Short Term Results Versus Long Term Development

Hanging out at junior chess events with my son is continuing to prove an eye opening experience and I’m beginning to understand why so few ‘promising juniors’ make the transition to adult chess. One thing that I want to explore in today’s post is the attainment of a short term improvement in results at the cost of a player’s long term development.

At a recent event in Yorkshire I overheard a little girl tell her coach that all her opponents had castled but then they hadn’t moved one of the pawns in front of their king. I guessed from this that she had been told to do so in order to avoid the danger of back rank mates, and that if her opponents did not take such precautions then she would try to spring a back rank mate on them.

Now it’s true that back rank mates occur quite frequently at junior levels, so making luft for the king might seem like a very sensible thing to do. Yet this precaution carries with it some other less positive elements, first of all by encouraging a certain disdain for the time spent on such pawn moves and secondly by creating a habit that might later make them vulnerable to pawn storms.

There is a third aspect too which is that cultivating an awareness of potential bank rank mates will go together with an increase in general awareness. And whilst this may seem somewhat Nietchean in tenor (‘Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’) I think there are plenty of good parallels in other fields. Prolonged use of water wings does not a champion swimmer make!

The following game shows the dangers of advancing pawns in front of the king in the most graphic style. Black invites a pawn storm with 10…h6 because g2-g4-g5 will then open files. And to make matters worse he later plays …g7-g5 after which his entire castled position falls apart:

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About NigelD

Nigel Davies is an International Chess Grandmaster living in Southport in the UK. The winner of 15 international tournaments he is also a former British U21 and British Open Quickplay Champion and has represented both England and Wales on several occasions. These days he works as a chess teacher, his students including his 11 year old son Sam.