Chess for Children

In chess, and in the development of the chess mind, we have a portrait of the intellectual struggle of mankind. – Richard Réti

I teach chess to grade school children in public school after-school enrichment programs. Some of the children are interested in chess; some of the children are mildly interested in chess; some of the children are there because chess was what was left when they went to pick their after-school enrichment for the quarter, enrichment serving as an inexpensive daycare service for children of working parents.

In any case, with stories, jokes, didactic digressions into history, mathematics, foreign languages and current events, I try to keep them engaged. I have no illusion that chess is an important life skill for these children. But chess does seems to offer three life values for children who are not on the track to chess mastery for its own sake.

Firstly, chess teaches that in silence one can gaze down a deep well of thought for as long as one can bear it without ever reaching the bottom of the well.

Secondly, chess teaches philosophical self-possession. A win or a loss merely means that it’s time for the next game.

Thirdly,  the formal manners of chess are useful play-practice for the etiquette necessary for success in adult life. I have my students call me by my first name, explaining that if they follow the laws and manners of chess, they are fully equal in privileges and powers to adults in the world of chess competition.

In one session, the beefy 10-year-old class clown lost his game and jokingly made gestures as if to bean his opponent with the king.

“That’s not what chessplayers do when they lose,” I told him.

“They don’t?” he asked, surprised.

“They shake hands with their opponent and thank him or her for an interesting game.”

“They do?” He tried it, found it amusing, and thereafter was scrupulously and comically polite with his opponents. It’s good practice for the adult world, where instead of “I wish you were dead!” we say, “Thank you for the opportunity to discuss these matters with you.”

Here’s one more game from the Colorado 2015 Closed Scholastic section. Section winner Victor Huang sneaks in on the kingside.

Jacques Delaguerre