Teaching young kids chess

Playing a bit of chess with my 5yo at the moment - he seems to like it and is always keen to sit down. We’ve rapidly reached something of an impasse, though, in that there’s a long way between learning how all of the pieces move, and actually playing a game of chess.

What we end up doing is playing a sort of pretend game where I tell him a piece he might want to move, and if he thinks of a move himself that’s progress. Does this sound like a good approach? Just to keep at it in an unstructured way and the game will eventually click (or not click) with him?
Or are there better, more structured methods for learning the game?

Is 5 the sort of age where you could play a game of chess under your own steam, generally speaking, or is it a bit young still?

Hi, I teach chess professionally. :cool:

With a 5 year old son, I would focus on him:

  • enjoying it
  • learning to lose (and win) politely
  • playing endings (because controlling 16 pieces is tricky)

You could start with:

  • checkmating with King + two Queens v lone King (1)
  • playing just with Queen v Knight (2)
  • playing with King and five pawns versus King and Rook (3)

(1) It’s reasonably easy to checkmate with two Queens.
However you have to watch out for stalemate!

(2) The Queen has to capture the Knight. The benefits of this exercise are that there’s only two pieces to think about; you have to think about where your opponent can move; you learn the moves of these two pieces thoroughly.

(3) This is a bit of fun; reasonably balanced; again involves less pieces.

Good luck!

Thanks Glee - like the suggestions of the end game, I can see him going for that.

Glee’s advice is all good, particularly the part about starting with the endgame. I learned chess around that age, and my father took that approach, I can still remember when I was finally able to mate my dad with K + 2 bishops v K. At some point, after the technique is accomplished, you can introduce a time element (either a chess clock, or even a watch, if you move quickly).

At 5, my first conception of chess was playing with toy soldiers or action figures, each with a different set of super-powers. So a Knight can hop around in a closed position, a rook and bishop can be powerful from a distance, and that a pawn can only move forward and never backwards.

My first approach to the openings was trying to apply some simple-minded pattern, like moving every pawn up two squares, as that were some type of method of gaining territory. My father taught me that a more ideal pattern was that of the more classical method of K + Q pawn up 2 squares, Knights developed to Bishop 3 and then Bishops to the 4th file. As Black, I was taught that the ideal defensive pattern was k pawn or Q bishop pawn to the 3rd file, and prepare a counter attack against a white center. Quickly, these became the standard patterns for opening.

Let your son see it as play.

I told my kids that I’d give them $20 each when they beat me two games in a row. You should have seen their faces when I’d force a stalemate after they won a game!

I’m not all that good, but each of them did win the $20 by time they were 13 or 14. I think that the money was only part of the incentive to learn chess by then.

My youngest daughter went to join her high school chess club and she was basically told that girls didn’t know how to play chess. Let’s just say that the president of the chess club was mightily embarrassed when he found out how wrong that notion was.

Some good kids books were recommended here.

I bought this one for one of my young cousins. He’s already getting better.

Times have changed. When I was in High School, I won a scholastic tournament entitled, “Greater Boston Schoolboy Championship.” It was open to girls, I presume, but since there weren’t any, at that time, it wasn’t an issue.

There’s a Freudian “take” on the game of chess, that was used to explain was so male-dominated, by way of the Oedipal complex. The young boy, usually taught by his father, sees himself as the King, trying to slay the other King(dad), primarily with the help of his Queen(mom). Some young boys quickly become obsessed with the game, while girls are just as smart, still see it as play.

It seemed like a logical explanation back in the 60s, but I expect the Feminist movement changed a lot of things. There are many more girls/women playing chess these days, although it’s probably still less than 10%. GM Judit Polgar achieved a rating that put her at #8 in the world, a decade ago – before she got married and had babies. :slight_smile:

I’m suspicious of the Freudian ‘take’ on chess. (For example I taught myself chess out of a book and also spent a lot of time on chess problems.)
Although probably 90+% of chess players are male, I think it’s because:

  • chess is ‘unsociable’ (no talking during hours of play)
  • chess is solo (even in team competitions each player is entirely on their own)
  • chess is highly competitive
  • chess is entirely logical

I think all these attributes appeal much more to men.

By contrast bridge attracts rought 50% of each gender:

  • there is time to chat between sets of hands
  • you play in partnership
  • you can play ‘social’ bridge (with tea, cake and chat!)
  • there is some room for intuition (e.g. in locating key cards)

Finally Judit Polgar is still the no. 1 female player (rating about 2690, which puts her in the top 60 of all players.)

This is just to report a bit of serendipity.

I saw this thread title and thought how the chess problem of “Nine Queens” might apply. We just saw the movie of that name – which had zero connection to chess as far as I could tell – so “nine queens” was on my mind.

A Yahoo! search led to this site which may have some ideas that pertain to this thread’s concerns.

I taught a few classes to grade school kids the same age as my daughter many years ago, but aside from the basics I didn’t do anything special.

That said, I always refer beginners to Winning Chess: How To See Three Moves Ahead which helped me more than any single book. Excellent teaching tool on tactics and combinations.

Also, and this is VERY important:

Let him call the knight “the horsie.” And endure it when he makes galloping or neighing sounds while moving it. (My 10 year old is a decent player, and he always did.)

The boards other chess coach here…

5 is not too young to learn the game. glee is spot-on with the recommendation to teach the endings first. It helps to ingrain how the pieces move. He might not understand the full game for a while, but at this stage, it’s all about improving board vision. To consider a move, you first have to know it’s possible, right?

NOOOOO!!! This is my pet peeve. Last time I checked, knights were human beings. Animals were never called “sir.” It only annoys me because no other piece on the board is referred to by the shape of their piece. You may call a queen “her majesty,” “the lady,” or even in cruder circles, “the bitch.” But nobody - nobody! - ever calls her a crown. No one calls the rooks a tower…a castle, yes, but not a tower. No one calls the bishop a mitre. So why does the knight get special treatment?!

Call him a knight, a warrior, a dragoon, or whatever. Just DON’T call the man a horse!:mad::mad::mad:

I learned chess around 5. By 6, I beat my father for the first time and he never played me again…

Anyway, one of the things I loved in learning chess was a set that had the instructions for how each pieces moved right on the piece. They were printed on a bevel on the base, so they faced right back at you. Very helpful for the first year.

One of the things I did when learning was to play a lot of non-games where I handled both sides and just sort of noodled around. I might pick a spot and then try to figure out how to get a knight to land on it - that kind of thing. In hindsight, a lot of what I did was similar to end-game practice that’s already been mentioned.

Sorry, but it doesn’t sound like a beginner’s book. :o
From the back cover:

You are an average chess player. You are familiar with the major openings. You have played over some of the famous grandmaster tournament games. You have read a few books on the strategy and theory of chess.

I’m with Chessic Sense - don’t do this because once you meet other chess players, it’s embarrassing to have acquired this habit.

And beginners must start learning to think for themselves as soon as possible.

Hence my comment that learning good sportsmanship is vital.

‘Noodling around’ is definitely worth trying. You’re not under any pressure; you’re motivating yourself and you’re just seeing what happens.

I use simple chess problems with my beginners - give them out after a lesson and they’ve got plenty of time to study them before the next session.
Here’s a simple one (which also teaches one of the three special chess moves, plus stalemate.)

White: King f6, pawn f7
Black: King h7

White to play and checkmate in 2 moves.

1. f7-f8 = Rook Kh6 (forced) 2. Rf8-h8 mate. Not 1. f7-f8 = Queen? stalemate.

Oh, you’re no fun any more.

Winning Chess is actually not as advanced as the back cover notes would indicate. It’s divided into about 10 chapters, with 30 diagrams/problems per chapter that are 1, 2 and 3 movers. The book is divided into tactical themes, Pins, Forks, X-ray attacks, Double-Attacks. The first 6-8 diagrams in each chapter are simple, and usually not many pieces on the board. The problems get a little more difficult and cluttered as you progress through each section.

I used this book, to advantage, long before I had a grasp on major openings, or read any books on strategy.

It is however, an old book, out of print and I don’t think it was ever upgraded from Descriptive notation.

Note to any parent teaching chess… learn Algebraic notation(e4, Nc3. It’s simple and kids get a hold of it quickly, particularly if the board has the a-h. 1-8 labeled along the borders. It will make it easier to discuss the game, and if/when they do advance to books, they’ll be able to study alone. DON’T even bother with Descriptive notation (P-K4, N-QB3.) It’s old, confusing (each square has a different designation for both white and black) and will muck up learning. (I learned chess in the 60s, switched to Algebraic in the 70s.)

I’m a big fan of this book; it was probably the main thing that took my game from the 1200s to the 1700s (which was about as far as I ever got).

But in the sense we’re using it in this thread, it’s not really a ‘beginner’ book. We’re talking about kids who are still trying to get down how each piece moves, and starting with endings because a full game is still too much for them. Winning Chess is more for people who have gotten well past needing to think about the rules for moving each piece, and can routinely muddle their way through a game, but don’t have much of a concept of what to do with their pieces once they’ve developed them.

I’ll second Bellhorn on the problem of its being in descriptive notation, though.

ETA: I guess I’m gonna have to get used to algebraic notation at long last, since the Firebug is showing an interest in chess. glee’s and Chessic Sense’s comments are most helpful.

Firefly… Are you sure you’re not confusing Winning Chess with Logical Chess, Move by Move, also by Chernev and from the same era, same publisher, and apperance? Logical Chess went through some games, giving an explanation for EVERY move. Winning Chess, as I mentioned was just a collection of categorized tactical exercises that started out easy and then got a little tougher.

Just to make sure everyone’s clear - any lack of sportsmanship was on my father’s side. Let’s just say he had issues.

No, I’m talking about Winning Chess by Reinfeld and Chernev, with the ‘how to see three moves ahead’ subtitle. I don’t think I’ve ever run into Logical Chess.

Yes, it’s categorized (pin, knight fork, skewer, discovered attack, etc.) exercises from the middle game, but I think you’d need the level of ability I’ve described in order to be ready to learn from it. If playing an entire game is still a bit of a stretch for you, you’re not going to have enough opportunity to use any of these techniques in game situations to really make them your own.

However, in keeping with the ‘start with endings’ theme, Chernev’s Practical Chess Endings would probably have some use in teaching a kid the game before he was ready to play an entire game.