Thursday, December 01, 2005

Teaching Chess to Kids, Part IV

White to play.

Today I meet again with the 6- to 8-year-old chess students. They are a great bunch of kids and all very bright. Not having had experience with kids this age, though, I have to admit I was initially disappointed not to see more dramatic improvement in their play. I have to keep reminding myself that most just learned the moves a month or two ago, and most of them just learned how to read! So mastering chess is going to take a while.

To help keep track of their progress (and to make sure they can continue to improve after we've stopped meeting), I made sure to teach them algebraic chess notation at our last lesson. It was surprisingly easy thing for them -- surprising because everyone said that kids this age would have trouble with it. But all of them had played the game "Battleship" (where you have to name the rows and columns with letters and numbers), so they were quick studies. And almost all of them were able to write down their moves so that I could understand them.

When I compare their two best games (which both feature illegal moves) to my own earliest recorded games at age 13 -- when I was practically twice their age and had already read several chess books! -- I have a lot of hope! You can make the comparison yourself. They have years to get that good and better. I predict that within a year some could be better than I was at age thirteen.

The diagram above is taken from one of my best games as a 13-year-old, from a match I played with a friend of mine. I could have drawn but went for the win. We both recorded the moves. Our competition drove us to read books (I must have gone through everything by Horowitz, Chernev, and Reinfeld at my public library) and by the time we began attending a chess club we were already good players.

My students have a ways to go, as you'll see. But you have to start somewhere. The most important thing is that they are writing their moves down, which means they have a chance to correct their mistakes. And being able to write chess notation means that they are able to read it, which opens up the world of chess literature to them. When they enter fourth grade (the time when kids switch from learning to read to reading to learn), they will be ready to make huge strides. Our next lessons should do a lot to improve their performances. And these first recorded games will serve as a valuable benchmark to help measure that improvement.

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