20 November 2022

The Same Old Story

Yesterday I was the pairing director for a youth tournament with 51 players. 28 were playing in their first tournament. I've run pairings for at least 120 such events, but this one had the largest number and highest percentage of unrated players in my memory. Naturally, a fair amount of time was spent teaching some basic rules and elementary skills.

As with a much smaller event two weeks ago, there were unnecessary draws among players who have not yet learned basic checkmate skills (see "The Difference"). In one game, I counted moves for players who were not recording their game. The player with the advantage told me that she did not know how to checkmate with rook and king against king. I asked whether she thought she might do so accidentally. She said that was her hope. She came close.

After 45 moves, this position was reached.

Black to move

After this move was played, Black was no longer able to force checkmate before the fiftieth move was reached. The fifty move rule states that a game is drawn when fifty moves are played without a capture or a pawn move. The last capture took place before I was at the side of the board and counting.

I declared the game a draw after my count reached fifty. Then I showed the players how Black could have won.

Had Black played 45...Kf3, White probably would have played 46.Kd1. A similar arrangement of the pieces had occurred several times prior as Black slowly managed to persuade White to retreat his king from the 6th rank to the first rank. That none of this retreat was forced highlights that some attention might be given to proper defensive play as well.

Black to move
Six of Black's possible moves lead to checkmate on the next move: Re3, Re4, Re5, Re6, Re7, and Re8. I showed the last one to the children. Then 47.Kc1 is forced and 47...Re1 is checkmate.

Had Black played 45...Kc3 from the initial diagram, White's best move would be 46.Kb1.

Black to move
Checkmate can be forced in three with ten different Black moves from this position. Black's rook can move anywhere on the e-file or anywhere to the right (left from Black's side of the board) on the second rank.

One possibility: 46...Re3 47.Ka2 Re1 48.Ka3 Ra1#.

It behooves chess teachers to teach these elementary checkmates to children.

See also "Lesson One" and "Teaching Elementary Checkmates".

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