How to keep developing players interested

Dsmith42

I offer free lessons at the chess club I frequent, to any new players who show up, young and old.  Those very few who stick with it get very good, very quickly, but we have an extremely poor retention rate.

The main issue seems to be that all of the club regulars play at the A-level (none of us are Experts, but all of us have scored off Experts at tournaments), and play aggressive, attacking styles.  There's no intermediate level, so novices lose quickly and repeatedly.

This past week, a youngster came in with his grandmother, and proceeded to lose the first two games in a total of 8 moves.  I took notation, and explained the issues with his opening.  I went on to explain the purpose of the opening (control of the center, development of minor pieces, castling to connect the rooks), and then the important checkmates to know (K&Q v. K, K&R v. K).  We played two more games, which lasted 18 and 21 moves, respectively, still quick but considerably better.  This seems to be typical of new players.  They show up a few times, show promising signs of improvement, and then don't come back.

Now, part of it may be our fault.  We don't hold back, ever.  I want all our players to see creative attacking lines, and to take the first clear win they see.  Most novice players last less than 10 moves the first time I play them (and no, I don't set up a scholar's mate on them).  Our players are experienced with all forms of sacrificing lines, and play them.  We lost one student after giving him a blindfold demonstration.  This last one, in the last game, he fell for a queen sacrifice.  Our tactics are sharp (meaning there's often only one way to defend), relatively deep (4-5 moves typically), and our openings (mine in particular) force the center to stay open, or at least semi-open.  I don't believe in holding back because then you teach bad habits.  It is easier to learn if you don't have to un-learn bad habits (I know this from my own experience).

We have taken players from raw novice to near Expert-level inside of two years.  The club is not at all formal, talking over the board is normal, and post-game analysis is encouraged.  But that seems to be the main problem - players either make the big step up or quickly give up.  No one stays at the intermediate level long enough to bridge the gap between the novice and our own level.

Anyone out there with ideas on how to keep learners motivated, it would be greatly appreciated.

MangoMankey

One of the main benefits of a chess club is that you get to play against players of your own level. Getting completely annihilated by stronger players over and over again is not going to motivate a lot of people to come back.

You need to organize some way of getting players of roughly similar levels to play each other so they win some games and have fun.

In my own experience, simple endgames tend to be the best choice for lessons for post-beginners (who know how the pieces move, their relative values and basic checkmates) since they (can be, if chosen correctly) aesthetically pleasing and simple enough to retain interest.

Also the idea of playing gambit trappy lines against novices is stupid: it only serves to end the game quickly and leaves for little instructive value other than "Oh yeah I know this line very well, you shouldn't have taken that second pawn I gambitted because...". It's always better to "get a game" and win slowly than to essay some dubious gambits on novices.

ABWoodbury

@MangoMankey
I was a member of the aforementioned club for about 2.5 years. We hardly ever played gambits. The openings we played were a bit aggressive, but not necessarily unsound. We wouldn't play anything against new players that we wouldn't be willing to play in a tournament. A lot of them had no knowledge of opening principles, and as such, their positions became incredibly weak very quickly.

The main problem we were having is that all of us were of roughly equal strength, so there were no weaker opponents that the beginners could win against. None of us would hold back if we felt an attack was justified.

Sred

As long as people keep developing they usually keep being interested. So maybe the question should be "How to keep interested players developing?".

btickler
Dsmith42 wrote:

I offer free lessons at the chess club I frequent, to any new players who show up, young and old.  Those very few who stick with it get very good, very quickly, but we have an extremely poor retention rate.

The main issue seems to be that all of the club regulars play at the A-level (none of us are Experts, but all of us have scored off Experts at tournaments), and play aggressive, attacking styles.  There's no intermediate level, so novices lose quickly and repeatedly.

This past week, a youngster came in with his grandmother, and proceeded to lose the first two games in a total of 8 moves.  I took notation, and explained the issues with his opening.  I went on to explain the purpose of the opening (control of the center, development of minor pieces, castling to connect the rooks), and then the important checkmates to know (K&Q v. K, K&R v. K).  We played two more games, which lasted 18 and 21 moves, respectively, still quick but considerably better.  This seems to be typical of new players.  They show up a few times, show promising signs of improvement, and then don't come back.

Now, part of it may be our fault.  We don't hold back, ever.  I want all our players to see creative attacking lines, and to take the first clear win they see.  Most novice players last less than 10 moves the first time I play them (and no, I don't set up a scholar's mate on them).  Our players are experienced with all forms of sacrificing lines, and play them.  We lost one student after giving him a blindfold demonstration.  This last one, in the last game, he fell for a queen sacrifice.  Our tactics are sharp (meaning there's often only one way to defend), relatively deep (4-5 moves typically), and our openings (mine in particular) force the center to stay open, or at least semi-open.  I don't believe in holding back because then you teach bad habits.  It is easier to learn if you don't have to un-learn bad habits (I know this from my own experience).

We have taken players from raw novice to near Expert-level inside of two years.  The club is not at all formal, talking over the board is normal, and post-game analysis is encouraged.  But that seems to be the main problem - players either make the big step up or quickly give up.  No one stays at the intermediate level long enough to bridge the gap between the novice and our own level.

Anyone out there with ideas on how to keep learners motivated, it would be greatly appreciated.

Define "youngster" wink.png.

There's a fine line between challenging a player without sandbagging and letting them win, and beating up on a kid.  Is this club inclusive and open, and are there ever multiple "youngsters" showing up at once that could play each other?  Because the impression you gave is that you have young individuals showing up every once in a while and getting pounded by everyone they play, then to top it off they get to see a blindfold demonstration that displays for them just how monumentally far they would have to go to be any good.  Put yourself in their shoes.

So, your club players don't want to compromise themselves and so they play aggressive openings and tell it like it is right out of the gate.  That seems like a cop-out, and that while you may be interested in seeing players progress, players in the club are perhaps motivated by the desire to show off more than to actually get somebody interested in the game.

I'm not going to say your club is unusual, a ton of chess clubs are this exact way now, because the scholastic scene is gathering up most of the young players and it takes a grandma from the old days to think "I should take my kid down to the club where the old guys play...".  The reason that works is because the two experiences are so different.  In one, a kid shows up and plays other kids and maybe gets beat, but not so soundly and constantly, and in the other a kid shows up with an adult, plays a bunch of adults and loses, getting embarrassed in front of the adult that brought them, and they go home never wanting to see another chess board.

If your club is actually interested in having new blood in it, then try this:

- The first time out teach the rules (the basic rules, not any principles), then play some games...don't try to "teach" any tactical or positional tips, don't critique their game...none of that stuff

- Meet with your club and agree not to play the "win in under 20 moves" openings...play the Caro Kann, the Hippo, London System, whatever.  If that doesn't work, agree to not cross the 4th/5th rank until move 25...if that doesn't help, play them with pawns only on your side, etc.  You can still allow them to learn something by playing (note the distinction in allowing them to learn rather than telling them how to play) and make the constraints challenging enough so the club players don't need to resort to smashing the "youngsters" to avoid boredom.  Give the kid two moves to your one...*that* will challenge your club players wink.png.

- Answer questions, don't impart knowledge without one.  Just don't.

- Recognize "over-acheiver" adults that want their kids to be a chess prodigy because they never were, and make doubly sure to create a stress free encounter for those kids.  If they ask whether My System is a good book to start their kid on...hand them a copy of Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess and remind them that there's no hurry.  If they tell you there is a hurry because the kid needs to be a GM by their teens...then walk away.  That's the child's choice and their own life, not their parent's life.

The goal is not to improve their chess (especially the first time they show up wink.png...).  The goal is to allow them to learn the game and love it, and they will become motivated to improve themselves.  If they don't like to play, and are externally motivated, they are *not* going to be a Magnus Carlsen anyway, so why harm them by trying to force the issue?

One thing you didn't make clear is this...you are offering free lessons.  Is this a "sample" that you then parlay into paid lessons?  Because if so, you are perhaps shooting yourself in the foot by trying to impress the adult that brought the child with your chess knowledge, rather than showing them that you have a way with kids.  Most parents prioritize the latter over the former, because they know that without the latter the former is fairly meaningless.

ZaidejasChEgis
btickler wrote:

 

Nice words.

 

As for the club - if many players are really stronger than others, offer to play with odds. Keep those newcomers at all cost if you want to grow bigger.  Let the weaker player finish the game, rotate a boards till they'll win. When you'll have a bunch of weaker players  they will fight against each other. Some of them will advance to challenge seniors happy.png

 

Kids want to win. Older people find a joy in playing, thinking, chatting, for them a result is secondary, or at least they take a loss differently.

Dsmith42

@btickler, by "youngster" I mean short of high school age.

The club is very open, in my opinion.  No belittling talk, only encouragement.  Blindfold play was our attempt to play at odds without fundamentally changing the game from the kid's perspective (which is counter-productive).  Several of us can play blindfold, but all of us are substantially weaker players when we do (for me, my tactical depth drops by about half).

It's hard for me to relate, because I've always wanted to play the best opponents I could find.  When our club had the State Champion in it, it took me months to start challenging him seriously, and longer still to start winning some games.

We do get waves of kids, and by and large we let them play each other unless they want to play one of the regulars.  However, many times these groups whittle down to just one or two, usually the best of them, who still can't bridge the gap.

 

As for your advice, we do teach the rules first, but I am fundamentally opposed to showing a kid unnatural play of any kind.  Your opponent is going to play their game, and I tell all my students to play the way they enjoy most - whether that's attack or defense, open or closed, classical or hypermodern.  I've seen far too many players get messed up by teachers who show things that sometimes work against players who don't know the right response.

I do see the "over-achiever" parents you speak of, and I try to discourage those parents from pushing the kids too hard.  Chess is a game, it's supposed to be fun.  You can learn great life skills from it (I still do), and it will make you smarter, but at the end of the day, I want kids to want to come to chess club to learn in a pressure-free environment, at their own pace, and for their own enjoyment.

Many of the kids who come in do seem to like to play, and do show noticeable improvement every time I see them, but our retention rate with them is no better than the rest.

As for the "parlay" question - no, I offer free lessons so that folks who don't know how to play can show up and learn how to play.  I do not teach of coach chess professionally, and have no intention of ever doing so.  I don't think anyone short of Master level should charge for such lessons.

I don't force the kids to play, either.  They can play, watch, even ask questions of other players' games while they are in progress.  All of our club regulars are there to learn and improve.

We have a kid (well, he's in high school now), who does win.  I would have thought that seeing a kid only a few years older, who is a State Champion at his scholastic level, would give kids hope, but he's just as overwhelming to play (more so in some respects) as I am.  Likewise, even though our playing strength is similar, our playing styles are very different.  The newcomers have their choice of styles to emulate, and can have confidence that if the master the one they like best, it can work for them.

I suppose the challenge is getting them to the point where they can win without coddling them with unnatural play.  That is a tough balance to strike, though.

btickler

Sounds pretty good, but I'm really not sure about the aversion to "unnatural play".  The 2 for 1 moves variant I like to play with, for example, teaches the power of development quite well...maybe I should have gone a little deeper on that one.  You allow 2 moves for 1, but a capture or a check ends the turn, so players cannot take a piece and then escape, or check and "capture the king" in one set of moves, and you cannot move the same piece twice in one move (which doesn't teach "natural chess").

By playing this variant, the new player gets to develop much faster, which gives an insight into the power of center control, having more pieces out, and they get to see how the game works when things are going well, rather than playing every game starting from even and then constantly losing ground from first couple of moves.  If they do develop successfully, it teaches them to actually use positional advantage to force tactical breaks, etc.

The key is to talk about why you are playing a variant, so that the new player doesn't start insisting they want to play the variant over real chess wink.png.

Or, just give rook odds or knight odds (or even queen odds) if you want to stick to "traditional" chess handicaps.

There is no stigma to "coddling" new players.  Why would there be?  Would a golf pro not give a handicap to brand new player?  You are talking about this gap, and I assume it's a steep one, say trying to jump from 800-1000 rating to 1600-1800 to play the "regulars"?  How else would you propose to try to make that leap?  That the new player has fun for months playing peers and then goes into some monk-ish seclusion to study like Fischer before coming back and playing the regulars? happy.png

SeniorPatzer

"The goal is to allow them to learn the game and love it, and they will become motivated to improve themselves."

Amen!  That definitely needed to be said.

CoffeeAnd420

The problem that I see, really working on the game now: It's so easy to fall into lazy calculation and the fact that ONE wrong move turns a winning game into a lost game is just ...really over the top for most people in almost 2020. I just lost a game against a very weak opponent on ONE wrong move in a totally winning game after a blunder of his. I just didn't even mean to make that move. You have to understand how frustrating and pointless that is going to be to many who sit down to learn the game. 

These opponents are *insane*. To keep up, you literally have to play all day and night. Have to learn all sorts of attacks on your king and how to prevent them after loss, after loss, after loss of just learning. Guys just fire pieces at your king and force you sit and do heavy calculation to avoid the *one* move that lets them get their mating pattern in. I mean, I know I'll learn how to defend these in time but ...it's really frustrating to lose like that, especially against a bad player. 

And they'll never resign or take a draw. If they have to sit there in a game for 10 hours in a dead draw, shuffling pieces around, desperately hoping you have to pee or something eventually - they will. Guaranteed.

JamesColeman

It could be (and sounds like) that the environment is overly-serious and off-putting, even if very well meaning. Most kids, unless they're already quite serious, don't actually want to be coached, or to do any type of chess study. They can happily make the same mistakes again and again and still have fun. A lot of them don't actually even equate studying with getting better; I once took a quick poll of some youngish students who had been playing for a while (very casually) and a decent percentage of them (around half) thought that chess was a game of luck.

 

I also don't know when the club runs; if it's on a weekday evening, they've probably already sat through some 'boring' lessons at school and will be turned off by anything formal. For chess, they'll want to hang out with kids their own age, and play.

 

I think it's great that they have such a good resource of free lessons and whatever, but imo it should be fun first, and improvement a very very distant second.

 

Dsmith42

@gf3 - Teaching is an artform (my parents were both teachers), but there is also a purpose to it.  It is 1,000 times harder to unlearn something you took in that isn't so than it is to learn it right in the first place.  I know this from experience.  The fact is that I did not learn endgame play properly way back when, and I still haven't worked out all the bugs.  Every glitch in the presentation creates a potential stagnation point down the road.  I won't show a child something that I know is wrong.  Kids want to win, this is true, but if they then get steamrolled in their first scholastic tournament (which none of ours ever have, btw), they'll never trust anything you tell them ever again.  Is there even a point to teaching if you throw the main objective (actually teaching) in the garbage before you even start?

 

I don't push the kids in any particular direction, I just show them the basics, and let them choose who to play, how much, and whether they want more detailed explanations or not.

 

@JamesColeman - No, the environment is as informal as any club you've ever seen.  Nothing is serious about it, we don't pretend to be Experts.  I only give lessons if asked.  If kids just want to play, they can do that, too.  I'll let them play checkers if they want.  I've played games with my opponent's baby sister on the table next to the board.

Your point about it being a weeknight seems like a valid one.  We moved from Tuesdays to Thursdays to not overlap with another club nearby, but most of the regulars were not up for a weekend time (which I did float as an idea).

 

You can't make the jump from 800-1000 to 1600-1800 if you learn anything that is fundamentally unsound, of that much I am certain.  Any changes to the rules or setups create knowledge traps, where things that seem to be true only work against opponents who don't know better.

 

Maybe I can't have it both ways (I'll entertain that possibility), but the few who do stick with us have a lot of fun and get very good, very quickly.  That's the problem.  A few do make the jump, and they do it too fast for their friends to keep pace.  We lose just as many while they make the jump (because their friends and even family won't play them anymore), as we lose before any progress is made.

 

I think a lot of you seem to think kids are leaving the club in tears (they aren't), or are overwhelmed and are unable to pick up what I'm teaching them (they always show immediate improvement).  I can see them get better, and I always tell them as much, I just don't think they believe me.

 

I do appreciate the feedback, but you're all assuming a few things which aren't really true.  The reason I oppose the idea of playing variants or piece/move odds is because it is a dead end.  You will play moves in those situations which in normal play are fundamentally unsound.  No one, not even a kid, wants to spend hours and hours learning how to be mediocre at something.

ghost_of_pushwood

Over and over I keep seeing this phrase "unnatural play."  I still don't know what it means...or what could be so bad about such a thing.

Howhorseymove
No one keeps going to any activity that they don’t do well unless they have a very strong determination to improve at something.

There has to be an infinite amount of patience and care trying to teach some one a new skill. Keep giving them one mercilessly beating after another could very well turn them off to that subject.

I think you should get one of those wall chess boards that has pockets for the pieces and maybe explain to new players some of the principles of good opening play and strategy.

After each move, ask them to suggest what the next move should be and why. This helps them to understand that a move has both good and bad consequences. Don’t ever criticize any idea even if it is bad. Instead tell them why it is bad and then ask them to keep looking for a better idea.

You need to keep them engaged and having fun and not have them focus on results. Results can come later after they have been playing for a while.

Have players of similar skill paired up since they might form a friendship and will keep coming back because they want to play a game against their friend.

Best of luck.
Howhorseymove
Another good idea would be to have team games where you have teams of 5 or more players play together against another team. Each team selects a captain and only the captain can make a move on the “game board”.

Each team should be given two boards. One board is used to keep the actual board while the other board is used to play out scenarios.

By discussing move selection and candidate moves, this allows those with less experience to gain a sense of the kind of thinking a stronger player has and the kind of things that they consider before making a move.

This also gives them a sense of participation since all ideas have merit.
gf3

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gf3
Dsmith42 написав:

@gf3 - Teaching is an artskill (my parents were (r.i.p.) both teachers), but there is also a purpose to it.  It is 1,000*(equally challenging) times harder 2 unlearn mislearning.  Endgame . . . and ...  Every glitch in the presentation creates a potential stagnation point down the road.  I won't show a child something that I know is wrong.  Kids want to (play) win, this is true, but if they then get steamrolled in their first scholastic tournament (which none of ours ever have, btw), they'll never trust anything u tell them ever again.  Is there even a point to teaching if u throw the main objective (actually teaching) in the garbage b4  u start?

I don't push the kids in any particular direction, I just show them the basics, and let them choose who to play, how much, and whether they want more detailed explanations or not.

 

@JamesColeman - No, the environment is as informal as any club you've ever seen.  Nothing is serious about it, we don't ...We moved from Tuesdays to Thursdays to not overlap with another club nearby, but most of the regulars were not up for a weekend time (which I did float as an idea).

 

You can't

Maybe I can't have it both ways (I'll entertain that possibility), but the few who do stick with us have a lot of fun and get very good, very quickly.  That's the problem.  A few do make the jump, and they do it too fast for their friends to keep pace.  We lose just as many while they make the jump (because their friends and even family won't play them anymore), as we lose before any progress is made.

I think a lot of you seem to think kids are leaving the club in tears (they aren't), or are overwhelmed and are unable to pick up what I'm teaching them (they always show immediate improvement).  I can see them get better, and I always tell them as much, I just don't think they believe me.

 

I do appreciate the feedback, but you're all assuming a few things which aren't really true.  The reason I oppose the idea of playing variants or piece/move odds is because it is a dead end.  You will play moves in those situations which in normal play are fundamentally unsound.  No one, not even a kid, wants to spend hours and hours learning how to be mediocre at something.

 

gf3

Attitude adjustment needed.  Exaggeration drama and defeatism in this post

Rid your vocab of these self defeating words.   Consequence yourself when you say them.   Spray water in your own face.  All work no play makes a person a dull. Have you 4 gotten how to have fun Is a stronger inquiry.  Try a vow of silence to solve these issues.  Imho. 

Memorize Tao te ching.

Nwap111

First, what you are doing is admirable. It is very difficult to teach any age group. Second, I do agree with your idea of teaching correct, basic and sound principles. Third, my suggestion is that you teach them how to defend. My experience with beginners is that they play simple attacks that can be defended in one or two moves. So first teach basic defenses from stock attacks and then move on to how to defend against greek gift sac to the double bishop sac. Finally, take games you win against them and show how the computer would have defeated or drawn the game. That will encourage them to play, seeing you are beatable, even at your best.