You’ll find a lot of chess playing royalty in The (Even More) Complete Chess Addict, but this isn’t about that sort of royalty.
A few weeks ago I received my six-monthly royalty statement covering sales of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids between January and June 2015.
Chess for Kids had 1930 home sales, 22 export sales and 146 electronic sales, giving me earnings over the six month period of £600.08. It’s the only book I’ve written that has covered its advance and made a profit.
The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, on the other hand, had only 55 home sales and 61 electronic sales, minus 4 export sales returns. Many of those would have been bought by parents on the recommendation of myself or my friends and colleagues. It’s nowhere near paying off its advance, and, barring a miracle (such as the ECF setting up a formal junior chess structure and recommending the book to parents), never will.
Now it strikes me that, in a sensible world, the sales ratio between the two books would be very much the other way round. The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids is the only UK-centric book on the market for parents and teachers who want to introduce chess to young children. Now, whether you’re a parent or a teacher, if you want to teach your kids something new you’d find out about it first, wouldn’t you, to make sure it was really going to be suitable? And if you knew about it already you’d want some advice on the best way to teach it. In which case you’d have no choice but to consult my book. Once you’ve read my book you might decide that chess is not going to be suitable for your children, or that they are too young and it would be best to wait a year or so. Or you might decide that you should start teaching your children chess and that it might be a good idea to buy them a chess book. Now there are quite a lot of chess books for young children on the market, all of which teach essentially the same material (how the pieces move plus some elementary advice on tactics and strategy) but in different ways. You might like my approach, a story using subversive humour and illustrated with cartoons, or you might prefer a different method: it doesn’t really matter too much which you choose.
I sometimes hand round flyers in local primary schools offering parents a free session for them and their children. I will visit their house at any convenient time, bring a proper chess set with me, and spend between half an hour and an hour with them, talking through a game with the child and explaining to the parents how they can best help and support their children’s interest in chess. Or if they prefer they can visit me and see a wide range of coaching materials. Whichever they want: either way there’s no charge. Because of all the enjoyment chess has given me over the years I’m more than happy to give up my time for free to ensure that kids get a good start in chess. But how many takers do I get? None. A big fat zero. And every school I visit it’s exactly the same. Many parents want their children to learn chess because they see it as beneficial. But most parents, at least in my part of the world, are not prepared to help their children learn. Why? Because they wouldn’t want their children to have Top Trumps lessons, and they see chess as a trivial kids’ game like Top Trumps rather than what it really is: an exceptionally difficult game, more suitable for older children and adults, which younger children will probably need a lot of help to understand.
Yes, chess can be a very powerful learning tool, but only if it is broken down into its component parts. In my opinion playing more or less random moves is not chess and children who are just doing this will derive little benefit and no lasting interest in the game, but unless they’re getting more adult help than they’ll get from a school chess club once a week, that’s all they will do. I know that children will learn more in an hour’s one to one session with a good teacher than they’ll learn in a term at a school chess club. How can we get the message across to parents that teaching your children the moves in half an hour and signing them up for their primary school chess club is really not the best way to go about introducing your children to one of the world’s most complex and profound games?