While teaching Chess there was one particular position I would use as a way of learning what kind of player, or potential player, was my student. The position could also be useful with a group.
The position can be attained from the Caro-Kann, 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 dxe4 4 Nxe4 Nf6 5 Nxf6+
Black to move
With which pawn one captures indicates what kind of player is the student. The more passively inclined tend to prefer taking with the e-pawn; while the more aggressively inclined will take with the g-pawn.
During one class there was a vehement argument when one player explained he would capture with the g-pawn because there was a rule that one should capture toward the center, while another was just as adamant he would capture with the e-pawn because of the pawn island rule, which states two pawn islands are to be preferred over three pawn islands. “Which one of us is right, coach?” was asked as all eyes turned toward yours truly for elucidation. “The thing about Chess,” I began, “is that the rules often conflict with each other. YOU must decide which one takes priority.” They looked at each other, then looked at me before speaking as one. “You mean we are both right?”
I explained that the Caro-Kann defense had a reputation as a passive opening but could be played actively if one chose the right continuation. “I am more of an aggressive player by nature and when changing from playing the Najdorf Sicilian to the Caro-Kann this particular opening, taking with the g-pawn, appealed to me because of the open line on the g-file, especially when white castles king side.”
“So you don’t ever take with the e-pawn?” asked the fellow who had opted for doing exactly that. “Taking with the e-pawn is for sissies,” I said, to howls of laughter. When it died down I added, “Just kidding, guys. Taking with the e-pawn is much more solid. If you play that way you will draw more games, and lose less often, while taking with the g-pawn leads to more wins, less draws, but more losses. It is your choice.” After the Chess lesson that day the students began playing for the last half of the class. I walked around looking at the positions and almost all games were Caro-Kann openings, evenly split between taking with the e and g pawn.
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