Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Junior Chess: How to analyse a game

This is a post for my students!
You can read this post in two ways: 1. Skip my boring introduction and go straight down to the lesson, or 2. Read my fabulous introduction which is more intended for parents / adults than kids.

Walking down Hampton Street last week I bumped into Carl Gorka- we indulged in a mutual addiction (coffee) and chatted mainly about teaching chess to kids. I've started coaching on Saturday mornings before the Melbourne Chess Club allegro and to my surprise I'm really enjoying it! It's great to build a relationship with a student and try to emphasize the important things: having fun and loving the game. Week by week you see them understand more and it's a really great process to watch.

There are always demands though; parents want their kids to improve quickly and often miss that the best way to ensure that happens is to keep it fun. I've enjoyed chess at two stages of my life: firstly as a kid playing with my Father: we repeated the Giuoco Piano over and over and there was little pretence of improving (although I did win my junior school champs at Brighton Grammar from grade 3-6): it was just something I did with my Father for fun. This attitude is what brought me back to chess 10 years later and why I still play.

When I really started to love chess though, was when I felt I could analyse a game by myself. There is a turning point in every chess players life when they realise that they are able to pick up a game by Bobby Fischer or Gary Kasparov and, with no assistance, study it and understand most of the ideas in it. This is a hard skill to develop and it took me 2 or 3 years to get to the humble level I'm at now, but I can list 3 things that helped me get there:
  1. I stopped memorising and started reading instructive "positional" books.
  2. I played a lot of blitz with strong players, and eventually what they said about my positional mistakes began to sink in. 
  3. I read most of 'Pawn Structure Chess' by Andrew Soltis.
This process took about 18-24 months and unfortunately is not suitable for kids. Luckily, Chess Coach Extraordinaire Carl Gorka has invited me to be a guinea pig in his "teach kids to analyse a full game" experiment, which I think will last a while and give kids a game to analyse each week. The first game he's sent me is below, it comes with three guides: 

1.  Look at all checks that did 
happen, or could have 
happened and work out 
whether they were good or 
not. Checks are the most 
forcing moves in chess and 
must be examined. 

2.  Look at the captures that 
happened, or could have 
happened and work out which 
of these were good. 

3.  Whenever a pawn move is 
made, work out why it was 
played. Pawn moves cannot be 
taken back, so they are very 
important moves and shouldn’t 
be played without a lot of 

The level of the players is not mentioned which makes it far more interesting for me. I'd love it if I were  attributing positional blunders to world champions. Anyway- this analysis is meant for juniors and improving players. The game is shown in full and diagrams with explanations are below it:

START OF LESSON! Below is the game we will be analysing. The idea of this lesson is to teach you how to analyse a game.
Press the = button to pause the game, then the arrows to go forwards and backwards. When there is a note to "see diagram #1 below", look under the game and you'll see a some pictures with some advice. Read the advice then go back to the game.
First, look at the game with this in your mind:

Look at all checks that did happen, or could have 
happened and work out whether they were good or 
not. Checks are the most forcing moves in chess and 
must be examined. 

Diagram #1: The first check of the game (Qa4+) is possible on move number 4,
 let's analyse it:

  • Is it a good move?   NO             
  • Why not? White brings her Queen out and checks. Black can play Bishop to d7 (or Knight to c6), then white has to move her Queen again and go back to c2 maybe. All this check did was let black DEVELOP and attack white's Queen at the same time. Black will be one step closer to "connecting rooks" and has one more piece off the back rank, but White will have just moved the Queen from d1, to a4, then back to c2: if white wanted the Queen on c2 she could have just played it straight away without letting black bring her bishop out!

  • _____________________________________________________________________________________________

    Diagram #2: On move number 5 for white, the same check is possible:

  • What's the difference?  A BIG DIFFERENCE! In this position, there is no white pawn on c4, so, IF black had a piece on the 4th rank she would need to be careful that white couldn't check the King with Qa4 check and attack a piece on the 4th rank at the same time.
  • Is it a good move?    NO. There is no black piece on the 4th rank to win and black will just play Bd7 or Nc6, developing. In the opening we say "Develop Knights before Bishops!" That's because we usually know where the knights belong very early in the game. But the Bishops can move to lots of difference squares, so sometimes we want to wait before we decide where to put our bishops. The same is true for the Queen! We don't know where the Queen belongs yet, so we should leave her at home. 

    • When should we check?   Only when we can see a good reason to do it:
      1. Can you win a piece by checking:
    In this example, there is a good reason for black to bring her Queen out to check! White has a piece on the 5th rank and by checking, Black can attack the e5 pawn and the King at the same time: black will win the pawn on e5 by taking it after white gets out of check.

                     2.  Does your opponent lose the right to  castle because of your check? 

    In this example, when Black checks on h4, white has to move his King, then she won't be able to castle. 
      • After Queen to h4 check, can white make a nice developing move to attack the Queen and get out of check? 
      • Should white play g3 after Qh4+?
    So in this position there is a good reason to check.  

                     3.  Does your check let you castle quickly? (It must be important for you to castle!! For example- can you use your rook quickly after you have castled?)

    Ok- Now that you understand what a good and bad check is, go  back to the game at the top!

    Diagram #3: On move number 25, white can play Queen to d5 check.

    • Is it a good move?    YES! White is doing something called CENTRALISING. In the late part of the game, when lots of minor pieces (Bishops/Knights) are off the board, white can put her / his pieces in the centre of the board. At the start of the game, it would be terrible to have your Queen in the middle of the board. But! As the game goes on, and more and more pieces and pawns come off the board, then a piece in the middle of the board is very strong.

    Diagram #4: On move 32, black played Knight to e2 check. We don't really need to analyse this because it's clear that the check is not dangerous and doesn't do much.


    Diagram #1: Should white play Knight takes d5 (Nxd5), pawn takes d5 (cxd5) or avoid capturing?

    cxd5! is the best move. White swaps a c-pawn for a central pawn (central pawns protect the key squares your opponent wants to put her / his pieces on). The downside is that you bring black's knight into the middle of the board.

    Diagram #2: Should black capture white's knight?

  • No:

    • White will take back with the b-pawn and bring another pawn into the centre.
    • Black's central knight on d4 is better than white's knight on c3. Unless there is a good reason to swap, black should keep his good piece in the middle of the board.
    • If white takes black's knight, then Black's Queen comes to the centre, and there is no white knight to come to c3 to kick it away. 
    Diagram #3: Should white play Bishop takes Knight?

    • What are the positives? Doubled pawns, isolated pawns on an open file for black- in the end game they will be an easy target.
    • What are the negatives? When white castles, the white squares around his king will be very weak. 
    • Should white do it? Probably not. Black's pawns will be very weak in the end game, but black has a light squared Bishop and a Queen to attack the light squares around white's King, and white has nothing to defend with.

    Diagram #4: Should black play pawn takes pawn, or leave things are they are?

    White is threatening to win the pawn for free (Bishop takes Knight removes the defender of the attacked pawn). It would be nice for black if white played pawn takes pawn FIRST, then black could bring his c6 knight into the middle of the board, but white will play Bxc6 THEN fxe5.

    Diagram #5: White can re-capture 4 different ways!!!! Which one is best?

    Let's look at the ADVANTAGES and DISADVANTAGES of each move:

    • Rxf4: 
      • Advantages: Keeps the f-file open for white's heavy piece (the rook!)
      • Disadvantages: Brings a heavy piece (Rook or Queen) into the middle of the board while there are still lots of minor pieces on the board. Black will now be able to develop his pieces in the middle of the board while attacking the Rook.
      • A white pawn doesn't control e5 any more. Now black can put a piece there.
    • Nxf4: 
      • Advantages: Brings the knight closer to the enemy King and the centre of the board.
      • Keeps the f-file open
      • DisadvantagesA white pawn doesn't control e5 any more. Now black can put a piece there.
    • Taking with the e-pawn or g-pawn:
      • Advantages: A white pawn control the central square e5
      • Disadvantages: White's King is a bit more open.
      • If white takes with the e-pawn, he creates an isolated pawn on the open d-file which will become a target for black to attack.
    Diagram #6: Should black swap his knight on b6 for white's knight on d5?

    • Yes! Black should swap knights. When you have LESS SPACE than your opponent, you should try to swap one or two pieces. This will give you more space and less pieces. You can see by looking at black's knight that: it has NO SPACE, no good squares to go to, and it's not a strong piece where it is. _________________________________________________
    Analyse the game one more time, this time, keep this in mind: 

    Whenever a pawn move is made, work out why it was played. Pawn moves cannot be taken back, so they are very important moves and shouldn’t be played without a lot of thought. 


    1. Hi Paul, an excellent article, and an excellent exercise in looking at forcing moves and their value. A couple of plausible checks you missed were 8.Bxc6+ and 15.Nxe7+ :) It's worth trying to understand why these moves weren't made.

    2. Hello Paul!

      I would like to use your ideas (materials) from this and your previous blog. I find them quite interesting. I would be glad ana grateful if you agree. To explain a bit clearer: I do not want copy them (in the original form) but use (rewrite and broaden) together with my original idea.

      Let me know if you agree! Thank you - Tom

      1. Hi Tom, sorry for the belated reply! No problem!