Rediscovering Your Beginner’s Mind

Richard’s post from yesterday has prompted me to talk about my own experience in teaching my own son to play chess. Basically I was ill equipped to do so before I read his insightful articles at his Chess Kids web site. After that it was a matter of listening, learning and experimenting on what would work with Sam.

Was my GM status of any help in the process? Not really. I think it has some benefits in understanding the overall process of mastery, but strength in a field can also mean losing one’s ‘beginner’s mind’. It is all too easy to want to teach what you ‘know’ rather than attempt to retrace the steps that brought you there.

Of no little help in this matter has been my own curiosity about other fields, the most recent example being Tai Chi and Chi Kung. It is now almost 5 years since I took up studying these arts ‘seriously’ (attending classes, seminars, having personal tuition and practicing some 2 hours per day) and I still feel like a novice. Looking back I can see that I was even more of a novice before. But my baby steps put the learning of an art form into perspective. This may be one of the side effects of adopting a philosophy of life long learning, you constantly rediscover your beginner’s mind.

So what exactly is the chess I do with Sam? Basically just a massive amount of practice with mates in one, capturing pieces, retreating attacked pieces, blocking attacks, spotting discovered or double checks etc. And this has been continuing day after day, week after week and month after month for some time now. I also show him some games, either as a Neenz game (a chess game in which the pieces come alive and misbehave) or just recently as a guess the move game. Only incidental references have been made to chess openings, for example if a Neenz game starts with a particular line. He’s also playing in tournaments quite regularly and we go for dinner afterwards, win or lose.

Am I happy with the results? Actually I’m delighted, even though Sam is a very long way from the ‘top players’ in his age group. He really likes chess and is getting a lot out of it, either by developing rapport and friendships with ‘real players’ or showing how good he is by checkmating other kids at school. If things continue this way I’d like to think that he will have acquired a life long pursuit with both educational and social value. Will he become a champion? I’m not really that bothered, I just hope he never wastes time rote learning opening variations!

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About NigelD

Nigel Davies is an International Chess Grandmaster living in St. Helens in the UK. The winner of 15 international tournaments he is also a former British U21 and British Open Quickplay Champion and has represented both England and Wales on several occasions. These days Nigel teaches chess through his chess training web site, Tiger Chess, which has articles, recommendations, a monthly clinic, videos and courses. His students include his 15 year old son Sam who is making rapid progress with his game. Besides teaching chess, Nigel is a registered tai chi and qigong instructor and runs several weekly classes.