Explaining chess (and the concept of the Philippine Constitution) to a 5 Year Old


There are times when simple things are usually complicated; and when fundamental concepts have nothing fundamental about them. I’ve learned that only recently when I had the privilege of orienting a 5 year old kid (a daughter of a neighbor) on the basic things there is to learn about chess (and about other topics in between). She approaches me just when I’m practicing my opening. And started bombarding me with seemingly simple questions to which I had a real hard time answering.


As an introduction, she started with trying to determine if chess pieces are in any way shock proof by picking a pawn and using it to punch on an unseen enemy.


“Why you like this game, ate”. (To explain the culture of Filipino’s, everyone calls those older than them, ate or kuya which means older sister, or older brother, if the age difference is quite small; those close to the age of their parents either tito or tita which means uncle and auntie; those that are older than their parents, either nanay or tataymeaning mother and father; those whose age they can no longer fathom, lola or lolo which means grandmother and grandfather. This kid, despite our more than 20 years age difference doesn’t feel any younger than me at all and settles for ate. I have to admire her mind set.) She helped herself to a chair beside me and started arranging pieces randomly notwithstanding the fact that I had painstakingly end at that exact position by having moved pieces trying every possibility for more than several hours now. How I understand the speed that accidents must have changed people’s lives, just like the way mine does (right at this very moment).


“I like chess because unlike other games, I don’t have to beat anyone, like you do. Last time your brother comes here he had a bleeding nose. Says you punch him.” She just shrugs her shoulder, uncaring. “He deserves that ate. He ruined my toys because I don’t want to lend it to him, and why would I lend it him? He doesn’t like me to play with his friends. He says I’m a weakling and I cause them to lose many rounds.”


I ignored her comment on that and go ahead with orienting her about the chess pieces. Starting from the pawn up to the king. Then she suddenly asks me how come there is only one girl in the game. Adding that the queen must be really brave but bad mannered for quarrelling with guys.


I ask her: “What do you mean?” She looks at me and said: “That girls should quarrel with girls only. Because boys punch harder. Just like my brother.” “But it’s bad to punch anyone, boys or girls alike”, said I attempting to preach to her. “Because I’m young?” She seems surprised “I’m turning 6 years old next month, will it be ok then? My brother said so.” Why she’s quoting people older, as if their age matters to me is beyond my comprehension. “Ah, but any age will not do, Talay (everyone calls her Talay because she had a lot of things to say).” I insisted. “How about Manny Pacquiao? He punches people, and my brother’s friends cheer him on saying, punch him one more time Manny! They wanted Manny’s opponent dead, ate. At least I don’t do that. I only wanted my brother to feel that he hurts me, and he must hurt as well”. I feel bad for her suddenly.


“You should be a lawyer when you grow up” (this is me trying to divert the conversation). “What’s a lawyer?” her eyes curious as ever. “It someone who defends a person” (what is a lawyer anyway?). “From what exactly?” (her questions goes on and on). “From people who must decide if he is wrong or if he is right,” (said I trying to laymanize technical concepts). “Why would you need one? You know if you have done something bad or if you did not do anything bad at all”. (This is where I realize she outsmarted me and it’s time I throw the white flag).


“Play with other kids already.” I told her, unsmiling. She suddenly looks sad. “Don’t you want to talk to me?” I suddenly felt guilty. I was once her age. Maybe I talk too much as well. So I have to pay right now.


“Of course I do.” I said. Landing a kiss at her plumb check. “Then why are you asking me to leave?” She said, still looking as if I’ve been really cruel. “Am I? I’m just saying you should play with kids your age.” “Why?” Her eyes were really huge. “Because you understand each other”, said I. “But I understand you also” looking confused that I can’t understand her. “You do?” said I thinking “But I don’t understand her at all. The simplicity of her reason, it’s amazing how she can go directly to issues, and be correct about it”.


For the life of me, I can’t recall how I was able to manage to answer all her other questions. She wanted to know why there are 8 (not 9 or 6) squares, 8 pawns, why is a pawn not allowed to move backward, why does the knight looks like a horse, and why am asking her to leave again when I said it’s fine and that she can stay? Why does her brother calls her a cry baby when she saw him crying himself and she didn’t call him a sissy because she knows he would cry harder?


That experience humbled me to the way small kids reason. I may think I know a lot, which obviously I don’t. Answers seem obvious but we prefer to complicate things. So nothing’s simple about that kid. She’s really smart. I don’t know when she would suddenly show up again. Maybe I’ll tell her about en passant, and castling and why the king only move one square at a time.