How to Build a Better Chess Teacher

How to Build a Better Chess Teacher

RoaringPawn
RoaringPawn
Nov 14, 2018, 3:04 AM |
2

Basis education is broken across domains. Think math, or foreign language acquisition. And yes, chess. Maybe an activity with most dropouts as an overwhelmingly huge number of chess entrants never move beyond the moves due to lack of meaning and understanding in the first critical period of learning. The learner is always as good as we give them the chance to be.

It is all about the basics. It is about Chess Square One.

Chess Square One

Today I am sharing a guest post on how to improve early chess teaching and learning that I wrote as a freshman blogger for NM William Stewart's OnlineChessLessons.net (now iChess.net) that was published on Aug 19, 2011 (its Spanish version was posted the other day).

The Grand Scheme of Hierarchy in Chess

Let’s take a look at the hierarchy of various functional levels in chess in a bit more detail. Below five levels are defined, from basic piece effects (A) and basic piece contacts (B) to piece cooperation (C) and tactics and strategy (D-E).

More attention is given to Levels (A), (B) and (C), in contrast with Levels (D) and (E) that are quite extensively covered in chess manuals and publications. Surprisingly, the basic levels are so important to teaching chess, yet one can find very little on the topic (go Google and check out for yourself).

José Ignacio Alonso, Jugador de cartas y ajedrez. 1995

José Ignacio Alonso, Jugador de cartas y ajedrez. 1995

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The key to put the beginner on the fast track and start developing a strong board vision is mastering (A) and (B) levels. It’s the alphabet of chess on which the entire edifice rests upon. You can’t build up knowledge on shaky foundations.

Breaking things down this finely into the elementary contacts is indispensable before moving on, ensuring an effective start and better understanding at the micro-level for the unconscious primitive brain. It’s like the foundation of a house – it’s below the surface. And if you want a loftier building, the deeper must the foundation be laid.

Learning is like a ladder. If you miss a step, sometimes you can’t go on. Then you start losing confidence and you simply give up. That’s how chess has been losing a lot of people.

Again, we need to break chess down to its component parts first and build them back up. More than anything else, we love success. As we grow more confident, as we get more excited, we request harder challenges. We love getting to higher levels, like in video games. That way hierarchies emerge and develop. That’s how we become experts.

Some layers below overlap across levels. For example, the piece coordination (C) may well be seen as stretching across multiple levels, from level (B), as protecting contact (B3), then all across levels (D) and (E).

I’d like to put up a call to readers for feedback on what follows, so we together may come up with the best possible scheme of hierarchy in chess.

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A. BASIC PIECE EFFECTS

1. Control (power) effect

The effect by which pieces and pawns exert their power over the board

2. Body effect

The effect chessmen produce by mere occupation of squares on the board which reduces the power, activity and mobility of other pieces, both friendly and enemy ones.

3. Rule of capture

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B. ELEMENTARY BOARD CONTACTS

The basic contact are made between chessmen of both sides, as well as chessmen and squares. It’s mere geometry, we just need to see and identify two points on the same straight line. It can’t be simpler than that.

This is the critical level for getting on the fast track and to guarantee an effective learning experience in chess. It gives the unconscious brain the meaning of how pieces interact and what roles they have in the chess conflict. Yet, this level seems to be mostly non-existent in early stages the way we teach chess now. And this is where the secret lies in how to modernize chess education to make it more successful for the 21-st century.

Once these basics are mastered by the subconscious brain and have become its second nature, you no more think about it. It stays under the surface allowing your brain to unleash its full potential elsewhere. Your chess vision is now strong and you are stepping into the realm of creativity, intuition and imagination. The most sophisticated and powerful tools of the power brain.

Gabe basics

In the parentheses is the number of pieces involved in each elementary contact:

1. Attack, or attacking contact (2)

Contact established between a piece (or pawn) and another enemy unit in its line of fire (this is actually the only contact existing in chess – stay tuned for an upcoming post – but it is more efficient for human brain to talk roles of pieces, such as attacking, protecting, blocking, etc.)

2. Threat of attack (2)

Indirect, concealed attack, or the attack which is one-move away. GM Averbakh considers the threat of attack as one of elementary contacts – it is important to be aware of how enemy attack develops over time and see things coming as it gives you more time to react appropriately and put up your defenses in time

3. Protection (2)

Contact between friendly pieces for mutual support (friendly pieces kind of “attacking” each other)

4. Restriction (2)

Develops when both friendly or enemy units are lying in the line of fire of a piece, thus reducing its activity and mobility. Also between a piece and the squares within its scope of action when these squares are attacked by hostile troops

5. Blocking (3)

Occurs when one pieces is attacked and another friendly chessman shields it by stepping in the line of fire of an enemy piece. This is also known as the pin and may be considered as a combined contact, or double attack consisting of a direct attack on the pinned, or blocking piece and the threat of attack on the piece behind it lying on the same line of attack

6. Promotion square contact (2)

Contact pawns make with the promotion square

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C. PIECE HARMONY/COORDINATION

1. Double attack

This term is broader than a “two-fold attack” where two pieces directly attack. It covers all various ways of attacking and threats of attack, even the combination of two threats (for example, the most famous K+P vs K+P study in chess by Reti w:Kh8, Pc6/b:Ka6, Ph5 is actually double attack consisting of two threats of second order, or two moves away, one being the threat to catch the h-pawn getting in its Berger’s square, the other being the threat to support white Pawn for promotion). Anything from direct attack to strong threats, including mate threats, stalemating and perpetual check threats may constitute a double attack.

Basically, double attack can be of two flavors:

1a. Concentrated attack when two or more pieces are attacking/threatening the same target: a square, or an enemy piece

1b. Multi-target attack . For example, one piece attacking two enemy units (fork), or two pieces attacking two or more targets (discovered attack)

2. Combined attack

Coordinated attack against hostile army where one piece or pawn is attacking, while the other pieces of the attacking army restrict freedom of movement of the side under attack.

3. Protection

This is mutual protection established between friendly units, basically the same as the basic protecting contact (B3)

4. Tactical cooperation

The three ways of piece coordination above are relatively simple. However, the coordinated action may be less obvious and show itself in a more or less complex set-up. Tactical coordination may be quite complex and disguised in the form of an indirect attack or protection of a key square. Here is a simple example of the tactical cooperation.

Tactical piece cooperation

At first sight, the white pieces are dispersed and not well coordinated. But tactical coordination helps one of the pawns get promoted without the white King helping out. For example, 1. g5 Kf5 2.c5!  and so on.

5. Strategic cooperation

Let’s use an example to demonstrate:

Strategic coordination. Smyslov – Rudakovsky, 1945, after 13.f5 Bc4

White’s strategic plan aims at creating an outpost at d5 for the Knight. Strategic coordination here is ensured by coordinated action of white Bishops in two different directions with the idea of removing defenders of d5-square (exchanges at c4 and f6) with its consequent occupation by white Knight.

14.Bxc4! Qxc4 15. Bg5! Rfe8 16.Bxf6! Bxf6 17.Nd5 and White created a strong outpost in the center which would soon serve for a direct attack on the black King.

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D. TACTICS

The tactical devices are well-known. Some are listed here:

1. Double attack (pin, skewer, discovered attack are all forms of double attack)

2. Drive-on (decoy)

3. Drive-off (attraction)

4. Removing the defender

5. Square and line clearing

6. Line closing and blocking

7. Giving over the right of move (zugzwang) etc.

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E. STRATEGY

1. Effective mobilization of pieces and central pawns (in the opening)

2. Improving position of pieces

Means increasing qualitative value of pieces, such as:

– Mobility (freedom of movement)

– Activity (occupation of the center, important squares, open lines)

– Stability (vulnerability) of pieces on their posts

– Vicinity to critical battlefield sectors

– Cooperation with other team members (see (C))

3. Stalling the enemy plans to achieve (2) above

4. Exchange of pieces

Trading your “bad” pieces for the enemy “good” ones

5. Strengthening the position

Creating strong points (you may even have several weak points in your position, but without strongholds no position can hold; see, for example, game Botvinnik – Flohr, Moscow 1936, where White had at least five weak squares, however, Black had no single strong one! which ultimately decided the game, in Cours de Strategie, training lessons by GM Sergiu Lupu)

6. Weakening of the enemy position

7. Eliminating the opponent’s counter play, etc.

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Again, I put up a call to you, the reader, for feedback on this. We must change things for true progress in how we teach chess. We need to keep more people in this wonderful absorbing game (who are now out as we have been failing them). That is impossible with rotten early teaching we have currently in place.

No more 1.e4 d5 2.Bd3 Bg4 3exd5 Bxd1 games I observed in an after-school program between two boys who at the time had been in chess for half a year (the game that triggered my involvement with Chess Square One in an attempt to see it improved).

We can certainly do better than that!