Logic and Reasoning Skills

One of the thought processing skills that chess helps develop is logic and reasoning. It’s the understanding and employment of logic and reasoning that allows a chess player to determine the best course of action within a given position. The problem that many novice players face when examining a position on the board is not so much finding the solution but determining the the correct questions to be asked that lead to that solution. After all, if you ask the wrong questions, you’ll identify the wrong problem and you won’t be able to determine the correct solution because you’re not seeing the real issue at hand. To solve any problem, you must first ask the correct questions, using logic and reasoning as your guide. This is why I teach my students problem solving skills they can use away from the chessboard first, only then applying them to the game of chess, once they’ve be mastered.

To teach logic and reasoning, I give my students some geographical problems to solve. The first of which has to do with travel. I tell them I’m taking a trip. I’m leaving from San Francisco to a destination that is roughly 3,000 miles away. Their job is to ask the appropriate questions in order to determine the right answer. Our overall goal is to ask the fewest possible questions to achieve the correct answer, which takes practice. From San Francisco, you can go roughly 3,000 miles in any direction and arrive at some destination. Therefore, the first question you might consider is which direction am I traveling? North, South, East or West? Let’s say I’m traveling East. You might then ask, how wide is the United States? It’s roughly 3,000 miles wide. Just two questions have now brought you close to the answer. Because there are many large metropolitan areas within 3,000 miles of San Francisco, you might ask what State am I traveling to and I’d answer New York. Here, many students jump the gun so to speak and say “you’re going to Manhattan, the Big Apple.” I’d say sorry, wrong answer but you’re on the right track. You might ask, is it close to Manhattan? I’d say “yes, just a subway ride away and there’s a bridge named after it.” If you said Brooklyn, you’d be correct. These questions follow a logical sequence rather than a random sequence, forming a pattern leading towards the answer.

Next we gear up the challenge. I tell my students my new destination is roughly 5,500 miles away. The parameters have now changed. With greater distance comes a greater number of possible destinations. Students know from the first problem that direction of travel is a key question to be asked. North, South, East or West? I tell them East. They know from the first problem that the United States is roughly 3,000 miles wide. This means that the first 3,000 miles leads them to the Eastern side of the United States. However, they now have to consider the remaining 2,500 miles. My more astute students will ask for a world atlas with the idea of determining the width of the Atlantic Ocean. I allow them to use an atlas, which I keep with me when we do these exercises. Once they determine that the Atlantic Ocean is close to 2,500 miles wide, it’s time to hone in on my destination a bit further. Because there are two large bodies of land, Europe and Africa, those could be destination points, so their next logical question is which of the two continents is it? Europe, I reply. Here things can get a bit tricky because there are a number of destinations near the Atlantic Coast of Europe that could be my target. Older students who have worked through these problems before, might narrow it down by asking for rough coordinates or longitude and latitude. They might also ask if my destination is on an Island, narrowing the field down quite a bit. The point here is that my students are logically narrowing down my destination sequentially through their questions. I’ll either give them my target’s rough longitude and latitude or perhaps tell them it’s an island. Working through the exercise, employing the right questions, they conclude my destination is England. Where in England? Here I tell them to narrow it by considering my destination to be a metropolitan center for chess in the UK. Many students don’t at first realize that London is the target. However, by asking further questions such as, does this metropolitan center also serve as the country’s Governmental center? Does it have a famous Bridge? It my target address 44 Baker Street? (Yes, a shameless plug for the London Chess Center) Eventually they deduce the correct answer!

You might ask, what does a geography challenge have to do with chess? The answer is simple: As I said early, beginning players often have trouble with positional problems on the chessboard because they’re not fully identifying the actual problem. They might identify “a problem” but is it the correct problem. If you identify the wrong problem, even a good answer to that identified problem does you no good if it’s not the answer to the real or underlying problem. The exercises we employ help students with their chess playing because they learn how to ask the right questions which will ultimately lead them to discovering and addressing the real problem being faced. It’s an introduction to logical thinking and the application of reasoning to problem solving. If you ask the right questions, you’re more likely to discover the real problem. Here’s how this might work when a beginner is trying to identify a positional problem on the chessboard (note, this is a very broad example):

Often beginners apply the opening principles correctly and find themselves going into the middle game with a decent developmental position. So far so good. Then, their opponent makes a few moves that create noticeable problems for our novice player. The problem with multiple problems within a given position is identifying those problems and then deciding which problem needs to be addressed first. If one problem’s solution avoids material loss and the other avoids checkmate, avoiding being mated takes precedence.

Beginners have great trouble identifying a single positional problem let alone multiple problems. The key again is asking the right questions. One reason I use geographical problems in my student’s training is because chess positions are geometrical in nature. Geography is geometrical in nature! In a middle game position, for example, my students use a mental checklist to identify positional problems. They follow a logical sequence of questioning learned via my geography exercises. Imagine trying to determine a problem using random questions. With enough random questions asked, you might eventually identify the real problem. However, if you’re on the clock, your time might run out long before you identified the real issue at hand! Therefore, your questions should be sequential in nature. My students will look at the position and start narrowing things down using the right questions, starting with the most obvious ones. Are any opposition pieces attacking my pieces? If so, are those attacking pieces of greater or lesser value than the pieces being attacked? If the attacking piece is a Knight and the attacked piece a Rook, we might consider moving that Rook. However, before moving the Rook, we should ask if doing so weakens our position? Will moving the Rook cause a ripple effect, weakening our position so much that its moving (the Rook) would create a greater number of problems? Can we launch a counter attack of an opposition piece of equal or greater value? While this is a very generalized example, it serves to show how one can employ basic logic and reasoning skills to determine a problem and its solution. In our example, we would continue to work through our questioning. If we move our Rook out of harms way can we move it to a square that allows us to maintain our positional strength? If so, what square should we move it to? The idea here is to use logical questioning to discover the true nature of the problem and only then trying to solve it.

Once we look at the opposition’s pieces we look at ours. We might ask, if I make this move, what’s my opponent’s best response (move)? The key is always to ask questions that illuminate the biggest problem at hand, starting with an examination of our opponent’s pawns and pieces in relationship to our pawns and pieces. We examine each of our opponent’s pawns and pieces and question its relationship to our pawns and pieces which often reveals the problem. Logically, we’d start by examining the opposition pawns and pieces closest to our own material and work our way outward, using logical questions to guide us.

Again, if you don’t ask the right questions, you won’t get the right answer. With practice my student’s questions become very precise, with each question bringing them closer to the correct answer. I have my students keep a small notebook to write down questions they should ask and the order in which they should be asked. Every time a good question is asked, one that brings my students closer to the answer, they write that question down in their notebook. They refer to their questions when analyzing a position, eventually committing those questions to memory. Try some geography problems to sharpen your logic and reasoning skills and you’ll be rewarded when faced with a tricky positional problem. This is an extremely shortened version of how the process works (I could fully describe it in about twenty pages) but it will give you an idea of how to get started. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson


Experimenting with the Smith-Morra Gambit

I rarely try to play the White side of the Smith-Morra Gambit, but in this chess game I did try to play it. Black declined the gambit pawn by playing 3… d5. If I was going to decline this gambit that is the way that I would play it,

By move number 5, I (White)  ended up with an isolated Queen’s pawn and for a few moves afterward play revolved around Black attacking that isolated pawn and White defending it. A series of exchanges in the Center allowed me to get that isolated d pawn onto e5, where I could better protect it.

On move number 16, I offered the exchange of queens, which Black wisely declined. Black’s reply to my 16th move took me out of my database of games, but it may not have been his best response.

On move number 17, I offered some exchanges that favored White. By move number 20, both queens are off the board and Black has doubled pawns on then e file. So, I decided to leave my King in the Center and played 20. Ke2.

For several moves Black concentrated his pieces in the Center in an attempt to win my pawn on e5 and White doubled his rooks on the c file and then went after the Black King.

After forcing the exchange of all rooks, White had his King in the Center and we had bishops of the opposite color. Theory says that in a King and pawn endgame with bishops of the opposite colors, the game is most likely to end in a draw. I knew this but I was counting on my opponent making an endgame error and he did.

After placing all of my remaining pawns on dark squares where my Bishop could protect them, I began maneuvering my Bishop so it could protect my pawn on f2 and then my King could go after Black’s pawns on the a and b files.

Black allowed me to get my Bishop on e3, defending my pawn on f2. Then, he abandoned his own kingside pawns in an attempt to win my pawns on the Queenside. This backfired and he got outmaneuvered in the endgame.

Mike Serovey


The Midgame Struggle

I’m still struggling with the midgame. There’s that critical moment where I tend to slip up.

At the Colorado Class Championships over the past weekend, I went 1-1-2. I won and drew by  calculation and technique, but in my two losses, intellect couldn’t save a game that went south at the nexus for lack of inspiration and insight.

First, a nice ending from my only win. After an inferior midgame, I wriggled my way to an even-material positionally won endgame where White must be very careful not to let the win slip into a drawn queen ending.

In the following game, I found my way by calculation to the main line, only to play the lame 14. h2-h3 to guard g4 in place of the correct 14. Nc3-d1 with ideas like Nd1-e3 guarding both g4 and c4. Does anyone have a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Midgame Tonic? :)

Jacques Delaguerre


Teaching Kids Through Classical Games (10)

The most important single feature of a chess position is the activity of the pieces. This is absolutely fundamental in all phases of the game.

Michael Stean in Simple Chess

Jakob Rosanes – Adolf Anderssen
Breslau – Breslau -, 1862

1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5

The Falkbeer Counter Gambit.

3.exd5 e4 4.Bb5+ c6 5.dxc6 Nxc6 6.Nc3 Nf6 7.Qe2 Bc5!

Q – Is it good to sacrifice another pawn?
A – Black is offering another pawn in order to complete his development. After 8… 0–0 White will be behind in development and the fact that his queen and king are on the same file which gives Black some attacking chances.

8.Nxe4 0–0

Black is threatening to win a knight.


Q – Was it compulsory to take on c6?
A – Yes, as 9.d3 Nd4 or 9.Bd3 Re8 10.Kf1 Bf5 lose in a straightforward way.

9…bxc6 10.d3 Re8 11.Bd2 Nxe4

11…Bf5 and Ng4 are also winning. Can you work out how for yourself?

12.dxe4 Bf5 13.e5 Qb6

Compare the relative positions of the two armies. White is two pawns up but his army is poorly coordinated and passive. On the other hand all Black’s pieces are active and ready to launch an attack on the opposing king.


More proof that chess masterpieces require the generous cooperation of the loser (Kasparov)! With 14. Nf3 white can prolong the fight.


Very straightforward.


15.Bc3 is a better option though it is also losing. 15…Bxc3 16.bxc3 Rad8 17.Nf3 Qa5 (with threat of Qxa2) 18.Rxd8 Rxd8 19.Nd4 Qxa2 wins.

15…Rab8 16.b3



16…Qa5 17.Kb2 Bc5 and 16…Bc5 17.Be3 Qa5 18.Rd3 Red8 are also winning.


Now it is checkmate in 5 moves. 17. Kb2 or 17.g4 are also losing, but not immediately.


Opens the b-file.

18.axb3 Rxb3 19.Be1 Be3+

Followed by checkmate on next move after 20.Qxe3 Rb1#. White resigned here.


Do remember this checkmate pattern with rook and bishop.

Ashvin Chauhan


Your Chess Environment

Something that chess improvers rarely consider is the quality of their chess environment. Who are they playing against and mixing with? And are these influences good or bad?

This can be a huge factor in an overall improvement plan, it’s important to be part of the best peer group you can find. Without this a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings can creep in. Are the Latvian Gambit and Morra great for improving because they develop tactical skill? Are you sure about that?

For some there’s no such problem of course. A nationally recognised talent will, in many countries, be well looked after and groomed for success. They’ll get the best trainers, be flown to the best tournaments and receive a good helping of support. At least they will in India!

With this in mind here’s a name to watch out for, young Nihal Sarin. He’s been blazing a trail at U10 level and in a country that loves and respects chess talent he’s an odds on favourite to do very well.

Nigel Davies



The main objective in an endgame is to queen a pawn or force your opponent to sacrifice a piece to stop a pawn queening.

This week’s problem illustrates that theme.

In an endgame, there are often more flank pawns left on the board than centre pawns. The centre pawns tend to be exchanged more often than the other pawns.

When it comes to fighting against a passed Rook’s pawn, the Knight is the worst piece. Despite appearances in the diagram, the black Knight will be unable to stop a White pawn from queening, provided that White finds the right sequence of moves. How does White win?

The solution to last Monday’s problem is that White plays 1 d5 Kxd5 2 h3 Ke6 3 Kd4 Kd6 4 h4 and Black is in Zugzwang.

Steven Carr


Simon Says

Nigel Short is not the only grandmaster to have made controversial statements in chess magazines recently.

An interview with Simon Williams in the May 2015 issue of CHESS will no doubt attract less interest, but, in my opinion, what he has to say is much more important, at least for those concerned with junior chess, than Short’s attention-seeking soundbites.

You might know Simon for his creative and imaginative attacking play, for his devotion to the Dutch Defence, or for his excellent books and GingerGM DVDs, so you might express some surprise that he has strong views on junior chess.

Simon was the subject of the magazine’s 60 seconds with… feature. Here’s what he had to say about the ECF’s selection policy for major junior events (I presume he means the World and European Youth Championships).

“At junior level, I have been amazed in the past by the level of some players who have represented England. My impression has been that only wealthy families, who are willing to pay a large amount of money, can send their kids to tournaments and not always for the right reasons. Not for long-term improvement, but as another thing that they can put on their CV.

“Meanwhile chess tuition and improvement for juniors seems to be stuck on an artificial level in England. No long-term plans are in place. How can a coach teach a child everything in the space of a week at a world junior event?

“Parents are really in a tough position and I admire any who supports their child with coaching and travelling, but it would really help if there was more support available from the national federation. At this rate England will struggle to generate any future grandmasters.”

Trenchant stuff from Simon. His views should be taken seriously by everyone concerned with junior chess in England. It’s many years since I’ve had any direct involvement with elite players so it’s good to hear what I believe to be an honest opinion about how things are at the moment.

Let’s take his points one by one.

If you read my articles regularly you’ll know that, a generation ago, we were one of the world’s leading powers in junior chess. You’ll also be aware that we’re now very poor in terms of strength in depth (people I meet who haven’t followed chess news recently are surprised and dismayed by this), and you’ll be aware of my views on the reasons for our decline.

A few years ago our policy was only to invite one player from each age group to represent the BCF/ECF in the World and European Youth Championships. Complaints were received that talented players who wanted to take part, and whose parents could afford to pay, were not able to do so. So the rules were changed and (relatively low) rating targets were set. The ECF is, according to its website, unable to take financial responsibility but does offer a bursary fund which can provide some financial support in cases of genuine need.

In recent years we’ve been sending more players to these events but, although a few players have finished in or near the top 10, our overall scores tend to be on average just above the 50% mark. Should we be satisfied with this? Simon, I guess, thinks not.

The next point he makes is that some of the participants are taking part because being able to say they’ve played for England looks good on their CV rather than because they have any genuine interest in long-term chess development. This is something that concerns me as it happens here in my area on a local scale. In our area there’s an excellent selective fee-paying secondary boys’ school which is very big on chess. Their teams perform well in competitions both locally and nationally. They offer all-rounder scholarships with reduced fees for boys who demonstrate excellence in more than one area, including sports, arts and chess. So every year several parents ask me to provide references for their sons. Perhaps they’ll send them along to Richmond Junior Club for a few weeks or book a couple of private lessons in the hope that their chess will improve as a result. And if they get in they will suddenly find they have too much homework and stop playing chess. Most parents, it seems to me, sign their children up for chess not because they want to give their children a lifelong interest but because they think they’ll gain extrinsic benefits from chess, and, once they’ve received those benefits they’ll give up the game.

Simon goes on to make the point that, while it’s all well and good providing a coach for the duration of the tournament, children really need to be working with a coach on a regular basis throughout the year. Well no doubt most of them are, but perhaps not all of them. In an ideal world the child’s regular coach would be in contact with the tournament coach in advance. To what extent this happens I really don’t know.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Simon’s impression is that the events are expensive to take part in and, while there is, at least in theory, some financial support available in cases of genuine need, it’s mostly the wealthy parents whose children take part in these events. I guess the only answer to this is sponsorship, and no doubt the ECF are actively pursuing this as I write.

Just as a digression, though, I wonder to what extent these tournaments offer value for money. They often take place at distant venues, the conditions are often less than optimal, many of the participants are either underrated or unrated so it may well not do your rating any favours, there is a feeling that these events exist mainly to make money for both the organisers and FIDE. Yes, it’s great to represent your country, to work together as a team with your friends, to make new friends from other countries and cultures. But there are those who think that sending a team to an open Swiss event on the continent would offer better value for money. Of course if your only reason for entering your children is because playing for England in the World or European Championship looks good on their CV this may not be an option.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the magazine’s Executive Editor, IM Malcolm Pein, also brought up the subject of costs in this month’s editorial. In comparison with other activities, chess is relatively cheap, but for many families in the more deprived inner-city areas where Chess in Schools & Communities operates, even taking part in local events can be a problem.

“It is worth mentioning that the CSC program in Newham and in other boroughs around the UK, including Cardiff, Liverpool and Teesside, is starting to produce some useful junior players… Unfortunately there is little awareness in some quarters of the practical difficulties faced by children from inner-city areas in travelling to tournaments or even affording entry fees.

“CSC is working to ensure as many children as possible have a chance, but my experience with organisations like EPSCA (the English Primary Schools Chess Association) and the UK Chess Challenge has not been uniformly positive, even though I am Honorary President of the former.”

Well, I’m not sure how constructive it is to criticise organisations without mentioning specifics, but I’m still sympathetic. Anyone who knows me well will be aware that, although many of my pupils have gained a lot of enjoyment and benefit from playing in the excellent events run by EPSCA and UKCC I also have reservations about them. But that, perhaps, will be for another article. Meanwhile, the comments made by both Simon and Malcolm need careful consideration by those involved in junior chess in England.

Richard James


Pawn Checklist

Beginners have the bad habit of becoming intoxicated with the power of the Queen, bringing her out prematurely which usually leads to disaster. These same beginners often treat their pawns as expendable, considering them of little value due to their seemingly limited abilities (in the novice player’s mind). Of course, the pawn has the lowest relative material value and this causes beginners to treat their pawns with little care. In reality the pawn is extremely powerful but only when used properly. Pawns can be the glue that binds a position together and if that glue fails, the position falls apart. I have my students repeat the phrase “pawns win games” over and over until it becomes a permanently embedded mantra.

It’s no fault of the beginner to assume that pawns aren’t very valuable. After all, each player has eight of them at the game’s start and they’re the lowest valued unit in one’s army. However, it’s usually the lowly pawn that first stakes a claim in the center of the board at the game’s start. The pawn also has the unique ability to promote into a major (Queen or Rook) or minor (Knight or Bishop) piece upon crossing the board and reaching its promotion square. Even pointing these ideas out to students, they still find themselves at odds when it comes to the question of working with their pawns. This is why I created a small list of things my students should be doing with their pawns and actions they should take against opposition pawns:

Keep you pawn structures intact! The perfect pawn structure can be found in the game’s starting position with white pawns on the second rank and black pawns on the seventh rank. Of course, this perfect pawn structure is altered the moment a pawn is moved. To keep pawn structures intact, consider moves that allow your pawns to work together. Pawn chains are one of the first pawn concepts my students learn. In a pawn chain, each pawn in the chain is supported by another pawn. So, looking at a chain of white pawns, for example, you’d have a pawn on b2, a pawn on c3, a pawn on d4 and a pawn on e5. With the exception of the b2 pawn, you have pawns protecting pawns. The point here is to make sure that you have at least one pawn on an adjacent file to lend support when needed. A pawn with no support pawns on either adjacent file is a pawn not long for this world. Try to develop pawns chains. This way, you don’t have to use your pieces to protect your pawns.

Your opponent will try to create pawn chains as well. These chains often control key squares in the center of the board. This means you’ll have to try to break those chains up. To do so, you’ll want to attack the base of the chain. In the above example, the base pawn is the b2 pawn. If you remove that pawn, the c3 pawn now has no support, making it vulnerable.

Create as few pawn islands as possible. Pawn islands are groups of pawns separated from one another by empty files. The more pawn islands you have, the greater the the number of resources or pieces you’ll have to employ in their defense. Imagine having a single piece to protect to defend your pawn islands. While that piece might be able to defend a single pawn island, defending two or three pawn islands would overload that piece (giving it too many jobs to do at once). Overloaded pieces are not participating fully in the game.

When advancing pawns, try to protect them with other pawns. If you’re thinking of advancing a pawn, make sure you can protect that pawn with another pawn on an adjacent file if possible. Of course, you can’t always do this, which means you may have to protect that pawn with a piece, but try to use pawns to protect or back up pawn advances. This is another reason why pawn chains are so important.

If you pawns are locked in place (they cannot move forward due to a material obstruction), try to use other pawns to free those locked pawns. Using pieces to do this job means you may have to give up extremely useful material to unlock the position. Pieces should be used for control of space rather than unlocking pawns. If you don’t see an immediate way to unlock your pawns using additional pawns, be patient. Remember, positions can change greatly within a few moves. If you cannot immediately unlock locked pawns with your own pawns, continue with active development, holding off on unlocking your pawns until you can do so with a pawn. Sometimes you can’t but again, be patient before giving up more valuable material to unlock your pawns.

Ending up with an isolated pawn is an occupational hazard for the average chess player (especially if you’re me). This means that sooner or later you’ll end up with one. An isolated pawn is one that has no fellow pawns on either adjacent file to help protect it. This is why pawn structure is so important! If you have an isolated pawn, consider keeping it mobile, moving forward towards its promotion square and protect it. Of course, having to protect it with a piece means that piece isn’t really working at its full potential. Therefore, avoid the isolated pawn! Examine your pawn structure before making any move and ask the question, “what does this do to my pawn structure and will this result in an isolated pawn?”

Create passed pawns when given the opportunity to do so. A passed pawn has no opposition pawns on adjacent files to stop its promotion. This means your opponent is going to have to use a piece to stop the passed pawn’s progress. So, if you create a passed pawn, push that pawn towards promotion, using a piece, such as a Rook to protect that pawn. Of course, if your opponent has a passed pawn, you must stop it, blockading it with a piece. While a passed pawn doesn’t always make it to its promotion square, it can tie up opposition pieces trying to stop its progress and that can be good for you if it’s your passed pawn!

On the other side of the coin, if your opponent has a passed pawn, you have to stop it. Try to use pieces of the least value to blockade the opposition’s passed pawn. The reasoning is simple: Pieces of greater value, such as the Rooks and Queen normally control more space on the board. In the end game, these pieces can be decisive because of their power. Beginners who know basic checkmating patterns can deliver mate with Queens and Rooks much easier than when using minor pieces. Therefore, you should use your minor pieces, the Knights and Bishops for blockading passed pawns. Of the two minor pieces, the Knight is a better choice for blockading because the Bishop is a good long distance attacker.

When down to a King and pawn against a lone King in the endgame, keep the King in front of the pawn (in opposition) rather than the pawn in front of the King until you can ensure its promotion (see my earlier article about pawn promotion for a full description of how to do this). Use you King as an active piece in the endgame to protect pawns heading toward their promotion squares. The King has to work in pawn endgames. If you have the lone King against an opposition King and pawn, do your best to use your King to control the enemy pawn’s promotion square.

Play the pawn game in which both players have only pawns. You have to get at least one pawn to its promotion square, promote that pawn into a Queen and capture all your opponent’s pawns to win. It’s a great way to learn about pawn structures, etc.

This is only a smattering of pawn concepts or ideas I present my students. However, I try to get them to grasp these basic ideas first, only later working on multiple pawn endgames (two or three pawns and their respective Kings for both players). Pawns are so important in chess that volume after volume has been written about working with pawns. However, I don’t expect my students to delve into these texts until they’ve played for a while. Be kind to your pawns because they often save the day! Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson


Opening Blunders, Part Three

This is another one of those correspondence chess games that someone started on ICC without asking me if I wanted to play. I won this chess game rather quickly because of an opening blunder.

Sometimes, I will open with 1.e4 against lower rated players because I am hoping for a quick win with a gambit. When I get the Sicilian Defense I usually transpose into the Botvinnik System. I did that in this chess game.

For the first 8 moves Black set up a pawn structure that was identical to mine. However, his King’s Knight was placed differently. Up to move 12 I got the moves and piece placement that I wanted. Then, Black blundered on move number 12 and dropped a Bishop. Black resigned on move number 16 because I was threatening checkmate and he could not get out of it.

Mike Serovey


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