Category Archives: Children’s Chess

Activity Cards

If you’ve ever taught in primary school chess clubs you’ll be aware of the problem – or at least one of the problems.

Two kids finish a game with, say, 10 minutes to go before the end of the session. They don’t have time for another game so they start chatting or interfering with other games which are still in progress. What do you get them to do?

Sometimes I’ll have some puzzle sheets with me. As most of the children in primary school clubs play to a very low standard these will need to be simple one-movers to give them the chance to get some of them right.

I’ve recently invested in a laminator which enables me to produce laminated activity sheets which I can take from school to school. There are lots of possible activity sheets you could produce. I’ve started with checkmate skill sheets, covering the basic checkmates: two rooks, king and queen, king and rook, two bishops and bishop + knight. There are also endgame challenges: these include king and 8 pawns each along with various positions where White has to exploit a material advantage. Then, mainly for less experienced players, there are Capture the Flag games: positions without kings where you win in one of three ways: a) you get a pawn to the end safely (capturing the flag), b) you take all your opponent’s pieces or c) you stalemate your opponent. The positions I use include 8 pawns each, queen against 8 pawns, rook against 5 pawns and bishop against 3 pawns. In each of these activities the players are expected to set the position up and play them out over the board.

Some of the more simple skills here are what children should really be doing before joining a chess club. Others are vital for children wishing to play competitive chess outside their school club.

There’s much else that could be done – and will be done when I get round to it. Simple chess variants, for example losing chess or Scotch chess (White plays 1 move, Black 2 moves, White 3 moves and so on). Simple problems or endgame studies for more advanced players. Puzzles such as the Knight’s Tour and the Eight Officers Puzzle (place eight men on the board so that none of them are on the same rank, file or diagonal). Opening cards with the first few moves of a popular opening variation. Puzzle sheets with several tactics or checkmate puzzles on them (perhaps with the answers on the back).

Already, after only the first week of using these, several children have asked me if they can take one of the cards home. The answer is ‘no’, but I guess I could have non-laminated copies of some of the activities available to hand out. I’ll also, at some point, make them available for download on one of my websites.

There are other ways in which they could be developed. I’m considering putting a difficulty rating on each card (for instance the two rooks checkmate might have a difficulty rating of 1 while the bishop and knight checkmate would be 9 or 10) so that children can find activities appropriate for their level. I could possibly use the back of each card to give further information, and, in the case of some of the endgame challenges, a sample game.

As always, the trick will be to get the parents involved. If children play chess at home with family members they could be doing these activities at home as well as just playing games.

If you’d like copies of what I’ve done so far, or have any ideas about how these cards could be developed further please feel free to contact me via one of my websites or on social media.

Richard James

The Importance of the Endgame Nine

It’s well enough and good to know some basic endgame ideas and concepts. It’s even better to employ them in your games! Beginners often spend hours practicing positions they learn via instructional books and DVDs. They memorize the specific patterns involved in common endgame checkmates and feel confident going into the endgame. Then they get hit with a position in which things get a bit sticky. The mating pattern they’ve mastered suddenly turns into a positional nightmare. They get into a position where they have a pawn one square away from promotion, a Rook and their King against a Rook and King. Piece of cake, right? It might be unless you find yourself in one of those sticky situations!

We’re going to look at one of those sticky situations that tend to throw the beginner’s winning position into the ashcan of defeat. The first point to consider regarding bad positions is the simple idea that you have to slowly and carefully work your way out of them. The beginner tends to see positions in very black and white terms. By this, I mean that beginners look only for big attacks or big advantages. They don’t think in terms of building up small advantages, slowly and methodically. If there’s no big attack to launch they’re at a loss as to what to do. In the endgame, they tend to look for moves that check the opposition King or push his majesty towards the edge or corner of the board. It’s all about the big moves for the beginner. Of course, this occurs because the beginner only knows the most basic of endgame play in which moves are very forcing.

When the beginner finds him or herself in a position in which there are no big moves they tend to try to force big moves which more often than not, leads to the loss of the very material needed to deliver mate. The key to these sticky positions is to play slowly and carefully, trying to gain that small advantage that will turn the tide.

Another point to consider here is the idea that whose turn it is often determines who comes out with the advantage. In chess, we call this Zugzwang. What this means is simple; the player who has to move is put at a disadvantage by having move. Since you can’t pass on making a move in chess, Zugzwang can be very powerful in the endgame! Again, since beginners look for big powerful moves, they don’t understand or appreciate the power of “waiting moves,” those moves that force their opponent into Zugzwang. Let’s take a look at a position that would send the beginning player into the flames of defeat, the positional ashcan, even though they’re up by a pawn and that pawn is one square away from promotion. That’s right, just a single square away from promoting into a Queen.

In the example below, our beginner (playing white) has a pawn on the seventh rank, a Rook and a King against a Rook and a King. It sounds like an easy win but take a look at the position below.

The major problem here is the black Rook on b1. The Rook keeps the white King from moving around the white pawn on a7 and allowing it to promote. The seasoned player will look at this position know exactly what to do. However, the beginner will try all sorts of crazy maneuvers with the h8 Rook, big attack thinking, and fail at all of them. I had roughly 50 beginners play through this position as white and only three of my beginning students found the correct first move. It should be noted that those three students were the students that did extra homework (yes, my chess students do homework regardless of student and parent complaints – I run a dictatorship rather than a democracy) and paid close attention to my lessons. So what is the correct first move? Believe it or not, a “in your face” challenge!

The first move has to be 1. Rb8 which says to black “either trade Rooks, in which case I’ll promote my pawn, or move your Rook.” The key point here is that white will never get King out from behind the a7 pawn unless the Black Rook is moved off of the b1 square. From black’s viewpoint, losing his or her Rook is going to leave them in a losing position, so the Rook moves with 1…Rc1. Why move the black Rook to c1? Black knows that the white King is going to make a run for the b file so he or she wants to keep the Rook close to the action. Moving the black Rook to d1 would allow a dreadful skewer by white (R. d8+). You should always consider your opponent’s best response to your move. If you’re playing the white pieces and you see that the Black Rook has decided to remain in the game rather than trading himself for the white Rook, you have to ask yourself “if I’m going to make a run for the b file with my King, what is black’s best response?”

White plays 2. Kb7, making a break for freedom. You have to play slowly and methodically during sticky endgame positions, always considering your opponent’s best response to your move. What is blacks best response on move two? To check the white King with 2…Rb1+. It’s here that beginners often fumble, returning to the King’s starting square, a8. The correct response is 3. Kc8. While this may seem counter intuitive, we’ll see that there’s a good reason for this move. That reason is that the white King is now out of his pawn’s way and is also protecting his Rook. Black checks with 3…Rc1+. White moves his King in opposition to the black King with 4. Kd8 and black counters with 4…Rh1.

This position must be handled with care because if white plays incorrectly he or she will be the one mated! If black had a free turn, the Rook on h1 would move to h8 and it would be game over. While this might look like a precarious position for white, white has a good response in 5. Rb6+! What makes this move good is that simple fact that it forces the black King off of the sixth rank, ending black’s attempt at mate. Black will move his King to a square that attacks the white Rook with 5…Kc5. What does white do with the Rook? How about serving up a nasty sacrifice that, if black accepts the seemingly free Rook, will lead to an even nastier skewer that wins the black Rook on h1. Take a close look at the next move.

Rather than moving the Rook to a safe square on the sixth rank, white plays 6. Rc6+. The beginner playing black might think the Rook is hanging without protection, free for the taking. However, if black takes the the seemingly free Rook, white promotes the a7 pawn into a Queen on a8, checks the black King (a skewer) and after the black King moves out of check, wins the Rook on h1! This is why black plays 6…Kb5.

White plays 7. Rc8, being keenly aware that black will check with 7…Rh8, which he does. No worries after 8. Kc7 and 8…Rh7+. This check proves to be pointless because white plays 9. Kb8 and the black Rook can’t check the white King. Why? Because it would take two moves to get the Rook to b6 in order to check. It will take white one move to promote the pawn! Black can do nothing to stop white from promoting the a7 pawn except for trading itself for the a7 pawn which would be a losing move.

The key to this type of position is to play with a cool head, slowly and carefully. The winning move here was challenging the black Rook with white’s own Rook, forcing it off the b file. Endgame play is first learned from book and DVD examples. We practice these endgame positions until we know them. However, we must always remember that there will be those sticky endgame positions in which a solution may require slowly working our way through the position. Keep a cool head, play for the small positional advantages and you’ll come out a winner. While it’s necessary to study endgame principles remember this, theory works best in textbooks and doesn’t always pan out in the real world where the rubber meets the road (as my favorite chemistry professor used to say). Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

Nine Eventful Moves

Here’s a question for all teachers.

When teaching, do you prefer to present your pupils with high level material, expecting them to fill in the gaps for themselves and make rapid improvement? Or do you prefer to present them with material which is at or slightly above their level, to reinforce what they already know and perhaps teach them one new skill.

Most chess teachers seem to prefer the first method, but, especially when working with younger and less experienced players, I prefer the second method. Showing lower level players a master game will, as often as not, leave them confused, giving them information which they are unable to contextualise.

Which is why I spent 30 years collecting games played at Richmond Junior Club, with the intention of producing coaching materials based on what actually happens in kids’ games.

One thing I noticed was how many games are decided by opening tactics, with the same patterns repeated over and over again. This is why I included a lot of opening tactics in my book Move Two!.

Consider this game, played the other day at Richmond Junior Club between two players of about 1000 (Elo) strength.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nf6

Black decided to try out a new opening, the Petroff Defence, but it transpired that he only knew the first two moves. In another game the same afternoon, played between two stronger (about 1500-1600 Elo) players, White tried 1. e4 c5 2. c3 but again only seemed to know the first two moves, being surprised that Black, who had seen the move before and knew what to do, replied 2… d5. He replied with the not very impressive 3. e5, when Black, instead of playing Bf5, leading to what you might consider either an advance French with the queen’s bishop outside the box or an advance Caro-Kann with an extra tempo, chose 3… e6, leading to an advance French which neither player seemed to know very much about. White seemed even more surprised when I explained that 2… d5 should be met by 3. exd5 Qxd5 4. d4.

As an aside, I consider the Petroff to be a reasonable choice for Black at this level as long as you know how to meet the tactics on the e-file. It requires a lot less knowledge of theory than 2… Nc6. The disadvantage is that it can easily lead to rather dull positions.

3. Nxe5 Nxe4

Now it’s clear that Black hadn’t made any attempt to study the Petroff. White, on the other hand, had learnt the Copycat Trap so knew what to do next. In future, Black will prefer the main line: 3… d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4.

4. Qe2

Most kids at this level know this, and when I demonstrated the game to a relatively small group (most of the club were at the UK Chess Challenge Megafinals) the following week, there were only a few who were unaware of what to do.

4… Ng5

Rather surprisingly, Black, a fairly experienced player, was still blind to what was going to happen next. One or two strong players have chosen this line, with 4… Qe7, as a surprise weapon, but as far as I can see Black’s going to be a pawn down with not a lot to show for it.

5. Nc6+

White was very well aware of what she should do next and gleefully pocketed the black queen.

5… Be7
6. Nxd8 Kxd8

White was ahead by a queen for a knight and just had to be careful. Her next move was absolutely fine.

7. d4 Re8

A black rook has appeared menacingly on the e-file, glaring at White’s royal couple. Alarm bells are ringing. Red lights are flashing. What should White do? Most of the audience the following week suggested 8. Be3, which looks extremely sensible to me, blocking the e-file and giving White time to get her king into safety by castling. 8. Nc3, intending to meet a discovered check with Be3, is also excellent. White saw that her queen was in danger and moved it out of the way, oblivious to the fact that the king was now exposed to a fatal double check.

8. Qd3 Bb4+

This time it was Black who knew exactly what to do, recognising the pattern of the familiar ‘Morphy’ rook and bishop mate.

9. Kd1 Re1#

And sadly, White was still a queen up, but a king down. All that in just nine moves.

Here’s what you might learn from this game:

  • If you want to try out a new opening you need to do more than learn the first two moves.
  • If your opponent plays the Petroff, play 3. Nxe5 and hope they fall for the Copycat Trap.
  • If you want to play the Petroff with Black remember to play 3. Nxe5 d6 followed by Nxe4 if the knight retreats (and be ready to play Qe7 in reply to Qe2).
  • Learn about how to place your line pieces (queen, rooks, bishops) in line with more valuable enemy pieces, understanding that if your piece is in the way you can play a discovered attack/check, while if your opponent’s piece is in the way it will be pinned.
  • Learn to understand and recognise (and see coming a long way off) discovered checks.
  • Learn about the idea of using discovered checks to win material (and being aware that the piece making the discovery will be, as long as it’s not next door to the enemy king, be immune from capture).
  • Learn about double checks – “the atom bomb of the chessboard” – and understand that a double check has to be met by a king move.
  • Learn the rook and bishop mating pattern – look at it in different contexts, for example Morphy v Aristocratic Allies.
  • Look at every check you could play – and look at every check your opponent could play in reply to your intended move.

Nine important lessons in just nine eventful moves. Cheap at half the price. And also just the sort of game I’d use for a very low level ‘How Good is Your Chess’ lesson.

Richard James

The Importance Of The Endgame Eight

Do you know when we start our preparation for the endgame? It’s a question I asked my students, both beginners and advanced alike last week. I received a plethora of answers but not one student gave me the answer I was looking for. To their shock, I told them that endgame preparation starts with move one! It may sound absurd, but think about it this way: What we have left on the board going into the endgame is a direct result of our actions during the opening and middle-game.

The opening is truly the foundation for the rest of your game. We position our pawns and pieces on squares that maximize our control of the board, specifically the center. We increase the activity of our material so we can start employing tactics and sound exchanges during the middle-game. Our goal is to enter the endgame with either more material or better placed material than our opponent. Having more material means just that, having a Queen, Rook and King versus a Rook and King. Better placed material means having a well positioned pawn majority and active King versus an equal number of poorly placed pawns and an inactive King.

Beginners have a tendency to not think about the endgame early on, rather playing for fast checkmates via big all or nothing attacks. If they can’t win employing the all or nothing brute force method, they end up with randomly placed pawns and pieces scattered about the board when the endgame arrives. If they’re playing an opponent with greater experience, that opponent will be able to use coordinated material to deliver mate or promote a pawn which will lead to mate. Therefore, we should consider the endgame from the start of the opening! Often in the endgames of the improving player, it’s all about the pawn.

Pawns really are the soul of chess! In the opening they initially control the board’s center. During the middle-game they can defend against opposition attacks. Because they are worth far less than the pieces in terms of relative value, pawns are a great deterrent when it comes to the opposition moving pieces to your side of the board. However, thinking solely in these terms can leave you in a terrible position going into the endgame. You always have to think about pawn structure, which I’ve discussed in earlier articles, every time you move a pawn. More specifically, you have to think about maintaining some pawns for use in the endgame, namely pawns that can work with one another by employing a sound pawn structure. By this (in the most basic of terms), I mean pawns that have fellow pawns on adjacent files to support them. In my chess classes, we start every game with the endgame in mind.

What I have my beginners do it to keep pawn moves to a minimum during the opening. The pawns that should be moved are only those that can control central squares. A beginner might think this means he or she could move the c, d, e and f pawns since each controls a central square. However, before taking on such a position with four pawns remember this, the more pawns you have lined up on the fourth (for white) or fifth (for black) ranks, the harder they’ll be to defend. You’ll have to use pieces to defend them and that limits the piece’s activity or scope. Two pawns should be your maximum in most opening positions. Always think about the endgame with each and every move you make. I teach my students to always connect their pawns which creates pawn chains. Pawn chains help keep your pawns protected and intact for the endgame. Lastly, I have my students always compare pawn majorities on the King-side and Queen-side.

Going into the middle-game, if you have a three to two pawn majority, you having three pawns and your opponent having two, on the Queen-side for example, try to maintain this majority. This can be a huge advantage in the endgame. If you have a passed pawn, one with no opposition pawns on adjacent files, and a Rook doing nothing to contribute to the game, put that rook behind the passed pawn. Always think about a potential endgame situation!

During the middle-game, beginners look for quick tactical strikes that involve pieces. Try punching holes in the opposition’s pawn structure instead, playing with the endgame in mind. If you cripple your opponent’s pawn structure, they’ll have a harder time in the endgame due to scattered and unsupported pawns.

When we castle, we generally have a neat row of pawns in front of our King. Beginners tend not to think of these pawns as valuable targets because they’re protected by the King (in the case of King-side castling). Removing one of those pawns (especially the g and h pawns) leaves the King exposed. Look for ways to break through that wall of pawns exposing the opposition King to attack!

Speaking of the King. Get your King into the endgame and waste no time doing it! Leaving your King dormant for just a move or two during the start of the endgame while your opponent activates his King immediately can lead to disaster. The King is often the best Sheppard for herding pawns to their promotion square. During the opening and middle-game, your King needs to be guarded, but this shouldn’t stop you from looking at your pawn structure as well as your opponent’s pawn structure and envisioning where you’d want your King to be. Always think towards the endgame.

During the middle-game, I have my students look at the board and ask themselves what remaining material will work best in the endgame. If they have a Rook, two Bishops and a Knight, they’ll consider which pieces would deliver mate with the least complications. In this case, the Rook and two Bishops would be the easiest for my students to use so they need to keep those pieces safe. Of course, you always want to try to hang on to most of your material but you have to engage in exchanges when playing chess if you hope to get anywhere. Therefore, use the piece least valuable to your endgame plans for the exchange. On the flip-side, I have students look at the opposition’s material and ask, which of opposition’s material would work best for their opponents to deliver mate. Those pieces then become their targets. Remember, in chess there are always two plans, yours and those of your opponent!

I highly recommend Bruce Pandolfini’s Endgame Course as critical reading for the endgame beginner. I use it as the core of my endgame training for beginners. The examples are clear and concise and the book covers all those “problem” endgame positions that crop up. Too often, the beginner with a bit of endgame knowledge will be derailed because he or she faces one of those “problem” positions. Bruce’s excellent text will keep you from getting caught in an awkward positional situation. I’ll be covering s few seemingly complicated Rook and pawn endgame positions in my next and last series of endgame articles. Until then, here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

Rook Endings (4)

Two more practical examples of rook and pawn against rook from games played at Richmond Junior Club.

In this position the good news for Black is that his king is in front of the pawn and the white king is subject to mating threats on the side of the board. The bad news is that his rook is badly placed, and that it’s White’s move. (If it was Black to move he could win by moving his rook in a westerly direction.)

His plan should be to get his rook round the back to threaten mate, while White will need to counter this by moving his rook away to check the black king from the other side.

White now has two moves to draw: Ra6 and Rb6. He needs to meet mate threats with horizontal checks, and has to be as far away as possible from the enemy monarch.

But instead he played 55. Re6, presumably with the idea of keeping the black king on the f-file. Now any westerly rook move is winning for Black. He chose 55… Re1, having observed correctly that the pawn ending would be winning. White went back behind the pawn: 56. Rf6, and now, out of Black’s 17 legal moves, 11 are winning and 4 are drawing. The quickest winning moves are Re7 and Re8, both mating in 21 moves according to the tablebases. He actually chose one of the drawing moves: 56… Re2, missing the winning plan of threatening mate on the h-file. Now White again has time to draw by moving his rook over to the far side of the board (note that this is one of many positions in these endings where you want your rook on the side rather than behind the passed pawn). This time, Ra6, Rb6 and Rc6 all draw, but in principle he should move as far away as possible. Instead, stuck with the mistaken idea that rooks always belong behind passed pawns, he played 57. Kh3.

Now Black has four winning moves: Re8, Re7, Re5 and Re3 (but Re4 is only a draw). Still not thinking about potential checks on the h-file he chose perhaps the least obvious of these, 57… Re3. White played 58. Kh2 when Black has a choice of 14 moves, of which 8 win and 5 draw. As you would expect by now, the quickest wins are Re8 and Re7. Instead he went for one of the drawing options: 58… Ke2.

Now White has 16 possible moves, but only one of them draws: Kg3, hitting the f-pawn. After his actual choice, 59. Kg1, though, Black can again win by moving his rook in a northerly direction, again planning a check from behind. Instead he gave up and pushed the pawn: 59… f2+. White was happy to capture the pawn: 60. Rxf2+, and a draw was agreed.

If you’re down to the last few minutes on the clock, or, as is likely these days, playing on an increment, it’s all too easy to think inflexibly, as both players did in this example. Black seemed to be thinking purely about how to push his f-pawn, while White was just trying to prevent this. Neither player was thinking about how to check the enemy king.

Our final example starts off by being about getting your king in front of the pawn, but when Balck fails to do this it’s just about calculation. Will White calculate accurately? We’ll see.

Black has to make his 52nd move. He has 15 moves to choose from, three of which lose his rook, although one of them, Rg2, still draws (rook against pawn is another interesting subject). There are 10 winning moves and two other moves that draw: Rg4 and the move he chose, 52… f3.

Now it seems very natural and obvious to push your pawn, and you’ve probably been taught that passed pawns should be pushed, but when you possess the only remaining pawn on the board you often want your king in front of the pawn. This is the case here.

White found the only move to draw: 53. Kd4, correctly rushing back with his king. His rook is well placed on the h-file here, preventing the black king from travelling to g2 via h3. Black pushed the pawn again: 53… f2, for the moment preventing the white king’s approach. White again found the only drawing move: 54. Rf7. (Rg7+ would have led to king and queen against king and rook, which would have been another story entirely.) Black naturally replied by defending the pawn with 54… Rg2.

On his 55th move White has no less than 21 choices (the maximum number of 8 king moves and 13 rook moves, one short of the maximum, for those of you who care about this sort of thing). Nine of them draw and the other twelve lose. The most obvious draw is the simple Ke3 just winning the pawn and demonstrating to black that he pushed his pawn too quickly. However he was seduced by the skewer 55. Rg7+, no doubt playing too fast to notice that after he won the rook Black would promote.

Now Black has six king moves, but the only one to win is Kf6, when he’ll reach the tricky ending king and queen against king and rook. It’s mate in 28 according to the tablebases, but would he have been able to win? We’ll never know because instead he played 55… Kh4.

White’s now drawing again if he finds 56. Rf7, getting back behind the passed pawn and preparing to meet 56… Kg3 with 57. Ke3, when Black can make no progress. His actual choice of 56. Rh7+ was too slow, though, because now after 56… Kg3, which Black played, his king will have time to reach g1 via h2. The game continued 57. Rg7+ Kh2 58. Rh2+ Kg1 and Black won by promoting his pawn.

Richard James

The Importance of the Endgame Seven

Today, we’re going to look at an endgame position that arises from time to time. It’s a position that the skilled endgame player can easily win. However, when the beginner is faced with this same position, a draw is usually the result! Fret not, because with a little knowledge and practice, even the beginner can turn this seemingly bad position into a stunning victory! Let me start by introducing our actors playing out this endgame drama. Stepping onto the stage for white are the King, a dark squared Bishop, a light squared Bishop and a pawn. However, each of the two examples will employ only a single Bishop of one color. Black is represented by a lone King. There are some important ideas to consider in this type of position when considering your endgame plan. If you don’t have a plan, you have nothing (perhaps a painful loss).

In both our examples, we’re trying to promote a Rook pawn, a pawn working it’s way up the h file in this case. Rook pawns can be tricky for both players to deal with because their on the edge of the board. This means they’re difficult to attack and difficult to defend. Why? Because you can only access the squares on one side of the pawn in question rather than squares on either side. Remember, Rook pawns can be difficult for either side to deal with. The next potential problem we face in this type of endgame position is created by the Bishop. In example one, the Bishop’s not a problem but in example two, the Bishop creates a bit of a problem. The problem has to do with the color of the promotion square and the color of the squares the Bishop controls. If the Bishop can control the promotion square, there is no immediate problem. If the promotion square is the opposite color of the Bishop, you’ll have to work a lot harder to promote your pawn. Ideally, you want to have a Bishop that can can control the promotion square in this type of endgame position. Take a look at the first example:

Here, we have an example of a Bishop that controls the white pawn’s promotion square. This is a crucial factor in securing an easy victory. The first thing the beginner should notice is the opposition of the two Kings. In each article in this series, we’ve talked about the importance of King opposition in endgame play. Also note that the King can easily defend either his pawn or Bishop. In the majority of endgame positions you’ll encounter, the King must be active and must be close to his remaining forces in order to protect them. During the opening and middle-game, our pawns and pieces serve as bodyguards for his majesty. However, in the endgame the King often becomes a bodyguard. The King must, in most cases, protect the material you have on the board in order to deliver checkmate. Your King becomes a deadly attacker and defender during this phase of the game!

We know from previous articles that we want to think about where we don’t want the opposition King to go, in this case, away from the h8 square where mate will be delivered. We also need to know where we want the opposition King to go, in the above example, the h8 square. Pawn and piece coordination are critical. Your material must work together as a team (no “Pawn Solo” action). This being the case, we can see that the Bishop on e7 controls the f8 square, so the black King cannot use that square for escape. Therefore, our Bishop is on the right square. White’s first move is 1. h7+ which forces the black King to h8. Note that the white King is protecting the pawn!. Black plays 1…Kh8 and only now do we move the Bishop with 2. Bf6#. A very simple example to help reinforce the ideas required in this type of position. Remember, piece coordination rules the endgame!

Now, what happens if we have a Bishop whose color doesn’t match that of the pawn’s promotion square? For a start, things become a bit more complicated!However, just because our Bishop isn’t able to control the promotion square doesn’t mean all is is lost. Though it does mean we have to play very carefully! The key here is to use our King and Bishop to keep the black King from settling in on the promotion square for white’s pawn, h8. Take a look at the example below. Remember, where do you want the opposition King to go and not to go?

Again, it’s all about herding the opposition King, in this case away from the square he wants to go to, h8. If he gets there even five pounds of dynamite won’t extract him from that square! The black King wants to go to h8 to stop the white pawn from promoting. Therefore, we can stop the black King dead in his royal tracks by playing 1. Bh7. With 1…Kf6, the black King tries to slide around the white pawn and Bishop. Again we find that King opposition plays a critical role in this position. After 2. Kf4, white has effectively positioned his King so that, with the aid of the pawn and Bishop, the opposition King is kept off of the g file. In the endgame, your pawns and pieces must work together in a coordinated manner. Black’s King can’t make any headway in getting to the h8 square. After 2…Ke6, white plays 3. Kg5 which bolsters the h pawn and further shuts out the black King.

Here we’re going to see a bit of a dance between the two Kings as one tries to infiltrate the promotion square and the other tries to stop it. Black plays 3…Kf7 attempting to keep white’s King from further strengthening his position. No problem says white, it’s time to put the King’s back into opposition with 4. Kf5. Black responds with 4…Ke7 and white moves the King closer to the 8th rank with 5. Kg6. The idea to keep in mind is that white wants to use his King to shield the pawn trying to promote. Black is pushed back with 5…Kf8 and white puts his King back in opposition with 6. Kf6. Black plays 6…Ke8 and now we employ the Bishop again with 7. Bg8. When black plays 7…Kf8, the beginner might panic and quickly whisk the Bishop away to safety. However, the correct move is 8. h7, using the pawn to protect the Bishop. This was the point of moving the Bishop to g8!

With nothing better to come up with, black plays 8…Ke8 and it’s all over when white plays 9. h8=Q.

In the above example, white was able to effectively use a Bishop of the wrong color (from a promotion viewpoint) to aid in the promotion of the h pawn. In chess, as in life, when you get handed lemons (or the wrong colored Bishop), make lemonade (or promote a pawn). Always use your King and any material you have in a coordinated effort. Your King is priceless in the endgame and a bad Bishop can do good things, provided you use him wisely. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

Rook Endings (3)

Last time I considered some simple rook and pawn v rook endings from the Richmond Junior Club database.

In this article I’ll show you a few slightly more complicated examples.

Caspar Bates, who had to choose a move with white in this position against his brother Pascal, returned to chess several years ago and is now an occasional player (for Richmond in the London League) and an excellent composer of endgame studies.

At this stage in his career, though, his knowledge of endings was limited. He had the opportunity to head for the Philidor position, but instead chose a passive defence with his rook. This should still be good enough to draw, and in this position he has three ways to share the point. In order to play this position accurately, both players have to be aware of two standard tactical ideas, one of which you saw last week.

White can draw by continuing his policy of passive defence, playing Rd1, when Black has no way to make progress. Or he can choose an active defence and play either Rb2 or Rf2, planning to move up the board and check from behind. But Rg2 (or Rh2) would lose to a skewer: Black would reply with d2+ (a discovered check) and, if White takes the pawn, pick up the rook via a skewer because the white king is too far away. If White doesn’t take the pawn, Ra1 will lead to the same thing.

Instead White chose Ke4. Now Black can use another tactical idea which you may remember from last week’s article. His two winning moves are Ra7 and Ra8. In both cases, if the white rook takes the pawn, a check from behind will force the king away and win the rook. And if White doesn’t take the pawn, again black rook checks from behind will prove decisive. Note, though, that Ra6 is only a draw because the white king will be close enough to approach the rook, meeting Re6+ with Kf5.

Alas, he missed his chance, and after several repetitions the game eventually resulted in a draw.

This rather atypical position should also be a draw, but Black, to play, chose what should have been a losing option: 46… Ra5. Now White has two winning moves: the simpler way to win is 47. Rb6+ but White’s actual choice of 47. Kd4 should also suffice. Now Black is in zugzwang: a horizontal rook move lets the pawn advance, a vertical rook move allows Kc5, a king move to, say, b2, allows Kc4. That leaves Black’s choice in the game, 47… Kb4, which White correctly met with 48. Rb6+ Ka4 49. Kc4 Ka3. Now White can win by choosing a horizontal rook move, when Black is again zugged. Instead he played 50. Rb3+, when, after 50… Ka2 he’d have to repeat moves and have another go at finding the winning idea. But Black preferred 50… Ka4. Now 51. Rb1, threatening mate, wins at once, but he missed it, repeating moves with 51. Rb6 Ka3. He still didn’t spot the zugzwang and decided to try a different idea, 52. Kb5, hoping Black would trade rooks. No such luck: she captured the pawn: 52… Rxa6. Now White could have offered a draw but instead played on, hoping Black would allow a rook mate: 53. Rb3+ Ka2 54. Kc3??, only to discover he was losing his rook after 54… Rc6+ 55. Kb4 Rb6+.

Disillusioned, perhaps, by the result of this game, White soon gave up his chess career, and now, more than 30 years on, is a partner in a firm of solicitors based just across the road from Richmond Junior Club’s current Twickenham venue.

The basic principle in these endings is that if your king can make contact with the promotion square you’re likely to get the result you want.

So in this position, with White to move, there are two winning moves: Kg6 and Kh6. The white king has to run up the board, using the rook to shelter from checks if necessary. Instead, White played the understandable but misguided 52. f5, when Black can hold the draw by activating his rook and preparing to check from behind. But now Black in turn erred by playing 52… Re5 to pin the pawn. White now demonstrated the win as follows: 53. Ra6 Kf7 54. Ra7+ Kf8 55. Kf6 Re4 56. Ra8+ Re8 57. Rxe8+ Kxe8 58. Kg7 (the only winning move) and Black resigned.

Black could have offered more resistance with 55… Ke8 when play might continue 56. Kg6 Rd8 57. f6 Kg8 58. Rg7+ (but not f7+ which only draws) 58… Kf8 59. Rh7 or 58… Kh8 59. Rh7+ Kg8 60. f7+.

Note that this is the type of position where Black will lose even though his king reaches the queening square because of White’s mate threats.

So chess improvers need to be aware of a few basic principles, some of which apply to all rook endings.

* Rooks belong behind passed pawns (RBBPP)
* Keep your pieces active at all times
* Play with a long-term plan in mind rather than just operating with immediate threats
* Your king needs to head towards the promotion square
* Be aware of the basic tactical ideas which happen in rook endings (the skewer, the check to force the king away from defending the rook)
* Develop your long-range calculating skills

I’ll have a few more examples for you next week.

Richard James

The Importance of The Endgame Six

While checkmate with a King and Queen against a lone King is simple enough for the beginner to grasp, things change when there’s an opposition Queen still on the board (King and Queen versus King and Queen). Add a white pawn on the seventh rank, one move away from promotion, and things can get a bit tricky (believe it or not) for both players if they’re beginners. Of course, the experienced player will scoff at the notion of things getting a bit “tricky” with a pawn one square away from promotion. However, I’ve seen countless games in which beginners (playing white) will not only lose this pawn so close to promoting, but end up getting their Queen skewered to boot! As I’ve mentioned in previous endgame articles, you have to play very carefully during this game phase because one bad move can easily turn the tide in favor of your opponent! The less material on the board, the more important that material is and losing any material, even a pawn, can cost you the game.

The big difference with this endgame position, compared to a King and Queen versus lone King position, is that there are two Queens on the board (not to mention a white pawn that can add a third Queen into the fracas! Beginners playing the white pieces make the fatal mistake of trying to promote their pawn while maintaining their original Queen so they end up with a pair of Queens. This type of thinking, not seeing the bigger picture, leads to a plethora of problems. Remember, the person playing black also has a Queen that can deliver check, putting a halt to white’s plans. So what should the beginner do when faced with this type of endgame?

Rather than try to promote the pawn and acquire a second Queen, the beginner should try to eliminate the black Queen using a forcing move. Of course, this means making a move that forces the opposition’s hand which equates to black having to give up their Queen to stop you from promoting your pawn into a second Queen. Or as Don Corleone might say, “I’m going to make a move he can’t refuse!”

It should be noted that in this type of position, you have to be very wary of potential skewers. A skewer takes place on a rank, file or diagonal. In a skewer, a Bishop, Rook or Queen attacks an opposition piece. However, the real target of the attack is another piece positioned behind the first piece being attacked (along the rank, file or diagonal). In this type of endgame, the idea is to check the King and when the King moves, unable to defend the true target of the attack which is the Queen, that Queen is lost. Thus in a skewer, the real victim cannot be defended, so when the initial piece being attacked moves, the piece behind it is captured. In this type of endgame, the skewer will have one of the Queens checking one of the Kings and the poor piece behind the King (the true victim) will be a Queen. This would change the game’s outcome immediately. However, in our examples, there are no skewers to be had because of both King’s positions. Both Kings are on the same rank making a skewer highly unlikely. However, if one player could employ a series of checks that forced one of the Kings out towards the center of the board, a skewer could be employed! Let’s take a look at our first example!

In the above example, white plays 1. Qd4+. Beginners tend to make silly checks that amount to nothing because the checking piece’s action can be blocked, the checking piece can be captured or the King can simply move out of check. In this case, the check is solid because it lines the white Queen up with it’s target square, d8. What’s so important about d8? The white Queen can force a trade of Queens, allowing white to promote, regain a Queen and go on to win the game. After 1…Kb1, white plays 2. Qd8 forcing black’s hand! There’s nothing black can do but capture the Queen with 2…Qxd8 and white promotes with 3. exd8=Q!

The key here is to not even try to acquire a second Queen by promotion but to eliminate the opposition Queen with a threat the opposition can’t ignore. Note that in this endgame example, both Kings remain out of the action. While we always want to activate our Kings in the endgame, there are positional situations that require the actions of other pieces first. Again, in the above example, the position of both Kings thwarts a potential skewer. Now let’s take a look at another example.

In the above example, white plays 1. Qe6+ to connect the Queen with the critical square, e8. The check is really secondary but it does force the black King to move, 1…Kb2. With 2. Qe8, white again tries to force black into a trade of Queens that allows the white pawn on f7 to promote. However, black plays 2…Qb4, avoiding the exchange for the moment. While black is doomed in this position, he does give fighting back a try. After white promotes with 3. f8=Q, black delivers a check of his own with 3…Qc4+. Beginners sometimes think, “hey two Queens are better than one so I’ll move my King out of check.” The problem with moving your King is that, if you’re playing a really strong tactical player, you might eventually fall victim to a skewer. Therefore, white makes the correct move, 4. Qe2+, blocking the check with a check of his own,forcing a trade of Queens. Black takes on e2 with 4…Qxe2+ and white now brings his King into the action with 5. Kxe2. Now white can win with King and Queen against lone King. Notice that white still got his Queen trade!

In both examples, white made moves that forced black to give up his Queen. Rather than trying to maintain two Queens throughout the endgame, white simplified the position, making it easier to win. If you’re new to endgame play, you’ll want to keep it simple. Even with two Queens facing off against one opposition Queen, you can get into trouble. It’s better to have one Queen and no opposition Queen to deal with than two Queens and an opposition Queen. Remember, it’s about forcing the opposition to give up their Queen and that requires making forcing moves, giving the opposition no other options or options that poor at best. Also note that Queens in the hands of a beginner can lead to stalemate. I’ve seen countless games in which a beginner with a King and Queen versus lone opposition King has ended up with a stalemate position. A beginner with two Queens can be a danger, not to the opposition, but to themselves. Play smart in the endgame by simplifying things. Give up having two Queens against one Queen in favor of one Queen for yourself and no Queen for the opposition. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

Rook Endings (2)

Having been sent the rook ending you saw last week I decided to look at the rook endings in my Richmond Junior Chess Club database to see how young players handled them.

I started by looking at endings with rook and pawn against rook.

Before you learn rook and pawn against rook you’ll need to know how to mate with king and rook against king (obviously) and have a complete knowledge of all king and pawn against king positions. At any point one player will be trying to trade rooks while the other player will be trying to keep rooks on the board. At lower levels, of course, this knowledge is sometimes lacking.

There were several games where this sort of thing happened. Black, in a position which should be a comfortable draw, decided to play Rxf4+. I guess this is caused by false logic. Black thinks “If my opponent gets a queen I’ll be 9 points behind, so I should capture the pawn now when I’ll only be 5 points behind”. Time and time again, if you ask children why they played their move, they will give an answer involving some sort of false logic. He saw that he’d lose his rook but thought it was the right thing to do.

Children at this level also tend to think in terms of threats rather than plans. This policy might work well in your primary school chess club, but at higher levels you need something more. In endings, more than any other part of the game, you need a plan. The man with the plan wins. In this position White’s winning because the black king is cut off. His plan should be to bring his king across to support the pawn’s advance while using his rook to stop the enemy monarch approaching. Instead he saw the chance to create a threat and played Kf6. Black was alert to the possibility of a skewer and White’s win turned into a loss.

Several lessons from this:
1. You need to operate with plans rather than immediate threats.
2. You need to watch out for skewers in rook endings.
3. You need to remember the idea of using your rook to cut off the enemy king.

This is similar to our first example, but perhaps White had a different reason. Up to this point White had defended impeccably, but now forgot that he could continue checking and thought the only way to stop the immediate mate was to play Rxg3. If you know the Philidor position you’ll know that Rf1+ is an easy draw.

Black has an extra pawn but should only draw. Instead, she played a natural move, pushing her passed pawn to h4. Sadly for her, a rook check will drive her king away and she will lose her rook. Another game where the rook beats the rook and pawn, and another tactical idea you need to know.

One more lesson:
4. Look out for positions where a rook is defended by a king: a rook check might force the king away from defending the rook or into a potential skewer.

At the end of a long game, when you don’t have much time left on the clock, it’s all too easy to forget to ask yourself the Magic Question (if I play that move what will my opponent do next?). In this position Black promoted his pawn without enough thought, and yet another skewer cost him his new queen. Instead he had four winning moves, Kf1, Kf2, Rh3 and the attractive Rf3+, when, if Black captures, it’s White who has a skewer.

Next time we’ll look at some slightly more complicated endings with rook and pawn against rook, so stay tuned.

Richard James

The Importance Of The Endgame Five

In this week’s article, we’re going to look at the most difficult checkmate for the beginner to master, mate involving Knight, Bishop and King versus lone King. This mate proves to be difficult even for “improvers” because it requires forcing the opposition King to a specific corner square using two minor pieces that move in very different ways. In last week’s article, we learned how to use a pair of Bishops with our King supporting them to deliver checkmate. Because each Bishop can only control one color square (either light or dark), as opposed to Rooks who can control both colored squares simultaneously, they have to work in closer coordination with one another and their King. On the plus side, the two Bishops move identically (diagonally) so pushing the opposition King towards the mating square is easier than in the case of the Knight and Bishop.

With the Knight and Bishop duo, it’s all about herding the opposition King to a corner square that the Bishop can control. Yes, I said herding! I’ve watch a large number of videos and read through numerous books that explain this idea of forcing the King being mated to the mating square using a triangulation system. As a chess instructor and coach, I’m well versed in this checkmate and even I was left a bit confused trying to determine just how the triangulation system worked. In reality, it makes perfect sense to more experienced players but the beginner might get confused so I decided to simplify the idea.

Think of the opposition King as a sheep. Your Knight, Bishop and King are the sheep herders. Their goal is to herd the stray sheep back into it’s pen, in this case the mating square. Your job is to herd the stray sheep, I mean King, back to the pen with as little fuss and muss as possible. Take a look at the example below:

This is a simplified position compared to example two but I present it first because it helps to clarify the key points you need to understand in order to checkmate in this way.

The first point to consider is that the opposition King must be driven into a corner because the checkmate can only occur if the King is literally cornered! Since there are four corners on a chessboard you have to determine which one is the correct corner. The good news is that you have a choice of two. Which two? It depends on the color of the squares your Bishop controls. In the above example, we have a Bishop that controls the dark squares. Therefore, the King has to be driven onto a dark colored corner square. Since you have two, the a1 and h8 squares, how do you decide? The answer is simple if the opposition King is closer to one of the two. You drive the King to the color square controlled by the Bishop that is closest to your Knight and Bishop duo. If equidistant, the choice is yours!

In our first example, the King has been driven towards the h8 square so that’s our target mating square. We start with 1. Nf5. Of course, the black King would like to run in the opposite direction of the h8 square but can’t because of the Bishop on b4, which controls the f8 square, so black is forced to play 1…Kh8. This kind of endgame position requires precise coordination between the Knight, Bishop and King. Failure to do so will allow the enemy King to escape and you’ll have to herd the King back to its pen all over again. You’ll see how hard herding is in our longer example.

White plays 2. Be7 which maintains control of the f8 square while lining it up with the f6 square. Black responds with his only legal move, 2…Kg8. White’s pieces are slowly moving in and surrounding the black King. White checks with 3. Nh6+ which forces the black King back to h8 with 3…Kh8. You should always examine potential escape squares for black before making a move in this type of position because giving the opposition King a chance to run away will force you to start all over again. You’ll see how horrible this can be shortly.

Looking at the position, we can see the the white King creates a barrier on g7 and h7. Our trusty Knight keeps the black King off of the g8 square. Now all we have to do is deliver the final blow with 4. Bf6# and it’s game over!

This example is the end result of a series of moves that drive the opposition King into the corner. However, as we’re about to see, the real challenge is simply getting that King into the corner. Let’s introduce a new key point, the idea of where you don’t want the enemy King to go. As a herder, you don’t want your sheep running behind you because you’ll have to turn around and start herding them back towards the pen. The same holds true in this type of position. You have to carefully and methodically herd the King to the target square.

In the above example, we have a dark squared Bishop which means we have to get the opposition King into a dark corner square, either a1 or h8. This means herding the King into the correct corner. Again, you can think of the black King as a sheep and the three white pieces as the sheep herders. As the commander of the white army, your job is to carefully control key squares the black King can use for his escape. You have to think in terms of where you don’t want the opposition King to go!

The Bishop on e3 controls the a7 square and the white King controls the b7 square so we start with 1. Nc7+. Note that the Knight on c7 is protected by the white King. You have to make sure that your pieces are protected at all times since losing one of your two minor pieces will lead to a draw! Black is forced to play 1…Kb8. The dark squared Bishop must maintain control of the a7 square, so as the black King doesn’t make a run towards freedom via that square, which is why white plays 2. Bb6, tightening white’s control of important territory. Black plays 2…Kc8, being pushed towards the mating square, h8. With 3. Ba7, white keeps the black King from going to b8, so the black King moves to d8 (3…Kd8). With 4. Nd5, white controls the e7 square and black moves the King to e8 with 4…Ke8. Now, white’s King enters the battle with 5. Kd6. This is where things get a bit difficult because the black King makes a run for freedom with 5…Kf7. In this type of checkmate, white will have to deal with the opposition King heading away from the corner towards the center where it will be difficult to corral him back towards the mating square. Therefore, you have to carefully consider your minor piece placement!

To the beginner, the move 6. Ne7 may seem to give the opposition King more freedom to escape. However, the Knight covers the squares f5 and g6 which could be used as flight squares by black. The black King moves to f6 with 6…Kf6 and rather than check the King with 7. Bd4, white instead plays 7. Be3, again looking to cut off the black King rather than make a useless check. From e3, the Bishop covers the g5 square and black is pushed back with 7…Kf7. White now brings his Bishop to g5 with 8. Bg5, tightening the noose around the black King. Black plays 8…Ke8. Here white must move the Knight so the Bishop has unblocked control of the d8 square, so 9. Ng6 is played. Now black must move towards the mating square with 9…Kf7. While it seems that white’s Knight is now under attack, the simple 10. Ne5+ puts an end to that.

Of course, black is going to do everything humanly possible to avoid h8 so he plays 10…Ke8. Again, the white King steps in with 11. Kc7, keeping the black King off of the d8 square. It’s important to use the King’s ability to control key squares at the right time and this is the right time!

With 11…Kf8, white uses his King to once more push the black King towards it’s sticky end with 12. Kd7. Use of the King is critical in endgame play! Black makes another feeble attempt to break free with 12…Kg7 and white meets this with 13. Ke7. The King is a powerful weapon in the endgame! The black King moves to g8 with 13…Kg8 and white moves his Bishop, 14. Bh6. This last move helps control squares the black King wants use as an escape route. With 14…Kh7, black tries to attack the Bishop but the Bishop moves to f8, 15. Bf8, and maintains control of two key squares, g7 and h6. After 15…Kg8, the white Knight makes a move most beginners don’t understand because the Knight appears to be moving away from the action, 16. Ng4. Unlike the Bishop, the Knight often has to make extra moves in order to get to a key square, as we will see in a few moves.

Black plays 16…Kh7, again trying to escape. On move 17, rather than deliver check with the Knight (Nf6 which would allow the black King to move to g6), white moves his King to f7 with 17. Kf7, using the power of King opposition. Black plays 17…Kh8 and white follows with 18. Bg7+. This is a well thought out move because the black King is forced to play 18…Kh7. Now we see why the white Knight moved to g4, so it could eventually move to f6 which delivers mate with 19. Nf6#!

The key ideas to keep in mind with this type of checkmate are pushing the opposition King to a corner square that your Bishop can control, moving your pieces in a coordinated fashion that keeps the opposition King off of specific squares and using your King actively. I have my students play through this mate until they can do it without too much effort. This means they may play through the position twenty plus times. I highly suggest you play through this position every chance you get until you know it. It may not come up much in your games but when it does and you’re not prepared, you’ll lose the game. Even though it doesn’t come up a great deal, it will teach you volumes about piece coordination. Break out a chess board and get cracking. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson