Sunday, May 18, 2008

Differences in Scholastic Chess

It's always amusing to try to make bets on which kid is going to win a game of chess, especially when you can see a current position on the board. It's important to be aware, however, that the factors you should use to evaluate scholastic positions are significantly different than the one we use in our version of the game. I'm going to try to list them, but with the caveat that this post is a work in progress and will undoubtedly be added to/ rewritten. (= I might steal your clever comment-ideas)

When evaluating a game between two kids, you have to give added weight to

1) Passed pawns. I suspect the idea of blockading is harder for kids because it's inherently abstract. Since for the most part, kids can't blockade at all, passed pawns are like golden eggs.

2) Queens are worth ten points. Coordinating three minor pieces is not child's play.

3) A queen is much better than 2 rooks. The queen always eventually wins a rook with a double attack. Also, the best the rooks ever really do is perpetual check.

4) An attack on the king brings a much higher probability of victory than a queenside attack. This makes openings like the Scotch gambit, the Grand Prix, and the Colle-Zuckertort almost theoretically winning.

5) A space advantage is worth more than usual. Notice, this is not because kids play better with a space advantage; it's because having a space advantage implies your opponent has a space disadvantage, and kid's play absymally when cramped. This is because kids can't manuever.

6) If one kid plays slowly, this behavior in itself will have a significant and noticable negative effect on her/ his opponent's level of play in 25% of all games. Some kids are just not able to sit still that long. They (metaphorically?) lose their minds.

7) When predicting a student's next move, don't forget that if a capture is possible, it is always the most likely move to be played.

What else?


Anonymous said...

Whoever has better concentration will win. (If their opponent can upset them the win is in the bag!)
I tell my beginning students if you are talking; you are losing!

drunknknite said...

This is because kids can't maneuver.

hehe too true.

i think i would also add that the king can do miraculous things in scholastic games, mate is a challenge.

Frisco Del Rosario said...

The corollary to Elizabeth's "queen is better than two rooks" principle is "rook is better than two minor pieces".

If the last move made in the position discovered an attack, at least one kid doesn't know that.

If a kid fianchettos one bishop, chances are that bishop will seek its chances along the diagonal. If a kid fianchettos two bishops, neither bishop is likely to move again.

If an endgame is reached, and neither king is active, the game will end in a draw 300 moves later.

In a symmetrical position, the kid displaying emotion -- annoyance, or enjoyment of one's own joke -- will lose.

An extension to Elizabeth's "if a capture can be made, it will be" principle is that most kids would rather die than allow a capture, even if the recapture gains one or two tempo.

Similarly: If rooks are opposed on the board's only open file, and material is equal, the kid who makes the rook swap is probably an underdog.

Anonymous said...

How much of this, if any, is specific to "kids" - that is, would NOT apply just as much to adult players in the same strength range (whatever that may be) assumed in the original post.

I very much doubt that a "kid" of 1800 strengh, whether in 2nd grade or 8th grade (and note there are 8th graders 2200 strength and even higher), would have any trouble blockading a passed pawn.

Just look at Tom Polgar's key game from the K-3 Nationals that he just won. Okay, he's got a special bloodline ... but his opponent (who was rated slightly higher at 1612 or thereabouts) played nearly as well. Both will probably be masters within 5 years or less (maybe MUCH less).

I can think of an old game between two kids (one in elementary school, the other in high school), that illustrates the Queen vs 2 Rooks battle. If I have time tonight I'll dig up the score. It's from 35 years ago.

It sounds to me like both the author and commenters simply used "kids" as a misplaced synonym for "very inexperienced, weak players." Then again, I don't work with kids, so I might be missing something. So feel free to enlighten me.

Elizabeth Vicary said...

I mean some combination of youth and a low rating. I'm not talking about kids rated over, say, 1200 (although this number varies depending on which trait you are talking about). I am trying to make a distinction between low-rated kids and low-rated adults-- I do think they play different. Kids are more tactically skilled but less able to think abstractly. Thus they have a harder time playing closed/strategic positions, have a harder time playing when the short-term goal is not obvious, and have a harder time planning and being careful.

Anonymous said...

Makes sense to me...although it turns out that I HAVE thought about this issue a little bit previously, and made a somewhat different (albeit tentative) interpretation. Even though I've never worked with kids, I thought about it in relation to MYSELF when I was a kid. And I attributed my behavior in the instance I analyzed to a simple lack of chess knowledge - rather than any defective thought patterns characteristic of kids.

I'm thinking of a game I published from my second rated tournament, when I was 13. I was Black in a Giucco Piano Moeller Attack. My opponent, an adult rated in the low 1200s, knew the book line, which it's fair to label a trap. I captured on c3, then on a1. "Thinking back to what went through my head that evening 37 years ago, I must have felt I was winning," I wrote. "I was up two pawns, after all, and was about to grab a Rook."

Taking the rook was fatal, of course. But apprehending that required a degree of intuition, since pure calculation would have required seeing 8 or 10 moves ahead. With Black's king stuck in the center amid open lines, a brutal crossfire quickly ensued and my opponent delivered checkmate on move 18 or so.

I was probably at least 1200 strength at the time. But, as I wrote, my style was akin to that of a weak computer program: "Able to see ahead four plies or so, but apt to confuse being ahead in material with being ahead, period."

So if THAT is the thought pattern characteristic of someone in the stage I was then in (i.e. tactical ability equivalent to a low- to mid-level adult club player, but minimal knowledge of principles of development or defensive intuition), then studying Morphy's games is the perfect cure - as suggested by someone's comment far down in the "Shy Guest Blogger thread."

Anonymous said...

Some kids never resign. Perhaps for good reason: I've seen K+Q vs. K endgames drawn by stalemate, repetition, or agreement (!).

Safe checks have a high likelihood of being played, even if there is no follow up.

Among beginners, mate is sometimes delivered without either QR having been moved. I seem to remember reading somewhere that Sunil Weeramantry (sp?) would simply remove a student's QR from the board if it wasn't developed with sufficient alacrity!

Anonymous said...

I'm confused on the terminology here. To me, nothing is more abstract than tactics. I can see a passed pawn; I can see a bad Bishop and a good Knight. Looking at a 10-move variation and realizing that it doesn't work because my Rook goes with check seems to me pure abstraction.

Or am I just revealing how weak I am?

Anonymous said...

Tactics is indeed "concrete," because it requires seeing (foreseeing) specific moves and moves sequences. In the example given in the preceding comment, the player would have to "see" ahead each move in the 10-move variation (along with many possible subsidiary variations), and ALSO see one ply further, taking account of the consequence of being in check. In other words, if he'd planned some response at the "end" of the 10-move variation, then in order to calculate correctly,his "vision" of the board at the end of that 10-move variation must be "concrete" enough (definition: accurate in all details large and small) to also see that his king would be in check, and so any move that failed to address the check wouldn't be legal.

Of course, the players Liz and I and everyone else is talking about in this thread are orders of magnitude weaker than your example. We're talking about people who can at best make reasonably accurate calculations two to six plies ahead (one to three full moves) - and generally only when all the moves involved are forcing ones like checks, captures etc. The capacity to calculate 10-ply (5 full moves) variations is probably limited to people 1500 and above; and being able to do so accurately with any frequency sounds more like 2000 and above.

Blue Devil Knight said...

LOL great thread.

I especially like, from the comments section, that if kids see they can make check, they will make check.

The difference between crappy new adults and new kids is very interesting to me. I've been blown away by the tactical fury of kids in the 600-800 range, only to win later in the game as I continued to move slowly and think about each move, and they got more and more annoyed at how slowly I was going, so they start talking to friends and moving within five seconds of my move :)

Naisortep said...

There is a 75% chance of stalemate if one side promotes more than 2 pawns and the other side has a bare King.

Polly said...

My observations watching really low rated kids or non tournament players in an after school class:

Kids love to check. (3 fold repetition means nothing to them.)

Kids miss short range captures just as much as long range captures.

Kids will guard a piece attacked by a pawn by adding a defender.

Kids have their own rules such as the 10 move rule. (Must check mate in 10 moves once there's nothing but a king left.) Can promote pieces to queens if they get to the other side. Capturing the king is same as checkmate.

Gurdonark said...

In the opening, a kid is much more likely to play the advance French, the advance Caro-Kann and the Grand Prix Attack.

Adult and kid lower-rated players can be challenged by the task of seeking small positional advantages in static positions, but in general a lower rated adult will understand the idea of building small advantages, while a lower-rated kid will be a bit more at a loss.

Kids who can close positions and understand how to defend them score well because of the strong bias many kids have towards open game tactics.

Last, but perhaps most important--it really doesn't matter what a kid's rating is, because today's official 1300 may have the 1600 rating just waiting for the next official supplement to kick in.