Tutor Teaches Chess by Example

By Jonathan Whitcomb (chess tutor in Salt Lake Valley, Utah)

I had the pleasure of playing chess with two young talented players recently: a high school student and a much younger child. Both boys showed talent and abilities for their ages, yet I won both games. It seems that neither of them have ever had private lessons from a chess tutor. The high school student has not yet played in a tournament (although he played well enough to make things difficult for me in our game) and just finished his sophomore year in a school that has no chess club. We’ll look at the chess game I played against the younger boy, however, as an example more appropriate for beginners to learn from.

I offer the following as a brief online lesson from a chess coach who appreciates raw talent but who almost always wins when playing against opponents who have very limited training, very limited study, and very limited experience against tournament players. I rarely lose when my opponent has little more than raw talent.

It was the first time that I attended this chess event at the South Jordan Library near Redwood Road (Salt Lake Valley), but it will not likely be the last. The librarian was very appreciative of those attending, even though the attendance was modest. I was the only adult competing. I will not mention the names of the minors who played chess that afternoon, for privacy reasons. Let’s just call them “Boy-1” (about eight years old) an “Boy-2” (high school student).

South Jordan library - front of building

The Salt Lake Valley (County) Library in South Jordan, Utah


A Practical Lesson From the Chess Tutor

White: Boy-1 (apparently about eight years old)

Black: Jonathan Whitcomb (a chess instructor living in Murray, Utah)

1) e4      d6

This chess opening is the Pirc Defense (pronounced either way: purse and pierce)

2) Nc3  Nf6

3) Bb5+ . . . .

It may seem like there may be an advantage to checking your opponent’s king, but often there is no advantage gained from it. This is one of those many times when giving check does not bring any advantage.

3) . . . . Bd7

I, the chess tutor, made a threat with this move. Do you see it?

White to make move #4

White to move – Notice what Black is threatening, early in this chess opening


Tactical Motif: Overworked Piece

The white knight at c3 is overworked, protecting both the pawn at e4 and the bishop at b5. Sometimes there’s no harm in having an overworked piece, but often the opponent can find a way to take advantage of that tactic. In this simple example the way for Black to make use of White’s weakness is simple: capture the white bishop.

Black to make move #4

Position after White made the mistake of moving Nf3


4) Nf3?   . . . .

The young boy did not see the threat.

The black bishop captured the white bishop on b5

4) . . . .  Bxb5

Now White has little choice: He needs to recapture on the b5 square or he will be a minor piece behind, having only one bishop while Black would have two bishops.

5) Nxb5  . . . .

White had to capture the black bishop on the b5 square


Now White is no longer protecting the pawn at e4.

5) . . . . Nxe4

After Black moved Nxe4


I won the game on the 19th move, with checkmate. The above move are a simple example of taking advantage of an overworked piece and winning material with that tactical motif. To an early beginner, it may seem like I was just lucky, but this was done intentionally by looking ahead a very few moves.

Two more chess events will be held in the South Jordan public library in June of 2016:

  • June 22nd from 4:00 p.m. until 5:30 p.m.
  • June 30th from 7:00 p.m. until 8:15 p.m. (adult chess players are especially invited)


Chess coach Jonathan Whitcomb

Jonathan Whitcomb (Salt Lake Valley of Utah) demonstrates the Pirc opening



Pawn End Game

Some chess books teach endgame technique: how to win when you’re ahead and draw when you’re behind. We’ll look at a simple position suitable for beginners . . .

Chess in the Salt Lake Valley

Informal Game at a Chess Club

Chess Tutor in the Salt Lake Valley

The chess-book author Jonathan Whitcomb, of Murray, Utah, now offers his expertise in chess instruction to residents of the Salt Lake Valley, especially the central communities closer to Murray.


Chess Book Reviews for Openings

The following are a few of the many books available on chess openings. Quotations and certain facts (including page numbers and recent offered-prices) are taken from the Amazon pages of these chess books.

How to Play the Chess Openings

by Eugene Znosko-Borovsky

[The author] focuses on purpose and plan rather than memorization of moves, explaining how to avoid amateur mistakes and classic traps.

From the beginning of the book, under the heading “A Little History,” we read the following:

It is not, then, by memorizing variations that we shall become proficient in playing openings, but by understanding their meaning, their purpose, and the general ideas and principles which are their foundation.

160 pages — published in 1971 — $6.20 — ISBN-13: 978-0486227955


First Chess Openings

by Eric Schiller

63% of Amazon reader-reviews give this book five stars (highest rating); nevertheless, one reader said:

Not really a book for beginners. Gives you a good idea of several options to look for but there would have to be a LOT of memorizing of postions for it to be of any practical use.

160 pages — published in 2005 — $10.49 — ISBN-13: 978-1580421522


Modern Chess Openings, 15th Edition (MCO)

by Nick De Firmian

One Amazon reader-reviewer, giving the book five stars, said the following:

I use this encyclopedia as a guide when playing on-line correspondence chess, and to review openings before OTB tournaments. I think Firmian does a good job. I highly recommend this book for chess players of all levels.

Another one reported an error in the book:

[In the Latvian Gambit] . . . in this position the book says “and now both 11.Nxh8 and 11.Nd2 are promising for white but not entirely clear (Kosten)” The book completely overlooks that 11.Qe5+ is checkmate!!!

768 pages — publ. in 2008 — $22.69 — ISBN-13: 978-0812936827


Chess Openings For Dummies

by James Eade

One reviewer mentioned this book (not on Amazon):

This is a great book for those who want to learn about chess openings in a simple format! As a chess teacher, I tell my students that the opening is the foundation upon which the entire game is built! The first step to getting good at openings is to fully understand “opening principles.” Don’t simply memorize an opening because unless you understand the underlying principles, you’ll not fully be able to understand the reasons behind each move.

388 pages — publ in 2010 — $15.99 — ISBN-13: 978-0470603642


FCO: Fundamental Chess Openings

by Paul Van Der Sterren

From page 34 of the book, (the Meran variation of the Semi-Slav version of the Queen’s Gambit Declined):

This is White’s most natural move, allowing Black to head for the Meran by taking on c4. However, it says much about the respect in which Black’s following moves are held that practically every legal move in this position has been tried to steer the game in a different direction. Still, even the most widely accepted of these alternatives, 6 Qc2, is not particularly dangerous for Black.

The above quotation is just a small part of one example among hundreds: This huge chess opening book gives the reader detailed verbal explanations for these many openings.

480 pages (paperback version) — published in 2009 — $21.78 — ISBN-13: 978-1906454135




Detailed Chess Openings Books

Reviews two huge books on openings: Modern Chess Openings (MCO) and Fundamental Chess Openings (FCO)

A Review of Modern Chess Openings, 14th edition

The number of moves per page in NCO tends to be two to three times that in MCO, which is a very significant factor in NCO’s favour. By contrast, MCO includes verbal comments in its notes, and NCO does not.

Beginner Chess Book

For the player who has played less than twenty games (or who has not yet played a game of chess), losing all or nearly all of them, the best book is ‘Beat That Kid in Chess.’

Chess Book for a Novice

This is promoted as an ideal chess book for the “raw beginner,” the player who knows the rules of the game but hardly anything about how to win.


Chess Openings for Beginners

Let’s take a practical approach, not with long opening lines to memorize but with ideas for getting the advantage early in a chess game. This assumes your opponent is a beginner, with little knowledge and understanding of chess openings. In the following diagrams, put yourself in the position of white.

White moved e4 in the beginning

Diagram-1 (white moved e4)

If you have the white pieces, consider moving e4 for your first move (The pawn in front of your king moves two spaces forward). This pawn move frees up a diagonal for your bishop at f1. In addition, your pawn at e4 will then have some control over the d5 square, one of the four most-central squares on the board.

What if your opponent moves a pawn on the edge of the board? Consider what could follow when your opponent repeatedly makes that king of mistake:

Black's first move is a5

Diagram-2 (after black moved a5)

That move by black (a5) was a mistake, but not so serious a blunder that you can take any immediate and dramatic advantage of it. Just continue making sound developing moves, especially with your knights and bishops.


This white knight controls two center squares

Diagram-3 (white moved Nf3)

By moving your knight from g1 to f3, two move central squares are coming into your control: d4 and e5. And that knight is becoming active, ready for combat.


black again moved the a-file pawn

Diagram-4 (black moved a4)

By the second move by black (pawn to a4), it appears your opponent is ignorant of chess opening principles. Instead of developing a knight or moving a center pawn, your opponent is wasting time pushing the pawn on the a-file.


white developed a bishop with Bc4

Diagram-5 (white moved Bc4)

By moving that bishop from f1 to c4, you continue to activate your minor pieces. In the opening, it’s called “developing your pieces,” and it usually refers to the knights and bishops. In Diagram-5, we see that your bishop is pointing toward a weak square in black’s position: the f7 square.


Black's third move, e5, is a mistake

Diagram-6 (black made a mistake: e5)

In Diagram-6, we see that your opponent has made a blunder in moving the e-pawn forward to e5. That would have been a great first-move for black, but now that pawn is lost.


White moved Nxe5

Diagram-7 (white captured the pawn that was on e5: Nxe5)

Black gave away a free pawn. When you captured that pawn at e5, with your knight, you also threatened a knight fork by that knight. If your opponent does not prevent it, you can capture that pawn at f7.


h5, overlooking a knight fork by white

Diagram-8 (after black moved a pawn: a5)

It looks like your opponent, moving the h-file-pawn to h5, overlooked your knight-fork threat. Notice that the bishop at c4 and the knight at e5 both point towards black’s pawn at f7.


The white knight forks black's queen and rook

Diagram-9 (white captured the black pawn at f7)

This is a common form of a knight fork. Your knight captured the black pawn that was at f7, and your opponent’s queen and rook are both threatened at the same time, by that knight. Since a queen is more valuable than a rook, black should now move the queen, perhaps to the e7 square. You can then capture that rook, getting a material advantage, even if you opponent can eventually capture your knight, for a rook is generally more valuable than a knight.

This is one example of how you might take advantage of opening mistakes made by your opponent.



Chess Opening Tip for Beginners

There are four squares where the knights will influence the center of the board. The center is prime real estate on a chess board.

Sicilian Defense – Chess Opening

White has a number of alternatives to this  defense in the Sicilian. This means black needs to  be prepared for  each of them.

Test – Chess Openings

In the first few moves of the game,  the minor pieces (knights and  bishops) need to be developed,  meaning they need to move off the  back rank . . .

Queen Versus Rook End Game

The key pattern called diagonal (named by Derek Grimmell) appears to have these characteristics, in the queen-versus-rook end game of chess . . .

New Chess Book for Beginners

‘Beat That Kid in Chess’ was created to prepare the early beginner to win a game of chess as quickly as possible.