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My daughter is 4 years old, and she plays checkers very well for her age. She asked me if she can learn how to play chess too. So I am interested in what is the best age to start teaching her. Is it too early to do this? Does anyone have any experience?

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I'd say: As soon as she can grasp the rules. –  Matthew Read May 15 '12 at 18:48
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I would agree with Matthew, but don't let her beat you :) –  xaisoft May 15 '12 at 19:09
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@xaisoft 50/50? :) –  garik May 15 '12 at 19:23
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Six seems like a good age; FWIW, Wikipedia claims that Fischer started at six. I guess I need to start teaching my own six year old. –  GreenMatt May 18 '12 at 13:25
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15 Answers 15

Depending on several factors, the age to start teaching a child to play chess can vary.

The mere fact that she asked you how she can play chess is a good sign that she is interested in learning. Interest is one of the key factors because we don't want to force-feed them the game. If I had to pick an age, I would say 4 is a good age, but it depends also on maturity. I would also say not to expect too much and let her have fun. A great place to start is http://wwww.chesskid.com

My 2 (almost 3 year old) stumbled upon Chessmaster by accident. He was more intrigued by the movie type intro to the game rather than the actual game itself, nevertheless, he remained interested and knows all the names of the pieces, but that is about it. He knows that it is a game, but if I tell him something like "Take the knight", he will take a pawn on some square and go all the way across the board and take it, lol, so based on my own experience, 3 seems to be too young in most cases. I have really yet to see 4, but when my kid reaches 4, I guess I will find out, but based upon his reaction now, I think he would have a good grasp of the rules by age 4, maybe earlier. As for now, I just let him have fun.

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+1 thank you for answer and good link. –  garik May 15 '12 at 19:32
    
Good answer! Just to add to the part about a young child's interest, I think that exposing them to the game even at 1 or 2 is very good. My niece was bumping around pieces at about 1 1/2 and I just have to keep after her to make sure she doesn't lose them. If she is still interested around 4 or 5 I'll teach her to play. I think to really be able to learn a child needs to be able to understand the concept of deception and have reached the point that they have problem solving skills. I think 3 - 5 from a developmental standpoint is best for most kids. –  Robert Kaucher Jul 10 '12 at 20:05

You can teach your daughter how to play the game at any age, especially if she is curious. I remember asking my father to teach me around the age of 4, and while I was not very good at the game, I was at least able to understand how the pieces moved. It became my favorite game to play as a child, and I would constantly challenge my father to games, and even win some (I'm certain he let me win). If your daughter is asking, you should teach her.

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+1 she asks. thanks –  garik Jun 5 '12 at 11:11

Whenever she wants to learn. And let her choose the pace.

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it makes sense. –  garik May 16 '12 at 10:55
    
I like this answer very much. If you can pick her interest, then make her ask you to teach her. Having her asking it all, you're sure never to bore her, and you can see what's her level of (desired) understanding. If she never asks, either she's too young, or maybe it's just not her thing… –  Nikana Reklawyks Dec 2 '12 at 0:48

Any age, IMO. My father taught me to play at about 6.

Oh, and lead by example - take your kid to your local USCF chess club and become a member. Play, show good sportsmanship, etc etc.

Chess is empowering for kids; as long as they are polite they can kick the crap out of adults and people reward them for it, lol.

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ok, understood. great! :) –  garik May 16 '12 at 10:51
    
Any age isn't 6+. 2 would be too early I guess. +1 for polite slaughter though :D –  Nikana Reklawyks Dec 2 '12 at 0:50

If she is interested, go ahead. Maybe you should start with one of the minichess variants: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minichess

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it's great! thank you! –  garik May 16 '12 at 10:48
    
I think 5x5 or 5x6 will be a perfect start –  garik May 16 '12 at 11:06
    
I wonder if older beginners can benefit from minichess –  xaisoft May 16 '12 at 13:42
    
@xaisoft do you think minichess break conception of chess? –  garik May 16 '12 at 15:30
    
@garik - Not really, but I guess in essence, it does regarding regular chess, but it is still played with the same pieces and standard rules. If you start off with minichess with her, you can always just introduce a larger board once she is comfortable with the moves and rules. –  xaisoft May 17 '12 at 13:25

I've heard of high level chess players starting at a young age. One such story is Yelena Dembo. She played her first rated tournament at 3 years 9 months: http://yelenadembo.com/about-me

But there are plenty of high level players that start later, so I wouldn't consider early play a requirement to reach that level. Not that that is necessarily your goal, ha!

I think the two key pieces are 1. interest and 2. attention span. If 1 is there but not 2, you should definitely start with some mini games, as recommended in another answer.

I sincerely hope I can instill an interest in mine when she's a bit older--partly selfishly as I'd like to have someone to play with, and it would be great if we could go to tournaments together. But I also believe that chess is a good developmental tool that teaches critical decision making, attention, sportsmanship, pattern recognition, among many other things, I'm sure. I've purchased the rather new "Chess is Child's Play" book, which I haven't looked at much so far--it has exercises for 2-4 years old, and instructions for teaching 4+.

My 16-month-old can't even lift my triple-weighted chess set yet (it's all in one bag--probably weighs about 5 lbs). She very much likes to take the pieces out (to give them to me) and I show her how they set up on the board. Then she likes to pick them up and give them to me to put them back in the bag (we do this a couple times a day--she goes over and points at the chess set when she wants to play with it). She likes the knights, especially. Little horses! If only there were a set with ducks as pawns, or something. I think that would be a hit.

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:) nice, thank you for your thoughts, it will be interested to read that book and to try to use. –  garik May 18 '12 at 8:28

As early as he or she can. But do not force it upon the child. Just show the path. The child if interested (s)he will pick it up soon or a bit later in their life.

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My daughter just turned 4 and she knows how every piece moves, which is great IMO, but it is frustrating at times because I wish I could teach her more things at once. However, I do not force her, it is actually the other way around There is not a single day that she does not ask me something about the pieces or anything related to the game.

She knows what is a rank and a file but she doesn't quite understand what is diagonal, she is starting to locate coordinates on the board but that's about it.

I bought her a plastic chess set with figurines instead of the classic Staunton pieces, that way the queen actually looks like one, and so does the king and the rest of the pieces, believe me, that for a kid at that age it helps a lot, she can now set up the board and pretend to play with her 2 yr old sister, until the imaginary fight between the two sides gets real.

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+1 :) It's nice. I prefer to teach her by using classical styled chesses. She knows how to move all figures on the board. So I hope, I will teach her a strategy and tips and tricks of this game. I spend so much time as she want and don't force this process. –  garik Nov 23 '12 at 8:31

I taught my younger sister at 4. Partly because she was extremely good at adult-type jigsaw puzzles, I was sure her pattern recognition capabilities were up to it, and her ability to be still and concentrate for a reasonable amount of time. I would look for that sort of sign of readiness.

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My son is 5 Yrs, he is an expert at making stuff with lego like blocks and had learned pre school stuff before most of the other kids his age (in my locality), he also speaks/converses in 3 languages quite well. With this I assumed he would be good at chess.

Two months ago I introduced him to chess, explained the rules, within 2 days and 7 - 8 games he managed to learn all the rules(I withheld en-passant and castling), by game 15 he was moving all pieces correctly, initially he had a problem understanding why the rook which is smaller (shorter) than a bishop was not to be exchanged with it.

Also he would be very careless in keeping pieces especially knight and queen where it would be at the risk of being taken. I tried training him with only few pieces on the board and showing how not to keep the pieces where it can be taken, not surprisingly he was very good at identifying the threats, I guess it is because there are only 3 - 4 pieces on board and that makes it simpler to observe.

Its been quite a lot of games since then, almost 40-50 but still he does not keep supporting pieces when keeping/moving them in the front under threat. I notice that he is sometimes/most-of-the-time interested in just moving his pieces, and does not pay attention to the opponents move. He told me a few days ago that, how come you are always winning!

He has actually not learnt to do addition and subtraction in school yet and maybe that is why he does not understand losing 2 pieces in exchange for 3 is not good!

I am almost concluding here that maybe he should have grasped the concept of profit/loss by understanding addition and subtraction before I taught him chess, now I have reduced the frequency of play, maybe none or 2 in a week.

I think I will stop it completely and reintroduce it when he has learnt addition/subtraction well and/or is around 7 or 8 years old.

And with Gariks tip maybe I will teach him checkers!

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Some trainers will stay away from the games and teach to kids only lessons that involve checkmate without taking any piece, perhaps this may help him to look for more "combinatory" elements during a game instead of concentrating in pawn value for every piece. –  igor Dec 21 '12 at 1:19
    
Thanks @Igor, that sounds like a fantastic idea! –  Binoj Antony Dec 21 '12 at 8:37
    
Glad to be of any help! –  igor Dec 24 '12 at 23:27

If your daughter "plays checkers very well and asks you if she can learn to play chess also," she's ready. Some people are ready at age 4, others aren't ready at age 40. It all depends on the person. It's best if you let THEM tell you (as your daughter has) when they're ready.

Jose Raoul Capablanca learned to play chess at age four, and became world champion.

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I learned to play around two and beat my mom in my first game. I never became particularly good at chess - maxing out around 1800 as a late teeneager after a couple years of serious play. From my own experience I'd recommend against using success as a toddler as a predictor of future playing ability.

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In some countries, chess is a part of school subjects. According to research, students who started to play chess got a higher IQ.

Chesskids.com is a wonderful chess site dedicated to kids.

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In my opinion, it is possible to teach children chess from as early as two years old. It all depends on what results you expect to see and at what age. The goal of a chess game is to win by defeating your opponent's army. The concept of winning and defeating an opponent is not trivial and the understanding of this concept comes at different ages for different people. Explaining the rules of the game (how the pieces move) can be done at any age. Yet explaining the concept and driving force is a bit more complex.

In general, the earlier you begin learning chess, the better you become at chess. At the same time, you need passion to drive your learning forward. So becoming a good chess player is a combination of passion and practice. While teaching the rules will be simple, becoming passionate about chess is a much more complex process. Certainly, the odds of becoming interested in chess are greater if the child already has some understanding for logical thinking, cause and effect, basic mathematical knowledge and perhaps experience in other games (e.g. checkers). Having this in mind, perhaps the age of 6-8 is more ideal.

My advice would be to keep a full sized chess board at home and play with family and friends at home on a regular basis. If you have chess as part of your daily life, an interest for learning it will be sparked sooner or later. Learning by example is powerful and usually works well in practice. If chess becomes associated with positive emotions and moments, then the chances of becoming interested in chess should be pretty high.

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I'd suggest letting kids play against a computer on random/drunk setting first so that the child wins a lot at first while learning the rules. Otherwise, if they lose a lot at first, they may become quickly dispirited and chess might have negative connotations for them.

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