Playing Chess with Kids

Play  Fun  Chess Care


One of the things I like to do is play chess. I used to be a pretty good chess player in high school. So what is it like playing chess with elementary school children? Well, the first couple of games I played, it was obvious that I am no match for any of the students, and I could see on the horizon, that I was going to get awfully bored. So I started thinking about what I could do, to make things more fun, for both parties, since who likes to lose all the time (or win)? So what I did, is play with a handicap. First I volunteered to sacrifice my Queen and two Rooks, and see what happens. Well, the children were happy initially, because they thought that now they had a chance to win the game, but I found I could still win all the time. Then, I decided to play simultaneous games of chess, with this handicap. Now, it is getting interesting. And, amazingly, the children spontaneously discovered a sure way of beating me. Naturally, they don't think many moves ahead, maybe just one. So, as soon as they finished their turn, they say "Your turn!" Then, I would have to hurry up on my present move, to get to the next board. Then, I would hear another "Your turn!" So, in order to keep up, I have to move faster and faster, and therefore make more mistakes. And they would cooperatively move faster and faster, chiming "Your turn! Your turn!" with their sweet voices, so that I would make more mistakes! Now, this is fun.

During one of these matches, a boy who was very new to the game, was watching me with great fascination. He wanted to play chess too. A board became available, and at this point, I decided to make another change, and said to him, "You can have any four pieces from my side of the board." Well, you know what he took? Four pawns! And while he was taking them one by one, off the board, he had this very big smile on his face. I almost couldn't stop laughing, because I was so surprised. Please note, that by this time, there is a gallery of kids looking on. I could hear some of the other children exclaiming that he doesn't know how to play chess. And then others, attempting to coach him, were shouting, "No take the Queen!" Finally, we did play, but it was no match, since he did not even know how to move the pieces. So, after this game was over, I said, "Let's play again. This time you can have any eight pieces!" being curious as to the response. The first time with this handicap, he took all the pawns, and so he lost, but the second time, he took the entire back row of pieces. I said you can't have the King, so he took one of the pawns instead. I could see he was having a tremendous amount of fun. Now, he is figuring things out. How the pieces move, how to set up the board, etc. What a fun way to learn! And in the meantime, I am hearing "Your turn!" from the other players.

Now, later on, I was told that this boy was retarded. I got mad, because I said, I did not know. I had assumed that he just did not know how to play. I said that I couldn't tell whether he was, or was not. And now, I was angry because some of the good feelings I had about the boy were a little tainted. You see, I started to review in my mind, the past games that were played for evidence of this fact. After all, I value smartness, and I thought this boy was smart, because he was having so much fun playing the game. This reminds me of Christopher DeVinck's autobiographical short story entitled "I am not a turtle." He relates that as a boy, his class was divided into three groups, and he was in the "turtle" group, as compared to the fast learning groups of "robins" and "rabbits." Yet, in the end, he got his Ph.D from Columbia University and now has published several books.

Some days later, I ran into the same boy a second time, and so with a playful tone of voice, I asked him, "Do you want to play chess?" Having been alerted that he might be a turtle, I decided to quietly study his response. His expression began as a small smile, sort of crooked, on one corner of his mouth. As I gazed, I could literally see a wave of joy spread over his face, then down to his chest and finally convulse through his entire body. He even looked as if he might tip over from wobbly legs. The process took several seconds to complete. I realized at once that here is yet another boy like many out there, probably labeled in his class as slow (at such a tender young age), getting a little needed recognition that someone out there was genuinely interested in him for who he is. And with a sense of sadness, I reflected upon how many children we are neglecting in our world today. You almost have to start as a "rabbit" to get the attention you need. Otherwise, you are going to be ignored, shunned and scolded, for being a turtle. SeeArmstrong for more information on this problem and his interesting articles on "the natural genius of kids" and "multiple intelligences"

Last updated 2 September 1999

Copyright © 1997 by Duen Hsi Yen, All rights reserved.


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