Last week we looked at Chapter 9 of Move Two!, which considered the Two Knights’ Defence. I promised to write more on whether or not it is desirable to teach the Fried Liver Attack.
Before I go any further, let me explain that I’m referring specifically to children of junior school age (7-11) who understand the basic logic of chess and are, in principle, able to play a game without making one-move blunders. Children of this age can understand simple, one-dimensional logic, but struggle with complex, two-dimensional logic. They will be able to tell you why they played a move, but not why they played one move rather than another move. They will be able to learn a certain amount by memory and mimicry, but will not have a higher-level understanding of the game. However, if you give them a random lesson on something like the Fried Liver Attack they will constantly make incorrect analogies and draw false inferences.
There’s a lot to be said for learning 4. Ng5 in the Two Knights’ Defence: it’s theoretically sound, gives you the opportunity to practise tactical play in both attack and defence, and, if you’ve done your homework, will enable you to score quick wins (something young children enjoy very much) with either colour. But if you teach it out of context rather than as part of a structured course you’ll just end up confusing your students.
My Richmond Junior Chess Club database includes many examples of all these problems, collected over a span of 30 years.
1. After 3. Bc4 Black plays h6. When you ask why they’ll tell you they played it because they’re scared of the Fried Liver. White usually replies with something like d3 to keep the position closed, being unaware of the idea of opening up the position with 4. d4 or 4. c3 followed by 5. d4 to take advantage of your lead in development. If White plays slowly, h6 is perfectly reasonable: nothing bad happens to Black so he repeats it again and again. Of course, if you really are scared of the Fried Liver, 3.. Bc5 is the move to play.
2. After 3. Bc4 Bc5 White plays 4. Ng5 because it’s what he’s been taught to play against 3.. Nf6. Black may play d5 in reply because he’s learnt to play that in the Two Knights. Or he may miss the threat completely and play something like Nf6 or d6. If he’s smart, though, he’ll notice that the knight is en prise and play 4.. Qxg5. Now White, spotting that the black queen is on the same diagonal as his bishop on c1, plays 5. d4. Black looks at this pawn for a moment and then captures it (they nearly always miss discovered attacks at this level because they only look at the piece that just moved). White gleefully captures the black queen, decides that 4. Ng5 in this line is good because it wins the queen and plays it again and again, even though Black will occasionally spoil his fun by unsportingly playing 5.. Qxg2. Black will also decide that 3.. Bc5 is a bad move because it loses the queen and play 3.. h6 (see above) next time.
3. Eventually White realises that after 3. Bc4 Bc5, 4. Ng5 is not a good idea. So instead he plays 4. Nc3 Nf6 5. Ng5 (with possibly d3 and d6 thrown in along the way), thinking that he’s playing a good move. Black either fails to notice the threat, or, as he’s been taught about 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 d5, plays 5.. d5 here, ending up a pawn down without compensation.
4. Black eventually learns to castle in this sort of position (or more likely his teacher tells him to do so: for some reason children have difficulty finding 5.. 0-0) and White, who knows from the Fried Liver that it’s a good idea to expose your opponent’s king, plays 6. Nxf7. Black, who has been told not to give up a rook for a knight, fails to capture and quickly loses material, so White repeats this plan in all his games. Eventually Black understands, or is told, that he should capture on f7. After 6. Nxf7 Rxf7 7. Bxf7+ Kxf7, if you ask them they’ll either tell you it’s a draw (they usually say ‘it’s a draw’ rather than ‘it’s equal’ if the points are level) because both players have lost six points, or tell you that White is winning because Black’s king is exposed (they learnt this from the Fried Liver). In fact, any experienced chess player will tell you that Black is significantly better here: the standard piece values are not very accurate and BN is usually better than RP, and Black’s advantage in development more than compensates for his exposed king.
5. White forgets the move order and plays 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 d5 5. Nxf7, which doesn’t (or shouldn’t) work. Or he plays 4. Ng5 d5 5. exd5 Na5 6. Nxf7 (ditto).
6. White is impressed by the idea of sacrificing a piece to expose the enemy king so arranges to do so in every game, whatever the opening or whatever colour he has. He selects a minor piece, moves it towards the opposing monarch and sacrifices it for a pawn, thinking that he’ll then have a winning advantage.
Teaching chess to young children is not as easy as you might think. Demonstrating a random game or a random opening out of context will leave most children confused. Increasingly, children are learning this way by their parents or teachers picking up a random lesson from somewhere on the Internet. If you’re promoting chess beyond the beginner level for children of this age you really do need to ensure they follow a fully structured course.