Chess Apprentice – The Chess Improver

Sixty or so years ago, the pioneering books of Raymond Bott and Stanley Morrison played an important role in the popularity of chess amongst primary school children. their first book, Chess for Childrenwas so popular that a follow-up, The Chess Apprentice (later retitled More Chess for Children) was also published.

They were outstanding books in their day but perhaps slightly dated now. More Chess for Children Includes a short selection of lively attacking games played by juniors. This one includes two rather strange errors.

The player of the white pieces is named in the book as RWM Butler. Thanks to Geoff Chandler for informing me that his name was Raymond WM Baxter, a future Scottish international. Looks like a careless mistake which really should have been corrected. Black was correctly identified as Norman Littlewood, a future English international, brother of John and uncle to Paul.

The game was a Ruy Lopez Marshall Gambit, which has now, I understand, been analysed out to a draw in all main lines, but back in 1951 theory was still in its infancy.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5 a6
4. Ba4 Nf6
5. OO Be7
6. Re1 b5
7. Bb3 OO
8. c3 d5
9. exd5 Nxd5
10. Nxe5

Here’s the second curiosity. Bott and Morrison award this move a question mark, commenting as follows: “neglecting development and leaving White’s King’s side with limited defences”. Very strange, given that the theory was already reasonably well known at the time. Bott was a strong club player and Morrison an average club player, but Bob Wade was thanked for providing helpful criticism, A. S. Russell (who translated some of Pachman’s books into English) checked the proofs and Harry Golombek provided the foreword. None of those August gentlemen picked this up. I suppose you might want to argue that White deserved a question mark for allowing the Marshall without knowing enough theory.

Anyway, the game continued:

10..Nxe5
11. Rxe5 c6
12. d4 Bd6
13. Re2

13. Re1 is almost always played here, but there’s nothing much wrong with this move either.

13..Qh4
14. g3 Qh5
15. Bxd5?

This is the losing move.

Baxter was unlucky, as this trade is playable in other lines of the Marshall, but not here. He should instead have played 15. Nd2! when if Black continues as in the game, with 15.. Bh3 16. f3 f5? (16.. Nf6 with some compensation), he has 17. c4! with a winning advantage.

15..cxd5
16. Qd3 Bf5
17. Qd2 Bh3
18. f4 Rae8
19. Rf2 Re3
20. Na3 Rfe8
21. Nc2 Re2
0-1

I’ve often wondered whether or not the Marshall is a good recommendation for Black at club level.

It’s perfectly sound and stands up well to modern computer analysis. As you can see from this game you can win very quickly against an unprepared opponent, so what’s not to like?

The problem, it seems to me, is this, and it’s a problem that applies to all sharp, theory-dependent openings, not just the Marshall. If you take part in matches for your local club and perhaps play in one or two weekend tournaments a year, you won’t get much chance to use it. Your opponents will only play into the line if they’re prepared for it themselves. Suppose you play 24 games a season. You might get 12 whites and 12 blacks. Perhaps you’ll meet 1. e4 in half your games with Black. At club level you’ll find many players will avoid the Spanish because it’s too well known. So you might find yourself facing the Spanish 3 times a year – and even then White has plenty of alternatives before reaching 8.. d5. Do you really not have anything better to do with your time than spend hours studying an opening that you’ll play in over-the-board rated games once or twice a year? Just ask!

Richard James

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Richard James

Author: Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966. Richard is a published author and his books can be found at Amazon. Richard is currently promoting minichess (games and puzzles using subsets of chess) for younger children through his website www.minichess.uk, and writing coaching materials for children (and adults) who want to start playing serious competitive chess, through www.chessheroes. uk. View all posts by Richard James

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