I’ve just come across a series of articles about teaching beginners (adults as well as children) written by Momir Radović, a chess teacher from Atlanta, Georgia.

There are only four so far, all covering the same minichess game. You can find Momir’s page on chess.com here. Start with the article Joe Learns Chess Outlaw Way, and then follow through with the next three articles. There will, I’m sure, be many more to come.

Most experts agree that using minigames is the correct way to teach beginners. Instructional courses throughout the world, such as the Dutch Steps Method, use this method. Starting with the simplest pieces, the rook and bishop, makes a lot of sense. I sometimes start with pawns, which, because they’re the least powerful pieces, are the best to use if you want to teach the vital skills of calculation and looking ahead, but I’d guess that, especially for younger children, starting with rooks and bishops will work better.

What happens in most primary school chess clubs is that at least half of the children I see have been taught the moves in half an hour by a parent, a grandparent, an older sibling or a friend, and perhaps played a couple of random games. Because I’m trying to cater for a couple of dozen children of varying experience and abilities, I can’t give the beginners the attention they need. Furthermore, if they see their friends playing ‘big chess’ they’ll want to do the same thing themselves. rather than playing minigames.

While one or two very bright young children might pick up chess ‘all at once’, most will do much better learning one piece at a time, one concept at a time, gaining full mastery of each step before moving forward.

The main purpose of this site is to promote the use of minichess in schools to ensure all children get the best possible start in chess. If you’re a primary school teacher, how can you best use minichess in your school?

 

4 thoughts on “Joe Learns Chess

  1. There are two huge No-No’s in early chess teaching and learning:

    1) Play ‘Big chess’ at Square 1 (like GentleSoldier mentioned above) which is overwhelming. When I was a boy in Montenegro, I started kicking football with a friend (1-on-1). I played 7-on-7 in High School years later.

    2) Teach the Moves first (“fundamentally false,” Nimzovich in the 1929 ‘How I became a Grandmaster’ article published in the Russian Shakhmatny Listok). Instead, we should introduce the concept of striking Power men exert with the basic pieces Relationships, together with the Moves. Once the learner understands the underlying power structure and how pieces interconnect on the board, the moves come rather organically out of it.

    I’m glad I’ve come across this site offering clever Chess in School ideas and invaluable help for parents and teachers!

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    1. Hi Momir

      Many thanks for your generous comments.

      I think there are two things – teaching the relationships between pieces and teaching thinking skills (I go there, you go there, I go there), which I do by using very simple pawn games. I’ll write more about this in another post.

      Here in the UK most kids are doing too much too soon, and I suspect it happens at least as much in the US. At one level, though, it’s tied up with the philosophy of education and parenting (Tiger parents etc).

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  2. “Teaching the relationships between pieces and teaching thinking skills (I go there, you go there, I go there)”

    Absolutely. How they think is much more important than the rules (Rook goes like this, Bishop goes like that, castle, en-passant, etc.) And the piece relationships themselves is so simple a concept: Re1 attacks Pe5 (A-B line segment in geometry) something the brain picks up instantly.

    The key is, therefore, way of thinking and how to use the relations within the constraints of the rules. The basics of everything is MINDSET, in math, as well as in chess.

    The frame of mind is a mental tool-box for making decisions. That’s why it’s so important to start forming it right from the beginning. It is teachers’ responsibility to guide how early learners construct their mental models. If we don’t help them build it up properly from the start, it may go completely wrong, flawed, suboptimal in which case their decisions arrive at unexpected results. And we all know how hard is to change a habit…

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