Getting Ready for the Chess Club

Parents want their children to get the most out of their educational experience, be it learning about science, music or chess. Many parents have no problem investing in educational DVDs or books to aid in their child’s education or employing a tutor. However, when it comes to chess, many parents send their children to chess classes or clubs with no knowledge of the game’s rules. This can be a problem if the rest of the class already knows how to play. The child who doesn’t know the rules can feel awkward and can easily lose interest in the game. Therefore, parents who want their children to get the most out of their chess class or club should do a little preparation, namely teaching their children the basic rules of the game. Doing so will go a long way to ensuring that a child have a positive experience with chess.

Unfortunately, we live in a world that measures success on how quickly a job can be done, leaving quality of workmanship out of the equation. For example, someone wanting to learn a musical instrument is more likely drawn to a learning program that offers fast results. However, you can only get better at playing a musical instrument through hard work and practice. The same holds true for chess. This doesn’t mean that your child has to spend hours every day slaving away over the chessboard. It does mean that you cannot expect instant results upon enrolling your child in a chess class or club. You have to be patient. Here are some suggestions that will help children entering chess class for the first time:

Before enrolling them in a class, teach your child how the pieces move. This will help them immensely. In my classes, we spend the first half of the class learning about a specific concept or idea and spend the second half of the class playing chess to test out our newly acquired knowledge. Since most of my classes are a mix of skill levels, the lessons will be geared towards students who at least know how the pieces move. Teaching your child how the pieces move will help them tenfold during their lessons.

You should teach piece movement in a specific order, starting with the pawns. Have them learn how the pawns move, forward, and how they capture, diagonally. Of course, you’ll want to make sure they understand that a pawn can move one or two squares forward on their first move but only a square at a time after that initial move. Have them play with only pawns (the pawn game) on the board until they have mastered pawn movement. Don’t worry about pawn promotion yet. This concept should be taught after the child understands how the pieces move. Then move onto the Rook which moves up and down the board (along the files) and left and right (along the ranks). Rooks capture in the same way they move, a point that must be made to the young student. Have them play Rook against pawns, with you, the parent, moving the pawns and your child moving the Rook. The goal for the child is to capture as many pawns as possible without having their Rook captured by a pawn. Next move on to the Bishops. Here, you have to emphasize that each Bishop is only allowed to travel diagonally on squares of the same color the Bishop started out on. The dark squared Bishop can only travel along dark squares while the light squared Bishop can only travel along light squares. Bishops capture the same way they move. Play a game of pawns against both Bishops with your child trying to capture enemy pawns with the two Bishops while avoiding the loss of those Bishops to the pawns. Tackle the Queen next, reinforcing the idea that the Queen combines the power of the Rook and Bishop. The Queen also captures the same way as she moves. Play pawns against Queen, with the Queen trying to capture the enemy pawns while avoiding capture herself. At this point, you can introduce the idea of pawn promotion. Play the pawn game again. However, if a pawn makes it all the way across the board, it turns into a Queen. Mention that the pawn can also promote into a Rook, Knight or Bishop.

Next, teach the movement of the King, which is the same as the Queen, except the King can only move a single square at a time. Kings capture the same way in which they move. Reinforce the difference between the King and the Queen. Also start talking about how crucial it is to protect the King at all times. Play a game of pawns against the King. Don’t introduce check and checkmate yet. However, do introduce the idea that if the King is attacked, he must stop the attack by either capturing the attacking piece or moving. Reinforce the idea that the King cannot be captured! Wait until piece movement has been master before introducing additional game rules.

Only after the child can confidently and legally move the above mentioned pieces should you move onto the Knight. The Knight moves in an “L” shape which is unique. The other pieces move in a linear fashion, in straight lines along the board’s ranks, files and diagonals. The Knight, on the other hand, moves two squares in one direction and then one square either to the left or right. In short, the “L” that the Knight makes when moving is three squares tall and two squares wide. Knights capture the same way they move. Play a game of Knight against pawns.

The longer a period of time you spend with your children, teaching them how the pieces move, the better their playing experience will be. Children should learn how to move one piece at a time, only moving on to the next piece after they have master the piece in question. Don’t set a time limit on these mini lessons. Let your child take as much time as they need to master each piece. Only after they fully understand how each piece moves should you consider having them playing with all the pieces at once. Otherwise, the child will become confused, mixing up the movement of one piece with another. You don’t have to put a great deal of time into these lessons. In fact, with younger children, you might want to start with fifteen minutes per day. Again, don’t move to the next piece until your child masters the piece being worked with. It might take them nine months to master piece movement but they’ll do much better in their chess class or club knowing how the pawns and pieces move. Always have them use the piece they’re learning about against pawns, as in the pawn game, because simply moving a piece around an empty board can be boring. Also try, playing pieces against pieces. So instead of playing a pair of Bishops against enemy pawns, play a pair of Bishops against a pair of Bishops. The longer you spend on piece movement, the better the end results will be in the long run. As parents, your commitment to your child’s chess education determines what your child gets out of chess. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week. These gentlemen know how to move their pieces!

Hugh Patterson

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About Hugh Patterson

Prior to teaching chess, Hugh Patterson was a professional guitarist for nearly three decades, playing in a number of well known San Francisco bands including KGB, The Offs, No Alternative, The Swinging Possums and The Watchmen. After recording a number of albums and CDs he retired from music to teach chess. He currently teaches ten chess classes a week through Academic Chess. He also created and runs a chess program for at-risk teenagers incarcerated in juvenile correctional facilities. In addition to writing a weekly column for The Chess Improver, Hugh also writes a weekly blog for the United States Chess League team, The Seattle Sluggers. He teaches chess privately as well, giving instruction to many well known musicians who are only now discovering the joys of chess. Hugh is an Correspondence Chess player with the ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation). He studied chemistry in college but has worked in fields ranging from Investment Banking and commodities trading to Plastics design and fabrication. However, Hugh prefers chess to all else (except Mrs. Patterson and his beloved dog and cat).