls playing chess, and at a higher level, but rather than fretting about inequality, perhaps we should just gracefully accept it as a fact.”

To be honest, although some might question ‘hard-wired’ it didn’t concern me too much. I was rather more concerned about Short’s gratuitous reference earlier in the article to Fischer and Susan Polgar (of whom he is no fan) as both being of Hungarian Jewish descent. But his views were taken out of context by the world’s media who interviewed various female players about the prevalence of sexism in chess. As he has a track record of making rather unpleasant sexist remarks in New in Chess and elsewhere I don’t really have too much sympathy for him in this case. I guess we could all agree with him, though, when he says that it would be wonderful to see more girls playing chess.

Here’s my take on the subject.

Anyone who has, as I have, spent any time in schools will be well aware that there are significant differences between typical boys and girls but how much is due to nature and how much to nurture is the subject of continuing debate. I have my views and, if you’re prepared to buy me a pint I might in turn be prepared to reveal them to you.

But what we are is not just a question of how our brain is wired. There are the genes we inherited from our parents. There are also a lot of chemicals floating around our bodies, most notably for our purpose, testosterone.

Now your view of the typical male might be one of macho testosterone-fuelled aggression and competitiveness, and, in one sense, this ties in very much with chess. At about the age they take up chess boys tend also to be obsessed with fighting and weapons, and the idea of chess as a battle is very appealing. Because chess is by its nature competitive it will appeal more to boys than to girls.

In his (controversial, and, in some circles, unpopular) book The Essential Difference, Simon Baron-Cohen puts forward his theory. “The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.” He goes on to describe what he means by a system. “I mean by a system anything which is governed by rules specifying input-operation-output relationships. This definition takes in systems beyond machines, such as maths, physics, chemistry, astronomy, logic, music, military strategy, the climate, sailing, horticulture and computer programming. It also includes systems like libraries, economics, companies, taxonomies, board games or sports.” Baron-Cohen’s academic critics, most notably Cordelia Fine, dispute that this difference is hard-wired, instead believing it’s created by other factors such as social conditioning.

Well, I’m not sure about all Baron-Cohen’s example systems. Many women are interested in music and horticulture, for example. But chess is very much a system according to his definition which again might explain why it appeals more to males than females.

My view is that there is no evidence to suggest that males have inherently more (or less) chess ability than females, but that males are more likely to be attracted to chess, and more likely to want to excel at chess, than females. How much that is due to nature or nurture, well, you pay your money and you take your choice.

The other reason for the shortage of chess-playing girls is, in my opinion, socio-cultural. Chess is perceived by the public very much as a male activity rather than a female activity. In my part of the world, schools will typically offer two after-school clubs most evenings, often one which they perceive as being mainly for girls (perhaps dance or drama) and one which they perceive as being mostly for boys (perhaps football or chess). So most of these clubs attract mostly boys, and the few girls who come often get discouraged and soon give up.

Schools round here don’t seem particularly concerned about the shortage of girls in their chess clubs. Perhaps, as girls these days tend to outperform boys academically, they’re happy to promote chess as an academic-type activity at which boys may outperform girls. Perhaps they see chess as a constructive outlet for boys’ natural competitive and aggressive instincts. While I quite understand this it poses a big problem for the chess community.

So what can be done to get more girls into chess, to encourage them to try to excel at chess, and to maintain their interest as they get older?

Encouraging schools to put chess on the curriculum as a non-competitive problem-solving activity, as Chess in Schools & Communities are doing, is a step in the right direction. CSC’s evidence is that girls perform at least as well as boys in such an environment. Children with a talent for chess can then be identified and encouraged to take part in competitions, perhaps with separate events or sections for girls. Schools might also look at running different types of chess club, with the aim of learning and developing skills rather than taking part in low-level competitions.

The chess community could help by promoting positive stories about girls and women participating successfully in chess events (and, no, this doesn’t mean publishing lots of photographs of attractive young women who just happen to play chess) and getting the message across to both schools and parents that girls as well as boys should be encouraged to take up chess.

Finally, we need to ensure that sexual harassment in the chess world is just as unacceptable as consulting your mobile in the toilet. Let’s do everything we can to encourage more girls and women to play chess rather than staying at home baking flans for Nigel.

Richard James

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Really? A Battle of the Sexes

If you follow chess news around the world, you may have read a recent article about whether or not men are better at chess than women. Of course, the article created a bit of an uproar. The article’s author, a person I respect highly as a chess player, failed to provide any scientific evidence to back the claims being made that men make better chess players than women. If you are going to make a claim that men may be better than women at chess, please provide some sort of support or at the least some personal experience regarding the issue at hand. It reminded me of a journalist who interviewed a general about trench warfare in World War One. The general painted a rosy picture of the situation, making it out to be a bit of a camping adventure. If you really want to know about life in the trenches, ask the poor soldiers who had to live there in a world filled with death and decay, not the generals who spent their days and nights in luxurious homes miles from the front line carnage! I say this because I’m in the trenches of chess education, day after day, and have some experience regarding the issue of men versus women in chess.

Here are a few thoughts that ran through my head while reading the article in question. While I didn’t do any scientific research regarding those thoughts, I still think they raise some valid points.

First of all, if you compare the number of men playing chess to the number of women playing chess, you’ll find the number of male players greatly overshadows the number of female players. You would need more even numbers to make a real statistical comparison. For example, if over six hundred million people play chess worldwide (a number used when numerically describing the popularity of the game) and the number of male players to female players is a percentage greater than seventy percent, you can’t form a sound statistical model to base an argument on. You’d need a more even number to determine whether men are better chess players than women and you’d need a serious scientific study to back up such a claim. I haven’t seen such a study, have you?

Then there are the Polgar sisters. If you follow chess’s rich and interesting history, you’ll know that the Polgar sisters are extremely talented titled players. In fact, so strong are their talents that they could easily beat the majority of all the male chess players currently playing chess. This isn’t to say that they’d beat every single titled player in the world but they’d beat the majority of male chess players, who are not titled players. A trio sisters against, let’s say five hundred million male players, (a conservative estimate), crushing those male players (if given the chance to play them). I’d say that puts a slight dent in the argument that men are better chess players. Oh, did I mention the plethora of other titled women chess players who could equally crush our non-titled male players?

In my own work as a chess instructor and coach, I have found that my female students tend to do better when learning the game than their male counterparts. They tend to focus more on the lessons and immediately apply what they’ve learned to their games. I am a huge supporter of women in chess and work very hard to ensure that more young ladies learn to play the game. It can be difficult for them, not because there is a intellectual difference between the male and female brain, but because it’s a male dominated game and this seems to be the root of the problem.

In any given chess class that I teach, the ratio of male to female students tends to be eight to two at best, meaning that eighty percent of the class is male and twenty percent is female. Often, my young ladies will feel a bit out of place because they can sometimes be the only female in the class. Because of this, I work very hard to make them feel part of the group. I also ask them how they feel about being only young lady in the class. When they tell me they feel a “bit weird,” I tell them that rather than feel weird, feel like a hero because they are blazing the trail for other young ladies to take up chess. I also ask them if they think chess should be dominated by men? Of course, they say no! I tell them that they have the chance to change this and while they might feel uncomfortable at first, being in a male dominated situation, they can be part of chess history by turn the tide and becoming an example. My young ladies are true trail blazers and heroes, at least in my opinion.

One of the things that drew me to chess was the idea that we are a global community that doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, liberal or conservative, Christian or Muslim, male or female. We gather at the chessboard because of our love of the game. To make a claim regarding one group being better at chess than another is a direct attack against the cohesive nature of our global chess family. I take offense at the idea that men are better chess players than women!

Seriously, chess is a game that requires certain intellectual skills, meaning that one needs a working brain to process the information presented on the chessboard. Skills, such as pattern recognition, are not more developed in male brains. Both sexes have equal claim to the intellectual skills required to play chess.

The real issue at hand is the fact that you cannot claim that men are superior to women when it comes to chess and not have any proof to back it up. I know plenty of women who crush their male opponents, my wife being one of those women. Believe me, it wasn’t a sunny day at Patterson Manor when Mrs. Patterson got wind of that article. I plan on going back to more instructive articles next week as long as certain members of the chess community don’t end up in the news again. Here’s a game by a woman who is beyond brilliant when it comes to chess. She is a role model for my young ladies! Enjoy and remember, chess is for everyone.

Hugh Patterson

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Teaching kids Through Classical Games (8)

Mayet,C – Anderssen,A
Berlin New York, 1851

This game demonstrates dangerous attack against castled king using h file.

1. e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5

The Spanish Game.
Q: I always ask my students what White is threatening.
A: Most of the time answer is “to win the e5 pawn”, but we all know that it is not a real threat. For example… 3…a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.Nxe5 Qd4 wins the pawn back.

3…Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.Bxc6 dxc6 6.0–0

The pawn still can’t be taken as e4 is hanging too.

6…Bg4

The purpose of this move is to protect the e5 pawn whilst bringing a fresh piece into the action. Remember the you should try to mobilise your forces as quickly as possible in the opening phase.

7.h3 h5

Q: What is idea behind such a sacrifice? Is it worth it?
A: The idea is to open the h-file for Black’s rook on h8 and to get his queen to h4. It looks like a very dangerous attack but it is not because of 8. hxg4 hxg4 9. d4. Note that the best way to fight against a wing attack is to attack in the center, particularly when the opponent’s king is still in the center.

8.hxg4 hxg4 9.Nxe5??

After this you are invited to find the winning continuation for Black. Instead 9.d4 gxf3 10.dxc5 Nxe4 11.Qxd8+ is better for white

9…g3??

A gross blunder. Black can with the game with 9…Nxe4 when the threat is …Qh4. After 10.Qxg4
how can you win White’s queen?

10.d4 Nxe4

Here Mayet missed hxg3, which is winning for White and the simplest way to stop …Qh4.

11.Qg4??

Can you see a trick that wins the queen?

11…Bxd4

Not accurate but still winning. 11…gxf2+ 12.Rxf2 Rh1+ 13.Kxh1 Nxf2+ 14.Kg1 Nxg4 was better than the text move.

12. Qxe4 Bxf2+ followed by checkmate in few moves.

0–1

Ashvin Chauhan

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The Power of the Threat

While executing an attack or promoting a pawn can lead to a winning game, beginners often do so because they think that action (attacking or promoting) is more powerful than the threat of action. Taking action, such as launching a successful attack against your opponent or promoting a pawn, certainly can lead to victory. However, sometimes just the threat of such actions can have a greater influence on the course of the game in the long run. An attack can fizzle out and a passed pawn can be captured. However, a good threat can create long term problems for your opponent, stalling their plans while they deal with yours!

Typically, the beginning chess player only looks at moves that lead to something concrete or immediate, such as employing a fork to win material or getting a pawn to its promotion square to add another Queen into the game. These are certainly good goals to have in mind when determining the next move in your game. However, beginners employing this type of thinking are actually looking at things in black and white terms. While the majority of the game’s principles appear to be black and white in nature, there are exceptions or gray areas which more experienced players understand and take advantage of. The threat is one such example.

When we first learn the game’s principles, such as having more attackers than opposition defenders, we approach this principle in a rather primitive way. We pick a target and start aiming our pawns and pieces at that target. As beginners we develop tunnel vision, seeing only our target which limits our consideration of other positional aspects. We use such chess principles to improve our game but when we treat a principle as an iron clad rule we run into problems. Take the threat of doing something compared to making good on that threat and taking action.

A threat is suggesting that you’re going to do something without actually doing it. You’re neighbors might be talking about throwing an all night party so you knock on their door the day before the party and tell them you’ll call the police if the party goes on past a certain hour. This is an example of a threat. Your neighbors might reconsider their party if they think the police will show up and shut it down. You might not have to even call the police because the threat of taking action means those troublesome neighbors will most like reconsider their plans. This same idea holds true in chess.

The simplest example of a strong threat in chess can be found in the passed pawn. A passed pawn is one that has no opposition pawns on the files on either side of it. So, if you have a pawn on the c file and there are no opposition pawns on the b and d files, that mighty little c pawn has a chance to make its way to its promotion square (c8 for White and c1 for Black). The threat is the threat of promotion. This creates problems for your opponent because he or she will have to keep an eye on that pawn, in the form of employing pieces to stop its promotion. Valuable opposition pieces will have to stop what they’re doing, participating actively in the game, to prevent the promotion.

Lets say you get your c pawn to the square c7. Now that pawn is one move away from promotion. The pawn on c7 is a major threat that your opponent cannot ignore. Just keeping the pawn on c7, using a pawn or piece to protect it maintains the threat. This means your opponent has to deal with that threat which can weaken his or her position because someone has to pull guard duty. If you are able to safely promote the pawn, that’s great. However, if you can maintain the threat of promoting that pawn for five or six moves you’ll be doing more damage to your opponent’s game because they’ll have to deal with that threat during each of those five or six moves.

Tactical threats are also very useful, using the same idea that your opponent has to deal with the threat. Let’s say you see a potential Knight fork that will garner material if the fork is executed. Your opponent might see the threat and have to adjust his or her plans to prevent it. If you can keep the Knight positioned so that the threat is maintained for another move or two, your opponent will have to keep shuffling pawns and pieces around to deal with the threat. This means your opponent isn’t able to execute their immediate plan and instead, deal with your threat. While gaining material is certainly worth something, forcing your opponent to deal with a threat by potentially weakening his or her position is worth more. Dealing with threats often means weakening one’s position.

Employing threats in chess is also a great way to learn how to be patient. Beginners are far from patient when they start their chess careers, often launching early attacks that might gain material but weaken their position. When developing a threat on the chessboard you have to hold off on executing the threat, or taking action, until the moment is right. In the case of our Knight fork, you don’t want to try to maintain the threat indefinitely. You want to let your opponent weaken their position and then execute the tactic, in this case a fork. This teaches the beginner a valuable lesson in both patience and timing. When to execute the fork depends on a number of positional aspects. If you’re about to lose the opportunity to execute the fork, then employ this tactic, letting the threat become reality. The same thing holds true with our pawn promotion example. All threats have an expiration date and all expiration dates are different, depending on the position.

One good way to learn about threats is to play through master level games. I have my students go through a game looking for threats. They’ll go through one game four or five times. I have them play through the game twice, simply getting a feel for the game itself, noting whether it’s open or closed game, etc. My students will then note each time a tactic is played or a passed pawn created during their third play through of the game. Next they go back and look at the moves leading up to the tactical play or moment the pawn became a passed pawn. In the case of the tactic, they note when the threat of the tactic started and how long (in moves) it took for the threat to be turned into reality (when the fork, for example, was finally employed) or stopped. With passed pawns, I have students follow the action from the moment the passed pawn was created to either its promotion or capture. How long did the threat hold up? How many pawns and pieces did the opposition have to use to deal with the threat? How was the opponent’s position weakened while dealing with the threat? By playing through master level games, students clearly see the effectiveness of threats which they can then employ in their own games.

Threats can have a greater long term value in the form of tying up opposition material and weakening one’s position. With master level games, it’s extremely educational to see how both sides make and deal with threats. Here’s a game chock full of threats by my favorite chess player, Boris Spassky. Enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

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Teaching Kids through classical games (7)

Chess is war. In war it is advisable to fight when and where you have a stronger force and the same applies in chess. If you’ve got the better game in a particular area of the board then this is where you should fight, and Paul Morphy does so in the following game:

Paulsen,Louis – Morphy,Paul
USA, 1857

1. e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Bc5 5.0–0 0–0 6.Nxe5

Q: What is Nxe5 aiming for?
A: This is a fork trick, used to get the better center in opening phase. A better example is 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bc4 Nxe4 5.Nxe4 d5 getting the material back with a nice game.

6…Re8 7.Nxc6

It would have been better to play 7.Nf3! Nxe4 8.Nxe4 Rxe4 9.d3 Re8 10.d4 when white develop with ease.

7…dxc6 8.Bc4 b5

Q: Instead of text move, is it advisable to take on e4?
A: No, because of 8…Nxe4? 9. Nxe4 Rxe4 10.Bxf7+ Kxf7 11.Qf3+ etc.

9.Be2

Q: Is Bb3 playable, with the same idea?
A: No, Black can generate very dangerous play against white’s queen with 9.Bb3? Bg4 10.Qe1 b4 11.Nd1 Nxe4.

9…Nxe4 10.Nxe4

10.Bf3 loses immediately to 10…Nxf2 11.Rxf2 Qd4 12.Ne4 (12.Qf1 Qxf2+ 13.Qxf2 Re1#) 12…Rxe4 13.Bxe4 Qxf2+ 14.Kh1 Bg4 15.Bf3 Re8–+, as given in Chessbase.

10…Rxe4 11.Bf3 Re6 12.c3?

Q: Why is c3 a bad move?
A: It allows Black to hinder White’s development. The course of the game shows why.

12…Qd3! 13.b4 Bb6 14.a4

In a cramp positions it is advisable to exchange a few pieces. 14.Re1 Rxe1+ 15.Qxe1 Bd7 16.Qf1 was better.

14…bxa4 15.Qxa4 Bd7

It is better to play 15… Bb7 in order to prevent exchange of queens.

16.Ra2?

16.Qa6 would have been better.

16…Rae8

With this move, Black clearly gets his pieces into superior positions.

17.Qa6 Qxf3!

The element of surprise. You can win the battle if you know where to fight.

18.gxf3 Rg6+ 19.Kh1 Bh3 20.Rd1 Bg2+ 21.Kg1 Bxf3+ 22.Kf1 Bg2+

Find the quicker way to finish than Bg2+.

23.Kg1

Now Be4 – leads to mate in 3
Bf3 – leads to mate in 4
Bh3 leads to mate in 5

23…Bh3+ 24.Kh1 Bxf2?

Still winning but far from delivering checkmate. Find a better continuation than this.

25.Qf1 Bxf1 26.Rxf1 Re2 27.Ra1 Rh6 28.d4 Be3

That pockets a rook. How?

Note: If you’ve get Chessbase, you can find this game with lots of detailed variations. But it is advisable to solve it at your own way!

0–1

Ashvin Chauhan

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Teaching Kids Through Classical Games (6)

It’s generally good advice to develop rapidly and castle early in the opening. If you fail to do so the consequences can be very costly. In a similar fashion, it is very useful to find a move which hinders the opponent’s smooth development, or keeps his king in the center. The following game illustrates this very well:

Schulten,John William – Morphy,Paul
New York, 1857

1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 e4 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.d3 Bb4 6.Bd2 e3

Q: Describe the logic behind this sacrifice.
A: It opens e file by force which can be used by black’s rook late in the game. Black is ready to castle on next move while white has not developed his king side pieces that creates major difference here.

7.Bxe3 0–0 8.Bd2

Trying to castle long is also not good idea, eg 8.Qd2 Nxd5 9.0–0–0 Bxc3 10.bxc3 leaves White’s queenside shattered.

8…Bxc3 9.bxc3

9.Bxc3 wouldn’t improve the position either as 9…Re8+ 10.Be2 Nxd5 11.Qd2 Bg4 12.0–0–0 Nxc3 13.bxc3 Be6

9…Re8+ 10.Be2 Bg4 11.c4 c6

Another pawn sac by Morphy in order to bring his knight(Undeveloped piece) into the game with attack.

12.dxc6?

12.d6 would be better as it prevents black’s knight from occupying the d4 square.

12…Nxc6 13.Kf1

13.Bc3 Nd4 14.Bxd4 Qxd4 15.Rb1 loses a piece by force. Now White has unpinned his bishop but the cost is very high. Find a move which wins the piece!

13…Rxe2!

It is often a good idea to exchange a pinned piece in order to take benefit from the pin.

14.Nxe2 Nd4 15.Qb1 Bxe2+ 16.Kf2?

16.Ke1 is better than the move played in the game, though it is lost anyway. Now the knight joins the attack with check.

16…Ng4+ 17.Kg1

Now Black just needs his queen in. Find the move!

17…Nf3+

This vacates d4 square for queen.

18.gxf3 Qd4+ 19.Kg2 Qf2+ 20.Kh3 Qxf3+

And Black mates in 3.

0–1

Ashvin Chauhan

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Chess and Bonding

I was once offered a piece of advice regarding parenting, “you’re damned if you do and damned of you don’t.” During the early years of your child’s life, he or she looks up to you as parent and hero and all things in between. Then come the teenage years and with them rebellion. No matter what you do, your child will disagree with you, spitting out statements such as “you just don’t understand,” or worse yet, “I hate you.” This can be heartbreaking for a loving parent! However, this attitude tends to be a natural evolutionary stage for teenagers who are exploring the boundaries of adolescence and societal behavior. Don’t take it personally.

Activities that bond parent and child can be extremely important during these unruly years and act as a lifeline for adolescents who might otherwise venture into dangerous situations that lead to irreparable damage. Many parents bond with their children through sports, sharing a common love of a football team, or through youth sporting leagues. However, this bond is often not strong enough to survive the rigors of those terrible teenage years. Of course, I tell my students that it’s their job to rebel as a teenager, doing so creatively rather than destructively. After all, some of the world’s greatest rebels have created some of civilization’s greatest achievements. I also tell them that one day they’ll be sorry for the things they say to their parents in their youth.

Maintaining a bond with a child throughout both your lives can be difficult. So many factors come into play that can work against the parent/child relationship, eroding that relationship before it’s had a chance to fully develop. While love is the key, love can be an extremely difficult idea for the young mind to truly understand. Therefore, developing solid bonds early on, bonds that have the ability to last a lifetime, provide the greatest opportunity for not losing touch with your children.

Chess is a fantastic bonding tool for parent and child. Before delving into the psychological aspects of this idea, we should look at the socioeconomic reasons for chess being an excellent bonding tool. First off, investing in chess equipment is inexpensive. You just need a chess set and access to learning materials which can be found online or at your local library. Second, chess doesn’t have defined social boundaries (financial, religious or political). Rich or poor, Catholic or Muslim, Democrat or Republican, people who love the game of chess play for their love of the game. I’ve often seen Muslims and Catholics happily battling it out on the chessboard, putting their religious differences aside for the sake of the game. Chess has no physical requirements, so a parent with a disability who cannot play football with their child can still play chess with that child.

What sets aside chess as a good bonding tool over other parent/child endeavors is that it is an activity that both parent and child can learn at the same time with both participants being on equal footing (although children who are serious about chess tend to eclipse their parents over time). Because there are no physical aspects to the game, the age at which you learn to play isn’t an issue. Try being a fifty year old man learning how to play football with his fifteen year old son!

The idea that chess can improve a child’s logic and reasoning skills also applies to parents. Imagine an activity that is equally good for both parent and child alike! Chess is also good for one’s memory which is a plus for older parents and excellent for children lacking in focus.

Psychologically, I believe that chess allows for a tighter, long lasting bond between parent and child because it’s a game of the mind in which both players are interlocked in a dance of sorts. Plans are met by counter plans, a type of intellectual ballet. Chess is a neutral zone where parents are less apt to say something their child thinks uncool or offensive, which erodes at the bond rather than strengthening it. It’s a chance to spend time with your child in a place where it’s all about the action on the board. Both parent and child can leave their views and opinions of the world on the sidelines and enter the world of chess.

If you’re a parent who already plays chess, you can help develop your child’s chess skills without having to worry about saying something they won’t like. Your child, even unruly teenagers, will appreciate getting better because they, in turn, will be able to go out and beat their friends at chess (thanks to your help). With teenagers, you don’t want to set up a scheduled time to play on a regular basis at first. Set up a chessboard and sooner or later they’ll get curious. Only then, when your child is interested, should you suggest a regularly scheduled game. This can go a long way towards strengthening bonds.

If you and you child are both new to chess, you have an opportunity to create a very strong bond. If your child is taking his or her first chess class, ask them to show you what they learned in class that day. Let your child become the teacher. Of course, you’ll want to go over what they show you, using an age appropriate chess book, to reinforce your own knowledge, and to make sure they’re playing correctly. If your child struggles with a chess concept, work together to understand it. I offer the parents of my students, the opportunity to sit in on my classes or take a couple of free lessons to get them up to speed. That is how important the idea of bonding through chess is to me. I encourage all of my student’s family members to play chess and have had classes with a parent, uncle and grandmother of one student all learning at the same time.

Chess provides a nice break for both parent and child from the technological devices that we spend much of our day staring at. Video games are a parent’s worst nightmare because they’re often violent and send the wrong message to impressionable minds. Most parents have no interest in the video games their kids play. You don’t have that problem with chess! Chess requires no batteries! Chess helps develop patience in both parent and child and patience is a much needed skill for parents.

I’ve seen first hand, potentially troubled teens who maintained a bond with a parent through their love of chess. Those same teenagers never ended up getting into too much trouble because of that bond. Try playing some chess with your child. Consider it a long term investment, one that pays off down the road. Play chess with your child because forming a better bond may be the single event that prevents calamity later on in their lives. Better human bonds make for better humans. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

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Chess for Goldfish

Here’s a game played a couple of months ago between two of Richmond Junior Club’s less experienced members.

You’ll see a lot of typical mistakes. They exhibit the goldfish syndrome, thinking only in the moment, oblivious of what happened a few moves ago, they only look at part of the board, not the whole board, they miss backward diagonal captures and they fail to look ahead.

If the game remains simple, children at this level can give the impression of playing a decent game, but when things get complicated, as they did here, both players will make a lot of oversights.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Nc3 Bb4
4. Bb5 d6
5. d3 Bg4
6. Be3 a6
7. a3?

A typical mistake that this level where children are tempted to counter-attack instead of moving the threatened piece. Either Ba4 or Bxc6+ would have been fine.

7… Ba5?

Black misses his chance to win a piece with 7… Bxc3+ 8. bxc3 axb5. I’d seen this position while watching them playing so was particularly keen to go through the game afterwards. Both children were wide eyed with amazement at the idea that you could actually look one and a half moves ahead in this way.

8. Ba4 h6
9. h3 Bh5
10. b4 b5

This time it’s Black who prefers a counter-attack to moving his threatened bishop. ‘Copycat’ moves of this nature are very popular at lower levels of children’s chess.

11. Rb1

White chooses a seemingly random move. Instead he could have won a pawn: 11. Nxb5 axb5 12. Bxb5 Nge7 13. bxa5 Rxa5 14. a4.

11… Bb6

Black spots that his bishop is threatened.

12. Nd5?

But now both players seem to have forgotten that the white bishop is in danger. They both consider only the last move rather than looking at the whole board. Instead 12. Bb3 was equal.

12… Ba7?

Black doesn’t notice he can take the white bishop.

13. g4 Bg6
14. g5? hxg5

For the next few moves both players are looking only at the kingside where there’s quite a lot going on. Being able to scan the whole board is too hard for players at this level, but it’s an important lesson they’ll have to learn if they are going to make significant progress.

15. Bxg5? Nf6?

Black could win a piece here with 15… f6, when both white bishops are under attack.

16. Bh4

One of White’s problems is that he tends to play the occasional random and seemingly pointless move. When I asked him why he told me it was because (and lower level primary school age players often think like this) ‘if he takes my bishop I’ll take his rook’.

16… Bh5

In fact Black can, and should, take the rook: 16… Rxh4 17. Nxh4 Nxd5 18. exd5 Qxh4 19. dxc6 (19. Qf3 Nd4 20. Qg3 Qh5 21. Qg4 bxa4) 19… Qxf2#. At this level, though, you can’t expect players to see this far ahead.

But this move is also good, as was 16… bxa4 (yes, it’s still there and still nobody’s noticed). White’s last few moves have just created weaknesses.

17. Rg1

White wants to threaten the g-pawn, but now Black can win most easily by playing Nd4 when White can’t defend the pinned knight on f3.

I was watching the game again at this point. Black picked up his king intending to castle, but then changed his mind (rightly so because 17… O-O 18. Bxf6 is winning for White), and panicked. 17… Kf8 was winning but instead he played…

17… Kd7?
18. Rxg7

Undermining the defence of the pinned knight on f6. Suddenly White’s right back in the game. As it happens, Black’s best move is to play 18… Nxd5 when he gets a lot of pieces for the queen. At this point, though, Black took a look round the board – and suddenly noticed that he could capture the bishop on a4.

18… bxa4?

Unfortunately for Black this is exactly the wrong time to capture the bishop.
White can now win by playing the simple 19. Nxf6+. Fortunately for Black, though, White played…

19. Rxf7+??

Another typical mistake, not just at this level. It’s often said that backward diagonal moves are the easiest to overlook and here White does just that.

19… Bxf7
20. Nxf6+ Ke6?

Black’s a rook up and just has to keep his king safe. At this level children tend to play the first legal move they see when they’re in check rather than considering the alternatives. 20… Kc8 is the way to go here. Ke6 looks – and is – very scary.

21. Nd5

The position is, not unexpectedly, too complicated for both players. This move loses because Black can take twice on h4 after which he’s threatening mate (don’t forget that bishop lurking on a7). Instead White could win by playing 21. Ng5+ Kxf6 22. Qf3+ (discovered checks with the knight win the queen, but not the game) when he’s a rook down but has a winning attack.

21… Rxh4
22. Nxh4 Qxh4
23. Nxc7+ Kd7
24. Nxa8

Overlooking Black’s mate threat but by now Black was winning anyway.

24… Qxf2#

Richard James

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Cramped Positions

When we first learn how to play chess, we study open games as opposed to closed games. In an open game, there are plenty of available squares on the board, making piece placement easier. Long distance attackers, such as the Bishop, Rook and Queen rule the positional roost. In a closed game, there is less space available, so our long distance pieces can’t openly control the board. Our Knights and pawns become the positional weapons of choice. Open games lead to more tactical play while closed games lead to more positional play. The beginner, more often than not, becomes lost when their opponent steers the game toward a closed position. In closed games, the center of the board is often cramped which leaves beginners wondering what to do. Here are some simple suggestions for un-cramping a closed position.

When faced with a closed or cramped position, you have to create a plan for relieving the pressure. Many beginners end up further cramping their position because they make moves that avoid exchanges, thinking that if they can further close the position down, their opponent will eventually have to give in and make a move that costs them material. Wrong! If you’re playing an opponent who has experience with closed or cramped positions they’re going to, as the saying goes, give you enough rope and watch you hang yourself. Remember, you are used to open positions while your opponent may be used to closed or cramped positions. This is the type of position they like! Therefore, you have to have a plan, which can be difficult for those not used to this type of situation. There are four ideas you can employ to relieve the cramped or closed position.

First, consider removing or trading opposition pieces that are cramping your position. Bishops, for example, are at their best in open positions where they have great mobility. However, if they have no room in which to move, they’re “bad Bishops.” On the other side of the coin, because Knights can jump over other pieces, they work extremely well in closed or cramped positions. If your opponent has “good Knights” and you have “bad Bishops,” see if you can find a way to trade you immobile Bishops for your opponent’s mobile Knights. While Knights and Bishops have the same relative value, this value changes depending on the type of position they’re in. Trading a bad piece for a good piece will help to unclog the position, opening things up. The better a piece’s mobility, the better that piece is!

Second, use pieces of lesser value to push back pieces of greater value that stand in your way. This is a realm in which pawns are King! Because pawns have the lowest relative value, a pawn attacking a minor or major piece is (in most cases but not all) going to force that piece off of its square. The same holds true with minor pieces (Knights and Bishops) attacking major pieces (Rooks and Queens). However, you must take care when attacking in such a way. This type of attack is only completely successful if it drives the targeted piece away without weakening your position. If you successfully drive the piece in question away, only to create a position that allows your opponent to win material or checkmate your King on the next move, you might reconsider your attack. Don’t be discouraged by this last statement! In closed or cramped positions, it usually takes more than one opposition move to ruin your game.

Third, consider attacking your opponent’s weakest point on the board, which can be difficult for beginners to determine. The easiest way for the beginner to find the weakest point in their opponent’s position is to look at each opposition pawn and piece and determine the number of defenders that pawn or piece has. Since attacking the King is the name of the game, start by looking at the pawns and pieces defending the opponent’s King. However, there are often weaknesses elsewhere that can provide an avenue for attack. Always count the number of attackers you have and compare it to the number of defenders your opponent has. Remember, you’ll want to have more attackers than opposition defenders.

Fourth, Attack the opposition’s space advantage straight or head on! When experienced chess players navigate closed or cramped positions, the scales are a bit more balanced. By this, I mean that both players have a more even positions, cramped as it may be. When beginners face a closed or cramped position, they are more often than not playing someone who knows this type of position better. This means, the beginner’s pieces are cramped together with no room to breath while their opponent’s pieces have a bit more in the way of mobility. This means the beginner has to bit the bullet and attack. However, you can’t just attack any piece! Examine the position and look for the piece that controls the most space. When I refer to space, I’m talking about space on your side of the board! Think about where you’d like to put your pieces and determine which opposition piece prohibits this. That’s your target. You might consider exchanging a piece of great value for an opposition pieces of lesser value if doing so gives your other pieces much needed breath room.

I have my students learn a bit about closed positions early on, not so they can start playing closed games out of the gate but so they can recognize openings or sequences of moves that lead to closed or cramped positions. Recognizing that a position is heading towards becoming closed helps you prepare for such a position. If your opponent is trying to close or cramp a position, you should be trying to keep it open. If you find yourself in a cramped position, try using my four suggestions to open that position up. Here’s a game by a gentleman who loved closed positions. Enjoy!

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Teaching Kids Through Classical Games (4)

This gem throws some lights on the difference between fake development and real development.
The checkmate Patterns covered are:
1. Queen on h6, bishop on b1-h8 diagonal and no defender of f7.
2. Queen h6 and rook along the g file

I am aiming to present this game only to show how it can be used to teach kids:

Tarrasch, S – Mieses, J [C10]
Berlin, 1916

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Nf3 Ngf6 6.Bd3 Be7 7.0–0 Nxe4 8.Bxe4 Nf6

Q : Is it good to exchange a light square bishop for a knight?
A : No, it is a good Bishop and very active one, compared to its counterpart.

9.Bd3 b6

Q : Is it right time to play b6 in order to develop bishop?
A : No it is not the right time to play b6 as now White can play very energetically, hindering the development of black’s light square bishop and castling. The immediate 0–0 was better.

10.Ne5!

Beginners have been advised to not to move same piece twice in the opening. But in chess there are no universal rules, even though you can create many rules for better playing. Similarly any Bishop move here would be development for the sake of development. However, with the knight on e5 White is able to make Black’s development very difficult.

10…0–0

10…Bb7 11.Bb5+ Kf8 costs Black his right to castle.

11.Nc6 Qd6 12.Qf3

Q: Can Black play Bb7 ?
A: No, because Nxe7+ wins a piece. Thus Black is forced to play Bd7 and now we can see that with careful play White manages to take the driving seat.

12…Bd7 13.Nxe7+ Qxe7 14.Bg5 Rac8 15.Rfe1

Q : What is the idea behind Re1?
A : A rook lift. Via this rook lift white brings one more piece into the attack, a very important idea to remember.

15…Rfe8 16.Qh3 Qd6

If 16…g6 17.Qh4 Kg7 18.Re4 or 16…h6 17.Bxh6 gxh6 18.Qxh6, and Black is paralysed.

17.Bxf6 gxf6

Q : Would it be good to play Qxh7 or there is something better? Try to see the reasoning behind Black’s Qd6 move.
A : It is good but there is a much better move in Qh6. This is because black’s idea is to find shelter on e7 and try to generate some counter play on g and h file. Black is also trying to protect the g7 square with Qxd4.

18.Qh6

This is typical mating pattern, a queen on h6 and bishop on b1–h7 diagonal with no defender of f7. For example 18…a6 19.Bxh7+ Kh8 20.Bg6+ Kg8 21.Qh7+ Kf8 22.Qxf7#, which is a pattern you should study more closely. Coaches should provide more examples on the same theme.

18…f5 19.Re3 Qxd4 20.c3

In order to prevent checkmate the Black queen has to stay on the a1–h8 diagonal. But now there is no good square to stay on so Black has to sacrifice the queen. Instead he choose to throw in the towel.

Better was 20.Rg3+ Kh8 21.c3 Qe5 22.f4 and its over.

1–0

Ashvin Chauhan

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