Teaching kids chess

Jan 13, 2010, 9:42 PM |

One of the many themes I read on the Chess.com forums is:  "how do I teach my kids chess?"  As I am 26 (yes my profile pic is me) and don't have any kids of my own why on earth should you read an adults blog who doesn't have any kids saying how you should teach kids chess.  Well I started playing chess as a kid at my local school chess club, just as many members on this website probably did.  This is a personal wish list of what I wish I had known whilst I was learning the game at school. 

Its important to note that this blog post is not going to go through the rules of chess (thats available elsewhere on this website if you want to have a look yourself!)  It would be fair to assume I would think that if your about to teach someone the game of chess you know all the rules yourself.  This blog is more about yourself teaching other people chess, although of course its not an extensive list, just some of my personal experiences that I would have wished to have known about.  Showing a kid how the pieces move should be quite easy anyway if you know the game yourself and they will probably remember soon enough how each piece moves very quickly. 

The 1st thing I would suggest is make sure they know ALL the rules of chess. 

It may seem obvious to say this but I didn't know all the rules of chess all the way through my school life until I started playing on internet websites. 

For example my chess teacher told me:  "if the King is in check it must move out of check."  This led to me thinking (for ages) that the only way to get out of check was to move the king.  This of course isn't true, but make sure your kid knows about this.  

Another rule I didn't know about was stalemate.  The first time I ever managed a stalemate was when I first managed to actually do it in a game (a game I would have otherwise have comfortably won.)  I didn't know about any sort of stalemate rule before hand so you can imagine my frustration when I found out what it was.  Teach your kid about stalemate and when it occurs.  They will soon learn not to do it, better still they may be able to spot that they can save games through stalemate in certain situations. 

Another rule is en passant.  Whilst you might think if your teaching a kid its unnecessary because it will make the game more complicated for them, it is part of the game.  Again I didn't actually know about this rule until an opponent on an internet website used it against me.  Quite shocked by it at first I thought it was a bug in the website software that had caused this which of course wasn't the case.  But if the first time your kid finds out about the rule is when its first used against them, it will surprise them (and surprise is the very least it would do!) 

The other thing is pawn promotion.  Once a pawn reaches the other end of the board it has to be promoted.  But it does not HAVE to be a queen.  Teach your kid that they can under promote a piece.  Infact its sometimes best to.  This would usually be to either avoid a stalemate, or if promoting to another piece (usually the knight as they move differently to the queen) can lead to an checkmate immediately.   

The other rules that some people don't know about are claiming draws.  First of all a draw that happens under the 3 move repetition rule is if the same exact position is repeated three times (though not necessarily three times in a row.)  The draw has to be claimed by a player. 

Also if fifty consecutive moves have been played where neither player has moved a pawn or captured a piece a draw can be claimed.  From now on in this blog I'll refer to this rule as "the 50 move rule."  A lot of people think its once an opponent has only a king left, that you only have 50 moves to checkmate them.  That isn't the case at all in theory you could make 49 moves messing about whilst your opponent only has a king left, and then move a pawn on the 50th move to avoid your opponent claiming a draw under this rule.  Infact a draw under this rule can be claimed with any amount of pieces left on the board. 

There are other tournament rules that if your entering a kid into a tournament they probably should be aware of.  The main one is that you can always tell them to claim a win if their opponent runs out of time providing they have checkmate material (its a draw if your opponent runs out of time, but you do not have any checkmating material yourself.)  

As I said earlier make sure if you are teaching your kid chess to actually teach them all of the rules of the game. 

Once that has happened then teach them how to write down the moves using chess algebraic notation.  This will mean they can have a written history of their games of chess.  Writing down the chess moves makes it possible to establish as well if a draw can be claimed under the 50 move rule, or the 3 times reptition of position rule.  Writing down "I moved my king pawn forward two spaces," will take ages and its best not to do that in a tournament so getting them to write down e4 to describe the move is a better quicker and more standard way of doing it.  If you are a member of this website your know that the game history is already recorded in this way.  If you want to you can turn on the coordinates on the board on your settings to get them used to the idea that each square has a number and letter to describe where it is on the chess board. 

The next thing is I would suggest is do not start at the start of the game start at the end of it!  Let them see if they can checkmate your lone king with a queen and a rook.  Once they can manage that make it more difficult for them by letting them only have 2 rooks, then 1 queen, then 1 rook.  A rook and king v king ending is simple once its known how its done, but can be easy to mess up if you don't.  The other basic checkmates such as 2 bishops and king v king and a knight, bishop and king v king should also be learnt, as well as checkmates with pawns that need to be promoted and king v king.  Once your kid has "beaten" you with a few easy checkmates they should enjoy the game a lot better.  It seems strange to say to start at the end but I believe its the best way. 

If you have read this far, and your either a parent or teacher trying to teach your own children or school the game of chess good luck as well.  Above all remember they should be enjoying the game!