Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ninja Chess vs. Stalker Chess

The next big thing?
  There are a lot of metaphors for chess and I have occasion to use many of them when I have occasion to teach the game and I’ve made up quite a few myself. Many beginners fall in love with moving the same piece over and over until it gets captured and then they start moving another piece over and over and then the next piece, etc., etc., etc.. I can try to get them to stop by playing a game with them and beating them by having more pieces out than they do, but the student will inevitably decide that they lost because I’m older or a better player and not because they didn’t bring out all their pieces.

  My way of telling the student that they need to use all their pieces is to use a sports metaphor. First I find out what sport they play and if it’s basketball (for example) I ask them who would a game between a team with five players and a team with two players. Most of the kids say the team with five (every so often a wise guy says that the team with two will win if they have LeBron James) and make more of an effort to use more of the players on their ‘chess team’.

  Sometimes a really young player has no idea what I’m talking about when I ask which sports team would win with how many players so when our game is over, I point to each piece that moved (for both sides) and say that they are happy. Then I point to all the pieces that didn’t move and say that they’re sad. When I ask why the pieces that didn’t move are sad I almost always get the answer I’m looking for: they’re sad because they didn’t get to play. That usually makes my point and the players will try to move all their pieces in the beginning of the game so they can be happy. Of course this leads them to move some pawns that they shouldn’t be moving, but in my experience it is easier to get someone to stop moving their pawns than start moving all their pieces. One of my favorite metaphors is the ‘ninja move’, which is where one piece moves to expose an attack by the piece behind (that piece being called the ‘ninja piece’). This is commonly called a discovered attack. Beginning players miss this attack a lot because sensing it requires the ability to visualize the board with a piece in a different location and that skill takes time to develop. Advanced players have also been known to miss discovered attacks on occasion, possibly because of tiredness or a lack of concentration. Most of the kids I work with get the ninja analogy because the discovered attack appears out of nowhere just like ninjas in ninja movies. When I show the kids at St. Francis a puzzle with a ninja move or they pull off a ninja move in their own game, I tell them they are playing ‘ninja chess’.

  At my 2012 chess camp, I devoted an hour-long lesson to ninja moves. Here are a couple of ‘ninja chess’ examples from it:
pgn4web chessboards courtesy of
  And here is a ‘super-ninja’ example from the same lesson:
  I didn’t think that anyone would remember my musings about ninja chess and I was wrong. We had our 2013 chess camp last week and while I was giving a lesson about attacking there happened to be a spot where one player gave up a knight to get out of the way of the queen so she could unleash an attack on the enemy king. Three of the campers (one who came to last year’s camp and two from St. Francis) immediately shouted out ‘NINJA MOVE’. Not only did I think it was pretty cool, it gave me a chance to explain ‘ninja moves’ to the uninitiated and also told me that a ninja move might just be more memorable to a younger chess player than the clinical term ‘discovered attack’.

  I’m always on the lookout for different ways to describe chess and I’m not the only one. Among my chess books are titles like ‘Samurai Chess’ and ‘Chess for Tigers’. And I’m not even talking about all the chess sets with different themes like the Civil War, Robin Hood, Cats and Dogs, and even Yankee vs. Red Sox chess! I'd never play on a Yankee vs. Red Sox set unless it was against someone I knew I couldn't lose to and even then I wouldn't because what if I did lose?

  When my oldest son Matt was an infant, I used to do the laundry on Friday nights at the local laundromat and naturally brought along a small chess set and book to pass the time. Sometimes I would meet a young chess player named Jeff who came with his mother and we would play a game or two. Jeff would always take my pawn with his bishop as soon as he could and it didn’t matter if it was a fair trade or not. After Jeff took my pawn with his bishop for the twelfth or so game in a row despite my advice not to, I asked him why he kept doing it and he told me that it was because when he played a computer game called Battle Chess after each capture the computer would show a battle between the two pieces and the bishop taking the pawn had one of the coolest effects. Once I had broken the ice when either of us would capture a piece, Jeff would describe in great detail what the capture would look like on his computer screen. If only the Battle Chess creators had saved the coolest effects for captures that led to an advantage, Jeff may have become a fine chess player.

  If the ‘Falling Skies’ TV series was a little more popular I might be able to use the show as a metaphor for chess. The ‘ear worms’ that the aliens use to control human minds could be pawns (small but potentially deadly) and knights could be favorably compared to the horses for the humans and the eight-legged creatures affectionately known as ‘skitters’ since both can hop over their fellow combatants.

  I was playing chess against a visitor from Indiana at club a few weeks ago when I got a new idea of how to describe a ‘ninja move’ or discovered attack. An’ya (pronounced ‘an-eye-uh’) wasn’t castling and I kept on winning by putting my rooks opposite her king and uncovering its attack with a ninja move. I stated to explain my ‘ninja move’ concept when An’ya said ‘That’s no ninja! That piece is a stalker!’

  Out of the mouths of babes! There was my rook hanging out like a stalker, keeping an eye out for the king and just waiting to catch it alone. I didn’t have time to make a lesson for the chess camp about ‘stalker chess’ but this concept could be better suited for a book. There are already books on chess called ‘Play Chess Like a Champion’, ‘How to Play Chess Like an Animal’, and ‘Play Like a Girl’, so why not ‘Play Chess Like a Stalker’?

  Expanding the stalker theme seemed pretty easy for other tactical devices once I got to thinking about it. Instead of a fork that attacks two or more pieces at once, I’ll just call it a stabbing. Any attack that can be met can be referred to as ‘targeting the victim’ and when the attack can’t be met it is time to pounce! Forcing the enemy pieces to interfere with each other could be a strangling and any double attack with a check could be a mugging in broad daylight. The possibilities are endless. Here's an sample of what a ‘stalker’ chess lesson would look like:
  How good will this be once I polish it up? The stalker metaphor may be a little too weird to bring up when I'm teaching chess for now, but I’ll keep it tucked away in the back of my mind and have it ready for the time when stalkers take their place next to vampires, zombies, and cannibals as pop culture icons.