On Chess

A bit of a proud father post today. When my daughter was five she watched Harry Potter, saw Wizards’ Chess, and wanted to learn the game. I told her no, it was too complicated. She persisted and after a week or so I showed her how to move the pieces. After two games she got it.

I’ve always enjoyed the game, but was never taught how to play. Since we didn’t have chess video games or chess.com as a kid, my play was very restricted. As such, so was my ability to help her.

That not withstanding we got in the habit of playing regularly. Then one day when she was six or seven we got a flyer from school about a chess tournament at the local community college. The age based section was great. The director talked to the kids, helped remind them about rules, and was available during play if they had any questions. There were no clocks and no notation was required. Everyone was guaranteed five games.

In that first tournament she was 1-2-2, she was losing both games that finished in stalemate, but she learned to avoid being checkmated and earned a half point in each.

As simple as it sounds, it taught me the value of learning checkmate, so we bought the Chess Kid’s Book of Checkmate. With that we worked through the book together and she learned how to plan sequences of moves with an end-goal in mind.

She finished 3-2 in the next tournament, the college held one in the fall and one in the spring. We continued to play and at each tournament she would pick up a new book. She really liked the situational puzzles and Wilson & Albertson had 303 Tricky Chess Puzzles, 303 Tricky Chess Tactics, 303 More Tricky Chess Tactics, and 303 Tricky Checkmates. Each had numerous situational puzzles that challenged you to solve them.

She went on to win the age-based tournament twice, finished second and third several times and had pretty much done everything she could in the age based group. The tournament director encouraged her to move over to the rated section. So last year for Christmas she got a membership in the US Chess Federation. I got one too thinking we could go to a club and play together. That part hasn’t happened yet.

In her first sanctioned tournament she won two games and earned a 599 provisional rating. Yesterday was her second tournament. She is 13 and was competing against 25 other players, all male, up to age 18. She went 3-2, defeating a player ranked higher than her and two that were unranked. She lost to the 2nd highest rated player in 49 moves, which was a pretty good showing (most are over in the 30s) and her other loss was in the end-game where she made a mental mistake touching a piece she didn’t want to move (once you touch it you must play it). Instead of winning with mate in two moves, she lost by the same.

She took home a trophy for best under 600, which she was excited about. I tried to use her enthusiasm to inspire her to study the game more and I promised her I’d try harder to get her to some club events so she could play more.

Chess is a fascinating game. I can’t imagine any game has been studied and written about more than chess. Each player can define the game in their own terms selecting strategies and tactics that work for them. With each strategy a different emphasis is placed on the value of certain pieces and positions. The range of options for 32 pieces within the confines of 64 spaces is staggering.

For all players, but kids in particular, the game is great because:

  • You need to learn how to handle winning and losing (I’m not a fan of no-score leagues and everyone wins)
  • You learn that sometimes you lose when playing your best and sometimes you win and don’t play so well, what is important is playing to the best of your ability
  • You need a plan
  • You must be able to adapt based on responses of your opponent
  • You must assess pros and cons and make decisions
  • You need to focus on next move and be thinking ahead at the same time
  • You need to know how to sacrifice in the short term for long term gain
  • You need to learn how to manage your time

One response to “On Chess

  1. I’m happy for you and your daughter as well. Great story but I’m sure it was an even greater experience for the both of you. I also just wrote a post on the importance of learning or having your children learn to play chess. Check it out.