Friday, May 4, 2007

Teaching Children Chess

Inspired by a discussion of chess here, I thought I'd touch on the subject of teaching kids to play chess.

When I teach young or completely inexperienced players I start at the end and work my way back to the beginning. If they don't know where they are heading, the opening moves won't make much sense to them. So lesson one: checkmate the king. With a clear board I have them chase my king with a queen and rooks until they mate me. Once that becomes routine for them, I introduce other pieces and combinations, and repeat the process. After rooks and a queen, I'll remove the queen and a rook and add the bishops, then knights and a rook. I take the queen off early because the players learn to love the queen in the open, and use it exclusively, thereby not learning about the other pieces. Repeat this until it gets routine.

Not only will they learn the pieces a lot faster this way than they would playing a full game, they get a taste of what they are trying to accomplish in the end. It also has the advantage of them winning every time. Children don't like to lose, which is what is going to happen if you play them a full game, and they often get frustrated and don't want to continue if they lose something consistently. It's not like you can explain to a 6 year old how long it takes grandmasters to be great. And I don't think it helps a them learn if you let them win with bad play. So giving them this little rigged game is a perfect intro.

Once they've mastered mating me in the open, we play pawns. I do not bother with the en passe rule. It is too complicated, and hell, I played chess for ten years before I realized it existed. I let them swap the pawns for a queen if they advance to the other side, just like the real game. Now that they learned to love their queen, they really like the idea of being able to get another one. If they get the hang of the strange way pawns move, you can move to castleing and playing a full game.

Even if they lose interest or are unable to grasp some of the nuances of the game, I think it is still a worthwhile exercise to go through with them. It gives them a little perspective as they go through all of their games that there is a really hard adult game out there called chess. They'll know, at least a little bit, that being tic tac toe champ only goes so far in life, and I think that's a good perspective to have. Chess can be humbling in a very good way.


Unknown said...

Thanks for the tips... I'm a pretty good chess player and I'm trying to teach my son who is 12. I've never taught before and your process makes a lot of sense. I will try your approach.

Ron B.

ScienceAvenger said...

Thanks for the kind words. Sometimes it can be hard to remember what the board looked like when you didn't understand much of it.

Anonymous said...

Great ideas. We are teaching our 4 year old son and had started with Pawns, but he's getting frustrated at losing. Love your idea of how to start, we'll get on to that one tomorrow night, I'm sure he will enjoy it much more.