by Grandmaster Alex Baburin, FIDE Senior Trainer (June 2023)
Recently I summurised my thoughts on how juniors approach chess and how parents can help them with it. You can find this that PDF document here. Below you will find some of the tips for our students, which I made earlier.
One of the most common mistakes, which young players make, is playing too fast and playing the whole game at the same pace. If one stops to think at critical moments, many mistakes can be avoided. The following article should help.
One common mistake is stalemating the opponent king, often despite an overwhelming material advantage. This mistake is incredibly common among players of all levels – beginners, intermediate and advanced. Please read the following PDF file, in which I covered that topic. Later I will also post for downloading a database (in PGN format), with examples of stalemate in the games of our students.
On the 27th of December 2020 a team of 14 players from our chess school played a friendly match against the International Chess Academy from New Jersey. The ICA team won 19.5 to 8.5 It was a great experience for all involved and I’ve written an article about this match, with the analysis of the most interesting games and game fragments. I’d suggest that you print the PDF file, set up a chess board and play through some of those games, that will be a useful exercise!
How to Use ChessKid.com
ChessKid.com (which I will refer to as CK from now on) is a subsidiary of chess.com – the biggest chess playing arena in the world. While there are many other arenas where one can play chess (www.lichess.org, www.chess24.com, www.playchess.com, to name but a few), I chose CK for its safety and educational content. Here I would like to share a view hints on how to get the most out of it.
CK has its own app, but for tournaments it’s better to use a web browser (like Google Chrome) as the app may not be as reliable. To log to CK, go to www.chesskid.com and put in your username and password. If you don’t remember your password, use the ‘forgot password’ option and it will be emailed to the parent’s address linked to your username.
When you’ve logged in, you can see several options in the main menu. One of them is ‘Play’ – with three available commands – ‘Play vs Kid’, ‘Slow Chess’ and ‘Play vs Bot’. I do not recommend using the latter command – playing chess against a computer program isn’t fun.
If you click on ‘Slow Chess’, this will allow you to challenge your CK friends and your clubmates.
After pressing ‘Play vs Kid’ you will see 3 options – 5 min, 10 min and 15 min. If you want to play in a tournament, do NOT click on these options – instead, look at the list of tournaments on the right – once you select a tournament, you will see a ‘join’ button on the bottom. You can join a tournament 30 minutes before its start. Once you’ve registered for the tournament, you must not start anything else on CK – like watching a video, solving puzzles or playing a game – otherwise you will be kicked out of the tournament. I recommend joining tournaments 5-10 minutes before starting time – you only need 1-2 minutes to do this, but it’s good to have extra time if you will encounter any problems. And do not lose round 1 game because you were late!
When playing, take your time. If you play a game with a time control of 5 min + 5 sec (very common), remember that in an average game (about 30 moves) that translates into 15 seconds per move on average! Meanwhile, most players spend just 2-5 seconds per move… Of course, you do not need to spend the same time on every move – some moves can be made pretty fast (like first 1-3 moves), while others require more serious consideration.
CK is pretty sensitive to disconnections. If you see a board, but can’t make a move, act swiftly – do not wait till you lose on time! The first thing to do is to refresh the screen – in Windows pressing F5 will do the trick. If that does not help, quickly log out of CK and then log in again – you may have a chance to play that game!
When playing, do not send many text messages to your opponent or offer draws more than once in a row – show good manners. Don’t accept draws in superior positions – winning a game is always better than splitting a point!
One can use CK to watch lessons and videos, solve puzzles and play chess with friends. A player can become friends with to anyone who is in the same online club – simply clock ‘Connect’ and then enter that player’s username in the search and send a friend request. Then you can easily see if your friends are online and challenge them to games.
Any player can challenge me to a slow game (7 days per move). I do not accept all challenges as I try to keep the number of games to about 20. Also, if you are playing a game against me already, I am less likely to accept a new challenge from you. In recent weeks I noticed a worrying trend – after a while, many players lose interest in the game, taking a week on every more and often overstepping the time limit. So, if you start a game against me, make sure you play reasonably fast and finish the game normally!
At CK we have a number of clubs – like ‘Beginners’, ‘Intermediate’ and ‘Advanced’. Clubs are mainly used for tournaments. From time to time, I dissolve certain clubs and remove players from others. When that happens, you probably get a related message – you can simply ignore it.
At present, We run two tournaments in each club every week. They usually start at 16:30. The time control and number of rounds vary from club to club and from tournament to tournament. On weekends the winners get chess books like ‘How to Beat Your Dad at Chess’, ‘Chess Tactics for Kids’, etc.
I sometimes use CK to communicate with our players – you may see a text message in the top left corner of the screen. Do not ignore them!
How to Get Better at Chess
If you are interested in chess and willing to spend time studying the game, you will get better quite quickly. The following advice might aid you – this is what I recommend to young players in three groups, according to their playing experience/level.
Master the rules of chess, including rules on castling, pawn promotion and en passant. Learn chess notation. When starting the game, keep in mind that you need to advance central pawns, bring out your pieces towards the centre and castle promptly. Do not bring your queen too early, unless there is a very good reason to do so. Do not move the same piece twice unless it’s really necessary.
Learn about the Scholar’s Mate and how to stop it. Keep in mind that f7/f2 are often the weakest points in Black’s/White’s position.
When you opponent has made a move, do not respond instantly – learn to take your time and think before you move. Try to see what your opponent might be up to. Lean about common tactical techniques – forks, pins and skewers. Practice standard checkmates – with queen and rook or with two rooks (staircase), single queen or single rook. Learn about stalemate and how to avoid one (i.e. not taking opponent’s last piece/pawn).
Start your own chess library – books like ‘How to Beat Your Dad at Chess’ and ‘Chess Tactics for Kids’ will help you a lot. Chesskid.com is a great resource too – check out lessons, puzzles and videos. Play in tournaments whenever you can. Do not dismiss your losses (“I was unlucky!”) – try to figure out why you lost. Did you fail to develop your pieces? Did you not pay attention to a serious threat? Did you play too fast? Remember: chess is a game of skill, not luck – and you can hone your skills with study and practice.
Learn to record and save your games – both online and offline. If you try to use the Scholar’s Mate, stop it – this won’t work against better players and will often backfire. Learn about the main openings (the first 5-6 moves) – like the Italian Game, the Ruy Lopez or the Sicilian Defence. YouTube videos are great for that. Don’t try to learn everything – just get the main ideas. Common sense should help to deal with the rest – remember to develop your pieces, fight for the centre, castle early, etc. Learn about gambits and try some – don’t be afraid to try new openings.
Pay attention to your opponent’s move – ask yourself this question often – ‘is there a threat?”. That will help you to avoid many mistakes in chess. Master common tactical themes (forks, pins, skewers and discovered attacks) and learn more complex tactical ideas, such as deflection, luring and interference. Master basic checkmates (with a queen, with a rook, etc). Study endgames, starting with pawn endgames and its main ideas (‘the king must be used!’, the opposition, passed pawn, etc) and then the rook endgames and its main principles (keep your rook and king active, ‘rook behind the passed pawn!’, etc).
Keep using chesskid.com library of lessons, videos and puzzles. Pick 1-2 famous players, whose games you will study – like Paul Murphy or any of the World Champions. Focus on their short games (wins under 20 moves) and endgames (40 moves or longer). Don’t worry that you won’t understand everything – you will see common patterns and learn something. Learn about the history of chess. You can focus at one famous player at a time – like the World Champions (Steinitz, Lasker, Capablanca, etc). You can find a lot of information on them online. Keep using chesskid.com – lessons, puzzles and videos, especially those by FunMasterMike. Consider getting a chess program like Fritz (alas, most chess programs are for Windows only). Grow your chess library – add books like Chess Puzzles, Chess Endgames for Kids, Chess Openings for Kids and Chess Strategy for Kids.
Plan your chess study – schedule regular training sessions. As the second World Champion Emmanuel Lasker used to say, a bad plan is better than no plan! It’s only too easy to spend most of your time playing blitz online or solving tactical puzzles again and again. That won’t contribute too much to your chess education. Playing blitz or solving tactics is fun, but make sure you don’t spend most of your time doing just that.
Record your games (that is automatically done when you play online) and analyse them. You don’t have to analyses every game, though that would not do any harm – you can focus on all your losses and the most interesting games. Chess engines (like Fritz, Komodo or Stockfish) will be of help. When you see a big swing in the computer evaluation, try to figure why caused it. Checking and discussing your analysis with a stronger and more experienced player would be very useful.
Learn about the main elements of positional play – king’s safety, space, pawn structure, position of pieces, passed pawns, etc. Study endgames – a good endgame technique will bring you lots of extra points! Alas, most junior players spend too much time on learning chess openings – do not repeat that mistake. Of course, openings should be studied too, but that should not take more than 15-20% of your study time. Don’t be afraid to experiment in the opening – that will make you a better player. Don’t fear losing games – this is unavoidable and can be a part of the learning process. Those players who learn just one opening scheme and stick to it, limit their chess horizon and damage their chess development.
Pick a modern player as your ‘chess hero’ and start following his/her career and games – that will help you to get into the habit of following master games. There are many great online resources – YouTube, chessgames.com, chessbase.com, etc. When are there top tournaments in progress, many websites post games annotated by Grandmasters. I recommend the channel by my friend and colleague, English GM Daniel King: https://www.youtube.com/user/PowerPlayChess You can follow top tournaments and download games at the website called The Week in Chess (https://theweekinchess.com/). There are many great chess-playing arenas – chess.com, lichess.org, chess24.com, to name just a few. It’s good to join them, but remember not to spend most or all your time on playing blitz! If you don’t have it already, get Fritz or ChessBase. Together with a good database, these are great fools for working on your chess. Stockfish is a great chess engine and it’s free, but it does not have its own interface. Therefore, chess professionals usually use it within Fritz or ChessBase.
Play in over-the-board tournaments. The biggest tournaments in Ireland are the Bunratty Chess Festival (mid February), Gonzaga Classic (end of January), Kilkenny Congress (end of November) and Galway Open. There are other tournaments around the country. Check tournament calendar at www.icu.ie Join the Irish Chess Union. Joining a local chess club might be a good idea too. Do not worry about your rating too much – focus on your chess studies instead – and rating will follow!
More chess tips are coming up soon – stay tuned!