How to Teach a Child to Play Chess

How to Teach a Child to Play Chess

FM Gertsog

My Dear Chess Friends!

One local magazine asked for an interview about teaching kids and I decided to publish it here.

Interview with FIDE Master Viktor Neustroev - a professional player and coach.

July 20th is traditionally celebrated as the international chess day. The holiday was established in 1966 by the decision of the World Chess Federation (FIDE).

People have been playing chess for more than 1500 years. The game is known all over the world, and has long been considered not only a sport, but also an art. Today the popularity of chess is growing. Not only children, but also adults learn to play, participate in tournaments.

  • Why is this trend observed? How do I teach a child to play chess? We talked about this and much more with FIDE Master Viktor Neustroev.

Viktor graduated from Novosibirsk State University with a degree in Economic Cybernetics and studied for a master's degree. He graduated from the post-graduate school of IEPP SB RAS. He worked in the banking sector, engaged in trading. Currently, he plays chess professionally and trains children and adults.

  • Viktor, tell us, how did you get interested in chess? Have you been playing since childhood?

I was introduced to chess early, around the age of five. My cousin and I were taught to play by our grandfather. He was a military man and was fond of chess. We quickly learned the rules and started showing interest. Before school, I played with my grandfather, and at the age of seven I was taken to the chess section.

During school years I played in city and regional tournaments, participated in the Siberian Championship. I made progress and won prizes.

Then there was a serious break: for almost 15 years I did not participate in official competitions. Studying at the University took a lot of time, there was not enough time for chess. Nevertheless, I played for the NSU team. Then the work began. Chess remained a hobby.

  • How did you come back to chess?

Once I took part in a tournament in Tunisia. Despite the fact that the tournament was not organized at the highest level, I realized that I wanted to play. Then there was the Moscow Open – the largest tournament in Europe. And in 2019, I became the champion of the city of Novosibirsk. During the same year I went to Europe with my daughter to relax and play. I must say that some high-level hotels offer significant discounts for participants of chess tournaments – this is worth taking advantage of. I played well, significantly increased my rating and set a goal to become a FIDE master. After that, I chose tournaments in Europe and played for the ranking. In November 2019, I was awarded the title of FIDE master.

  • Why did you decide to become a chess coach?

I didn't really plan on becoming one. In the 90s, the image of a coach did not appeal to me at all. I wanted to get a high-quality education, do business, and have a completely different level of income than chess players had back then. This is the path I followed. But one day a friend, an international master, offered to work with children. I agreed on one condition: my daughter will be attending these classes. Alice was very young then, but this is how I decided to introduce her to chess.

Working at a chess school was an interesting experience. At some point, I realized that I get more pleasure when a student is engaged, interested in the quality of teaching and improving the level. Then I started giving individual lessons online. Now I work with children and adults from different countries. I teach not only in Russian, but also in English. For my Russian-speaking students, this is not only chess training, but also regular English training.

  • Tell us about your daughter. At what age did she start learning chess?

Alice is now 11 years old, she started learning early. At first, she watched me play with other students, then she began to show interest herself. But with me, she messes around, the learning process suffers from this. Alice has a different coach now.

  • Does she also participate in professional tournaments?

Yes, she participated in many competitions. She became the champion of Siberia among girls up to 9 years old. She was second in the championship of the Novosibirsk region. She also has many team awards and cups.

  • Tell us how to teach a child to play chess? What is the best age for starting classes?

In my opinion, it is not necessary to start teaching before 5 years, but you need to take into account individual characteristics. How do I get started? It's great if parents or other relatives are interested in chess themselves. You can play in front of the child, showing genuine interest. If there is only one person playing in the family, invite the child to participate. Tell us about the figures, show them how they walk. Ask your child to "chop" other people's figures.

An important point is that such sessions should be short, no more than 10-15 minutes. The child needs to be carried away, but not to get bored. If everything is done correctly, he will look forward to the next "lesson". Well, then the child is engaged with a trainer.

  • How to choose a coach for a child?

First of all, the most important thing in chess is interest. Attention, memory, and intelligence are secondary, and they increase during systematic training. See how classes are held with a specific coach. Whether you feel a passion for work, how children behave. Different children need different approaches. A serious coach with an academic approach will suit one child. For another child a kind and fun-loving person is better, he will keep the attention of children in a playful way.

The second point to consider when choosing a coach is his professionalism. Perhaps the person knows the rules, gets along well with children, but he has never played chess professionally. Such a teacher will not be able to cultivate the correct style to a young chess player, and this is very important.

Well, look at the coach's students: what tournaments they participate in, what their results are.

  • You said "correct style". What does it mean?

The point is that when learning chess, a child must understand the strategic meaning of each move from the very beginning. The chess player builds a plan based on the weaknesses of the opponent's position. Every move is part of this plan. The figures must be arranged so that they can interact with each other. We can't give a child a clear scheme of placement of figures in this or that case, but we can and should teach them to understand and adhere to the basic principles. This is the right way to think strategically, to see the relationship and consequences. This should be taught from childhood. Retrain then will be much more difficult, and sometimes it is simply impossible.

Read the continuation on my website

Best regards,
FM Viktor Neustroev