Here’s another junior game, this time featuring two players with little practical experience, but who have both studied the game and learnt some openings.
White has a passion for gambits, so punted the Milner-Barry Gambit against his opponent’s French Defence.
But instead of the usual Nc3 on move 10, he opted for Be3, dubious in theory, but not so easy for an inexperienced player to meet over the board.
Here’s the first critical position. Black’s just played Bb5 to try to trade off White’s dangerous white squared bishop. Grabbing another pawn with Qxe5 would have been better.
This is a very easy mistake to make. It’s tempting to think “I’m attacking his bishop” and only consider moves which meet the threat, rather than looking for what Charles Hertan calls EBTs: Equal or Bigger Threats. If you do that you’ll notice Rb1, skewering the queen and bishop with a winning advantage.
White instead played Bc2. Perhaps he didn’t notice Black’s reply Bxf1, or perhaps he saw it but didn’t care. Again, he recaptured on f1 with the queen, not the knight. Again, maybe he missed Qxc2 or maybe he thought he’d get a winning attack anyway. This, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, is the danger of spending too much time studying sacrificial brilliancies. Anyway, White replied to Qxc2 with Rc1, hitting the queen.
In this position Black has to consider what to do with his queen. At this level children will choose the first safe square rather than looking at alternatives and asking the vital question “If I do that, what will my opponent do next?”. If you ask this question you’ll see that White also has a threat of Qb5+, so Black must prevent that by choosing either Qa4 or Qb2. Instead, he played 14.. Qxa2 15. Qb5+ Ke7 (Kd8 lasts longer). Another thinking error made on a regular basis at this level is to be content with a good move rather than trying to find the BEST move. Bc5+ looks natural and strong, playing a check and bringing another piece into the attack (but potentially leaving d2 en prise), but if you stop to calculate you’ll see a simple mate in 2 with Rc7+ or a mate in 4 with Qxb7+.
After 16.Bc5+ Ke8 White can still win with 17.Qxb7 as long as he notices 17..Rc8 18.Bb6+!. Instead he played 17.Bxf8 Qxd2 18.Rb1 (he’s still in the game after Ba3) reaching the next diagram.
Children get confused in positions where there’s a lot happening. They haven’t yet learnt how to consider alternative moves. They have difficulty in prioritising different facets of the position. Black is a rook and three pawns ahead, but White has threats: Bxg7 or possibly Qxb7. Or perhaps he should ignore the threats and create an EBT himself.
Here, it’s the EBT that wins: Rc8 forces White to stop and defend the mate threat, giving Black time to untangle with Ne7. At this level, though, children will react to the first thing they see, which in this case was Qxb7, so Rb8 was played.
White now has the chance to get some material back with Bxg7, but instead he preferred to keep his bishop for the attack with 19.Bd6, not the best decision as it forced Black to find Rc8. White defended with 20.Qf1 Ne7 21.h3. Now Black’s winning easily with careful play, but instead he played the strange 21.. Kd7, exposing his king to a check. If he’d remembered to ask himself “If I do that, what will my opponent do next?”, he would have found a preferable alternative.
Anyway, after Rxb7+ Black had to make a critical decision. 22.. Ke8, according to computer analysis beyond the remit of this article, leads to equality. Instead, he went to d8, giving our next diagram.
One this I teach my students is to use a CCTV to look at the chessboard: look at every Check, Capture, Threat and Violent move. In that order. If White follows this advice he’ll find 23.Bxe7+, mating in three moves. Instead he played 23.Qb5, which looks very threatening but isn’t a check. Now Black has a choice of checks himself: Rc1+, Qc1+, Qd1+ or Qe1+. The correct choice is Rc1+ which is mate in 4. Qd1+ and Qe1+ both lose, but the move he played, Qc1+ is still winning. White understandably wasn’t attracted by Qf1, but instead Kh2 makes matters worse. Again, if Black looks at the board with a CCTV he’ll find the winning move Qf4+, but he chose to defend with Qc6. This position is too hard, I think, for players at this level. Houdini informs me that Qa5+ is mate in 10, but we can hardly blame White for choosing the more obvious 25.Bxe7+ instead. Now chances are about equal, so my computer tells me, and the combatants continued 25.. Be8 26.Qb4 Rc7 27.Rb8+ Rc8 28.Bd6. At this point my computer settles for a draw by repetition with Rd8 Rb7 Rd7 etc, but Black wanted to get his rook on h8 into play so played Kd7. Unfortunately for him, he’s again walking into a check, and now White made no mistake.
This time White found the winning move and finished off efficiently: 29.Rb7+ Kd8 30.Qa5+ Ke8 31.Re7+ Kf8 32.Rc7+ Ke8 33.Rxc6 Rxc6 34.Qxa7 d4 35.Qe7#.
A lot of mistakes, you say? Yes, there were, but I’d much rather children play like this than wheel out lots of boring Giuoco Pianissimos. Until they learn how to look ahead and how to consider alternatives they will make many blunders in this sort of position, by playing this sort of game, and by going through it afterwards, they’ll get there.
Another way of teaching these skills is by using multiple choice quizzes that force children to consider two or three alternatives before making a decision. This sort of quiz is ideal for online interactive presentation, and this game could be ideal for this purpose. Maybe I’ll have a go sometime.
Meanwhile, here’s the full game.