17 September 2013

Lesson of the Week

The 2013-2014 School Year

School is back in session. Soon school chess clubs will begin anew. Some chess classes have resumed already. My activities with youth chess players during the 2013-2014 school year begins this week.

As a guest teacher this morning, I worked with a class of first graders on how to checkmate with a queen and a king against a lone king. Some had never played chess before. They did not master the skill, but they are on the path. In the next few days, I plan to post a YouTube video that offers elementary instruction concerning this vital skill. Next week I will be teaching these first graders how to promote a pawn. Imagine! A player who knows how to checkmate with a queen and who knows how to nurture a pawn's journey to the promotion square, may be able to convert a small advantage into victory.

Later this week, my chess classes for home schooled students begin. The after school chess clubs start in October. Each week during school year, I develop a lesson plan that forms the core of my teaching time in after school chess clubs, in-school chess clubs, and home school resource center classes. Some of those who have contracted me for individual tutoring also may get this lesson. The 2013-2014 school year is the third year in which each of these lessons is posted on this Chess Skills blog. All of these posts are tagged with "Problem of the Week." Clicking that tag at the bottom of this post or in the "Spokane Scholastics" sidebar will bring up all these lessons.

Suppose a parent and child check this blog on Monday evening and review the lesson of the week. Then, the next day or later in the week that child goes to chess club. He or she is already familiar with what I am teaching there. That lesson will sink deeper into that child's memory, and it may develop the skill that leads to victory in Saturday's tournament. The lesson of the week may not be posted always on Monday. Sometimes it is posted on Sunday, sometimes Thursday. It is posted every week.

All of the lessons through October will concern a decision that the player of the Black pieces must make on move two after some very common moves.

A Decision in the Opening

1.e4 e5

There are 400 possible positions after both players have completed the first move. The position after 1.e4 e5 is the second most popular.* White played the most popular first move, and Black opted for the second most popular response. Prior to the twentieth century, the position after 1.e4 e5 was the most popular.

2.Nf3 is White's most popular response in the position after the first move, and many masters have said that it is the best move.

Black to move

It is Black's second move, and already there is a problem to solve. White is attacking the pawn on e5. What should Black do about this threat? Black must either defend the pawn or attack White's pawn on e4. Nothing else makes sense. Black has at least six ways to defend the attacked pawn. In addition, there are several ways to launch a counter-attack against White's pawn.

We will be looking at several ideas for Black, and we will be looking at several ways that White continues after Black has made this important first choice.

The Lesson: An Instructive Game

This week's lesson concerns a choice by Black that is not recommended. We will see why Black's choice is not best through examination of a game played by one of the strongest players in New Orleans in the 1840s and a young boy. The boy was twelve. His opponent, James McConnell went on to play several of the top players in the world in the nineteenth century. In 1886, he won a game against World Champion Wilhelm Steinitz. McConnell gained a lesson from the boy in this game. Our illustrative game was played in 1849.


The question mark followed by an exclamation mark means that I regard this move as dubious. It defends the pawn. What is wrong with Black's move?

This move appears several times in the games of Gioachino Greco. In those games, the move is preliminary to a more serious error that sets up an instructive tactic. If you ask, I can show you these illustrative games.

2...Qf6 is a serious positional error: it places the queen on the knight's natural square, creating disharmony among Black's forces; and, it places the queen where she might become a target. The young boy showed how the queen could be attacked to gain a huge advantage.


The boy played White's strongest response. In the annals of chess history, this game is the earliest that I can find with 3.Nc3. Another strong move is 3.Bc4. It appears in the earliest studies and games, such as those of Greco. Note to new readers: moves in bold are the moves played in the game. Notation not in bold are analysis of those moves, or alternative moves that might have been played. A YouTube video explains how to read chess notation.

3...c6 4.d4!

The explanation mark means excellent move. The passive 4.d3 makes it easier for Black to equalize. Honesty compels me to confess that I have played the pawn to d3 in positions similar to this one when I have had opponents play 2...Qf6. I have lost a few of those games. Black's second move is bad, but it does not lose immediately. White must play actively in order to exploit Black's opening error.


White to move

White's knight is attacked by the pawn. How should White parry this threat?


Defend the knight by attacking Black's queen.

5.Bg5! may be an improvement on the boy's play. It was played in a man vs. machine game in a chess tournament in Seattle. That game continued 5...Qg6 6.Qxd4 d5 7.exd5 Qxc2 8.Bd3 Qxb2 9.0–0 Be7 10.Rab1 Qa3 11.d6 c5 12.Qe3 (Nc6 13.Nb5 Qxa2+- 14.dxe7 Ngxe7 15.Nc7+ Kf8 16.Rfe1 Be6 17.Bxe7+ Nxe7 18.Nxa8 h6 19.Qxc5 b6 20.Qc7 Qd5 21.Qb8+ Bc8 22.Nc7 Qxd3 23.Qxc8+ Nxc8 24.Re8# 1–0 Dubisch,R (2270) -- Comp Chessmaster 2100 Seattle 1989.

5...Qg6 6.Bd3 Qxg2

6...Qg4 7.Ne4 Qxg2 8.Rg1 Qh3±.


Note that White's knight on c3 remains under attack, but that White continues to attack Black's queen. Black will not capture the knight until his queen finds a safe square. Beginning players are often urged to keep their queen back in the early game. "Don't bring out your queen too early," is a rule or principle of strategy. This week's lesson illustrates why that principle exists.

Black to move


7...Qxg1+ is better 8.Nxg1 dxc3 9.bxc3± with roughly material equality, but a substantial advantage for White in the mobility of his pieces.

8.Rg3 Qh5 9.Rg5 Qh3 10.Bf1

10.Bf5 is the computer's choice 10...Qh6 11.Rg3±.


White to move


Finally, the boy addresses the threat to his knight, and again he attacks the Black queen.


Black's eighth queen move. Bringing out the queen too early often results in such an excessive number of queen moves.

12.Ne4 h6?+-

McConnell threatens the boy's rook. How does the twelve year old chess prodigy address this threat? By furthering his attack's on the Judge's queen, of course.

12...f6 was better.


Black to move

The boy has played well, giving us a tremendous illustration of how to exploit the error of bringing a queen out too soon. However, this move loses if Black finds the best move. Had McConnell found the correct move here, this game might illustrate carelessness in attack. He did not, however. Perhaps you can.

Maybe the threat to the rook is something more dangerous than the boy thought.

13...Qe6 14.Nfd6+

The boy now begins his attack on Black's king. Meanwhile, the rook remains under attack.

14...Bxd6 15.Nxd6+ Kd8 16.Bc4 Qe7 17.Nxf7+ Kc7

White has a forced checkmate in six moves.

White to move


Black's queen, developed on the second move, was harrassed continually and now with the first move of White's queen, has no choice but to leave the chessboard.

18...Qxd6 19.exd6+ Kb6

White to move


Black's only piece in the game is his king, and it is the target of a hunt by White's entire army.

20...c5 21.Bxc5+ Ka5

21...Kc6 22.Nd8#


Ten moves after it was attacked, the rook moves to safety. But, there's something even more important than self-preservation in this rook's move.

22...b5 23.Ra3# 1–0

The boy in this game was Paul Morphy. As a child he defeated all the top players in his city, and a few visitors who were even stronger. He completed his schooling and passed the test to become an attorney. However, he could not work as an attorney until he was 21 years old. He played a lot of chess as he waited. He won the first American Chess Congress in 1856. Then, he went to Europe where he played several of the strongest players in the world in a series of matches. He defeated all of them.


Do not bring out your queen too early.
When your opponent violates this principle, drive it back as you bring your pieces into battle.
Be careful.

*1.e4 c5 is the beginning of the Sicilian Defense, and it is the most frequently occurring position after the first move.

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