Top Ten Tips for Chess Juniors


After watching the games of some youngsters I had a sore tongue – I had to bite it so many times! These are the main things I wanted to tell the young chess players during the games, and which parents and teachers could in my view work upon.

Tip 1: Make sure know all the rules and where the pieces go at the start of the game

If you think you know all this, then check that you also know: (a) the touched-piece rules; (b) draw by three-time repetition of position and by 50-move rule; (c) pawn captures en passant. All of these were overlooked or misunderstood by some players. [A rule book like the BCF’s Know The Game: Chess would give you more detail on these.

Tip 2: Check each move before you play it

Nearly all the games I saw had one or other player able to win pieces that weren’t protected. Don’t play automatic moves – when you’re in check, you can move your king, but you can put a piece or pawn between your king and the checking piece, and you may be able to take the checking piece. Have a look around at the whole board in case there is something you’ve missed. Tony Gillam’s Simple Chess Tactics is good practice for getting your eye in.

Please don’t move a piece to a square, hold on to it and then look round – this is quite off-putting for your opponent who cannot see the whole board while your arm is in the way. Also, if you do decide to retract the move, (1) you have to move that piece (touch-move rule) when you might prefer to move a different one, and (2) your opponent now knows what you are thinking about!

Tip 3: Know how to finish off a won game.

I watched a couple of players spend over 50 moves where a bare King was chased all over the board being checked by an enemy Queen – but the Queen alone cannot mate a bare King. If only the player with the King brought their own King up to box in the bare King, he could have finished off the game in no time. In fact, the less you check, the better!

Practice with a friend, trying to win when you have a King+Queen vs. a bare King, or King+Rook vs. King. You can make this a little game yourselves – who can do it fastest? Less than 12 for the King+Queen vs. King and less than 20 for the King+Rook are good scores; the maximum scores for perfect play are 10 and 17 respectively. Watch out for stalemate!

Those are the top three that I’d suggest for many of the players. But even the better ones might also need to pay attention to my next tip for improving their openings.

Tip 4: Play an open, tactical game

A avoid certain opening lines that won’t give you that sort of game. Beginners often play the Four Knights lines like 1.e4 e5; 2. Nf3, Nc6; 3. Nc3, Nf6, which is usually simply level. Lots of games in fact started well with the Guioco Piano opening, 1. e4, e5; 2. Nf3, Nc6; 3. Bc4, Bc5, which is a good opening for juniors. But I then usually saw things quickly get bogged down after 4. Nc3, Nf6; 5. d3, when the Knights are all square again, and neither side has a natural pawn break – as a consequence the board remains cluttered and the game slow and dull.

Giuoco Pianissimo opening

There are all sorts of ways to liven this sort of thing up – for example, White can opt for the Open variation on move four of the GP: 4. c3, Nf6; 5. d4, exd4; 6. cxd4, Bb4+; 7. Bd2, Bxd2+; 8. Nxd2, d5; 9. exd5, Nxd5. Or, White has the Evans’ Gambit: 4. b4!? Bxb4 5. c3, Ba5; 6. d4 when White has a move up on the Open variation at cost of a Pawn. Black can vary with 3…Nf6, the Two Knight’s Defence, with the main lines being 4.d4 or more usually the gambit line 4. Ng5, d5; 5.exd5, Na5; 6. Bb5+ c6; 7. dxc6, bxc6; 8.Be2. White can’t duck into a square-knight line with 4.Nc3 because 4…Nxe4! (idea 5…d5) gives Black a free game (or a free pawn!) As a rule all these lines are going to be more fun and better training for young players than the Four Knights type of development. If you must play the Guioco Pianissimo, as the line with 1. e4, e5; 2. Nf3, Nc6; 3. Bc4, Bc5; 4. Nc3, Nf6; 5. d3 is called, there are some hot tips for this line too.

Here’s how I see the White side – Black being the same

Tip 5: Don’t be in a hurry to castle:

Your opponent may play …Bg4 (or Bg5) and pin your knight against the Queen. If you have castled you probably won’t be able to play h3 (or …h6) without dangerously weakening your king. Steinitz discovered that the sacrificial idea 6. O-O, Bg4; 7. h3, h5! 8.hxg4, hxg4 was playable for Black in many positions because of the attack on the King down the open h-file: once the Queen gets to h5 White is finished.

Even playing 1.e4, e5; 2. Nf3, Nc6; 3. Bc4, Bc5; 4. Nc3, Nc6; 5. d3, d6; 6.h3 is not advisable as Black may play the standard sacrifice …Bxh3 at some point.

Tip 6: The key question in this line is: how are you going to develop your queen’s bishop?

White on move six can go 6. Be3 hoping for 6…Bxe3; 7. fxe3 when there is a juicy half-open f-file to attack along. Black is better off calmly retreating with 6…Bb6 or even leaving the Bishop at c5.

Tip 7: The analysts gradually agreed that 6.Bg5, the Canal Variation, is the best move.

One line of this goes 6…h6; (this is OK for Black before castling) when the main line goes 7.Bxf6, Qxf6; 8.Nd5, Qd8. White has given up the Bishop pair to achieve a bit of initiative. [There is a hairy line with 6.Bg5, h6; 7.Bxf6, Qxf6; 8.Nd5, Qg6!? 9.Nxc7+ which is supposed to be poor for Black if White plays 9.Rg1 instead, but White has to prove it!] Other ways to play for Black are to hit the other bishop with 6…Na5 (as in the final game) or to play himself 6…Be6.

Tip 8: in the Canal Variation: to emphasise the pin on the Nf6,

If you’re allowed, with moves like Nd5, and otherwise threaten to give Black doubled, and therefore weak, f-pawns. I played a miniature with this theme at the British Universities’ Congress some years ago:

Regis (Exeter) – Orpwood (Salford), BUCA. 1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. d3 Bb4 5. Nge2 O-O 6. O-O d6 7. Bg5 Na5 8. Bxf6! gxf6 9. Nd5 Bc5 10. b4 Nxc4 11. dxc4 c6 12. bxc5 cxd5 13. cxd5 dxc5 14. Ng3 Kh8 15. Qh5 Qd7? 16. Qh6 Qd6 17. Nh5 Rg8 18. Nxf6 Rg7 19. Qxg7+ 1-0 (Ne8+ will leave White a rook ahead)

ip 9: again in the Canal Variation: move the Nc3 to e.g. d5 and play for c3 and d4 with a central space advantage. The knight can relocate to e3…

Tip 10: try to open up the f-file with f4:

this will require you to play Be3 to stop a check from the Bc5 and to move the other Knight e.g. Nh4. From h4 the Knight can threaten to go to f5 when Black may be reluctant to remove it by …g6 which will create weaknesses. A Queen’s Knight that has travelled from c3-d5-e3 also puts pressure on this square, and if Black does play g6 then Ne3-g4 hits all the soft spots.

A game for the better players to study:

We can see many of these themes at work in this game by the Swiss master Werner Hug: