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Animal Chess Openings

Animal Chess Openings

Jun 22, 2010, 9:26 AM 0

Kids love animals, and kids love chess. Put the two together and you've got a wild combination. I've seen classrooms spring to life when Lifemaster and co-author of "How To Play Chess Like An Animal," Brian Wall taught kids the Elephant Gambit, (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d5) by first having all the kids stand up and swing their arm like an elephant's trunk. Or play the Oangutan (1. b4) by having them first practice their best ape moves and monkey calls.

Sometimes chess coaches can get too serious, especially with younger kids who might never become interested in chess if it is always presented so serious, with sound openings being presented with as much fun and joy as a college lesson on economics. Besides, you can still illustrate basic opening principles of chess using unsound openings, which some animal chess openings definately are (see the Crab, 1. h4... 2. a4). But kids have a natural tendancy to push their rook pawns, for some reason, so rather than tell them not to do it, I say celebrate it! Give it a name, have fun with it, and then show games where the Crab fails miserably, especially if they try to bring their rooks out too early. This is a great way to teach piece value as well, showing that the rook is worth more than the bishop when it gets captured on h3. In addition, you can even show advanced concepts like weak color complexes, by showing what it is like for white to play with no rooks, and black to play with only rooks and no bishops. Can be interesting. There was a master on ICC who, as a joke, used to play the Crab against weaker opponents and then set up the position to take advantage of the weaknesses created on the diagonals by dominating the game with bishops. So you can use these fun bad openings to engage the kids, honor their choices of moves, and show opening principles.

The Oxford Companion to Chess, lists hundreds of chess openings with animal names. Not all of them are unsound. Many strong players play the Bird (1. f4) or the Orangutan. Some Animal Openings are serious, like the Dragon (1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cd 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6 6. Be3 Bg7), or the Pelican (1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cd 5. Nc3 e5 6. Ndb5 d6). These openings are both variations on the Sicilian.

Some animal openings are simply short games where one player violates opening principles and gets punished quickly by a tactic. These are perhaps the most instructive animal game to show kids and beginners.

Here is an example from the Giraffe Attack from the book How to Play Chess Like an Animal.

White got greedy, moved his queen too many times in the opening and ignored development. A kid might get away with moves like this against a weaker player, but here in the Giraffe Attack he loses his queen. It really brings the point home to show these types of games.


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