I recently returned to the original Thinking Skills test for children which I wrote some years ago. I decided I could produce a lot more of these, and have had the opportunity to submit the Richmond Junior Club Intermediate Group to another eight questions. These questions are designed for players who have learned the basic principles but are below about 100 ECF/1500 Elo strength. It’s always interesting to note that children who, when playing games, will make most of their moves instantaneously, will spend a long time on this exercise.
If you teach children at this level please feel free to use them yourself and let me know what results you get.
Question 1 is, like last time, a basic king and pawn v king position. Will they push the pawn hoping to get it to the end of the board safely or will they, correctly but perhaps counter-intuitively, take the opposition with Ke6? In my small sample, several of the children knew the answer to this, in some cases specifically mentioning the word ‘opposition’, but without being able to spell it correctly. Others, as expected just pushed the pawn, hoping for a safe promotion.
Question 2 is a very frequent position type in games at this level. Black goes for a quick attack on f2 and White correctly meets the attack by castling. After Black captures with the knight on f2, what should White do? The most popular answer in my sample was Qe2. They see their queen is attacked and move it to a safe square. At least it’s better than Qe1 or Qd2 when a knight move will hit the queen as well as discovering check from the bishop. Surprisingly few make the correct move, capturing the knight on f2, winning two minor pieces for rook (and pawn) and giving White a clear advantage. I’ve also used the position where Black has played Bc5xf2+ instead of Ng4xf2. Here, again, many children at this level will play Kh1 rather than Rxf2, telling me that they don’t want to lose a rook (5 points) for a bishop (3 points). Because they lack the basic skill of being able to look ahead they fail to see their next move, capturing again on f2.
Question 3 is a basic tactical idea which is usually missed at this level. If they haven’t seen the position type before they’ll find it too hard to take in the bishop on b3 pinning the pawn on f7 as well as the potential capture on g6. If they look at Qxg6 at all they’ll reject it because they think the pawn is protected. Being able to see the relationship between five pieces (Bb3, Qf6, Pf7, Pg6, Kg8), one of which is a long way from the other four, is just too difficult. Instead, they’ll stare blankly at the position for some time before doing something like putting a rook on d1 or playing a4 to threaten the enemy queen.
If you look through games played by children at this level you’ll notice very quickly the very large number decided by Qxh7# or Qxh2#. Here’s an example, I think from a German junior game I found on MegaBase. I changed the position slightly: the black pawn you see on f5 was actually on e4, when Black was winning anyway because of the attack on f2. It’s very tempting for White to think it’s a ‘which capture should I make?’ question and just decide which way to take off the bishop on c5. As you’ll see, g3 is the only good defence for White, as the f2 pawn is pinned, but at this level many children will fail to notice Black’s threat. Again, they find it difficult to process information from both sides of the board (the queen on c7 and the knight on g4) at the same time. Children sometimes assure me that castling is a bad move because whenever they castle they get mated. Sometimes this will be in a position like this, sometimes perhaps a back rank mate later in the game. So in future they always leave their king in the centre of the board. Generally speaking, defensive questions such as this are hard for young children, partly because of their egocentric view of the world. There are some more examples in the second half of this quiz, which I’ll discuss next week.