I sometimes ask my pupils to guess what my three favourite things in the world are. One, I tell them, is chocolate, one is ice cream, and the third is – pawn endings. (I suppose some of you might have a fourth as well!)
There are several reasons why I do a lot of work on pawn endings with my pupils. One is that they involve pure calculation, and thus are excellent for developing that skill. Another is that many games, not just at junior level, involve a decision as to whether or not to trade off the last remaining big guys into a pawn ending. You can’t make this decision with any degree of accuracy or confidence until you’re really good at pawn endings. Finally, as you’ll know if you’ve read my earlier posts here, there are lots of kids who think material doesn’t matter and deliberately give away pieces, and many other kids who are so obsessed with not wanting to lose pieces that they refuse to make equal trades, or even to trade weaker pieces for stronger pieces. Understanding pawn endings, and understanding that an advantage of just one pawn will often win, will help them understand the importance of having a material advantage.
This, I tell my pupils, is the most important position in chess. You can’t understand openings until you understand middle games, and you can’t understand middle games until you understand endings. You can’t understand other endings until you understand pawn endings, because you won’t know whether or not you’re trying to trade off. You can’t understand pawn endings until you understand this critical position.
When I ask children to give a reason for their choice of move with Black here, if they don’t know the position already they’ll nearly always say the same thing. They’ll select a random move and tell me they chose it because they’ll be able to capture the white pawn if it advances. This is a typical differentiation error. Children will typically select one criterion, in this case stopping the pawn from advancing, and then choose the first move they find that meets that criterion. The idea of comparing moves and considering what their opponent’s best response might be is very difficult for concrete operational learners.
So, in Chapter 4 of Move Two! we look at this and other fundamental King and Pawn vs King positions. Without a higher level understanding, constant repetition will be necessary for the student to master these.
In the Quiz section children have to master two positions.
They have to win this position with White to play.
And they have to draw this position with Black (White will play Ke2 as his first move).
A mini-quiz of five questions follows to check understanding of King and Pawn against King.
My view is that students should start by learning the openings starting with 1. e4 e5. I’ll write more about this when we reach the later chapters on openings. It pains me to see children in lower levels of the Richmond Rapidplays who all seem to play the Colle or London Systems with White and the Caro-Kann or Scandinavian with Black. But if you’re playing in tournaments, espcially adult tournaments, you’re going to need to know a little bit about other openings. The Activities section of Chapter 4, then, provides a quick list of other first moves you might encounter when playing 1. e4.
Masters of the Universe features one of my personal chess heroes, Emanuel Lasker, a man with what British politician Denis Healey once described as ‘hinterland’. We look at his famous double bishop sacrifice game, and learn some important attacking techniques. We also meet, very briefly, some of his great contemporaries and rivals: Pillsbury, Tarrasch, Schlechter and Rubinstein, and analyse the famous game between Rotlewi and Rubinstein, another game that teaches attacking techniques while requiring calculation skills along with imagination.