Category Archives: Children’s Chess

Thou Shalt Not Kill

A very simple question for you today. If your pupils talks about ‘killing’ rather than capturing or taking a piece, should you correct them?

I recall at least one book which says you should, ‘for obvious reasons’.

When I’m teaching a class I’ll use ‘capture’ or ‘take’ rather than ‘kill’, and will usually continue to do so, even if my pupils use other words. A few months ago, though, I was in a primary school classroom with a (female) class teacher who was using ‘kill’ all the time. If I’m teaching a private pupil I’ll start by using ‘capture’ or ‘take’ but if my pupil uses ‘kill’ I’ll probably join in. This is to some extent connected with last week’s post about the two types of teacher. When I’m doing one to one teaching I’ll try to get inside the mind of my student, in a sense almost to ‘become’ him. A colleague who saw me doing some one to one teaching a year or so ago commented that I was like a child, which is exactly what I try to be. So if the child sees a capture as ‘killing’ an enemy piece then I’m happy with that as well. Children are well aware of the difference between reality and fantasy, even if adults think they’re not. It always seems to me that adults spend a lot of time inventing problems that children don’t really have, while sometimes neglecting children’s very real (to them) problems.

I did once have a problem in this sort of area though. I was supervising a class doing a verbal reasoning paper. There was a code question which led to the answer ‘divorce’. This upset one boy whose parents were going through a particularly difficult divorce at the time. So it’s probably a good idea to be aware of individual circumstances.

There also seem to be interesting cultural differences. In my experience, children whose families originate from the Indian sub-continent, girls as well as boys, tend to say ‘kill’. French children, on the other hand, often say ‘eat’. I have no idea why – is ‘manger’ used in French?

Don’t forget that chess is a symbolic representation of a battle. If you’re fighting a real battle you might, according to circumstances, either capture or kill your enemy. You wouldn’t ‘take’ them, whatever that might mean, and you certainly wouldn’t eat them. If you capture your enemy they might escape, or you might, if feeling merciful, decide to release them. If you kill them, though, they’re out of the battle for good. The same is true of chess. The only way a piece can reappear is via pawn promotion, but, as we’re allowed more than one queen, it is very specifically a conversion of one piece to another rather than a lost piece coming back into the game.

So, in principle, I have, except in specific circumstances, no problem with ‘kill’, and I’ve never met a child who has a problem with the word either. As I’m aware that some adults do have a problem, I’m careful about when I use it. If a child leads I will follow. In a group environment I’d probably continue to use other words, but I wouldn’t correct any child who said ‘kill’ for ‘capture’. And, just in case you’re interested, I’m a lifelong pacifist.

Richard James


Which Chess Animal Are You?

As I’ve watched my younger beginning students play over the years, I’ve noticed that their style of play tends to parallel their personalities. While there are always exceptions to any observation, I’ve found, in general, that outgoing and aggressive children tend to play chess in a more aggressive and outgoing manner. They tend to favor attacking while reserved children tend to play more defensively. Of course, as they learn more about the game, they can change their chess personalities as they mature. I had a young student once ask me what kind of chess player he was. The young man was new to chess and extremely bright, wanting an answer to this question so he could concentrate his studies in the right area. This single question brought up some interesting points and problems regarding just how to answer such a question when the questioner is a child.

With an adult, a discussion could be initiated by exploring basic psychology and personality traits. We could create a profile based on our discussion. The profile would help identify character traits that would define the individual’s personality. However, with children, you can’t really have the same discussion because many of the concepts you’d be discussing with them would have no real meaning to the child. Knowing a child’s personality is a key factor in successful teaching both on and off the chessboard. Connecting with your students requires knowing a bit about their personalities.

While my chess classes are all about improving one’s chess skills, I also like to introduce other subjects or topics into my lessons. I do so because it demonstrates how intricately woven the game of chess is into the fabric of our world. When we examine the Italian opening, we talk a bit about Italy. When talking about the Fischer-Spassky match in 1972, we discuss the cold war (in gentler terms since I’m working with children). Because my students love chess, they’re inclined to be open-minded if I introduce a bit of art, science, geography or math in my lectures. I want my students to use the game of chess as a starting point for the greater exploration of knowledge in general!

In thinking about how to determine my student’s chess personalities I had a sudden realization that all my students shared one common interest, a love of animals. Younger or older, boy or girl, all my students had favorite animals. It was here that I decided to pose the question to them, what kind of animal are you?

Of course, with over 300 students, I had to streamline the questioning. I first defined the word personality as the things that make you who you are. If you help your friends you’re kind. If you aren’t easily frightened, you’re brave, etc. After going through a number of examples with my students, I created a list of thirty words we could use. I asked each student to write down five of those words that described their personalities. It was extremely interesting to see how each of my students saw themselves in relation to other students and adults. I was quite surprised at some of the lists that were created. Students I thought to be reserved viewed themselves as more aggressive and vice versa. I learned a great deal about each of my students through their lists of personality traits. Once we had the individual lists created, it was on to the animals.

My students know that creativity earns extra points in my classes. For example, I hold a checkmate of the month contest. The student with the most interesting checkmate for that month wins the contest. I take photographs of student checkmates, compare them to one another and the most unique mate wins. I started this contest to get my students to use pieces other than the Queen and Rooks when delivering mate. When approaching the subject of animals, I spoke with their regular classroom teachers to discover what animals those teachers had introduced in their curriculums. After my teacher consultations, I made a list of twenty animals, ranging from turtles to tigers. We dispensed with distinctions such as mammal versus non-mammal to keep things simple. I gave my students the list of twenty choices, mentioned that they could chose animals not on the list. Of course, a few students asked if animals not on the list were worthy of extra credit points (and yes they were worth extra credit points).

Under each animal on our list of twenty, were character traits of that animal. The Cheetah, for example has five character traits. The Cheetah was brave, aggressive, fast, careful (cautious) and smart. Each of the animals on the list had their own individual traits. I gave my students one week to find their animal. After my students had chosen their animals, I told them it was now time to own that animal. Most students asked what “owning their animal” meant. I explained that to own your animal, you had to write a brief half page biography of the animal demonstrating that you truly knew your animal. Once you did this, you understood your animal and could claim it (its personality traits) as your own. By writing the animal’s biography, you became the animal. I was pleasantly surprised that the majority of the written papers were over a page in length.

My favorite animal choice was the Hippopotamus. One of my advanced students said he was a Hippo. I asked him why. He said that everyone thought he was cute and nice. He went on to say the Hippo was very cute until it charged at you with his sharp teeth. I said “sharp teeth? I thought they were dull?” Apparently, the sides of the Hippo’s teeth are sharp, something I didn’t know and discovered through my student’s research. Knowing how this particular student played chess, I knew why he chose the Hippo. He chose the Hippo because he could produce devastating attacks from a seemingly passive position!

Once the students had become their animals (metaphorically speaking), it was time to apply this to the game of chess. We created a list of chess personalities, ranging from totally aggressive and attacking to defensive and positional, matching the student’s animals with their chess personality. Once the children had their chess personality, we started work on strengthening their traits. With aggressive attacking players, we worked on making their attacks more coordinated. With defensive players we worked on building up their defensive skills.

Of course, these student’s chess personalities will change over time as their personality changes and their game gets better. However, this provides them with s starting point, allowing them to build a better foundation for their game. Speaking of games, here’s one to enjoy until next week! What kind of chess animal are these two players?

Hugh Patterson


Two Types of Teacher

The other day I was reading an interview with the pianist Stephen Hough in which he was asked about his relationship with Vlado Perlemuter. (If you’re interested, the March 2014 BBC Music Magazine’s cover mount CD features Perlemuter playing Ravel and Fauré, and the album notes include the interview with Hough.) This got me thinking about two types of teacher.

Perlemuter, according to Hough, was very kind and encouraging, and he loved receiving advice from him. But, he added, “His approach was always ‘this is it’… In one sense it’s invaluable hearing him say ‘The composer says this’. But the reverse issue is that there isn’t just the one way to play …”

Hough compares Perlemuter, whom he played for at a few masterclasses in the late 70s, with another of his teachers, Gordon Green. “…Gordon … would never demonstrate anything because everything was about the student’s own personality being developed.”

Two different types of teacher, then.

Vlado Perlemuter had an international reputation as one of the 20th century’s finest interpreters of Chopin, Fauré and Ravel, whom he knew well. What an opportunity it must have been for a young pianist to spend time with him learning first hand how he played. But, because of Perlemuter’s insistence that his way was the only way, Hough decided not to study with him permanently.

Gordon Green, on the other hand, wasn’t a famous international soloist or recording artist, but if you spend any time reading English pianists’ interviews and biographies his name will crop up over and over again as an influential teacher who encouraged his students to develop their own personalities. I’m sure some star virtuosi also have Green’s teaching ability, but, as it’s a totally different skill, there’s no reason why they should all possess it.

If you’re an ambitious young pianist you’ll benefit from both approaches: regular lessons from someone like Gordon Green and occasional masterclasses with top soloists like Vlado Perlemuter. A less experienced pianist, though, will probably only need the regular lessons with a gifted teacher. Although she might enjoy a session with an international star, any advice might only leave her confused. Listening to the star’s CDs or attending concerts along with her teacher might be more useful.

If you’re an ambitious young chess player, you’ll probably also benefit in different ways from both types of teacher: a regular coach who encourages you to develop your own style enhanced by occasional sessions with a top grandmaster who will show you how he plays. Chess teaching, though, is rather different from piano teaching. By its nature, piano teaching usually happens one to one. Chess tuition, on the other hand, usually happens in groups, although many learners also have one to one lessons. Group lessons, by their nature, tend not to be personalised. Looking at how Kasparov or Carlsen plays might be confusing. Looking at how Morphy or Greco played would be more useful, but can still confuse beginners.

So, if you’re a chess teacher doing one to one tuition, which type of teacher are you? Do you show your students how you play, or how grandmasters play, and tell them, or at least imply, that’s how they should play as well? Or do you build on your students’ prior knowledge and encourage them to develop their own personalities and styles?

If you’re looking for a chess teacher, either for yourself or for your children, ask yourself which type of teacher you’re looking for and, if you have someone in mind, ask questions to find out his approach.

Richard James


Knights Versus Bishops

When we first learn the game of chess, we’re taught the relative values of the pawns and pieces. Pawns serve as the basis for this system of valuation, having a relative value of one. The Queen, the most powerful of the pieces, has a relative value of nine while the Rooks have a relative value of five. Lastly, there are the minor pieces and this is where beginners often run into trouble. Both the Knights and Bishops have a relative value of three. However, this value can fluctuate depending on specific positional circumstances. To merely think of either of these minor pieces (Knight or Bishop) as being equal under all circumstances can lead to disaster! Note, I’m leaving the King’s value out of this discussion because the King is priceless and normally comes into play later on in the game when there are fewer pieces on the board.

It helps the beginner if he or she truly understands the meaning of the word “relative.” As generally defined by the dictionary, relative means something, such as a chess piece, considered in relation or in proportion to something else, such as other chess pieces. This definition should extend beyond merely comparing one piece or pawn to another. It can be used, in chess terms, to compare a piece to a specific situation or position on the chessboard and it is within this idea that the beginner often becomes befuddled.

Knights and Bishops share a relative value based on the limitations of their movement. The Knight is a short distance piece, meaning that (because of its unique yet limited way of moving) it moves rather slowly. The Bishop, on the other hand, can cover great distances in a single move, making it a long distance piece. However, the Bishops can only travel diagonally along squares of the same color. One Bishop starts on a light colored square and the other on a dark colored square. The Bishops can never change square colors. Unlike the Bishop, the Knight can cover both light and dark squares. A Knight that starts on a light square ends its move on a dark square and vice versa. So the slow moving Knights can cover all the squares on the board while each Bishop can only cover half the squares on the board. Knights are short distance attackers or defenders while Bishops are long distance attackers or defenders.

I mentioned that the value of these minor pieces can fluctuate depending on positional situations. To understand this we have to understand two key types of positions, opened and closed. In an open position, the board contains open or partially open ranks, files and diagonals. This means that long distance pieces, such as the Bishops have room to move or mobility. A Bishop can control a great deal of territory in an open position. In a closed position, the ranks, files and diagonals are blocked by pawns and pieces. In a closed position, the Bishop’s mobility is limited. However, the Knight’s special ability to jump over other pieces allows it move around with greater freedom. This ability to jump over other pieces (both friendly and enemy) allows the Knight to ignore traffic jams, especially at the board’s center. Another important consideration is that you cannot block an attack by a Knight, which adds to their value (depending upon the position of course).
Beginners are first taught simple e pawn openings which lead to open games. The Italian opening is one that serves to help teach basic opening principles, which is why many beginners learn it. As previously mentioned, an attack by a Knight cannot be blocked. This is one of the Knight’s special powers, the other being the ability to jump over other pieces. The Bishop has its own special power, in addition to being a long distance piece, the ability to pin. Take a look at the example below:

In this example, the Bishop is pinning the Knight on f3 to its Queen on d1. There are two types on pins, relative and absolute. In a relative pin, as seen in our example, the Knight could move but Black could capture the White Queen, gaining a material advantage early on. In an absolute pin, the piece being pinned is the King, which means that as long as the pin is maintained, the pinned piece cannot move since it is illegal to expose the King to check. I’m using the above example to illustrate a point regarding the relative value of the Knight and Bishop. We know the Knight and Bishop have a relative value of three. However, are the Knight and Bishop involved in our example’s pin really equal in value, given the current position? Our poor Knight on f3 is temporarily stuck there. If he moves, the Queen is lost. The Knight’s mobility has been seriously hampered or has it? We’ll answer that question later on. By being a victim of the Bishop pin, the White Knight has lost some value.

The Bishop, on the other hand, has some mobility along the h3-c8 diagonal. More importantly, the Bishop is doing an important job. He is keeping the f3 Knight out of the game or is he? Having some mobility and performing an important task such as a relative pin, the Bishop appears to be of greater value. Piece mobility is crucial, especially with Bishops. Since Bishops are long distance pieces, they do best when they have maximum mobility which means greater control of territory on the board. This is why it is best not to lock in our Bishops in an open position. Try to give them as much mobility or freedom as possible. Now let’s take a look at another example. I’ve changed things bit to answer the questions asked earlier.

We see the basic position with a slight change in position. The Knight on f3 is still being pinned to the Queen by the Black Bishop on g4. However, White ignores the pin and captures the pawn on e5. Black, using the relative value system taught to all beginners, captures the White Queen with his Bishop. He thinks this is a wonderful gain in material. Why would White give up his Queen? Because he is about to deliver a deadly checkmate! After White’s Queen is captured, The Bishop on c4 captures the f7 pawn, checking the Black King. The King has to move to e7 and White delivers mate with the following move, Nd5! The point of showing you this is to demonstrate that simply using the relative value system to guide you doesn’t guarantee a winning game. Yes, Black did capture a piece of great relative value with his Bishop. However, having more material than your opponent doesn’t mean you’ll win the game.

Using relative value as a strict measure of a piece value leads to mechanical thinking and mechanical thinking can be a bad thing! When my students start a game, I always ask them to assess the value of their Knights and Bishops throughout the game, using the ideas mentioned earlier. Interestingly, I notice that these minor pieces tend to stay in my student’s games a bit longer and get treated with the respect they deserve. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

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Hugh Patterson


Rook And King Vs. King

Learning elementary checkmates is a first step towards learning endgames. Today I’m going to discuss the checkmate with rook and king against the king. Students must have a prior knowledge of checkmate with a queen and king and also stalemate. In case you need some guidance here is the nice article written by Richard James.

In order to do checkmate with rook and king, I have divided the process into 3 parts.

1) Reduce the box. For example your rook is on a1 and opponent king is on d5 then the opponent king has freedom to move in (from b2-b8-h8-h2-b2) box and our aim is to reduce that box to force the opponent king to move to the edge of the board. As we all know that a queen is alone able to force the opponent king to move to edge of the board, but the rook can’t do this so you need your king to be there to support the rook.

Image 1

2) Once the opponent king is at edge of the board, keep your rook away.

3) Try to force the position where both kings are opposed to each other with a distance of a square.

Here is an example to illustrate the process.

Ashvin Chauhan


The Why Game

If you know any Annoying Small Children, or if you were once an Annoying Small Child yourself, you’ll be familiar with the Why Game.

You know how it works. Annoying Small Child asks you a question. You answer, then they ask “Why?”. Every time you give an answer they ask “Why?” again. When I was a boy the game stopped when the adult gave the ASC a clip round the ear and told him to stop being cheeky, but this is no longer considered acceptable so the game continues.

When a child comes up to me at a chess club or tournament and says “I won”, “I drew” or “I lost” I will usually ask them why. If they lost the game they’ll usually reply “because he checkmated me”, whereupon I ask “Why?” again. They tend to think I’m playing the Why Game with them, but there’s actually a serious purpose behind my questioning. They’ll eventually tell me that checkmate was the reason for their loss, but if they hadn’t made a mistake and allowed the mate they might have won. Further investigation will reveal that they were probably several pieces down at the time. They may have made a mistake and allowed a quick mate, but it would only have delayed the inevitable defeat. What I really want them to say is that they made a mistake and lost a piece, after which their opponent only had to be careful to win the game. We, as experienced players and mature thinkers, understand that if we’re a piece up it’s easier for us to set up tactics, win even more pieces and get checkmate because we have more pieces to attack with and our opponent has fewer pieces to defend with. But young children often don’t think this way. They don’t appreciate my second, or rather, third, TLA of the day: SFW (other things being equal, Superior Force usually Wins). On the other hand, when I asked a younger but stronger player why he drew a game, he explained to me that he was a pawn up in the ending and thought maybe he could have won it. This is exactly the sort of answer I want.

The same thing happens when I’m playing or analysing a game with a pupil. Before I started asking “Why?” I assumed that if they left a piece en prise it was because they didn’t look (either a fundamental misunderstanding of chess or a failure of impulse control) or because they looked but didn’t see (a failure of chessboard vision, or, in non-chess terminology, eye-brain coordination). The other day two boys at Richmond Junior Club were eager to play white against me. In both games they left pieces en prise. When I asked why they told me they knew and weren’t worried about it because they were busy pursuing their attack on the other side of the board.

This is the problem with showing brilliant games and sacrifices to less experienced players. Of course we want to encourage them to be both aggressive and creative in their play, to appreciate the beauty of great games, to learn to think ahead and much else. But if they see these ideas before they’ve fully appreciated the SFW principle they may well get confused about the whole idea of chess. They need to learn to follow the basic principles of chess before learning when to break them. They need to learn to walk before they can run.

Another problem is that children at this level are not very good at defending. Witness this recent game by one of the boys I played that day. Our hero, needless to say, was Black.

It’s very true, as this game demonstrates, that you can lose most of your pieces and still get checkmate, but once you get into the habit of thinking that losing pieces doesn’t matter it’s hard to get out of it.

In his song Teach Your Children, Graham Nash advised parents: “Don’t you ever ask them why”. I prefer to parse this as a question for chess teachers: “Don’t you ever ask them why?”.

Richard James


Middle Game Principles

Beginners are taught that the middle game in chess is the realm of tactics. Playing through the games of the masters, we often see amazing tactical fireworks erupting on the board during this phase of the game. However, when the beginner tries to produce their own tactical fireworks, they often fizzle out. This happens because the beginner doesn’t understand how to build up a position that creates a solid tactical strike. To the beginner, the master seems to create tactical fireworks out of thin air, as if they were a magician. If the beginner studies the game closely, they’ll be able to see how the master builds up a position that allows them to employ specific tactics. However, this requires the understanding of a few basic middle game principles or ideas. These principles have an added bonus of reinforcing the use of opening principles since your middle game is only as good as your opening. Here are a few ideas I teach to my students regarding the middle game:

Build up your position before launching an attack. After you’ve developed your pieces to active squares during the opening phase of the game, look at each piece and ask yourself the question, “Can I improve this piece’s position?” Can you move your pieces to more active squares, those that control more territory on the board? Since both players are trying to achieve the same goal in the opening, good pawn and piece placement, chances are that some of your pawns and pieces have not reached their most active squares. This happens because your opponent got some of his or her pawns and pieces to squares that control the squares you wish to occupy. If you can get your pieces to their most active squares prior to launching an attack, you increase the chances of your attack being successful.

Don’t consider launching an attack until you have control of the board’s center. Too often, beginners launch premature attacks before they have any real control of the board’s center. One of two things happens. Either they don’t have enough centralized firepower to successfully attack, which is easily rebuffed by their opponent, or their lack of central control allows their opponent to launch a more successful counter attack. If you have only half of your available forces committed to the board’s center and your opponent has the majority of his forces committed to the board’s center, you’re out gunned. You will also have your already weak central forces further weakened by a counter attack which is why you have to build up a strong position in the center before attacking. Trying to attack with a minority force will further weaken your position. To avoid this problem, build up your army around the board’s center before attacking. When you’re ready to attack, always count the number of attackers and defenders. You’ll need to have more attackers than defenders to ensure a successful attack and more defenders than attackers when facing an attack. Moving pawns and pieces to their most active squares helps you reach a stronger middle game position.

If your opponent attacks you on the flanks, do not fight back on the flanks (unless you cannot avoid it). Beginners often rush their pawns and pieces into the action, wherever it is. However, your opponent may have ulterior motives for a flank attack, such as trying to divide your forces and weaken your position. Let’s say that you’ve followed the opening principles and have built up a strong presence at the board’s center. Your opponent may attack you on one of the flanks hoping you’ll divert pieces that make up your strong central position away from the center to fight back. If you do this, your central control is weakened and your opponent has a chance to strengthen his or her position (in th4e center). If your opponent attacks you on the flanks, fight back not on the flanks but at the board’s center. You opponent has sent part of his army to fight away from the board’s center. Therefore, he is weakening any grasp he has on the central squares. This creates a perfect opportunity to counter attack an already weak center. This has the added bonus of further dividing your opponent’s forces. You pawns and pieces should work together to maintain control of the center rather than go off on a wild, center weakening goose chase on the flanks.

Maintain the ability to quickly mobilize your forces to any part of the board quickly. Having previously said that we should maintain a strong presence in the center during the middle game, it is important to remember that one player or the other is eventually going to try and weaken their opponent’s position and it may be elsewhere on the board, such as near a castled King. As the middle game progresses, a weakness in a player’s position may become apparent and then become the target of an attack. If you’re the attacker, you need to be able to rapidly deploy your pieces to your opponent’s weak spot and attack. If you’re the player with the positional weak spot, you need to marshal your forces quickly to defend your position. While you should lock down the board’s center early in the middle game, you don’t want to create such a rigid position that you can’t move your army quickly into battle elsewhere on the board. How do you do this?

Keep your pieces off of the edge of the board. The reason the center of the board is so critical during the opening and early middle game is because pieces have greater power when they’re centralized. By greater power, I mean the ability to control more squares on the board. A piece such as the Knight, stuck on the Queenside, is going to take a long time to reach the action if it’s over on the Kingside. Centralized pieces have the ability to move into the action a lot faster than pieces on the board’s edges.

Watch your pawn structure during the middle game. Beginners have a tendency to ignore pawn structure going into the middle game. Strongly placed pawns can create a headache for your opponent. Use pawns to protect pawns, rather than using the minor pieces for babysitting duties. One exercise I have my students do it to set up a second board next to them as they play against other students in my classes. Only pawns are set up on the second board . Each time a move is made on the actual game board that involves a pawn, the corresponding move is made on the “pawn structure board.” This allows the students to see their pawn structure throughout the game very clearly since there are no pieces on that board. It takes a bit of work but it serves to illustrate how a player’s pawn structure is laid out (weak or strong) as the game progresses.

Lastly, activate your Rooks. I am amazed at how many junior players simply ignore their Rooks until the endgame. After moving your Queen up a rank in the opening, your Rooks are connected. Even during the early part of the middle game, Rooks can back up pawns and pieces from the safety of their starting rank.

While there are a number of other middle game considerations, I start beginners off with this short list to get them thinking about good middle game play. In a later article, I’ll talk about some of these additional middle game ideas. However, it is best not to overwhelm the beginner with too much in the way of theory. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson


King and Pawn

Here’s an extract from a game between two of Richmond Junior Chess Club’s less experienced members. Black, the older and stronger of the two boys, has a rook, knight and pawn against his opponent’s lone king, as well as the advantage of the move. It should be easy to win, shouldn’t it?

Mr Silicon Knowall announces mate in 4 here, starting with the rather improbable 46.. Rd4 47. Ke8 Nd8, but your first thought might be just to push f5 as the white king is behind the pawn. Black did indeed push his pawn, but only one square. (It’s interesting how often less experienced players forget that pawns can still move two squares on their first move when they reach the ending.) Still winning easily, of course, but no need to lose the knight unless your pawn’s going straight through. It looks like Black failed to ask himself the vital question “If I do that, what will he do next?” before making his move.

Anyway, White took the knight and Black continued his plan of advancing the pawn: 47. Kxe6 f5 48. Ke5 Re4+ 49. Kd5. But now came 49.. f4, repeating the same mistake from three moves ago and this time losing his important rook and ending up in a drawn KP v K ending. Most children soon learn to check that they’re moving a piece to a safe square, but what they find a lot harder is to see when they’re leaving another piece unsafe, for example, as here, by moving a defender. A minimal position such as this provides a graphic illustration of the problem. Black understandably wants to promote his pawn, but again fails to ask himself “If I do that, what will he do next?”.

So, 50. Kxe4 Kg5, reaching the next diagram.

A critical position with White to move which every serious player needs to know and understand. Most beginners’ manuals start off their coverage of KP v K with the rule of the square, but this sort of position is far more important. You’ll almost always find in practice that the kings start off close to the pawn, as here. Let’s see whether our two novices knew what to do.

The next two moves were natural and fine: 51. Kf3 Kf5 52. Ke2 (here any move to the second rank draws, but one rank down and only Kf1 would draw, which is why I teach children always to retreat to the same file as the enemy pawn) 52.. Ke4 Now White has to play Kf2 to draw, but if you don’t know this and you lack the skills to work it out it’s natural, I suppose, to play 53. Kf1 instead, which is what happened.

Now Black has two winning moves. Everyone should know that the position after 53.. Kf3 is won with either player to move. It might be harder to remember that the position after 53.. Ke3 is also won regardless of the move. But Black, again naturally if you don’t know the position, played 53.. f3 instead. It may be counter-intuitive but you have to remember to get your king in front of the pawn. Now White has one way to draw: 54. Kf2! Kf4 55. Kf1! Not knowing this, he played 54. Kg1 instead and after 54.. Ke3 55. Kh1 f2 Black managed to promote his pawn and eventually win the game. (White’s 55th move is strange but here it doesn’t make any difference. Inexperienced players often move their king away from the pawn in these endings and if you ask them why they’ll tell you that if they keep near the pawn they might get checked.)

Two important lessons for all novices (and all who teach novices) from this. Always ask yourself the question “If I do that, what will my opponent do next?” to avoid losing pieces by moving or blocking defenders. And make sure you know the basic KP v K endings, backwards, forwards and inside out, blindfold and with your hands tied behind your back.

Richard James


What Chess Can Do For You

Chess is thought of in many ways. To some, it’s merely a game to be enjoyed occasionally, used to pass the time on a rainy day. To others, it becomes a lifelong passion, a mental challenge that can be both satisfying and maddening at the same time. It’s an art, a blank canvas upon which serious players try to create a lasting masterpiece. It’s also a science, slowly revealing its mysteries to only those willing to wade into the deepest of its waters. However, it can also be employed as a method of rescue for those suffering both mental and physical ailments. It can offer hope to people who feel hopelessly lost in the world.

I got the idea for this article after reading Franklin Chen’s last wonderful article and a comment made by International Master Andrew Martin. The article used a recent highly publicized game between Grandmaster Magnus Carlsen and Microsoft founder Bill Gates as its focal point. Andrew had commented that the game (not the article which was wonderful) did nothing for the image of chess. Again, Franklin’s article was fantastic. It got me thinking about the image that people have of chess and how off the mark many people’s image of the game has become. A good piece of writing is meant to get you thinking and Franklin’s article did just that!

People who don’t play chess tend to think of the game as just that, a board game. This same group of people tends to think that those who play it and take it seriously are a bit off kilter. After all, how can anyone spend countless hours each and every day pushing little plastic or wooden pieces across an over glorified checkerboard. This is also the same group that thinks that all chess players are rocket scientists. The image of chess has been used in countless story lines, be it in novels or film. How many times has a movie villain said “checkmate” to denote that the film’s hero has lost his or her battle. Film and television shows often have a chessboard set up in a scene to let us know that the character is smart. He or she must be. After all, there’s a chessboard in the scene so they must play chess which makes them smart!

Chess is so much more than just a game! Chess can change your life in a plethora of ways. I know this from firsthand experience and wish to share with you exactly what chess did to change my life. When I was a young man, I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time. As a boy, I dreamed of becoming a guitarist in a rock and roll band. As a thirteen year old, I would jump up and down on my bed, playing air guitar with my friends. Eventually, I graduated to a real guitar, starting practicing and at the age of seventeen was playing professionally. By eighteen, I had two singles recorded and was touring. Being a seventeen year old, touring the country and playing night after night in clubs was a dream come true. However, after a decade and a half, I had developed some bad habits. Eventually, my life fell apart and I hit rock bottom. When I decided to pull myself up by my boot straps and try living life again, it was chess that got me through the hard times. When I felt as if I had completely ruined my life and had nothing to look forward to, there was always the chess board. Many a night, I sat with a chess book, playing through games to fight off depression and despair. Fortunately, I was able to get back on track and rebuild my shattered career as a musician. One thing chess taught me during those dark times was how to make sound decisions. My thinking, once muddy and tattered at best, became clearer. This led to being able to play music with some of my childhood heroes. Through those chaotic times, I felt adrift in a sea of uncertainty and chess served as a beacon that guided me to safer and better shores.

With my music career back on track, I felt on top of the world. I continued to play chess, even when in the studio recording. I even brought a chess set to shows and would play backstage to curve my stage fright. It seemed that everything was going gang busters (you kids will have to look that term up). Then I noticed a small lump on the side of my neck. At the time, I was singing in two bands as well as playing guitar so I thought I might have strained a muscle in my neck. It turned out that I had cancer. I went from being given a 50% chance of surviving to a 12-20% chance of survival. Of course, I was determined to fight back. I signed up for the most aggressive Radiation and Chemotherapy I could get. Needless to say, the treatment wasn’t fun. The one thing I feared the most was being alone with my own thoughts. Our own thoughts can be wonderful when our lives are going well. However, they can be downright detrimental to our well being when things are not going well in our lives.

I didn’t want to be alone with my thoughts. I didn’t want to have to wander through the dark landscape that had infested my normally happy mind. Once again, chess saved the day. As sick as I was from the treatments, I could manage to play chess and did so online. Rather than sit each day, counting the passing hours, I played chess. Of course my game was terrible (it hasn’t gotten much better) but that in itself was good because it made me want to get better, sick or not. I purchased some chess books and used my down time to study the game. Somehow, I managed to beat the odds and roughly three weeks after getting my first clean bill of health, I got my first job teaching chess.

I share this personal experience because I want you to know that chess is more than just a game. It saved my life. It can be used as a tool to help children improve their ability to problem solve. It can help people with addiction problems learn how to make good decisions. It can help those faced with grave illnesses stay out of their darkest thoughts, and yes, it can even be a great way to spend a rainy days indoors.

Here’s a bit of homework, which I thought I’d throw in after reading Richard James’s last article for The Chess Improver: Having read this posting, write down three things in your life that need improving. Think about how chess can help you improve in those areas and write it down. Take this information and adhere it to your refrigerator. Read what you wrote down each day, play some chess and watch your life change. Chess can change your life for the better and I’m living proof of that. Positive change comes from within and chess can offer you a hand in making that change. Here’s game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson


First Tournament for Kids

Recently 14 juniors I coach participated in their first tournament outside of school in a borough schools championship. I run chess clubs at three schools in the Kingston-upon-Thames and I invited those players that were ready to participate in the Championship on 25 January. At stake were individual and school prizes (based on the top four scorers from each school). The tournament had U7, U9, U11, U14 and U18 sections, and players could score 3 points for a win, 2 for a draw and 1 for a loss.

This was a first Kingston Borough Schools Chess Championships, organised by the same organiser of the UK Chess Challenge, Mike Basman. The idea is to encourage chess in schools, both primary and secondary, by providing a competition between local schools.

There were over 50 players, which wasn’t bad I think given this was the first time this event has taken place. There were entrants from schools that have very well established chess clubs, and also schools that have relatively new chess clubs (such as mine that have only been going about a year). It was good to see so many new players, who were excited about playing their first tournament and by the end were keen to do another! I noticed that the U9 section was easily the largest section, while the U11/U14/U18 sections were merged into one and was essentially an U11 section apart from maybe 2-3 players. I think this reflects the sad fact that while chess clubs are popular at primary level, they are not so well represented at secondary level. This tournament gave children in local secondary schools an opportunity to play in a tournament (all the schools were contacted), but clearly supply is only one side of the equation, there also needs to be demand.



What I liked about this tournament format is it enabled players to try their first tournament locally, where they knew some classmates, and where families were welcome. This was reassuring for young players who may feel nervous about going to an event where they don’t know anyone. Feedback from my players suggests that it was very enjoyable event; there were no tears over losses (which I had feared); and it seemed a very friendly and supportive environment for them to test their chess skills against peers.

The Prize Giving

The Prize Giving

It was heartening to see these young students have the courage to try and be rewarded for their efforts, with some of them winning rosettes for creditable performances, while for others the reward was the novelty of their first tournament experience and some memorable lessons.

Angus James