Instructive Junior Games: 1

Most of the lower level junior games I look at are of only transient interest but occasionally I come across an encounter which is both instructive for the players and fascinating for the insight it gives into how children think about chess.

Here’s one such game.

We start here, after Black’s 5th move. White’s essayed 1. d4 but it is clear that neither player appreciates the difference between king’s pawn and queen’s pawn openings. They need to learn that in queen’s pawn openings you are going to use your c-pawn to fight for the centre so, unless you’re a devotee of the Richter-Veresov or the Chigorin you’re not going to block it with a knight. White’s 5th move was g3, apparently attempting a fianchetto. Black replied with g5, failing to check whether or not the move was safe before playing it. Perhaps he’s also attempting a fianchetto, or perhaps he’s hoping White won’t notice when he kicks the knight with ..g4. White failed to consider Black’s move and, rather than chopping off the pawn, continued with his plan, which, it turned out, was to develop the bishop on h3. But by playing this move he was walking into a fork (remember last week?) and Black didn’t have to do any more than continue with his plan to find 6.. g4.

Moving on a few moves we reach here, where White, a piece down, has a bright idea. He can play Qd4, skewering the black knight and rook. But there’s a big problem with this. He is, for the second time in the game, moving into a fork. Black was oblivious to the opportunity of Nf3+, though, and also oblivious to the danger faced by his rook on h8, and just moved the knight to the first safe square that came to mind, c6. It looked good to him because it threatened the queen. Perhaps White didn’t notice. But White unsportingly moved his queen to capture the rook.

Moving on, White’s now up by the exchange and two pawns, and has to consider how to react to Black’s last move, Qf6. There are two threats: a small threat to the relatively unimportant pawn on f2, and a big threat of Qa1+, picking up the rook in the corner via a skewer. As so often at this level, White sees the small threat, meeting it by playing f4, but misses the big threat.

Another 15 moves forward, and Black, although he missed some (difficult) wins, is still ahead. Here, White played Kf2, with a subtle threat. At this level, threats created by discovered attacks are usually missed, and that was the case here. Simply Qxc4 keeps Black on top, but instead he missed the threat and played b3.

A few moves further on, and now White should play Rxe6+, almost impossible to find at this level, which, according to my silicon friend, leads to a draw. Instead he played the natural fxe6, and Black naturally recaptured, missing the chance to trade queens with Qb6+ and beat off the attack. Not so easy, but if you’ve trained yourself to look at every check you should find it. Then, after Rxe6+ Kf7, White missed a win with Qd5 (again, very hard to find at this level), preferring the more obvious g6+, leading to an ending with just a queen and pawn each.

Another common error at this level revolves around whether or not to trade off the last piece into a pawn ending. This sort of higher level thinking is too hard for most young children. Here both players should be aware that, at the moment, Black will win after a queen exchange. So Black should be trying to arrange Qf6+ or Qxg6+ while White should be trying to avoid it. Let’s see what happened in this position.

White has to decide which way his king should go. Clearly he should head towards the queen side: one reason is that if his king is within the square of the black pawn he will be able to afford to trade queens. Instead he went to g2, giving Black the chance to zigzag back to g5 and f6. But Black missed the chance, instead checking on g4. When the white king returned to f2 Black tried a check on h4. White can still draw by going to the e-file but he erred with Kf3, and this time Black found Qf6+, trading queens and finally winning the game.

You can play through the complete game below.

Richard James

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About Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard is currently the Curriculum Consultant for Chess in Schools and Communities (www.chessinschools.co.uk) as well as teaching chess in local schools and doing private tuition. He has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966 and currently has an ECF grade of 177.