Category Archives: Children’s Chess

The Importance of the Endgame One

Most novice games conclude well before the endgame. Teaching chess in the schools, I’m faced with the difficult task of teaching the rules of the game, basic tactics as well as simple opening, middle and endgame principles in an eight month period. Anyone who has studied this fantastic game knows all too well that it can take many years just to become proficient in only one of these areas. In a perfect chess teaching world, I’d start my students off with endgame instruction after they’ve learned the rules. However, both the parents and the schools I teach in want results and results means seeing the students I teach playing chess immediately. Because of this and the fact that many of my students are learning the game for the first time, endgame skills are not as large a part of the curriculum as I’d like. Because my beginning students don’t usually reach a proper endgame, they don’t realize just how important the endgame is, even with the limited training I give them. Thus the reason for this and upcoming articles.

The endgame is reached when most of the material has been exchanged off of the board and both players are left with a few pawns, a minor piece or two, sometimes a major piece, and their Kings. While it might seem that, with less material on the board, that this phase of the game is easier to deal with, the opposite is true. In the endgame, real positional calculation is required and the loss of the smallest amount of material can be the difference between winning and losing. Patience and deep thinking is required, something young minds often lack since both require a certain level of maturity that is garnered with time (growing up). Therefore, I’m presenting, in a series of articles, some endgame ideas that all beginners should learn, starting with pawn promotion.

In previous articles, I’ve mentioned that beginners tend to think of pawns as expendable. The novice player gives them away during the opening and middle-game because he or she has eight of them and they’re the least valued material in their army. However, pawns have two unique qualities that make them vital throughout the game (not to be given away so freely). First off, because they’re on the lowest end of the relative value scale, they can push back material of greater value. More importantly and critical to winning in the endgame, they can promote into a Queen, Rook, Bishop or Knight. That means that every pawn that reaches its promotion square can transform itself into a dangerous piece! All it takes is a single pawn reaching it’s promotion square and the game will be won, if you know how to do it!

To promote a pawn, you need to get that pawn safely across the board. This means that a white pawn starting on the second rank must reach the eighth rank to promote and a black pawn starting on the seventh rank must get to the first rank to promote. A pawn doesn’t even have to reach its promotion square to pose a threat to your opponent. If you’re playing white and manage to get a pawn to the seventh rank, keeping in mind that you must have a pawn or piece protecting that pawn on the seventh rank, your opponent will be forced to use a piece to stop that pawn from promoting. The piece stopping the promotion by blocking the promotion square, for example, is no longer able to participate in the game. That piece is stuck as a baby sitter for your pawn. In an endgame, since both players have less material on the board, this can be devastating. We’ll look at this later on in this series of articles because first, the beginner needs to learn the simplest of pawn promotions, pawn and King against lone King.

I show this example to my beginning students and ask one simple question: “It’s white to move. Who moves first, the pawn or the King?” Beginners are taught King safety from day one of their chess careers, so they tend to think that Kings must always be protected which leads them to believe that the King doesn’t participate in the game. They also know that the pawn is worth less than the King in terms of relative value. Therefore, they more often than not say, “move the pawn.” They recoil in horror, well not really, but I like the image of 25 students gasping and recoiling in horror when I sternly say “WRONG!” It’s the white King who must make the first move if white is to win. When you’ve reduced a position to pawns and Kings only, the King now has the opportunity to become a very powerful attacker and defender.

This is where the extremely powerful idea of King opposition comes into play. Simply put, King opposition is a position in which two Kings face one another with a square between them (remember my friends who are new to the game, King’s can never be on squares immediately next to one another). King opposition is crucial to white promoting its pawn. Why? Well, since King’s cannot be on adjacent squares, an imaginary line is created that cannot be crossed by either King when in opposition.

For white to win, in the above example, the King must get in front of the pawn. Therefore, the first move white makes is 1. Kd2, aiming for getting in front of the pawn and King opposition. Black makes a point of moving towards the white pawn with 1…Ke7. The experienced player manning the white pieces will easily win. However, the beginner, employing the idea that material of lesser value should go out on the board first and King’s should always stay out of danger, will move the pawn out first and end up with a draw rather than victory. In this type of endgame position, the King moves first.

Move two, 2. Ke3, puts our King in front of the pawn which is just where we want his majesty. The black King is going to do everything in his power to stop the pawn from promoting, so he tries to stand in it’s path with 2…Ke6. When do we move our pawn? Not yet because we need to have both Kings in opposition which white does with 3. Ke4. Now black stands at a crossroad. Since neither King can occupy an immediately adjacent square, black has to yield to the white King by 3…Kd6. This is the first of two important moves. Remember the key to this problem is keeping the black King off of the white pawn’s promotion square. Next, white plays 4. Kf5. Black plays 4…Kd5. Many beginners will think, “ah, Black is going after the white pawn.” However, since pawns can move one or two squares forward on their first move (and the e2 pawn hasn’t moved yet), white can now make the first pawn move, 5. e4+, driving the black King back. Black plays 5…Kd6 with the idea of trying to get to white’s promotion square first. Move six, 6. Kf6 sees the two Kings in opposition once again, a crucial concept in this type of position. Black plays 6…Kd7 and it looks as if black can occupy the promotion square, thwarting white’s plans.

With move seven 7. e5, white pushes the pawn up while still allowing room for his King to stand in front of that pawn. Black wins the race to white’s promotion square after 7…Ke8 but things are not always as they seem! Remember, white needs to have his King if front of the pawn which he does with 8. Ke6. This is the second crucial move because now, black’s King will have to yield to the white King. Black plays 8…Kf8 and white can use his King to control the promotion square with 9. Kd7 which shuts out the black King’s control over e8. Black plays 9…Kf7 and gets hit with 10. e6+ and no way to stop the pawn from promoting.

The key factors here are getting your King in front of the pawn and using King opposition to control your opponent’s King. The white King was able to force the black King away from squares the white pawn needed to occupy. The King is a valuable attacker in the endgame and should be used. A point well worth mentioning is patience. Beginners tend to think that they can simply steamroll their pawn up the board quickly and win the game with a fast promotion. However, if you don’t carefully and slowly consider your moves you might end up with a stalemate or worse yet, losing your only pawn. I’ve seen this countless times in the games of beginners. Take your time and think things through.

Lastly, things greatly change in endgame positions depending on whose move it is. Had it been black’s move at the start of this example, things would turn out differently. I’ll reflect on this later in this series of articles. Until next week’s second part of this series, here’s a game to enjoy by a couple of fellows who know a thing or two about endgame play!

Hugh Patterson

Kids and Chess, Part Five

For this week’s article I decided to pick on Benson Walent again. In this OTB chess game Benson played fairly well but he still lost in under 30 moves. The time control for this event was Game in 40 minutes with a 5 second delay. When Benson resigned he was down to about three and a half minutes while I still had 25 minutes. I moved too quickly at certain points in this chess game and thus I missed a couple of chances to win more quickly than I did. Benson took too long to move and ended up in time trouble.

When playing against beginners I can get overly confident and thus a little sloppy. My play was a little sloppy in this chess game because I was playing the Botvinnik system and did not check to see if I had better moves. Also, I will often trade down into an endgame and outplay my opponents there.

In recent events I discovered that I no longer have the endurance to grind out endgames and that strategy does not work well for me when I have no time to rest between rounds. In future rapid events, I will be slowing down in the openings and looking to crush my opponents there and try to win before we get to an endgame.

Mike Serovey

Calculation For Beginners

Calculation is one of the most difficult concepts the beginner must learn in order to play winning chess. Calculation in chess means thinking ahead in terms of moves, not just yours but those of your opponent. I’ve had a student say, after studying with me for only a few months, that he can calculate three or four moves in advance in any given position. While you might say “hey, this Patterson fellow must be a great chess teacher if his students can do that in such a short period of time,” but sadly you’d be wrong. What the student was actually saying is that they are calculating their three or four next moves but not those of their opponent! That’s a big problem since their opponent will most likely make a single move that derails the student’s plans. Real chess calculation requires anticipating the best possible move your opponent can make and going forward from there. Calculation only works if you think about both sides of the board.

Beginners don’t think about their opponent’s potential moves when calculating their own. They look at the position and see a possible attack that garners them material or checkmate. They think “all I have to do is move this piece here, that piece there, followed by another piece to another square” and they win material or the game. They become blind to their opponent’s position, only seeing their own pawns and pieces. While experienced players consider this absurd, we have to keep in mind that you make a lot of mistakes when you first start out (I certainly have done this). The more experienced player calculates by considering the opposition’s placement of pawns and pieces and the best response their opponent can make in response to the experienced players move.

So the beginner should start their journey towards making sound calculations by looking at their opponent’s position. I have my students look at every opposition pawn and piece before considering any move. The question they must ask themselves is what is the best move each opposition pawn and piece can make? While this takes time, it serves to force the beginner to look at their opponent’s material and not just their own. This is when the beginner will suddenly notice that, for example, one of their pieces could be captured because it is unguarded. They’ll also might discover that the square they’re planning on attacking as part of their plan, has more defenders than the beginner has attackers. Just looking at a position in this manner can soundly point out any flaw in our beginner’s plan or prevent the loss of hanging pieces.

I have an exercise in which, after each student makes their move, they switch sides, make their moves and switch sides again. So the student playing the white pieces makes a move, as does the student playing black, and then they switch sides with the person previously playing white, now playing the black pieces for a single move. They students go back and forth, switching sides with each move. This really forces students to see both sides of the board and helps develop the idea of finding their opponent’s best move.

Finding your opponent’s best move before making a move of your own goes a long way towards developing good calculation techniques. After all, your move is only good if it factors in your opponent’s best repsonse. In fact, you shouldn’t consider any move until you consider what you would do, your opponent’s best move, if you were on the other side of the board.

So what should you consider as a good or great opposition move? First off, it goes without saying that any move that derails your immediate plans counts! However, as I pointed out in my last article, great moves are those that simply do their job, so there are many choices. For now we’ll concentrate on two types of opposition moves the beginner should look for, the move that derails their immediate plan and the move that leaves the attacker suddenly as the defender. Let’s start with the derailing move.

Beginners tend to think that their opponent doesn’t see their great attack, leading them to think that their plan will go unchallenged. When you have two beginners with the same skill set playing one another, you’ll actually have a case in which the player being attacked often doesn’t see it coming. However, if the beginner is playing a stronger opponent, the attack is seen and the great winning plan falls apart quickly. Many great attacks can be derailed with the simplest of moves which is why you have to consider each and every pawn and piece belonging to the opposition. This is the basis of sound chess calculations. Obviously, if you’re planning an attack on a specific square, you count attacker versus defenders. Let’s say you have three attackers to the opposition’s two defenders. Since you always want to have more attackers than defenders, or the reverse if you’re the defender, you then want to play through the exchange in your head. After the exchange, have you gained more material or lost more material? Just doing this simple calculation has forced you to think ahead, another basis for sound chess calculations. If you come out down the exchange (losing material), you’re attack should be reconsidered unless it delivers checkmate.

Let’s say you do the calculation and you’ll come out ahead. Before starting your attack, and this is really important and goes back to the idea of examining you opponent’s position, look for that one move that derailed your plans. You might have created a plan to win your opponent’s Queen and you start the attack. All goes well and then your opponent makes a move that skewers one of your major attacking pieces to your King and guess what? You lose that piece and your attack falls apart. Why did this happen? It happened because you didn’t look closely enough at your opponent’s pawns and pieces. Your opponent, on the other hand, looked closely at your position and found a way out, a weakness. You cannot create sound calculations unless you factor in the opposition’s possible responses.

My next example happens all the time, especially in the case of back rank mates. With a back rank mate, a King is typically castled on the King-side with three pawns on front of it on either the second rank for white or the seventh rank for black. There may be one Rook left to guard the King’s rank. An opposition Rook or Queen will be looming on an open file. Our beginner will see what they think is an opportunity for a big attack and move their defending Rook off of the King’s rank. Our intrepid beginner launches his or her attack and thinks that things are going smoothly until that looming opposition Rook or Queen swoops down to the King’s rank and checkmates our beginner. Many great beginner’s attacks are also snuffed out with a well timed delivery of a check to the attacker’s King that seemed to come out of nowhere. In reality, the check or back rank mate was always there. Unfortunately, the beginner missed it because they were suffering from tunnel vision, seeing only their pawns and pieces, not those of their opponent.

The foundation of successful calculations always starts with taking the time to determine what you would do if you were playing the other side of the board.

You won’t be able to calculate a large number of moves into the future when your first start playing, so you should start off by trying to calculate two moves at a time, your move and your opponent’s best response. Don’t try to calculate any further until you’ve learned to determine your opponent’s best response to your single move. You won’t always get it right but this will improve with time. Doing just this will teach you how to see the entire board and create a foundation for the next step in your journey towards good calculations, thinking one and a half moves ahead.

Thinking one and a half moves ahead means considering your next move, your opponent’s best response to that move and finally, your response to the initial opposition’s response. Here, we again follow the guidelines of looking at the opposition pawns and pieces, assessing any potential threats and, if the position warrants it, making that move. However, once you’ve determined your opponent’s best response you have to have a follow up move. If you don’t, the move you’ve carefully considered won’t have the desired effect. If you make move “a” and your opponent makes move “b” then you should have a move “c” that deals with move “b.” With my students, I spend a great deal of time working on our one and a half move technique. Once this is somewhat mastered, remember we’re talking about beginners here so complete mastery comes much later in their chess careers, we move onto four move calculations and so forth.

The idea here is to build up your calculation techniques one move at a time. If you carefully examine your opponent’s position and try to determine their best response, you’ll be well on your way towards developing real calculation skills. If you have trouble at first, don’t become stressed because, like all skills in chess (and in life), it takes time and practice. Take your time! Here’s a game by a couple of gentlemen who know quite a bit about calculation. Enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

Kids and Chess, Part Four

In my previous articles about kids and chess I posted my losses to kids that were pretty strong. In this article I have posted one of my three wins against a little boy who was a beginner at the time that I played him. Benson Walent was a student of “Coach Mike” at the time that I played him. “Coach Mike” taught his students to play the Kings Indian Defense against anything other than 1.e4 by White. I played the English Opening and Benson went into the Kings Indian Defense as he was taught to.

One advantage of playing system openings is that you do not have to memorize as much. The drawback is that you become predictable. The Kings Indian Defense against the English Opening has never given me any real problems and in this chess game Black started having problems on move number 10. By move number 12 Black was losing.
Benson Walent between adults playing chess

In the photograph above, Benson Walent is the little boy who is between the adults on the right. At the time that this chess game was played, my rating was twice his, I was about three times his physical size and four times his age. I also had White. This gave me a huge psychological advantage! Behind Benson are two masters who are playing against each other on Board One.

The Tampa Bay area has many traditions that I never really understood. One of them is Guavaween. This chess tournament was played on or around the day of Guavaween and thus it was named after that event. You can find some information on the supposed origins of Guavaween at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guavaween

Mike Serovey

Recognising the Pattern # 25

Today we are going to see another common attacking formation with your knight on e5 (or e4 as Black) and bishop on b5 (b4 as Black). It is usually more effective when the bishop’s counterpart is not able to defend the d7 (d2) or c6 (c3) square. Again you must consider surrounding pawn structure before launching the attack as pawns are the natural blockader of lines. Here is the trap in the Chigorin defence that involves this attacking formation:

Martial Larochelle (2230) against Olivier Tessier (2215) in 2007

1. Nf3 Nc6
2. d4 d5
3. c4 Bg4
4. Nc3 Nf6
5. cxd5 Nxd5
6. e4 Nb6
7. d5 Ne5

Black thought that the knight on e5 can’t be touched because of pin on f3. In fact this is blunder that loses at least a piece.

8. Nxe5!!

With the idea of exploiting the weakness on d7/c6 with the coordination of the bishop on b5, knight on e5 and pawn on d5.

8… Bxd1

9. Bb5+ c6

If 9…Nd7 then Bxd7 wins material and 9… Qd7 loses the queen.

10. dxc6

Threatening to win queen with c6-c7 discovered check.

10..Bg4

Hoping for 11. c7 Qd7 12.Bxd7?

Other options are also not viable, for example:

A) 10…Qc7 11. cxb7 Kd8 (if 11…Nd7 then bxa8=Q wins) 12. Nxf7#

B) 10…Qb8 11. c7+ Nd7 12 Bxd7#

c) 10…bxc6 11. Bxc6 Nd7 12. Bxd7 Qxd7 13. Nxd7 wins the material (Berliner against Rott in 1956)

11. c7+ Qd7

12. Nxg4!

White is not in a hurry to recapture the queen. Black resigned here.

Ashvin Chauhan

The Great Move

Ask a beginner what they consider to be a great chess move and they’re most likely to tell you that it’s a move that either garners a large material advantage or delivers checkmate. Moves that are tactical in nature, such as forks or skewers, are also considered great moves by the novice player. The beginner thinks in terms of all or nothing moves. Let me give you an analogy: The difference between the professional gambler and the amateur gambler comes down to carefully playing the odds. In blackjack, the professional will not bet his or her entire bank on a single hand because they know there is always a chance the dealer will have a higher count (barring the professional having 21 in his or her hand). Professionals play for the long haul. The amateur, on the other hand, will have 17 in hand and bet the bank. The dealer’s cards add up to 19 and our amateur now has no money. The same idea holds true in beginner’s chess. The novice player will go in for fast all or nothing attacks while the experienced player will build up an attack slowly, garnering small positional advantages that add up to a large advantage later on.

Believe it or not, beginners get this idea from chess teachers and instructional material. It’s not that the chess teacher or DVD is telling students to launch a fast all or nothing attack. Quite the opposite. The problem arises because the student, who is often new to the game, remembers the end result and not the careful positional buildup that produced that end result. The beginner sees the brilliant checkmate, but is too new to the game to understand the moves made to set up that checkmate. To the beginner, the move that delivered mate is remembered as the great move.

When teaching young beginners the game of chess, I have to provide lesson examples that are entertaining. Specific concepts, such as gambits, can best be explained by showing games from the romantic era of chess. These games were often violent clashes that wouldn’t hold sway in today’s modern era of play but they serve as great teaching examples of specific ideas. The problem arises when students start thinking that this is the only way they should play. When a beginner tries to play like Paul Morphy, they fail because they haven’t developed advanced chess skills (yet). They also only see the end result. In Morphy’s Opera House Massacre, beginners see the sacrifice of Morphy’s Queen, which leads to mate on Morphy’s next move, and think, “I’ll sacrifice my Queen at the right moment and win the game.” Well, they sacrifice their Queen and end up losing the Queen and the game. They don’t understand the way in which Morphy got to that point in the game by building up his position. They see the great move, the Queen sacrifice and ignore all the other moves leading up to that point because they weren’t as exciting.

To combat this problem of thinking that great moves are those that are earth shattering, I write a few things down on the blackboard (or dry erase boards as they’re called these days – remember, I went to school at the same time dinosaurs roamed the earth) in large letters right next to my demonstration board. The first thing written is “Small advantages added together create a large advantage.” Under this sentence is written “Spacial advantages win games.”

Of course we all know there’s more to it than just spacial advantages. However, you can’t overwhelm beginners with too much information all at once. Therefore, I decided the best way to steer beginners away from thinking that only big moves win games was to tackle one of the most important concepts regarding gaining an advantage, gaining space. If you gain a spacial advantage, you have more opportunities to control the game and thus win it. First though I redefine the define what a great move is.

I tell my students that a great move is simply one that accomplishes something, such as controlling an important square. Many of my students look at me with disbelief. Because they think of great moves as the single move that turns the tide or wins the game, they can’t fathom the notion of moves accomplishing something other than checkmate as being of any value. Therefore, we look closely at gaining a spacial advantage early in the game. A spacial advantage is absolutely critical in the game’s opening phase.

We’ve all played beginners who move their army towards the edge of the board while we develop soundly towards the center during the opening. Our novice opponent, quickly learns that we have greater control of the board. Control of space, the spacial advantage, is paramount to winning. If you control more of the board, especially the center during the opening, your opponent has fewer options regarding the placement of pawns and pieces. If you controlled every square on the second, third, fourth and fifth ranks, your opponent would have no safe squares on which to place his or her pawns and pieces. You can’t launch an attack if you can’t get your army onto the battlefield.

I teach students the basic opening principles, first controlling the board’s center with a pawn or two. Then they’re taught to move their minor pieces to squares that control the center. I teach beginners to castling their King as soon as possible. However, if their King is in no immediate danger, we hold off on castling and continue gaining a spacial advantage. In the opening, the more squares you control, the more difficult it is for your opponent to bring their own material into the game. To gain an early spacial advantage, you must activate your pawns and pieces. Get all of your minor pieces into the action. Too often, beginners will develop two of their four minor pieces, leaving their undeveloped minor pieces sitting on their starting squares. Move you minors to more active squares, those that control space on the board. After getting your minor pieces out, consider a flank pawn push of one square to keep your opponent from using a bishop to pin your Knight on f3 to your Queen. Use your Rooks. A Rook on f1 or f8, after castling King-side is nowhere near as effective as a Rook on e1 or e8 (especially when there’s an un-castled King on the opposite side of the file.

Slowly move pieces to more active squares. Doing so will strangle the life out of your opponent’s position, again making an attack by them difficult. Students always tell me they can’t find a good move. I look at their board and see a lot of inactive pieces. If you don’t see a move look again because I’m sure you can improve the activity your pawns and pieces. Those stunning or great moves will come to light but only if you set them up and that means building up small advantages. Here’s the Paul Morphy game mentioned earlier in this article to enjoy until next week.

Play As If…

Play as if your life depended on it! That’s what I tell my students before they sit down to play a casual or tournament game. Why would I say this? Because too often a player will let a winning game slip from his or her grasp. It happens more often than you might think. When I first started teaching and coaching chess, I watched my students get themselves into winning positions and much to my horror, watched them throw those almost guaranteed victories away. I’m guilty of having done the same thing as well! How could this possibly happen? After all, my students (as well as myself) were playing sound chess, otherwise they wouldn’t be so close to winning their games. I decided to take some notes in order to address the problem at hand. After some time, I came to some conclusions including the discovery of the greatest factor contributing to this problem.

The overwhelming reason why won games at a non master level are lost is overconfidence. Over confidence is an annoying human trait that tends to pave our personal road of success with the asphalt of failure. We often see it in sports. A team has an unprecedented winning streak, defying the odds, and that winning team starts to feel as if they have no competition. This leads to feeling overconfident because, after all, they’ve just set a record for the most games won consecutively. Enter the opposition, a team who is simply more hungry for a win. The game is played and our champions go down in flames, often beaten by a team with lesser record.

With my chess students, I found that many of them let victory slip away because they felt there was no way they could lose. They had a winning position and rather than keep up the pressure, fighting for a win, they slacked off. They didn’t examine the position carefully enough because, after all, victory was within their grasp. They didn’t play as if their life depended on it!

One point all chess players should take note of is this: A single bad move can start a downward spiral of quickly growing problems that you can’t recover from. It’s the snowball effect: A small, two foot ball of snow, rolling three miles down a mountain is going to gather snow on its way down until very soon it becomes an eight foot ball of snow and ice traveling along at a speed rivaling that of a car. Our little ball of snow becomes a lethal weapon. A bad move in chess is like our snowball. It starts off bad and only gets worse. This holds true in each phase of the game. Chess is a very foundation driven game. Like building a house, that house is only as good as the foundation it’s build upon. The foundation you build during the opening supports your middle-game and the middle-game serves as a foundation for your endgame. Create a weak foundation early on and your game will collapse like a house of cards on a windy day.

You should consider each move you make as one that builds the foundation supporting your next move. When you build a house (something I’ve actually done), that house isn’t complete until the last nail is driven in. You must be careful with every step to ensure your house is built correctly, able to stand the test of time. The same holds true in chess. When you’re overconfident, you’re more likely to develop tunnel vision that allows you only to see the end result, victory over your opponent. If you’re not thinking in terms of strengthening your foundation, your winning attack will collapse. This is where runaway chess snowballs are born! The game isn’t over until checkmate is declared.

Every move should be considered part of the overall foundation of your game, especially when you’re very close to winning. When you think your close to winning, make each and every move as if your life depended on it. Another problem that causes winning positions to fall apart is over-excitement, especially with players who don’t have a lot of experience.

We’ve all suffered from being so excited that the game is completely going our way that we starting seeing only what we need to do in order to win rather than what our opponent can do to turn the tables. I had a student recently tell me, after only six months of playing chess, that he could see four moves ahead. Actually, he was seeing the four moves he wanted to make, not those of his opponent. While beginners suffer from this problem, more experienced players can suffer from the same type of thinking when the smell of victory is in the air. We see a sequence of moves that delivers checkmate and victory for us. What we don’t see is that one move our opponent can make to ruin our plan.

When you start feeling excited about a winning position, take a few deep breaths, slowly (and silently) count to twenty and look at the position as if you were the one in trouble. To facilitate this, pretend you’re playing the position as your opponent. Look at the position carefully and see if there’s a way to turn the tables. Let’s say you’re playing white and you have the potential to mate in four. Before making the first of those four moves, pretend you’re the player with the black pieces and look for a way to stop or slow down the attack. Consider sacrificing a piece to stop the potential checkmate. Look for some way to damage the attack. Consider every pawn and piece. Can you create positional chaos? Now that you’ve considered your opponent’s position in greater detail, you can launch your attack. Of course, if you discovered, by pretending to be in charge of your opponent’s material, that your attack can be stopped or crippled by a sacrifice, for example, reconsider your attack.

Also be wary of your opponent playing for a draw or your creating one because, in a King and Queen versus King endgame, you got overexcited and moved your Queen to a square that created a stalemate position. During the endgame, you need to slow down and play carefully. The fewer pieces there are on the board, the slower and more thoughtfully you have to play. If you were the one with a losing position and saw a chance to draw the game rather than lose it, wouldn’t you go for the draw. With beginners, endgames are rarely reached so their knowledge of endgame technique is weak at best.

If you make each move with the idea of that move creating a foundation for the next move, taking your time and considering your opponent’s options as much as you consider yours, you’ll have fewer victories slip from your hands. If you have a great advantage, such as more material than your opponent and can’t launch a big attack immediately, create further, small advantages. A collection of small advantages can add up to one big advantage and help to nail down that win. Don’t let tunnel vision cloud the view of the entire chessboard. See the entire board! Above all, make every single move as if your life depended on it. Here’s a game in which the stakes were high. Talk about playing as if your life, actually your country, depended on it! Enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

Editorial note: Hugh has been having some serious health issues and needs assistance to afford an operation. If you’d like to donate, please follow this link.

Kids and Chess, Part Three

The chess game below is from Round Two of a Saturday event that had a rapid, sudden-death time control with a five-second increment. In the previous round, I lost to higher rated player and I had about five minutes to recover before starting this round. My concentration was shot!

My opponent was a nine-year-old boy who had been playing rated chess for three years at the time that we played this chess game. I  missed a few opportunities to get an advantage in the opening and middle game. Around move number 40, I realized that I was losing and that I needed to try a swindle. I correctly guessed that my young opponent would not know how to win an endgame in which he had a King, Knight and dark-squared Bishop versus my lone King, so I deliberately traded down into that endgame.

Once we got that endgame, I went to the TD to verify that the 50-move rule still applied to that endgame. I was told that it still does. The TD watched the last 20 moves or so of this chess game with a look on her face that was either confusion or disgust. When my opponent blundered away his last Bishop, giving him insufficient mating material, it took me about half of a second to grab it with my King and declare a draw. The TD turned away with what looked like total disgust on her face! Considering that her OTB rating was about 930 points, I doubt that she understood what I was doing in that endgame and why I was moving so quickly.

With a dark-squared Bishop, Black needed to drive the White King into a dark corner. I ran my King into a light corner (h1) and kept it there. My inexperienced young opponent tried to checkmate the White King in that corner, which cannot be done! Before the start of the next round I explained that he needed to memorize this endgame because he did not have enough time to figure it out during a game that has a rapid time control. I also explained that because he had a dark-squared Bishop, he had to drive my King out of that light corner and into a dark one.

Mike Serovey

Almost Checkmate

If I had a dollar for every time I heard a chess player say, “I almost checkmated my opponent,” I’d be writing this from a beach house in Hawaii rather than while sitting in a ratty armchair with a pit bull chewing on my left shoe. I once heard a young player at a junior chess tournament say “I should get a point because I almost checkmated that guy.” Nice try kid but being close doesn’t cut it (even the arbiter laughed). Watching the students play at tournaments, I am amazed at how many checkmates are simply missed. I’ll stand there looking at an obvious mate and mentally recoil in horror when the player who can deliver the winning blow fails to do so. Why do so many mates get missed by beginners, especially those that are fairly obvious?

With beginners, the primary problem seems to be time. By “time” I mean not taking enough of it to really examine the position at hand. Beginners have trouble launching coordinated attacks early in their chess careers. They launch desperado attacks with a lone piece and lose that piece, only to try again. As they improve, they learn to use multiple pieces that cover one another when attacking. Then something funny happens. Rather than slowing down before launching the big attack, they make moves as if they had only thirty seconds left on their chess clocks. This is one of the reasons why they miss potential checkmates. They play too fast at critical moments.

They also grab material like a starved animal goes after food. Rather than looking for mate, they see a Rook and decide capturing it will make is easier to eventually win the game. After all, the more material they have to use against the opposition, the easier it will be to win. There’s a lot of skewed thinking in beginner’s chess. Of course, we can’t blame the beginner because it takes experience to get past this way of thinking and that comes from playing chess and having one’s skewed ideas put to the test. When the beginner’s idea fails, he or she tries another more grounded approach.

In learning mating patterns, the positioning of key pieces to deliver checkmate, beginners start with the classic stair step method in which a pair of Rooks push the opposition King to the edge of the board. This is followed by a King and Queen against lone King checkmate. While it is important to teach these two methods to the beginner, it can create problems. Our novice player tends to (at first) think this to be the only if not easiest way to win the game. This leads them to miss mating opportunities with minor pieces and even the pawn.

Because of the above mentioned problem, I show more games that use minor pieces (and even the pawn) for delivering checkmate. Of course, I teach the basic checkmates described above but we focus more on getting a player’s entire army involved in winning the game. Of course, there’s more to it than simply aiming your forces in the direction of the enemy King and hoping for the best.

First and foremost, you need to plan your attack carefully. Too many beginners launch early attacks, such as the build up to the scholar’s mate. When you launch an attack early, your opponent can easily defend the position around his or her King because their pieces are still close by. It’s a lot hard to defend the King when the majority of one’s pieces are elsewhere on the board. Timing is everything when planning an attack.

Before committing pieces to an attack early on, develop your forces towards the center of the board following the opening principles. At the start of the game, both Kings are on central files which means that pieces have a better shot at attacking the non-castled King. When the opposing King does castle, your centrally located pieces will be able to attack King-side or Queen-side with greater ease because they’re centrally positioned. You’d have greater difficulty attacking the enemy King who castled King-side if your pieces were all Queen-side. Another excellent reason for central play early in the game. Let’s say you get to the middle-game and see an opportunity to launch an attack. There’s some space around the enemy King that he can use as an escape route. Do you just launch a major assault regardless? Not yet!

One point I cannot stress enough is using your pieces to cut off escape routes that can be used by the opposition King. Too often, the beginner starts a mating attack only to see the opposition King scurry off via an escape square. You might say, the more open squares around the enemy King there are, the greater the opportunity to attack. However, this works both ways. More open or empty squares around the King you’re going after can mean more ways for that King to get out of a mating attack. This is where your long distance attackers, the Bishops, Rooks and Queen, come into play. Rooks on open files (especially if the open file provides the enemy King a potential escape square) can stop the King from escaping. The same holds true with Bishops on diagonals. The Queen often spearheads the attack but she can also be used to cut off a running King.

Note every square the opposition King can move to before launching your mating attack. Then look at your pieces and decide which of those pieces can cover the greatest number of flight or escape squares. Aim for a single piece covering squares rather than two or three pieces covering the same squares. Of course, this only works if you have numerous pieces to use in your attack, another reason why you can’t simply send one piece in to do the job (with the exception of a smothered mate, which doesn’t happen much in beginner’s chess). Once you’ve assigned pieces the task of covering any escape squares, find two or three pieces that can go in and deliver mate.

This is where piece coordination is critical. I teach the hunter and bodyguard method in which you have the hunter, the piece delivering the checkmate and its bodyguard, the piece that protects the hunter. Remember, you have to have more attackers than defenders for the mate to work. If possible have a third piece in reserve should your calculations go wrong (which happens a lot with beginners)! Pieces must work together, one protecting the other to successfully deliver mate.

As I mentioned at the beginning of these article, you have to take your time and really look at the position carefully, especially the placement of your opponent’s pieces. Too often, the beginner suffers from tunnel vision, seeing only the opposition King and a possible checkmate. They fail to notice an enemy piece that can capture one of the attacking pieces. Look at every pawn and piece belonging to your opponent and trace their line of attack to your own pieces and the square you’re targeting for the checkmate. Only when it is safe should you consider delivering the winning blow. You must take your time when considering a move to deliver mate.

Always look at a position, no matter where in the game, and ask yourself, is there a possible checkmate here? I have a software program that tells me how many times I missed checkmate during a game and you’d be surprised at how many chances I miss!

Then there’s the lowly pawn. A well placed pawn against an opposition King who is trapped by your pieces can deliver the final death null. Consider all material as weapons that can deliver checkmate. So, take your time, centralize material before launching your attack, used coordinated force and paired attackers. Look at your opponent’s pieces before going in for mate and stop, reexamine the position, taking your time, and only then win the game. Speaking of games, here’s one to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

Typical Errors in Children’s Games

I was watching a game between two young girls, both fairly good players for their age, at Richmond Junior Club yesterday.

As I reached their board the position, in its essentials, looked something like this:

I watched White playing Qxf7+. As soon as she saw the check Black picked up her king and moved it to its only legal square, h8. Now White noticed she had a passed pawn so moved it from c6 to c7. Black now spotted that the white queen was en prise and captured it with her queen. But it was too late: White was promoting a pawn and soon won the game.

In this short sequence we see several errors which are very typical of the play of children at this level.

White sees what she thinks is a good move and jumps at the opportunity to play it without checking whether or not it’s safe. Backward diagonal moves are often the hardest to see, and here White’s move could and should have thrown away the win.

Black does what so many children do when then they hear their opponent announce ‘check’. She picks up her king without stopping to look whether there’s a better way to get out of check, such as blocking or, even better, capturing. This is an automatic reaction: my king’s in danger so I’d better move it. It’s something children really have to get out of, the sooner the better.

Then White reacts to the first thing she notices – the passed pawn on c7. She doesn’t notice that she has a very simple checkmate in one move, or that she can capture her opponent’s queen. When you see a good move, look for a better move rather than playing it straight away. Use a CCTV to look at the chessboard: look for Checks (for both players), Captures (for both players) and Threats (for both players) in that order and you will be rewarded with Victory. In this case White happened to notice a Threat before she looked for Checks (one of which was checkmate) and captures (one of which won a free queen).

At this point, though, it doesn’t matter. Black now notices that she can take the queen on f7, but White promotes and Her Majesty makes a quick reappearance.

A few lessons to learn:

Don’t jump at the first move you see that looks good. Make sure it’s safe, and stop to see whether there’s a better move.

Don’t automatically pick up your king when your opponent says ‘check’. It’s sometimes better, especially early in the game, to block the check. It’s often better still if you can capture the piece that’s checking you safely.

Watch out for backward diagonal moves: they’re often the easiest moves to miss.

Most chess games are not won by playing good moves: they’re lost by playing bad moves. Ensuring you’re not making a mistake is, at this level, the most important chess skill of all.

One of the things I explain to my pupils is that one way (and there are many others) in which I’m different from other teachers is that most teachers teach you to play good moves: I teach you not to play bad moves.

Richard James