In this and subsequent posts I intend to look more closely at my book Move Two! and explain more about what was in my mind when I wrote it.
It was originally written in 1992 as a follow-up to Move One! which Faber & Faber had published in 1990 and was originally intended to be the second part of a three-volume course. A revised and corrected edition was produced in 1997. The book comprises 16 chapters, one for every piece in your army.
I had identified three stages in children’s chess development: Vision, Calculation and Judgement. Move One! concentrated on developing chessboard vision: the ability to see at a glance where every piece was and what every piece could do. The Move One! syllabus also included basic checkmates, basic tactical motifs and basic opening knowledge. (My current basic syllabus, as found in Chess for Kids and the elementary lessons on chessKIDS academy, doesn’t go as far as this.) Move Two!, therefore, focussed on Calculation, as well as providing the basic opening knowledge and endgame skills required for success in junior tournaments. In addition, the course provided an introduction to chess culture through the history of the World Championship.
The first chapter, entitled Winning Moves, therefore, is a basic introduction to the concept of calculation, taught through some simple combinations, along with some advice on how to look ahead and a 10 question quiz (answers at the back of the book). Andrew Soltis once wrote that chess isn’t 99% tactics, it’s 99% calculation. You have to calculate everything that moves, not just what we think of as tactics: sacrifices and mates. I teach my pupils that when they’re playing chess, their name isn’t Nigel Davies (or whatever it happens to be) but Tactics Tactics Tactics. Perhaps I should say Calculation Calculation Calculation instead, but everyone enjoys playing sacrifices and finding checkmates, so practising tactics is a good way of developing your calculation skills.
My experience when using Move Two! in the past was that children found the tactics chapters difficult compared to the rest of the book. But looking at, for example, the Steps Method, convinced me that children who want to do well at chess should be spending time solving tactical puzzles on a regular basis. Children who have spent time on one-move puzzles will have developed 20-20 chessboard vision, and, once they’re onto Move Two! they should be tackling two-move puzzles and beyond. If the basic skills are in place and reinforced regularly they shouldn’t find the tactical material in the book beyond them. These days there are a number of websites where you can practise this skill online for free. I recommend www.ideachess.com as the best site for beginners as it contains a lot of very simple one-move puzzles, while the site I use myself is Chess Tactics Server (http://chess.emrald.net/). Nigel has also mentioned several software products which he uses for this purpose. Books such as Move Two!, by their nature, cannot contain enough material for students to get sufficient practice at this vital skill.
In each chapter there is a short Activities section after the main lesson. In chapters preceding lessons on openings children are shown the moves and asked to practise them for themselves to see what happens in their games before finding out the theory. In this case we’re looking at a very popular opening in Primary School chess, the Giuoco Pianissimo (of which there were a few examples in Move One!). I’ll write a lot more about this in my next article.
The second main part of each chapter is headed Masters of the Universe, and is a history of world championship chess. I consider it very important that children should be encouraged to take an interest in chess culture: that they should not play their games in a vacuum but be aware of where they themselves and their games fit into the whole wide world of chess. Sadly, though, many of my pupils don’t take very much of an interest and their parents don’t do a lot to encourage them by helping them keep up to date with chess news, perhaps because they themselves don’t understand why it’s important.
Each chapter includes two games, usually short games with a tactical point. I encourage teachers to use these as “Guess the Move” exercises, with the student taking the winning side and trying to predict the next move. Teachers could award a point for each move guessed correctly, or, using Ray Cannon’s Choices method, get their pupils to write down three guesses, awarding 3 points if the first move was chosen, 2 points if the second move was chosen and 1 point if the third move was chosen. The idea of this exercise is to develop breadth as well as depth of thinking: to consider several alternatives (candidate moves) rather than just playing the first move that comes to mind.
We start off at the dawn of international chess, with the series of matches played in 1834 between McDonnell and Bourdonnais. Although the Frenchman won most games, it was McDonnell who played the most brilliant combinations so we look at one of his games. After learning about Staunton and Saint Amant’s 1843 match we move onto the first international chess tournament, London 1851, and look at a game played (not in the tournament) by Adolf Anderssen.
Finally, at the end of each chapter, we have a few bullet points as reminders of the main lessons which should have been learnt.