15 December 2011

Lesson of the Week

A holiday concert displaces one school chess club this week. Holiday distractions disrupt others. Last week's lesson on pins proved impossibly difficult for most of the young players in my clubs. Some were offered an easier lesson on pins last week: "While Looking at Pins." Another club saw the position from "While Looking at Pins" this week. Other groups this week are seeing the position below.

White to move

This position is problem number 1 is Fred Reinfeld, 1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations (1955). This text is generally available for approximately $10. My copy is beginning to fall apart, and I may replace it. The principal difficulty young students would have in learning from it stems from descriptive notation. Algebraic is far simpler to master for the nine year old student, and is the notation system universally taught. Descriptive notation is worth learning because it provides access to many older texts, such as the exceptional checkmate manual, Georges Renaud and Victor Kahn, The Art of the Checkmate (1953). Reinfeld's text offers a one page explanation of descriptive notation in the front matter.

Reinfeld's text contains errors, but far fewer than will be evident in every book written by Bruce Pandolfini or by Eric Schiller. Reinfeld worked in an era before computers, checked his work carefully, and made a few errors in assessment. Pandolfini's work appears rushed into print without proper editing. Even so, I find that Pandolfini's Endgame Course (1988) is a highly instructive text for scholastic players. If I could give every child this text after his or her first tournament, and they could be induced to spend one hour per week studying it, skills would improve rapidly. Reinfeld's text is less elementary, focuses on middlegame tactics, rather than basic checkmates, and should be listed in every state qualifier's letter to Santa.

Reinfeld does not present his sources, but the position comes from Yanofsky -- Aitken, Hastings 1946. Yanofsky made the correct move and Aitken resigned.


  1. I guess the difficulty here is that 1. Rd1 looks like they are putting a Rook for the grabs. They do not see that the Queen may not move thanks to the absolute pin (tail of the pin is the king) other then Qxc4.

    Another difficulty is 1. Rd1 Qxc4 2. Rxd8+ they probably dont see in a glance that the king cannot attack the rook while getting out of check.

    Its also sometimes hard for young, beginning players to calculate (and see everything) more then two moves ahead. 1. Rd1 Qxc4 2. Rxd8+ Kg7 3. bxc4 is therefor not an easy calculation for them.

  2. That's true, Chesstiger. Developing elementary board vision for young, beginning players takes time. They tend to fixate on certain things. After being shown 1.Rd1 Qxc4, most of them want to immediately capture the queen. They are oblivious to the loss of the rook if 2.bxc4 Rxd1+. One young player spent another five minutes with me at the Demo board while the others were playing, and I slowly went over each move in the combination. Then he set up the position on a chessboard and wanted me to play as Black. He found 1.Rd1, but missed the in-between move 2.Rxd8+ after losing his queen.

    In order for them to calculate a three move combination, they must become aware of the immediate dangers after seeing on the board 1.Rd1 Qxc4. They must learn to examine the consequences of check.

    There were players in every club that saw the three move combination quickly, however. Some of those who solved this problem had trouble with last week's problems.

  3. James,

    This comment is a little off-topic, but I enjoy reading your blog and your dedication to helping young players learn and improve their game is admirable. Do you use Silman's "How to Reassess Your Chess" or "Chess Amateur" books in your teaching? If so, and you have the time, please check out my web site at http://www.chessplans.com. I think the young players (well...middle-schoolers, anyway) in some of your clubs may find this useful. Each position presented on the site has a set of 8 polls where visitors can analyze the position with respect to 8 different imbalances (material, minor pieces, space, initiative, etc.) and vote for which side has the advantage in each strategic "area"/principle. Comparing their vote with the consensus helps identify areas where they may have mis-interpreted a strategic principle w.r.t. the position. Anyway, take a look and feel free to use it in your clubs if you find it helpful.

  4. ECHOOooo, I suppose that it would be accurate to say that IM Jeremy Silman's books inform my teaching. I have spent many hours working through parts of his books over the past decade. I have internalized many of his ideas. Discussing imbalances in chess strategy is natural, and inseparable from other elements of positional evaluation. Moreover, shortly after Silman's Complete Endgame Course was published, I dropped knight and bishop checkmate exercises in my award curriculum, replacing the task with work on rook endgames. But, I do not directly teach from his books.