King in the Centre

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to play the following game the other day. It’s short, clean, simple and, I think, instructive.

Watch what happens when my opponent (he’s graded below me and I’ve won both our previous encounters) gets behind in development and doesn’t find time to castle.

I had the white pieces and chose the Queen’s Gambit.

1. d4 d5
2. c4 dxc4
3. Nf3

Back in the days when I was learning chess this was almost always played. Today 3. e4 is also popular but there can’t be much wrong with a simple developing move.

3… c6

Heading for a transposition from the Queen’s Gambit Accepted into the Slav. 3… Nf6 would be the usual QGA move.

4. a4

Trying to discourage b5 but there’s nothing wrong with either e3 or e4 here, perhaps with the former for preference as in some lines the pawn on e4 will be en prise to a bishop on b7.

4… Bf5

A very unusual move. 4… Nf6 would lead to a normal Slav position while 4… e6 followed by b5 and Bb4 to hamper White’s undermining pawn break with b3 is an interesting option.

5. e3 Na6

After only five moves we reach a position unknown to MegaBase 2016. Black’s plan is clear: a quick attack on the c2 square.

6. Bxc4 Nb4

Now I have to make a decision, over which I thought perhaps too long. I can defend c2 with an artificial move such as Bb3 or Na3, but I really don’t want to play either of these moves. So I decided on a simple developing move, trusting that there was no justification for Black to play like this rather than getting his pieces out.

7. O-O e6

Black goes back on his idea and decides to start developing instead. After 7… Nc2 perhaps White’s simplest option is 8. Nh4 (knights on the rim aren’t always dim) 8… Nxa1 9. Nxf5 e6 10. Ng3 and the black Knight is stuck in the corner – a typical theme in positions like this.

8. Nc3 a5

I didn’t understand this move at all. Why not play Nf6, getting a piece out?

9. e4 Bg4

With a lead in development White has to think about blasting open the centre with a timely d5. The engines want to play this immediately but simple development can’t be bad.

10. Be3 Bxf3

Another very strange decision, after which Black is already virtually lost.

11. Qxf3 Nf6
12. Rad1

Again the immediate d5 was strong but the rook is also very happy looking at the black queen. I demonstrated this game at Richmond Junior Club and it was interesting to see how difficult many of the children found it to come up with a simple developing move. Most of them wanted to play something like Bg5 instead, tempted by the pin (which Black can negate with Be7).

12… Be7
13. d5

My audience took some time to find this, being unaware of the principle of opening the position when you have a lead in development. I hope they learnt an important lesson! A lot of them wanted to play 13. Qg3 O-O 14. Bh6. Children often get obsessed with this attacking plan, sometimes sacrificing the whole of their queenside in order to make a crude and easily parried mate threat. Simple development as recommended by Fred Reinfeld – or Paul Morphy – has given me a winning position after only 13 moves.

13… exd5

Or 13… O-O 14. d6 Bxd6 15. Bg5 with Ne4 to follow.

14. exd5 cxd5
15. Nxd5 Nbxd5
16. Bxd5 Nxd5
17. Rxd5 Qc8

All I have to do now is find an accurate move to prevent Black castling, but my audience again had problems with this, instead considering moves with more immediate threats. Rc1, which had been my first thought, was a popular choice, but after Qe6 Black is hanging on. Some were again seduced by 18. Qg3 O-O 19. Bh6 which just throws away most of White’s advantage, being easily met by Bf6. It took several unsuccessful guesses before someone came up with the right idea. Children at this level find preventative moves hard to find and understand.

18. Qe4

With an immediate secondary threat of Re5, Bc5 and, if I really wanted to be sadistic, Re1, hitting the pinned bishop with all my remaining pieces. Some of our members know the acronym PPPPPP: Put Powerful Pressure on Pathetically Pinned Pieces.

18… Qe6

Hopeless, but 18… Ra6 is well met by 19. Rc1.

19. Re5 f5

Desperation. Now anything reasonable will win. The engines play 20. Qxb7 Qxe5 21. Qa8+ Bd8 22. Rd1 and the vertical pin has turned into a horizontal pin. As I was winning a piece anyway I saw no reason to look beyond a simple queen exchange, followed by attacking the pinned piece.

20. Rxe6 fxe4
21. Bc5 Rc8

Allowing a swift conclusion. Immediate resignation was better.

22. Rxe7+

Black resigned as 22… Kf8 23. Rc7+ wins several rooks while 22… Kd8 23. Rd1# wins a king.

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 ( or 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 ( 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.