By the chess tutor Jonathan Whitcomb, of Murray, Utah
I’m not the only chess instructor in the state of Utah, or even in the Salt Lake Valley, but I emphasize a new chess-teaching method: NIP (nearly-identical positions). I used that system in writing my book Beat That Kid in Chess, and I recommend it for those who promote quality chess instruction.
So what is this NIP system in teaching chess? It helps the student learn tactics efficiently by avoiding accidental memorization of irrelevant appearances in chess positions. Here’s a simple example of this teaching method:
Diagram-A: White to move
A simple skewer tactic wins for White: Bc4+. For those who don’t know chess notation, the white bishop moves slightly up and to the left, giving check to the black king. After that king moves out of check, the white bishop will capture the black bishop.
But when a student sees this position and either finds the solution or is given it, this position may be memorized, either accidentally or on purpose. What’s the harm in that? It will probably not be a precise memorization of where every piece stands on the board but only the key pattern of where the black king and the two bishops are standing. In the above position, the other pieces have limited relevance, if any. If the student ever encounters a position in which a king and two bishops are lined up in this way, he or she might automatically make the move that works in the above position, but it will not work in the similar position that is encountered. Take the following:
Diagram-B: White to move
Notice the difference in Diagram-B. All that is changed is the position of the black knight, yet how critical is that difference!
Can White win with the same tactic that is available in the Diagram-A? No. Is a different tactic available for White in the second position? Yes. In Diagram-B, White can win with a simple tactic: a knight fork. The skewer, however, no longer works, for the black knight will capture the bishop if it moves to c4.
Yet why bother creating two similar chess positions, two almost-identical positions that demonstrate different possibilities? Of course the chess student needs to learn to look at the details in a game, to discover what tactic works and when it does not work. But he or she will soon learn to be careful over-the-board, learning to be precise from experience in competition. So why bother using the NIP system of chess instruction? It’s most important in the training process itself.
What tool in chess instruction works best for teaching the student tactics? Good puzzles—that is the key to learning to find tactical possibilities in competition. Yet even when a student is given a huge number of chess puzzles, memorization of basic patterns is very likely. There’s nothing wrong with that except when the student sees a puzzle for the second time and takes a shortcut: giving the solution without looking deeply into the position. Chess lessons should teach good habits, not bad. If the student gets used to jumping to conclusions about chess puzzles, that might carry over into competition, and how greatly the chess competitor needs to analyze the details in a position in a real game!
Contact the Chess Tutor Jonathan Whitcomb
Feel free to get in touch with me: 801-590-9692. Or use email to ask a question.
The first getting-acquainted lesson is free. After that lessons are $25 per one-hour session, with the first paid session including a free copy of the book Beat That Kid in Chess.
I can drive to your location, or to a location convenient to both of us, if you live in or near the Salt Lake Valley of Utah.
The first session is for getting acquainted and is free. You will then be free to decide whether or not to continue with paid private chess lessons (or group instruction). The regular lessons are $25 per hour for individual training or $25 divided by the number of students, if you arrange the cost to be split between a number of persons.
Chess Coach Jonathan Whitcomb, of Murray, Utah (author of the book Beat That Kid in Chess), offers private and group lessons in the Salt Lake Valley. For a limited time, he is available for a free introductory chess instruction session for home-school families.