Use Your Eyes

A common mistake made at lower levels is just to look at the last move, not the whole board. Players at this level can play reasonably well in simple positions, but in more complex situations they will get confused and sometimes a position will be reached where both players have several pieces en prise.

Witness this game, played between two younger, less experienced players. White goes to a school which is very keen on chess. The head teacher is a 2200 strength player and children get the chance to play regularly during the week, as well as attending two chess clubs run by very strong players (a GM and a strong FM). Black goes to a school with a weekly chess club run by two teachers and a chess coach (me) but the children have no other opportunity to play at school.

We join the game after Black’s 10th move: Ng4. This move threatens and traps the bishop on h6. White reacts by creating a bigger threat:

11. d6

Black looks at the pawn and decides to take it, rather than looking at the board and finding Nxh6.

11.. cxd6

White carries out his threat:

12. Bxf7+ (Nxf7 was better but at this level it’s obvious to go for the fork) Kh8

White looks at Black’s last move, observes that the king doesn’t threaten anything, and, having forgotten that his last move was a fork, moves his queen to what he hopes will be a better square.

13. Qc1

Black notices the attack on his rook, so moves it.

13.. Re7

White sees no threat so attacks the rook again. He doesn’t stop to ask himself “If I go there, what will he do next?” or look at the whole board, so is unaware that he is allowing a Big Fork.

14. Nd5

Black looks at this move, sees his rook is attacked, so moves it to the only safe square.

14.. Rd7

You might expect White to attack the rook again with Be6, but instead he spots that he can play a pawn fork (in fact Ne6 is the winning move here).

15. c3

Now Black is forced to consider his knight on d4 and notices that he can fork the white king and queen.

15.. Ne2+ 16. Kh1 Nxc1

You might expect White to capture the knight here, but you’d be wrong. Perhaps thinking about knight forks himself, or perhaps wanting to attack a stronger piece, he chooses an alternative.

17. Be6

Black, confused by the number of pieces en prise, decides to defend the rook again, just to be safe. Both players have completely forgotten, if they were ever aware, of the possibility of Nxh6.

17.. Nf6 18. Bxd7

In this sort of position, players at this level will usually capture with the least valuable piece ‘because it’s safer’ – they might possibly have failed to notice another enemy piece controlling that square. And so, not asking the question “If I do this, what will he do next?”, Black plays..

18.. Nxd7

White, having been reminded about knight forks by his opponent, seizes his chance.

19. Nf7+ Kh8 20. Nxd8

Now White’s threatening mate in 2 and Black, with his pieces all offside, has no way of stopping it (Kh8 is met by Ne7 followed by Nf7#). At this level, though, it’s not surprising White misses it.

20.. Nc5

Quite possibly not noticing that he has two pieces en prise. White notices that he can capture a piece, but not that he has mate in 2.

21. Raxc1

Black spots that he can capture a pawn.

21.. Nxd3

White sees his rook is under attack and moves it to threaten the knight.

22. Rcd1

Black sees that he can capture an undefended pawn with his threatened knight.

22.. Nxb2

White again moves his threatened rook to hit the knight.

23. Rb1

At this point Black notices that he has two pieces en prise and plays..

23.. a5 24. Rxb2 Bc5

Now, with nothing else happening on the queen side, White turns his attention to the other end of the board and decides to throw in a check.

25. Nf6+ Kh8

White plays another check and, much to his surprise, finds that he’s delivered a beautiful minor piece checkmate.

26. Nf7#

I should add that I went through the whole game with White, and part of the game with Black, immediately after it was played, so have some idea what they were both thinking about.

At this level, knowing openings (beyond basic principles) and endings doesn’t matter much. Children need to learn looking and thinking skills first.

Look at the whole board, not just the last move. Once you’ve learnt how to do this, train yourself to ask the question “If I play that move, what will my opponent do next?” every move. Or, to put it another way, look for every check, capture and threat for both players.

The complete game:

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 (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) 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 (www.chessinschools.co.uk) 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.