ew games in history have enthralled people across all ages – from elementary school kids to centenarians.
If you know to play chess and enjoy playing the game, I’m sure you can’t wait to teach your kid to play chess and to start playing regular games with them.
But first questions first.
SHOULD I TEACH MY CHILD TO PLAY CHESS?
I’m a strong believer and proponent of Interest-led learning rather than Regimen-led learning. While it’s important to provide adequate exposure to various subjects, games and activities to your child, it’s also as important to observe their responses to gauge their interest and preparedness.
Do provide an exposure to your child to learn Chess. But observe their perceived interests and responses. It’d not be hard for you to figure out if your child is interested in it or ready for it. If you see good interest and readiness to learn more, keep continuing the learning process.
WHEN IT COMES TO CHESS – HOW SOON IS SOON ENOUGH?
Although it’s easy to answer “It Depends”, my experience tells me, 5 years would be a reasonable starting point, assuming you are addressing all the points in the “Should I Teach My Child to Play Chess” section above. If your child resists the learning or finds it overwhelming, stop it right there. And try again after a few months or so.
Now, let’s talk about what we set out to talk about. How I Taught My 5 Year Old to Play Chess.
HOW DID I BEGIN
My daughter has been familiar with the word “Chess” since probably 3 years old. She has seen the Chess board at home, a painted chess board at a table in a local park, icons of the Knight from some public advertisements etc. As a 3 year old, she used to see the table at the park and beam up “It’s a Chess Board”, although at that time she didn’t know much about Chess, other than the fact that it was a game to be played by two.
By the time she was four, she knew the names of all the Chess pieces – mostly by looking at them in pictures. As of that point, she hadn’t seen an actual board with all the pieces yet.
Not long before her fifth birthday, her curiosity got the better of her and she declared that she wanted to learn Chess.
THE FIRST LESSONS
Chess is a game not easily mastered by anyone. Even grandmasters are constantly practicing and refining their strategies. There are books written just on the various possible opening moves. You can have aggressive openings, defensive openings, go low and counter later and many combinations of them. There are formal openings like Ruy Lopez, Sicilian defense, Caro-Kann Defense, Queen’s Gambit, Vienna Game – and this list is countless and evolving.
So it’s important to understand that a 5 Year old can easily be overwhelmed and lose interest if you start teaching them too much too fast.
The first lessons ought to be the simplest ones and at the same time help them learn many of the foundational rules and methods.
THE FIRST PIECE
While it was tempting to start with the Pawn, likely because it appears to be a seemingly simple piece, it’s one of the most complex pieces in Chess. So I decide to start with the Rook.
The Rook being the simplest to move, I started with teaching how a Rook moves. Once she understood how a Rook moved, it was time to play the “Rook Game”.
THE ROOK GAME
Your Child needs to understand that Chess is a game they can play and have a genuine chance of winning. If you make them wait several months until they’ve understood all the pieces, moves, how to take pieces, basic strategies, they might soon lose interest in learning. After all, what good is a game if you cannot play and try to win?
It was time to play the “Rook Game”. In this first game, playing white, I made the moves and she had to say if my move was a valid Rook move or not. She got a point for every correct answer. Once she got 10 points, it was time to stop learning Chess for the day.
This is because you want the lessons to be short and fun and ensure they have registered the learning completely before moving to next lesson. Even when she wanted to go longer with the Rook Games, I’d politely say “Oh, we are going to play again tomorrow.”
It’s better to end the session and make them wait eagerly for the next lesson, rather than saturating them with too many plays.
THE FIRST LESSON OF A ROOK ATTACK
Once she had learned how to move the Rook, I introduced the concept of “Take” – how does a Rook take another piece? And we play the “Rook Attacks” Game.
I keep the White Rooks at random squares, and let her place the Black Rook such that Black attacks White. She gets 1 point for every correct position.
Another variation of this game is, when I place both White and Black Rooks at random squares and let her make a valid Black Rook move to a position where it attacks one of the White Rooks.
At this time, do not point out that the White can in turn take the Black. For now, it’s just important for the child to understand how the valid moves are made to attack other pieces.
By then, DD had learned many of the basics. How a piece moved, the concept of valid moves, how to attack, how to take another piece – all with just the Rooks.
She had only learnt one piece, but already knew many of the key foundational concepts that she would apply all through her future Chess learning
THE NEXT PIECES
I repeat the same with other chess pieces in this order – Bishop, Queen (once she knew Rook and Bishop, learning Queen was easy), King, Pawn, Knight.
It’s important to go slow, and not do more than 1 piece in a day. If they find it hard to learn and remember a move, repeat the lesson and the games the next day before moving to the next.
For every piece we repeat similar games – we had the “Bishop Game”, “Queen game” and so on, just like we played the “Rook Game”. And then we played the “Bishop Attacks”, “Queen Attacks” games.
Once she got comfortable with multiple pieces, we played games involving more than one piece – where I position the Rook, Bishop and Queen in random squares, and she would have to make a move with Black Bishop to attack any of the white pieces.
WHAT AFTER ALL PIECES ARE LEARNT
After taking it slow and steady across several weeks of playing mini Chess games she knew many of the basics – how all the pieces moved, the “takes”, attack and defense. She had played many of the mini games with individual pieces or a combination of pieces to reinforce her learning.
As she grew confident playing in this mode, it was now, finally, the time to put them all together.
PUTTING THEM ALL TOGETHER
I then taught her to align all the pieces on the board – placing them at their actual starting positions. Now what she played was just an expanded version of the numerous mini games that she’d become so comfortable and used to playing. Only that, in this game, we play with ALL the pieces.
She was thrilled to see them all together. She had more to think about – but she’d apply the same thought process that she applied playing the mini games. It was not overwhelming for her to see all the pieces together, except that, her freedom to choose the pieces were a little restricted.
Before she knew it, she was actually playing chess.
So there you are! You just taught your child to play Chess!
As you play full fledged games, remember to always help your child with the moves. Help them identify and differentiate good moves from the ones which put their piece in the line of attack.
Just keep playing with them in this mode, and sooner than you realize they are going to figure out a lot of things themselves.
And your young child will proudly proclaim – “I Know to Play Chess!”
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