Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Teaching Children Chess

I always wanted to have a child that could play a good game of chess but I never got one. But when my kids were small I didn’t know how to teach children chess. I have been able to teach my grand daughter a few tricks, though. She is six now and can beat most adults. She even knows some things that I didn’t know in high school -- and I played first board on the chess team.

To teach children how to play chess it best to make up games that they can win without being handed the game. With Tianna, I started out by teaching her to capture pawns with a rook. The game started with me having 4 pawns and her have a rook and a king. If she could capture all my pawns before any of them reached the eighth rank she won. So there were only three types of pieces on the board and she learned how to use them. It’s easier to learn how to use one or a few pieces well than to learn how to command a board full of pieces.

After she was able to win against 4 pawns we moved to the next level. King and rook versus five pawns. Kids these days play video games and they understand levels. After rooks levels came bishop levels, and after bishop levels came knight levels.

When we got around to using the queen the games changed to include the concept of checkmate. She started with a king and a queen and I had a king. I setup the board so that there was mate in one move and explained it to her. Then I let her try it from different but similar positions. Then mate in two moves. This eventually progressed until she knew how to systematically force a checkmate in less that one minute from any KQ versus K starting position. You would be surprised at how many chess club players can’t do that in a minute. Of course any of them could do it if given a few minutes to bumble through it.

Next I taught her the principle of opposition followed by how to checkmate with a rook and king. We played a few more games but eventually I ran out of ideas so I picked up the book Pandolfini's End Game Course which consists of a series of endgame puzzles and we are going through them. If you really want to be a good chess player, learn the end game first.

As you learn the endgame you learn to recognize winning positions. When you get one you will know exactly what to do to win, and not even Bobby Fisher (R.I.P.) would be able to stop you. When I am playing chess and I get to a winning endgame position, I like to tell my opponent that I will checkmate them in 27 moves if they play perfectly and less if they don’t. I usually say this in such a way as to imply that I have thought the game through all the way to the end with all possible combinations. I like people to think I am smarter than I am. But the point is that if you know how to recognize a winning endgame position, you will have a better chance at getting to one.

Tianna isn’t chess club material yet but she might be able to beat you. If you play her she'll assume that you're smarter than her and will try to trade down to make the game less complicated. You will think the game is even but her trades will destroy your pawn structure. This will put her at an advantage in the endgame and she will try to queen a pawn. If she does that you’re dead meat.

I can sometimes be found online playing chess at zone.msn.com under the alias of HappyPawn8. I like to queen pawns. If I am winning and I want to punk you, I will queen 2 or 3 of them.


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