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Frisco Del Rosario writes about chess960, women's basketball, minor league baseball, unsupported collectible card games, lettering in comic books, and Golden Age movies

Farmer and Pigs for the real world chess instructor 09/24/2017

screen-shot-2017-09-24-at-5-06-15-pmI’ve doubled down on my notion that the variant game “Farmer and Pigs” is an excellent introduction to chess for reducing the number of units involved, and simplifying the winning conditions.

If a pawn reaches the 8th rank, or if a pawn captures the queen, the pigs celebrate. If the queen captures all the pawns, or blocks the last pawn from advancing, it’s barbecue time.

I learned something obvious last week: It’s easy to handicap myself by reducing my number of pigs (or if not reducing the number, by increasing the number of “pig islands”). Now that I think about it, I can handicap myself on the farmer side by making the 7th rank, or 6th rank, the goal.

The farmer should learn three vital chess skills through Farmer and Pigs: forking, skewering, and cutting off (say, threatening the pig from the behind is cutting off — and perhaps use this as a way to teach ‘rooks belong behind passed pawns’).

The pigs should learn the strength of pawn chains, and particularly recognizing and abandoning a lost pig (too many times I see a student waste a tempo by advancing a pig that’s in the farmer’s sights).

Both sides should learn to calculate a few moves ahead, and by golly, both sides had better learn to recognize PxQ when it’s there.

I’ve learned that a shocking number of students need to practice this: From which squares can the queen safely fork the pawns?


This is the simplest form of tactical puzzle, and we chess teachers unanimously recommend the solving of tactics puzzles. Maybe your students are way past finding all the forking squares here, but mine don’t possess that much board vision.

Farmer and Pig tactics can get tiresome. Then there’s this: Move the queen to a square from which she can safely capture the pawn with the next move. (And then checkmate the enemy king, if practice is needed there.) These are from the amazing Chess Camp (vol. 4, pg. 77).


This is useful stuff, with no more than king, queen, pawns. Some chess teachers think they can cram all 32 pieces into a kid’s brain in an hour — mostly what they’re doing is preparing a kid to avoid Scholar’s Mate, then slog around from this position — which my chess teacher calls The Scholastic Opening:
There is no life in this position, which is why the resultant games go on for 75 moves — and Grandma says: “Yay! You survived for 75 moves! You won a trophy!”.

Learning chess from move 1 isn’t conducive to playing after the K-3 Beginner events. Learn tactics and endgames with few pieces on the board. As you improve, add a piece to the board. After 30 years of learning, you’ll be prepared for games with all32 pieces on the board — those are hard.



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