My kids caught me playing chess with the computer and wanted to play too. Jason5 – the five-year old learned very quickly how to move the pieces. Even the knight was no problem: “two forward and one to the side”. The “magic castling to protect the king” was special fun as the king can hop over the rook and – anyway – two pieces seem to move together. The other special fun feature was that pawns can transform into anything when they reach the other side. The goal of the game is to “eat” the king (to make it less abstract than a check mate).
Jason5 learned the moves within an hour or so mostly by watching and playing with the computer. Maybe 10 games later I introduced the concept of protecting the “fighters” which he became very fond of. His biggest problem was that he was mostly focusing on protecting and eating the pieces of the opponent – not at all on finding a way to eat the king. Interestingly he was – also often reluctant to eat something that is not protected claiming that he did not want to. It seems he did not want to hurt his opponent (usually me) too much. Of course I let him win most of the time and maybe he began to feel sorry for me.
After a few weeks (he played maybe one game a day or less on average) he discovered how to attack the king with a piece that is covered like a queen covered by a bishop as I “casually” pointed out once. I try to not give much advice generally. The only major rule I left out so far was en-passant. They also know which side of the board is for white (the number 1 side) and to place the white queen on a white square – this was no problem at all.
Jason4 learned to move most pieces nearly as fast as his older brother. The exception was the “horse”. “Two forward, one to the side” seemed problematic. I remembered then that he tends to count the square he is on as “one” – at least in some board games like Ludo. So I changed it to “three forward and one to the side”.
Interestingly this did not improve his accuracy (he still got it right only 50% of the time). He seemed to memorize the movement of the horse however, intuitively, as if he remembered the “L” shape – but not so much consciously, which I could see as he was moving the night less confidently. He also had problems accepting that pawns can only move forward. That they can only eat diagonal took also a little longer.
Eventually we found a way to work out the knight jumps: “ One forward, one diagonal.”
To my surprise this worked best. Even though “diagonal” was a new word and hard to pronounce – it became the mnemonic technique of his choice and now his knight moves are perfect. I actually suspect this was because of the strange / funny “diagonal” word in the rule. It also includes “one this” and “one that” a kind of symmetry that seems to help.
For Jason4, the hardest skill to master was losing a game. I had to let him win at least 9 out of 10 games – which was not even always that easy but kept his mood and interest up. We occasionally use the “check” word but since the goal is to “eat the king” it makes more sense not to use it and use a surprise attack on the king. I often “overlook” that the king can be eaten by a “horse” (maybe the hardest one to see for them) or my king gets caught behind the three pawns by a rook or a converted pawn. Jason4 also likes to change the rules “just this time” for the movement of some pieces when it suits him and I usually accept it – “just this time” (that way we both confirm that we know the official rules avoiding possible confusion).
Lately he repeatedly suggested to let me win – but never did so far. I did make him lose once in maybe 20 games more recently and it was ok-ish.
The biggest challenge for me is to find a way for the two boys to play together without either of them ending up crying or complaining. Typically the older complains that the younger either doesn’t play right or simply he doesn’t want to play with him as the younger now often plays better moves than I do. They can now play together though , as long as I take over at the end and lose :)
My youngest Jason2 (a girl) also occasionally joins the “chesso” team. Sometimes she plays against Jason4 with him pointing out where she can move what. Jason4 also enjoys explaining the right movements to her and she listens patiently for a while.. and often follows his advice.
Unlike Jason5, Jason4 has no “ethical” problems eating any piece or even to cheat a little i.e. bend the rules temporarily to accomplish that. Sometimes a pawn wants to move back or sidewards.
Now after a month of playing about 3 games a day (mostly with Jason4) I started introducing strategies like trying to control the center – which is appreciated mostly (albeit only a little) by Jason5.
I am curious to hear experiences or advice from any readers to help me keep “chesso” a popular game for the whole family. I am not aiming to create chess masters but it helps to keep them away from the tv and the computer.
One problem I will face sooner or later is to explain how I can be such a bad chess player when I go the chess club once a week where I play with grown ups .. and do occasionally win as I tell them – they often ask how I lost and if I still had a queen .. :)
Oh, and did I mention that we sometimes use funny words like “pawnie” and “rookie” and “horsie” – although they are perfectly aware of their official names including “knight” for “horse”. Jason4 also likes to misplace some pieces on purpose which is fun but most of the time he automatically prefers the correct setup.
Jason5 sometimes likes to see bishops as missiles and I called the knight also a “hot air balloon”. He also chose to turn the h-rook upside down so he knows which one is which throughout the game (he is a bit of the careful thinker type..). This habit was also copied by Jason4 but both have abandoned it recently. Now they know the letter “h” well.
Update January 2014: Suddenly Jason 5 and Jason 7 are both playing decent Chess. I have to fight seriously (if I start with a rook and a queen down) and don’t always win anymore. So losing becomes more natural and is anyway not so much of a problem anymore. Their rating is between 700 and 800 on the computer program Chessmaster (I am around 1700 there, at the moment). Jason 5 can mate me with King and rook when I don’t defend too well. They only played a couple of games per month since the original post. I am curious to hear some stories of any readers playing chess with children ..who is so brave to share something? ;)