Category Archives: Children’s Chess

The King’s Gambit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hugh Patterson

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Teaching Kids: Checkmate In Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ashvin Chauhan

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True Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hugh Patterson

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The Draw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hugh Patterson

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Teaching Kids Through Classical Games (13)

Morphy,Paul – Meek,A
USA, 1857

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

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

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

7…d5 8.e5

Gaining space on Kingside

8…0–0 9.f4

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

9…f5 10.h3

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

10…Nd7 11.Kh2

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

11…c5 12.c3 c4

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

13.Bc2 a6 14.Nf3

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

14…h6 15.g4 Kh7 16.Rg1 Rg8 17.Qe1 Nc6

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

18.Nh4 Qf8??

Let’s check some other alternatives too:

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

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

19.Nxg6 Kxg6 20.gxf5+ Kf7

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

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

White is also winning with f6.

23…Ke8 24.f6 Bxf6

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

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

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

29…Qh8 30.Rg7

Attacking both the knight and bishop.

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

1–0

Ashvin Chauhan

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Children of the Revolution

Here’s a question for you. What’s slow, green and free range? Sounds like a children’s riddle, doesn’t it? A dinosaur egg, perhaps?

Before I tell you the answer, though, I have another children’s riddle for you. Why is it that, when children’s lives should be better than ever before, children in the Western world increasingly see themselves as unhappy and increasingly suffer from a range of physical and mental health problems? (I could give references and may well do so at another time and in another place.)

There is a growing movement towards a different approach to education: an approach promoting ‘slow’ child development, starting formal education later rather than earlier, a ‘green’ childhood, restoring children’s connection with nature and the outdoors, and a ‘free range’ childhood, teaching children self-reliance by giving them more freedom and independence in their spare time.

Child psychologist David Elkind’s book The Hurried Child was first published in 1982. From the blurb to the 25th anniversary edition: “…by blurring the boundaries of what is age-appropriate, by expecting – or imposing – too much too soon, we force our kids to grow up too fast, to mimic adult sophistication while they secretly yearn for time to act their age.”

It may well be that your life is so busy that you’re not aware of the ‘slow movement’. The concept of slowing down in all aspects of our lives was popularised by Scottish born Canadian journalist Carl Honoré in his 2004 book In Praise of Slowness. In his 2008 book Under Pressure, Honoré considers a slow approach to parenting and education. He asks (quoting again from the blurb) “whether we are going wrong in some fundamental way”.

You will probably know that, here in the UK, children start formal schooling at the age of five. In many other countries, children don’t start formal education until six or even seven. The 2011 book Too Much Too Soon?, subtitled Early Learning and the Erosion of Childhood, edited by Richard House, comprises a series of essays by experts on early years education questioning the idea that the earlier children start learning to read, for example, the better they do. Of course some children are ready to learn to read very young (I was one: I could already read fluently before I started school not long after my fifth birthday) but many are not.

Richard Louv’s seminal book Last Child in the Woods was first published ten years ago. According to the blurb in my edition, Louv “directly links the absence of nature in the lives of today’s wired generation to some of the most disturbing childhood trends: the rise in obesity, attention disorders, and depression”. There are many who share his concern about children’s increasing disconnection with nature. David Bond’s 2013 film Project Wild Thing, for instance, tackles the same subject.

Parents are, quite understandably, concerned for their children’s safety so they either keep them at home staring at a screen or sign them up for a continual frenzy of ‘improving’ activities. Those of us who grew up in the 1950s and 60s experienced a very different childhood. New York journalist Lenore Skenazy was accused of child abuse after writing a column about how she let her 9-year-old son ride home alone on the subway. As a result of this she founded the “free range kids” movement, encouraging parents to give their children more independence and self-reliance.

Of course this is only one side of the argument and there are many experts who take the opposite view but, speaking personally, I find their views of considerable interest. None of them are advocating a return to the sort of childhood I experienced 50-60 years ago: they are all looking at how latest research can inform parents and teachers how to help their children live in the 21st century. You may well disagree completely and think our current parenting and teaching methods are fine as they are. You may well think their views are impractical and idealistic, but maybe the world needs, and has always needed, impractical idealists.

The answer to my riddle then, is that perhaps we’ll see a revolution in the whole concept of what childhood should mean in the 21st century. Perhaps we shouldn’t be encouraging our children to do too much too soon. (And you might understand why I wasn’t impressed when a fellow chess teacher asked about Under 6 tournaments in his area, and why he wasn’t impressed with my reply.) Perhaps we should do more to ensure that children spend time outdoors and find ways to connect with nature. Perhaps we should give children more freedom and independence. Perhaps the childhood of the future will be slow, green and free range. Perhaps it will be more holistic, with schools seeing children as individuals, identifying their particular talents and interests and finding activities which they might like. It’s not just about being ‘progressive’, though. For many children there’s a lot to be said for old-fashioned concepts such as academic rigour and discipline as long as it’s placed within the context of the children’s lives.

Perhaps you’re unfamiliar with these ideas, in which case your homework for this week is to read some of the authors I’ve mentioned here. You might expect educationalists who hold these views to be sceptical about encouraging mass participation in chess by very young children. They might also be sceptical about the whole business of promoting chess (or anything else) as something that ‘makes kids smarter’. You might also want to ask yourself what part chess will play in the lives of the Children of the Revolution. Perhaps more children will start chess later rather than earlier (yes, a few children will be ready to start early just as I was ready to start reading early). We might see children taking up fewer extra-curricular activities but taking them more seriously. We might see parents and teachers encouraging children to play chess because they want to become good at it rather than because it might make them smarter. In the short term we might see fewer children playing, but more children will continue to play into their teens and on into adulthood. I just wonder how much of this will happen in my lifetime.

Richard James

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The Ceiling

Whether you’re a beginner or a titled player, you reach a point in your chess career in which you stop moving forward and get stuck. You go through a period of of often rapid improvement, then hit a ceiling. For some the ceiling seems to be made of steel while for others it’s made of glass which is much easier to break through. It’s the ability to break through this ceiling that allows us to advance or improve. What is it that allows some players to break through and get better while others remain stuck? It all boils down to identifying the problem or problems that hold us back and solving them.

While you’d think beginners would have a harder time breaking through the ceiling and advancing their skills further, the intermediate player often has a harder time. Beginners generally have more obvious problems and because they’re obvious, they’re easier to identify and thus solve. If you’re a beginner and have become stuck in your advancement, you problems are easy to identify. You should first try to determine in which phase of the game you’re having problems. Rather than jumping around the opening, middle and endgames in no particular order, start by looking at your opening play.

Every move you make during the opening game should adhere to a principle. Remember, your opening game goal is to set up pawns and pieces for action in the middle game. You do this by starting your battle for control of the board’s center by using a pawn or two to control a central square. Next you develop your minor pieces, Knights and Bishops, to squares that also exert control over the central squares. King safety is critical so castling is next. Then you connect your Rooks by moving the Queen up a rank. After that, you keep developing material until you have pawns and pieces on their most active squares, those that control territory (especially on your opponent’s side of the board).

Often beginners develop some pawns and pieces and consider their work in the opening done. Then they launch a premature attack, lose material and weaken their position. Don’t launch early attack unless they really turn the tide. Always examine your pawn structure. Don’t bring your Queen out early. Don’t move the same piece over and over again neglecting the development of other pieces. Don’t make to many pawn moves early on. Use these ideas as the basis for your questions as to why you’re not doing well in the opening.

In the middle game, beginners will see an opportunity to start attacking. Don’t attack unless it strengthens your position or greatly weakens your opponent’s position. Early attacks can backfire and leave you with a losing position. Count the number of attackers versus the number of defenders. You need to have more attackers than opposition defenders and, when defending, more defenders than opposition attackers. If considering a move, ask yourself what your opponent’s best response would be. Pretend you are your opponent and think about what you would do if faced with the move you’re considering. Watch your pawn structure, because when going into the end game phase, you’ll need those pawns for promotion purposes. Be patient and build up your position. Again, take these ideas and pose them to yourself as questions. If you’re not following these ideas, you’ve found your problem.

During the end game, when there is a limited amount of material on the board, bring your King into the game. Too many beginners leave their King on its starting rank and watch in horror as their opponent’s King comes alive and hunts down their pawns. The King must be activated. Use your King to safely escort your pawns to their promotion squares. Ask yourself if you’re doing this!

These basic ideas should allow the beginner to determine where they’re having problems and how to fix those problems, employing these game principles. With intermediate players, it can be a bit more difficult. Intermediate players know basic game principles and apply them correctly. So how does the intermediate player find the problems that keep them from breaking through the ceiling?

Start by going through the ideas I’ve presented for beginners. If you’re a bit surprised by this, don’t be! I’ve seen quite a few intermediate students start to neglect principled play. They think that they’ve mastered the basics and now its time to bend the principles. Unfortunately, what they consider bending the principles is actually breaking the principles which creates positional problems. Bending a principle, for example, could be placing a piece towards the edge of the board rather than towards the center because this piece is doing something useful. 3.Bb5 in the Ruy Lopez indirectly effects the center because the Bishop attacks the black Knight on c6 which is protecting the black pawn on e5. On the other side of the coin, Moving the White Knight from f3 to g5, then using it to capture the black pawn on f7, while neglecting the development of your other pieces is breaking a principle and will leave you with a bad position. Even if you have a Bishop (as white) on c4 to co-attack the black f7 pawn, you’re opponent can still develop a solid position while you throw all your eggs into one attacking basket. Start with the same questions beginners should ask when determining where they’re going wrong first.

If you’re using the principles correctly, move on to the next set of questions, starting with pawn structure. They wouldn’t be so many books on pawn structure, not to mention numerous videos, if players didn’t have problems in this area. Many intermediate players are good at basic tactics and use tactical ideas to win games. However, they often do so while neglecting pawn structure. Why is pawn structure so important? Well, if you’re facing an opponent who is equally versed in tactics, you’ll most likely make it to the end game. They player with the better pawn structure going into the end game has an advantage. If you have isolated pawns and too many pawn islands, you’ll have to deal with those issues which means a lot of defending. Meanwhile, you’ll opponent, with the better pawn structure will be able to get one of his or her pawns to its promotion square. Intermediate players should consider the moves they make and how they’ll effect the end game.

Intermediate players should also look at their positional play as opposed to their tactical play. In the average scheme of things, intermediate players first get good at tactics which allows them to win a fair number of games. However, they eventually face off against the positional player, the player who worships Petrosian, and find the life slowly being strangled out of their position. The intermediate player should aim towards positional play, employing tactics if they come up and only if they don’t weaken the position. The intermediate player should be a balanced player, being equally good at the opening, middle and end games. Being great at one phase and not so great at the other two phases doesn’t win games.

So to break through that ceiling and get better, ask questions, starting with the simplest. Often you’ll find that a simple problem may be holding you back. Be systematic in your questioning. Here’s a game in which one player breaks a few opening principles and gets hammered for it. Enjoy.

Hugh Patterson

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Teaching Kids Through Classical Games (12)

Capablanca,Jose Raul – Fonaroff,Marc
New York , 1918

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0–0 d6

4…Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 is the so called Berlin wall, but that’s another story.

5.d4 Bd7

5…exd4 6.Qxd4 Bd7 7.Bxc6 Bxc6 leaves White with more space in the center.

6.Nc3 Be7 7.Re1

It is always been a good idea to ask what the opponent’s plan is. In this position White is threatening to win pawn, for example after 7…0–0 8.Bxc6 Bxc6 9.dxe5 dxe5 10.Qxd8 Raxd8 11.Nxe5 white is a pawn up, and if
11…Bxe4 12.Nxe4 Nxe4 then 13.Nd3 f5 14.f3 Bh4 15.g3 Nxg3 16.hxg3 Bxg3 leaves White a piece up for two pawns.

7…exd4 8.Nxd4 Nxd4 9.Qxd4 Bxb5 10.Nxb5

What has more space.

10…0–0 11.Qc3

Q: Please explain the logic behind Qc3.
A: It vacates the d4 square for White’s knight which can then head for f5. A very straight forward approach.

11…c6 12.Nd4 Nd7 13.Nf5

Checkmate is threatened.

13…Bf6 14.Qg3 Ne5 15.Bf4 Qc7 16.Rad1 Rad8

Q: Black has only one weakness on d6. How can you exploit it?
A: After 17.Qa3 Nc4 18.Qb4 the pawn on d6 is lost. But Capablanca had a different approach in mind.

17.Rxd6

17…Rxd6 18.Bxe5

Pause for the moment and see how you can save Black.

18…Rd1??

Here the computer suggests 18…Qa5 as the only move which can save the game, but Capablanca’s opponent failed to see it. The threat is to take both the rook and bishop, so 19.Bc3 forced after which 19…Bxc3 20.bxc3 Rg6 21.Ne7+ wins the exchange back.

19.Rxd1 Bxe5

Q : How white can finish off his opponent (hint – there is a possible back rank weakness)?

20.Nh6+!! Kh8 21.Qxe5 Qxe5 22.Nxf7+

Th point of whole combination that started with 17. Rxd6. Black resigned as he is piece down. And if 22… Rxf7 23.Rd8 and mate follows or 22…Kg8 23. Nxe5

1–0

Ashvin Chauhan

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A Modest Proposal

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

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

A lot of what we do is great.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard James

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The Sinking Ship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hugh Patterson

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