Hi Chess Coaches and Parents!
Much of the chess teaching I do is at chess camps. If you don't know what a chess camp is - well, you can probably guess. It is a camp kids go to to learn and play chess. Typically they are day camps, although there are some sleep-away camps. Generally, somewhere around 75% of the time is spent playing chess and doing other activities, and the rest is chess instruction. So kids not only learn chess but also have fun and socialize.
When I teach a camp, usually I end up teaching the more advanced group. This means that the kids already know the rules and often know some general strategies; but usually not much more. I am going to show you a lesson I have been using for some time as the first lesson of the week. Of course, this lesson can also be used in classroom instruction, or even with a single private student.
The subject of this lesson is the "smothered checkmate". I start off with the following position set up on the demonstration board:
This position is guaranteed to occasion amusement from the students! Note, that when teaching a class full of students, you should already have this set up before the class starts. Otherwise they will get bored while you set it up, which will take a while. In general, for such times an experienced teacher should have a reserve of jokes or stories to tell while setting up positions on a demonstration board.
Usually the kids will think Black is winning. But point out that it is White's move, and ask what White should do. Eventually the kids will find the right move, which is of course 1.d8=N, after which there is no defense to 2.Nf7, checkmate.
After this is suggested, clarify what is the threat ("Ok, so what does White threaten? 2.Nf7? Good"). Then run through the possible defenses:
1. Can Black take the knight?
2. Can Black defend f7?
3. Can Black free a square for his king?
4. Can Black block the knight?
5. Can Black counterattack to distract White from carrying out his threat?
All of these answers are "no" of course. Be sure to point out that the knight is the only piece which cannot be blocked.
Explain that this is called a "smothered checkmate" - the black king cannot breathe because it is blocked in by its own pieces.
Now move on to the following famous position:
This is known as "Lucena's mate", and is a very common pattern. Here are the keys to teaching this lesson:
* At the start, have the children count the material. They will see that White is down by five points. Point out that this is the equivalent to a rook, and a good player will will with black if nothing special happens. The children need to understand that White must do something quickly, because they are down material.
* Let them try various things. Usually they will suggest moves which are not sufficiently forceful, such as 1.Qe4. This threatens mate, but Black gets to start the attack first, e.g. by 1...Qb6+. Refute a few of these tries, until the kids see that White has to do something really forceful, i.e. a check.
* Soon 1.Nf7+ will be suggested. Ask how Black gets out of check. Let them try to find the response to 1...Rxf7. Usually they will suggest first 2.Qxf7. Black can then force a queen trade by 2...Qb6+ followed by 3...Qf6+, 3...Qg6+, or 3...Qh6+ and 4...Qg6+. Eventually they will find 2.Qc8+ instead, leading to mate.
* Note that if any moves other than 2.Nh6+ are played, Black can either take the queen or the knight.
* The key move is 3.Qg8+, which will be hard for them to find. Usually some kids will suggest 3.Nf7+, repeating moves. You an use this as an opportunity to reinforce the threefold repetition rules, but then say "Ok, so White has a draw. But let's try to find something better."
* Eventually someone will suggest 3.Qg8+, since there are not so many other forceful moves. You may need to give some hints.
* Point out at the end that there were two purposes of 3.Qg8+ - to push the rook away from guarding f7, so the knight could go there without being taken; and to block the king's escape on g8.
This lesson is a fun way to start a chess camp or a class for advanced (i.e. already know the rules) students. It also introduces an important mating pattern. Kids also learn other important concepts, like the different methods of defense and the idea that when down material you need to act quickly, or the lack of material will lose the game.