Today I will be answering a question from a chess parent, Eva, from Arizona:
"How can I teach my "chesskid" to look for his opponent's threats, and not just his own plans?"
Good question! There are two sides to all chess thinking - one's own plans, ideas, and threats; and the opponent's plans, ideas, and threats. But many people, not just kids but even masters or grandmasters, sometimes forget about their opponent.
Of course, the most basic is to see the opponent's immediate threats. If a player completely forgets about his opponent to the extant that he overlooks, for example, a threat to his queen; then that is a big problem. However, I think during the course of play and with experience any kid is going to learn to look for the opponent's threats. Pretty soon it should become automatic, without any special coaching. After a few lost pieces due to inattention, a kid should learn to check for threats from the opponent! Naturally, though in lessons this should be emphasised. Whenever showing a game, a coach should ask the question first, "does the last move threaten anything?" every move. Then the kid will get in the habit of asking himself the same question during his own games.
But it is more difficult to teach the technique of "thinking from the opponent's point of view." This means asking oneself what the opponent is planning, what is he trying to do. Or sometimes it even means noticing that the opponent cannot do much!
Here is a famous position that I often use to introduce the idea that thinking in chess involves two points-of-view. It is mate in two, so that means that White plays a move, and after any move Black plays, White can then checkmate:
I think this famous problem, which has an unknown origin, shows a basic example of thinking from the opponent's point of view.
First, simply set up the position, and say that it is mate in two. Most kids will suggest first moves like 1.bxa7 (met by 1...Bxa7, and there is no checkmate and in fact Black should draw), or 1.Rxa7+ (the most forcing move, but White is now losing after 1...Bxa7 2.bxa7 b5). After a few such unsuccessful tries, introduce the concept of thinking from Black's point of view. "If it were Black's move, what could he do now?" They will see that moving the bishop anywhere allows White to play Rxa7, checkmate, and ...axb6 is impossible due to the pin on that pawn. So the only move left is 1...a6, after which there is no immediate mate. So then ask "ok, how can you prevent ...a6?" Usually kids will suggest 1.bxa7 again, but when you point out that they already tried that, they will eventually find 1.Ra6!!
Note that White does not threaten anything, but since Black has to move, he has to play a losing move. This situation is called "zugzwang", which means "move-necessity" in German.
Well, this can be the first lesson in a thinking technique that even some of the best players occasionally forget about. It is quite easy for anyone to get wrapped up in one's one plans and forget about what the opponent is doing! But as soon as your chesskid realizes that thinking about his opponent's ideas, and not just his own, will double his chess ability - then he is on a good path!
Thanks for reading, and you can send in questions about your "Chess Kid" to Questions@ChessKid.com.