The Difference Between a Knight Developed at c3 and at d2

There is a well-known trap in the Bogo-Indian Defense that raises an interesting question whenever I show it to someone. The trap is as follows and involves a question of how White should recapture after a trade of Bishops by Black:

The question after this trap is always, “Well, why would White ever want to play Qxd2 anyway, exposing the Queen to an attack by …Ne4? Isn’t it obviously better to recapture with Nbxd2, simultaneously developing the Queen Knight?” This is an excellent question. It is best answered by examining some long-term issues in the middlegame arising from this opening.

Comparing Knight developed at c3 and Knight at d2

Knight at c3

First, we look at what can happen if Black mistakenly allows White to recapture the Bishop with Qxd2 instead of Nbxd2, by not taking White’s Bishop early enough for the “trap”.

Black’s plan in this variation of the Bogo-Indian is to play …d6 and …e5, attacking White’s Pawn on d4 and encouraging White to close the center with d5. After the center is closed, all attention must be directed toward Pawn breaks by either side.

White is acknowledged by theory to have some advantage in this opening, having more space and a lead in development, and can think about attacking either on the Queen side (with plans such as a3, b4, c5) or on the King side (with plans such as e4, Ne1, Nd3, f4). But Black has a solid position, and can aim for counterplay with …a5 with …Na6 or …Nbd7 aiming for …Nc5, and/or …c6, to prevent White from gaining too much ground on the Queen side, and perhaps preparing slowly for …f5 to further attack White’s e4 Pawn chain base.

Knight at d2

By contrast, let’s see what happens when Black correctly forces White to recapture the Bishop with Nbxd2.

below is a sample continuation, in which at move 13, probably White’s best move is the paradoxical undeveloping move Nb1! The Knight at d2 is not doing much, being blocked by White’s own c4 and e4 Pawns. More important, it is not controlling the important a4 square (that Black can possibly aim to occupy with …a4), and it is not controlling the b5 square that could also be important (in a later attack against Black’s c7 and d6).

But this retreat wastes two moves (the original Nbxd2 and the Nb1) before getting to c3. However, in the Qxd2 situation, White wasted a move with the Queen, which is not so well-placed on d2: White’s Queen is actually better placed on d1, where it controls a4, than on d2. But White’s Rooks are not connected, so White will eventually want to develop the Queen anyway, perhaps to c2. So overall, White has lost one move, net, and, and this does make some difference in White advantage, even in a closed position, because the extra White move in the Nc3 variation makes it that much harder for Black to catch up in development and begin counterplay.


The summary of the situation is that paradoxically, since White wants the Knight on c3 anyway eventually, “saving” time by recapturing with development by playing Nbxd2 actually ends up wasting a move because the Knight will have to spend two more moves to get back to c3. Knights are funny pieces because any time a Knight has a choice to go to one of two different squares, if it chooses to go to one of them, it will always require two more moves to get to the alternate square. This is something to think about when planning Knight maneuvers: it is efficient, when possible, to plan to get to a desired square with the smallest number of moves possible (given the tactical constraints).

The other point to remember is that “wasting” moves to get a Knight to a good square may be justified. “Backwards” Knight moves are very important in chess, because a Knight on a good square can be so powerful that it is worth spending the time to get the Knight there. Look at how White thematically “undevelops” the Knight on f3, where it is doing nothing, to e1 and then to d3, to control the c5 square and b4 square (in case of a Pawn advance to b4 in the future) and also regain pressure on Black’s e5 Pawn and help support an f4 advance.

Study of typical middlegame positions in the Bogo-Indian can pay off with better understanding of the roles of both of White’s Knights and both of Black’s Knights (Black’s King Knight was not discussed here, but it has plans too).

Franklin Chen


An Interesting Way To Teach Knight Moves To Kids

While teaching how pieces move, the most difficult to explain and understand is the knight. This is because other pieces move in in straight lines and the knight is the only piece which can jump. Kids can usually grasp the point that knight can jump but still find it difficult to understand its movements.

The best way to teach anything is to keep it simple, interesting and if possible make it funny (a kind of trigger) so that kids can easily remember it. Here is one interesting and funny method. The founder of this method is one of my chess friends (Mr. Rushang) who is a chess coach and also a very creative person. Nowadays I am using this method very effectively and enjoy doing so.

Normally we have tiles on the floor. Then we ask one of the kids to come up and ask him or her to stand on any tile they like with their legs together and then jump two steps, one by one, still with their legs together. Once he or she has completed the second jump, we ask him or her to spread their legs to show where the knight came from and where it is now. Believe me, the is very funny and effective way to teach kids knight moves. Parents even told me that after my departure the kids would continue to play this game.

If you would like to use this method on a board then you can do it with two fingers together and the same process outlined above. But it is not as funny!

Teaching should not be stereotyped, you have to make it interesting.

Ashvin Chauhan


Smyslov: Master of the ‘Coiled Spring’ Approach

I have always been an admirer of the late Russian Grandmaster, Vassily Smyslov. One of the things that drew me to his games, was his ability to take on cramped positions without becoming passive. He would then, very often unravel his position, rather like a spring which is wound and full of tension before being released. There would then be an explosion in which Smyslov would take space, and begin to relocate his pieces to more advanced positions, very often to carefully prepared squares.

Smyslov’s play, I must say, suits me very well, his style fits very well with mine and the openings I play. For players who play openings or piece setups where development is initially contained to the first 3-ranks and the opponent very often establishes in the centre, studies of his games really can not hurt at all.

Infact, this approach is one of the best ways to become familiar with an opening.

In the following game, I would like to draw your attention to how Smyslov plays quietly and subtely, but remains active (not an easy thing to do!). He controls the situation, playing accurately and responding to his opponent. Steadily, his position improves, and he is able to pounce when his opponent shows an obvious lack of technique and understanding of the type of position.

John Lee Shaw


A Reader’s Youtube Videos

My thanks to Michel Miro for sending me links to his Youtube chess videos. Nice work:

Tribute to chess through painting

Male and female World Champions (Rocky)

Alexandra Kosteniuk (Pretty Woman)

Nigel Davies


Chess for Heroes

In my last three posts I’ve discussed three reasons for promoting junior chess: to encourage participation in serious competitive chess at whatever level, to identify and fast track potential master strength players, and to use chess as a learning tool.

Between the 1950s and the 1970s chess was promoted in secondary schools: this proved successful in terms of our first aim. The work of the late Bob Wade, Leonard Barden and others was successful in the 1970s and 1980s in terms of our second aim. Chess in Schools and Communities is successfully pursuing the third aim, but over the past 30 years we’ve lost focus with regard to the first two.

Since the 1980s the main focus of junior chess here in the UK has been the primary school chess club. I started getting involved in primary school chess through the Richmond Chess Initiative in 1993, and after a few years I started asking questions. Yes, a few strong players came through primary school clubs, but nowhere near enough. I also didn’t see how they were ‘making kids smarter’. Richmond primary schools are the most academically successful in the country, the schools that were running chess clubs were, by and large, the most academically successful schools in Richmond, and the children who joined their chess clubs were, by and large, those who were academically strong, so there was not very much leeway in terms of making them even smarter than they were.

So our clubs were attracting a lot of very bright boys (but sadly few very bright girls) but the standard of play was, with a few exceptions, pretty low. The children enjoyed the chess clubs, and, to that extent they were an asset to the schools, but they weren’t becoming strong players or developing a long-term interest in chess.

The basic problem is that, because chess is not part of our culture, very few parents have enough knowledge about chess to help their children. Just doing 30 hours of chess in school over a year (actually more like 25 hours once you’ve taken off the time taken getting the sets out, setting them up and putting them away again) isn’t going to get you very far. Playing games at home against parents who are themselves beginners won’t help either, and losing game after game against the chess app on your mobile won’t be a lot better.

I’ve been thinking for a long time about how to get round this problem. I’ve tried handing out worksheets, giving homework, emailing parents with advice on how to help their children at home, writing books for parents, but none of this has had any success.

This time I hope I’ve found the answer.

CHESS FOR HEROES provides a workbook for children plus email access to a chess tutor for children learning the moves. There’s also a chess engine on the site which will record your games. After each module of the workbook you submit your children’s worksheet answers and games against the computer to your chess tutor who will get back to you with specific feedback on your children’s progress.

Children will benefit – they will be able to spend more time each week on chess, will improve their play, win more games and enjoy chess more.

Parents will benefit – they will get help for their children, and, by helping their children, will learn more about chess themselves.

Schools will benefit – their chess club will be stronger, and their children will learn various cognitive and non-cognitive skills which will help them excel academically.

Chess tutors will benefit – they will have something constructive to do between their lunchtime club and their after school club, and will make more money though marking their students’ worksheets and commenting on their games.

The ECF will benefit – more children will be encouraged to take part in higher level competitive chess and they will have more of a long-term interest in the game.

Finally, I will benefit – I will receive royalties for every copy of the course you buy.

Everybody wins, nobody loses. What’s not to like?

Do please visit the CHESS FOR HEROES website. If you’d like to be a CHESS FOR HEROES tutor yourself please let me know.

Richard James


Children and Studying

If you want to get good at chess, you have to put work into it, namely in the form of studying the game’s principles. Unfortunately, living in a society that values instant gratification, we often avoid hobbies or pastimes that require serious effort. Many chess playing adults tend to learn only what is necessary to make a slight improvement in their game. Most adults work so their free time is limited which, in turn, limits the time they have to study. Children face an even great obstacle when it comes to learning chess. That obstacle is the video game. Let me explain.

I play video games now and again so I speak with a little authority on the subject. With video games, the only way to improve your skill set is to play the game over and over. Video games do not have a method of study you can employ to get better at playing them. You simply play the game over and over until you get better (or give up). The majority of my young students are video game players. When they first started their classes with me, they thought of chess and video games as being in the same category; games. They were preconditioned by their video games to approach improvement in chess by simply playing the game over and over. The idea of studying a game in a systematic way was foreign to them.

Today, my students actually embrace the idea of studying and ask for homework. When a student enters one of my classes, I make sure the parents know that work outside the classroom is necessary if their child want to get better at chess. I make a point of explaining to the parents that my reasons for giving homework are not Machiavellian on my part. No, my reasoning is simple: Children become frustrated easily and this frustration can lead to a child giving up on something they truly enjoy, such as chess. With students and parents alike, I use a music analogy:

When I was about fourteen years old, I decided that I was going to make a name for myself as a guitar player. I was determined to see my face on an album in the local record store. That was the plan! I had studying classical piano from a very young age so I knew the musician’s secret weapon for success, practice. Therefore, I locked myself in my room for a few years and taught myself guitar. By the age of seventeen, I was playing and touring in bands and had penned my first minor college radio hit (the first song I wrote). The song did well on the regional charts and I went on from there. My student’s parents, if they lived in San Francisco long enough, knew my name as a musician so they took what I had to say seriously. Study and practice. Study and practice!

When I start each class session, we briefly discuss how to get better at playing a musical instrument. Of course the discussion revolves around working at your craft by studying how to play and then practicing what you’ve learned. I had a student come to the first day of chess class in a t-shirt with my bands name on the front and an image of me playing guitar on the back. After the above opening session discussion, the student in question asked me if you really had to work that hard to get better at something. Knowing he took guitar lessons, I asked him if he practiced his guitar everyday. He said he did because his playing sounded terrible if he didn’t. I told him that the same idea applied to chess. Mastering the guitar would allow him to create art with his instrument and mastering chess would allow him to create art on the chess board. He seemed intrigued by this thought.

I poll my students at the start of every session and the majority of them either play a musical instrument or play a sport. The bottom line: both require some method of organized study followed by practice. However, just because there are similarities between learning chess and learning an instrument (or sport), doesn’t mean you’re going to get your students to throw themselves wholly into the study of chess! Rule one for me, lead by example.

I put a great deal of time into studying chess. I do it because I love the game and the more I study, the more secrets the game reveals to me. However, telling children or teenagers that the mystic secrets of the game of Kings will be revealed if they hunker down and hit the books isn’t enough. Therefore, at the start of every class, I say “guys, you’re not going to believe was I discovered in my studies last night. This is truly mind boggling and I’m not sure I can even show it to you.” The key point here is the build up. I get them pumped up to the point where they want to know what brilliant secret I learned in my chess studies. Do I share with them the greatest chess secret ever? Actually, we proceed with our regularly scheduled lesson. However, it isn’t just any old chess lesson, it’s a long lost Russian Grandmaster’s secret suddenly discovered in my studies. In actually, it might be an introduction to Knight forks or the dreaded double discovered check. The point is, it’s an adventure. I share my enthusiasm and the personal homework I’ve done with my students. Of course, the studying I’m doing is a bit more complicated than that of my students but the basic concepts are the same.

I also do any homework in the form of workbooks and handouts my students do. Yes, every year, I sit with a pencil in one hand and a workbook in the other, doing the same work I ask my students to do. Students will ask me why I bother doing their homework (since I know it already) and I tell them this, “I would never ask you to do something I didn’t do myself!”

I also use a bit of an incentive program. The more studying outside of class my students do, in the form of workbooks and handouts, the more one on one playing time they can earn with me. There is nothing wrong with a bit of incentive. Of course, my students start seeing progress because they’re studying chess outside of class so they often conclude that a bit of study can be a good thing. While it doesn’t work with every child and I did have one parent comment that my methods were on par with a television evangelist (my feathers are still ruffled over that comment), it has served the majority of my students well.

If you’re going to ask students to do outside work, make it an adventure and give them reasons for doing so that they can relate to. Well, time to go do some studying myself. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson


Amateur Versus Master: Game Eleven

This chess game is one of my recently completed games form the 2011 Golden Knights Final. Bonsack is the second master that I have drawn in this section and the second highest rated in this section at 2344. Unless I am mistaken, I have drawn a few 2300 rated players in correspondence chess, but I have yet to beat one. So far, I have one loss, two draws and no wins in this section.

I am moving out of my current apartment this weekend and my opponent knew that I was taking a month off from chess for this move. I think that he felt sorry for me and that may be why he offered a draw in a position that favored him. Whatever the real reason for the draw, I’m glad.

This game transposed into a Benoni Defense. At the points in this game where I say “slightly better is” or “possibly better is”, it is because the chess engines do not agree on the moves and I am unsure myself.

At move number 11 I decided to keep the position closed for a while so that I could restrict the range of White’s bishops. In previous chess games against masters I have gotten burned when my opponent’s bishop pair came to life. I avoided that in this chess game.

Once White’s Knight was firmly established on b5, I could never dislodge it without giving him a passed pawn on the Queenside. That did not favor me, so I eventually decide to go for play on the Kingside by opening it up. That is when White started moving his King over to the Queenside. Not much happened after that.

Mike Serovey


Fianchettoing Your King’s Bishop May Weaken Your c4-Pawn

I saw a curious position recently in which strangely, White was in a position to lose a c-Pawn placed on c4. I then remembered that it is actually not uncommon for this Pawn on c4 to be undefended when White has fianchettoed the Bishop to g2, because unlike classical development of the Bishop, where the Bishop is on e2 or d3 and therefore protects the Pawn on c4, the Bishop on g2 does nothing to protect the light squares from f1 to a6. Check out this position:

A standard theme for Black counterplay

Many middlegame plans by Black in these kinds of opening development setups in fact target White’s c4 Pawn and the light squares on the Queen side in general, while White tries to make something long-term out of increased central control of e5 and d5 (over classical development of the Bishop) and of course the long diagonal from h1 to a8. These positions can be very subtle for both sides to play. In this article I’m not discussing any of these subtleties, but simply pointing out a common theme for Black.

A variation of the King’s Indian Defense:

A variation of the English Opening:

And of course, the concept behind a popular approach to the Queen’s Indian Defense:

Franklin Chen


Remember Games and Patterns

You might have heard that Carlsen can remember numbers of positions and recall them over the board in a limited amount of time. In the book GM-RAM, by Rashid Ziatdinov, the author emphasises remembering key positions and games and claims that “if you know just one of important classical games, you will be able to become a 1400 level player, to be world champion you will need to know 1,000 such games”. This may be too much but we can’t deny fact that remembering these games cold will definitely help you towards chess improvement.

I tried different ways to remember games, for example playing them over the board many times, guessing them move by move, using Chess Position Trainer etc. But they didn’t work that well for me.

Then I tried one more thing and succeeded. This method uses lots of time but definitely works; after a month without playing them through a second time I am able to remember the games and their critical positions.

The way to do this is to take a book of your favourite player where he has annotated his games. Now we are going to annotate his games in our words rather than going through author’s annotations first. You can use different software but a pen and paper works best for me.

The most important thing is that your focus must be on one direction but with inherent flexibility (if your opponent blunders you must be able to punish him). This tends to be missing from the play of amateur play as they fight in different directions. Write down your ideas for each move (for both White and Black) and don’t worry if you repeat the same thing over a series of moves. Once you finish it (normally I take 4 to 6 hours) go to the experts annotations and compare. You will find that now it is very easy to understand the author’s points and your mistakes, this wouldn’t have happened if you went directly to the author’s annotations .

It is also wise to go for a second opinion also, if someone has explained the same game. Players who have the time and work like hell will definitely get benefit from this!

If you find this is very hard and time consuming, first watch this video:

Ashvin Chauhan


There Is No Fury Like Chess Scorned …

We chess players, have all had bad games — especially mere mortal and non-titled players such as myself. We’ve lost pawns, dropped pieces, got swindled, and fallen for tactics we really shouldn’t. Some of us may even have comitted the ultimate sins and lost a queen here and there, or even worse, walked in to mate.

But, you know, it’s not only the mere mortals who are having bad times at the board. In the 2014 World Rapid Championship, World Champion Magnus Carlsen grabbed a pawn and got a piece skewered against Anand; and, even more recently, (within the last week or so actually), Veselin Topalov had a real bad game against Fabiano Caruana, at the 2nd Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis, USA.

As well as making us feel slightly better about our mistakes, dear reader, such blunders by the top players are also something of a mystery, arent’t they? How can such masters of the game make such errors?

Well, I have thought long and hard about this, and I think it very often boils down to the fact that the top players are pushing the boundaries of chess further and further all the time in order to find novelties and nuances to gain an edge. It’s rather like a racing driver, who drives their car to its absolute limit — arguably to within a hair’s width of suicidal. When it goes right, it is exciting, entertaining, dramatic, and gives witnesses a thril. On the other hand, when it goes wrong things can (and do) get ugly.

There is also the fact that top players tend to sometimes take ridiculous liberties, not castling for example, throwing pawns forward willy-nilly, behaving like the tried and tested fundamentals of chess (which we do our best to drum in to the beginner) do not apply to them. This can be even more so, in openings in which the players feel at home. They can sometimes be guilty of treating the game too casually, bordering even on the contemptuous.

I have to say, that looking over the Topalov-Caruana game mentioned above, I’d have to plump for the latter option. Topalov certainly did not play ambitiously as White in allowing the Symmetrical English. Mind you, it has to be said that even though this opening is often seen as dull and rather tame, it does not have to be. That being said, however, one has to spice it up in the right way. Topalov certainly didn’t, and seemed to lunge for sharp play with his 17.g4? Actually, his position had started to wane even before this move, and perhaps he was feeling a little vexed.

Unfortunately for the Bulgarian, though, when one does not show our beautiful game enough respect, the consequences tend to be very painful.

John Lee Shaw