Teachings From and for the “Backyard Professor”

To begin, I enjoyed watching the Backyard Professor Youtube instructional video “Chess Psychology – Phenomenal Way to Turn Your Thinking Around and Win.” I enjoyed it enough that I plan on watching at least one more of his Youtube videos on chess. I believe that a beginner or even a more experienced player can benefit from watching this video and I suspect his others as well. With that said, I found some limitations. This is not instruction from a grandmaster.

chess instruction from a club player

A critical point in this middle game – Analysis by the Backyard Professor

I, Jonathan Whitcomb, never attained the rating level of a master, not even close, even when I was a young man playing in tournaments in Southern California (and I played in many tournaments, long ago when I was young).

Yet I did maintain a class-A rating and I can tell a lower ranked player by watching many of his or her moves. The game “The backyard professor” played, and analyzed himself in his video, gives me the impression that he plays well below a class-A level, possibly a B but more likely lower. From my experience, a B-player rarely leaves a piece en prize, in a slow time control competition. The backyard professor not only did so, in this game, but he failed to see the error when he was going over it in his analysis. Perhaps it was a speed game, but the analysis need not be so speedy. Analysis has no clock to punch.

I can say this for his abilities in chess: He has experience in attack and defense and knows the pattern of a smothered mate that comes after a discovered attack from a queen. He won this game with that mate. I doubt that any beginner could ever make any reasonable match for this club player, for the Backyard Professor has considerable over-the-board-experience, not to mention book study.

Let’s look at parts of the game he played, I presume against a respected fellow member of his chess club, a game he later analyzed on his video.

first move on both sides - chess opening

After the first move, this looks nothing like a King’s Gambit opening, more like a Pirc Defense. Still, opening transpositions can happen, and this game is an example.


Backyard professor continued - chess opening

Two moves later, we get the above opening position. I see no fault with any of the moves so far, which were the following:

1)  e4     g6

2) Nc3  d6

3) f4     e5

The next eight moves, however, and the words of the man who played white in this game (Backyard Professor), tell me that he was probably unaware of a transposition into a King’s Gambit, albeit an unusual or lesser-known variation. From the explanations of his thought process, which he gives on the video, he seems to have been oblivious to the transposition, or at least to the implications for a black pawn storm on the kingside.


opening transposition to King's Gambit accepted

The above position is a King’s Gambit accepted, regardless of the order of moves. One point that white needs to know in this opening relates to the knight at f3: Black may choose to advance the g-pawn, with the possibility of eventually moving it to g4, attacking that knight. That means white needs to be careful about castling on the kingside and be prepared for that pawn advance.


The Backyard Professor now has a choice

My advice for white, in the above position, goes beyond average beginner instruction. If I were tutoring a class-D or higher player, I would mention the following:

I see two reasonable moves for white, in the above:

  1. Capture the black bishop
  2. Protect the white bishop with Qe2 (and later castle queenside, if black exchanges)

In the actual game, the Backyard Professor moved Qe2 but soon castled kingside, which invited black to attack the white king through a pawn storm. How did that happen? Black first exchanged bishops, which put the white queen on c4, away from the fireworks black was preparing on the kingside. I’ll not get into details, for you can watch the video.

The Backyard Professor did change his thinking, his approach to the game, at an ideal moment, on an ideal move for that epiphany. Yet it began with noticing something “spooky,” a possibility for his opponent to checkmate him in two moves. For that moment, see minute #19, second #05, of his video.

For the point of the video when his defense was set aside and he moved into an offensive stand, watch the video from about minute #20, second #30. If you watch nothing else, just look at this part of his video.

What was the epiphany? In my own words, I would say it’s that we need to find active attacking moves rather than just react to what our opponent is doing. That sounds like wonderful advice, but we also need to concentrate on each position and make defensive moves when they are more appropriate in the moment.

Now for a later moment in this game, when the Backyard Professor is winning handily with an apparently secure win. This is found at minute #28, second #26:

The black rook may take the g4 knight

White has just moved one of his knights to g4, apparently unaware that he has just put up a free prize. That knight can be captured, but black had better be careful how he does so. If black moves Qxg4, it can result in a mate in five, in favor of white, beginning with white moving Qxe5+. Yet in the above position, if black captures the g4 knight with his rook, he will threaten a mate of his own: mate in three, beginning with Rg1+, but that threat depends on where white retreats with his queen.

Strange to tell, but the club player on the black side also failed to see that free prize. To see the instructive smothered mate at the end of the game, watch the video.

I understand the Backyard Professor’s delight in making a smothered mate, for I recall when I won a game that way. It is indeed fun.



Chess in the Movies

The three children must use themselves as three of the chess pieces, with Ron Weasley a knight who sits on a horse.

The Grandmaster Akiba Rubinstein

What a year for the Polish chess grandmaster Akiba Rubinstein [in 1912]! I herein undertake a brief study to determine if he deserves the title of “Honorary World Chess Champion of 1912.

The Elephant Trap (Chess Opening)

This opening trap in the Queen’s Gambit Declined loses a knight for white. Watch out for the Elephant Trap, or you’ll get stepped on.


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