Say, in an age range of 7-12 years. One of my friends holds the opinion that you should trounce them at every opportunity, so that they can learn from their mistakes. Another says that you should allow them to win sometimes, so they won't lose interest/stay encouraged to play chess. Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the middle. What do you guys think is appropriate in such circumstances?

(Context: I volunteer at a local elementary school to play/teach kids occasionally. Some are highly motivated, others seemed to be forced to be there by their parents.)

11 Answers 11


I think the best approach is what I call live annotated chess. In this case you basically play normally but provide live feedback on the student's position and why you are doing the things you are doing. This allows you to understand where the student needs additional help and allows them to learn from you.

This approach also allows you to adjust your play according to student needs. If the student is making a lot of careless errors and doesn't seem too into it, you can tone down the annotation and your game and let them play more for fun. If the student seems really motivated in a given game, you can introduce more challenge by upping your game and your discussion.

You can even do this within a game if you sense the student getting frustrated or bored.

I would also say that not all chess needs to be played by "chess rules" kids at that age get a kick out of manipulating the world around them. Let them make up new games that still teach chess principles but are not so rigid. Let the bishops move like queens, or allow them to win back material for consecutive captures, etc... I don't think these types of things teach bad practice because they let the student experiment with the "world" and understand how it reacts.

  • I approve of this approach. I've tried it so far against the strongest kid (probably a playing strength of 1000-1100) in the school, and it seems to help him. But I don't know if it would work against others as well. Commented Jan 15, 2013 at 19:57
  • +1 For making up new rules, dozens of chess variants that exist out there, are perfect. One of my favorites is Chess 960 Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 17:46

I am teaching my 5 year old to play. I also coach soccer. I would never consider "trouncing" him in soccer. Instead, I create lots of little games that capture his attention, and teach specific ball skills (ie red light/green light to learn to speed up and stop with the ball).

I've found the same approach works with Chess. He wins everytime. First, I taught him the moves...I put pieces easily captured to train him to look for opportunity. Then, I taught him to finish, by giving in easily, but forcing him to use the rook and queen to finish me off. And so on. Now we are working on openings. After a month or so, he is mindful of moves that I can retake his piece...so instinctively, he is learning to think ahead.

I think if you break the game down to its components, constantly ratchet up the difficulty for him, but keep the fun in the game, he will play lots, and that is what will lead to a lifetime love of the game.


  • 2
    +1 The soccer analogy is very good: it would be ridiculous to even ask about coaching sports by having adults play full-on against the kids. I'm not sure I agree with letting him win every time as that might lead him to be unable to cope with losing and also to expect that every game will contain opportunities for him to win. But I love the approach of explaining how to win and then giving deliberate opportunities to use those techniques. And, as the kid gets older and stronger, you can give fewer and more subtle opportunities. But I think you should win sometimes, if he doesn't take them. Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 9:15

I found myself in the same situation more than once. And not only against kids. :)

So I started playing handicap chess. You can play seriously, and if the handicap is well balanced you will have to struggle to equal the game.

Of course you have to find your opponents' level, and give each the right handicap.

In this way you also have a way to record your kids' improvements: if an opponents beats you regularly with a certain handicap, then it's probably time to "level up"...

  • 2
    I've also had positive experiences with this type of approach. Deliberately losing is usually detectable (even if it's done subtly), and frequent trouncing can be demoralising. Time-restrictions for the stronger player might also be a good way to balance things, if one is worried about changing the game too much with material and tempo handicaps (or play blindfolded, etc).
    – Daniel B
    Commented Jan 15, 2013 at 13:53
  • I like this but I wonder if the explicit handicaps could also be demoralizing for some students. "Yeah I won but you didn't have any rooks!"
    – DQdlM
    Commented Jan 15, 2013 at 14:15
  • It depends on the age of those kids. Usually, the younger they are, the less they care for the handicap. Commented Jan 15, 2013 at 15:59
  • I find handicaps can be demoralizing.
    – Travis J
    Commented Jan 27, 2013 at 22:24

Everyone, especially little kids, likes to win. So teach them a few easy mates, and let them get them in on you from time to time. The four and two move mates are easy to teach and have the added value of showing some strategy.

Basic Mate in 4

[fen ""]
 1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nc6 3. Qh5 Nf6 4. Qxf7++

Basic Mate in 2

[fen ""]
 1. f3 e5 2. g4 Qh4++

Explain Your Moves

For playing longer games versus children, it is nice to explain why you are making your moves - especially the ones which seem to have to benefit such as developing, or building a pawn structure, or waiting so that a trap is timed better. Don't do it too excessively though, it will get annoying. Usually you can tell if your move confused the kid, or if they are unsure how to respond by it.

Offer takebacks

Tell them they are allowed to have 2 takebacks per game. This will let them still feel like they are playing by the rules, but get to have a few second chances. Keep in mind, the goal is to have them legitimately win as much as possible.

Simple Tips

Although this is not the best approach for seasoned players, it can be beneficial to tell the kids to make the most "annoying" move possible. What I mean by that is, can they force a knight to move, or block a pawn going forward, or attack the queen, etc. Make as many harassing moves as possible. This can be amusing to the player doing the harassing, and also presents opportunities to win pieces in simple situations.

Show them an opening

Go into a little chess history lesson. Perhaps show them the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer" so that they will get interested in at least one player. Then you can transition into other famous players such as tal, Kasparov, etc. When you teach them about a famous player, show them one of their more commonly used openings. Here is one that Fischer played a lot (the first 5 moves were his commonly played opening - I thought I would include a whole game as an example):

[fen ""]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8.
c3 O-O 9. h3 Na5 10. Bc2 c5 11. d4 Qc7 12. Nbd2 Bd7 13. Nf1 Rfe8 14. Ne3 g6
15. dxe5 dxe5 16. Nh2 Rad8 17. Qf3 Be6 18. Nhg4 Nxg4 19. hxg4 Qc6 20. g5 Nc4
21. Ng4 Bxg4 22. Qxg4 Nb6 23. g3 c4 24. Kg2 Nd7 25. Rh1 Nf8 26. b4 Qe6 27.
Qe2 a5 28. bxa5 Qa6 29. Be3 Qxa5 30. a4 Ra8 31. axb5 Qxb5 32. Rhb1 Qc6 33.
Rb6 Qc7 34. Rba6 Rxa6 35. Rxa6 Rc8 36. Qg4 Ne6 37. Ba4 Rb8 38. Rc6 Qd8 39.
Rxe6 Qc8 40. Bd7 resign

Show them some chess puzzles

Get out a book, or an online resource (chess.com has a daily puzzle), etc., and set up some mate in one positions, or two or three depending on skill level, and go through those. There are so many, you can give out unique ones to each kid. Finding a mate is always fun, and will teach them to look for moves, or to examine moves which do not work since those puzzles, for the most part, only have one acceptable move set. Here is a smothered mate:

[fen "4r2k/1p4pp/1qn4N/2bQ4/8/1P6/5PPP/2R3K1 w KQkq - 0 1"]

I could not seem to get the move list to work in this example, the solution, as I am sure you are aware is: Qg8+ Rxg8 Nf7++.

  • I'm not sure there's any value in little kids "studying" the games of Tal and Kasparov. (Inverted commas mostly because I don't want to get hung up on a particular choice of word; any such study is likely to be rather shallow.) Their games are so deep that even very strong adults find them hard to understand. Alekhine, Capablanca and Morphy would be better choices. But do little kids really want to study at all? I think they'd rather learn by playing. Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 9:04
  • 1
    @DavidRicherby - Depends on the child. Magnus Carlsen was stronger at 13 than probably every user of this site ever will be.
    – Travis J
    Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 9:13
  • Of course. But Magnus Carlsen is so far from the average that we can pretend he doesn't even exist. The average seven-year-old is doing well if they manage to play a game without hanging a piece. If -- and this is one of the biggest "if"s I've ever posted on Stack Exchange -- if you find yourself coaching a kid who might be as strong as Carlsen, by all means come back and ask for advice specific to that situation. ;-) Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 9:21
  • 1
    @DavidRicherby - The main point though of having a kid look at some of the greater openings by Grand Masters is to get them interested in the history of chess and see if they like reviewing openings. Some people like opening theory more than the actual game. I think with children it is important to show them a wide variety of aspects, and allow them to choose the avenue which they are most interested in. If they are instantly bored with going through a complex opening, then perhaps stick to the other points such as traps, mates, or simply playing.
    – Travis J
    Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 9:24
  • OK, yes. Presented explicitly as a list of "Here are a bunch of things to try -- use whichever ones capture the kids' imaginations" I agree. You present your list without any introduction so it kinda looks like "You should do all of these." Maybe you could edit to clarify a bit? Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 9:39

The way I like to play against kids or new players is to communicate every few moves on the ideas that I might have - so that they can "find" ways to defend against it and allow them take backs if they want to.

Basically to ensure that I don't turn them off from the game, I try to keep things simple initially, introduce new rules (like en passant) slowly and ensure that they are comfortable and not getting bored/


It's best for them to play people who are at the same level as them, or slightly better. If you can trounce them, you're not really the right opponent for them. Can't they just play each other?

  • They could. The organizers at the school just think that having them play against stronger players would make them better at chess. Commented Jan 15, 2013 at 19:54
  • It depends what the goal is. If it's just "have fun with a chess board and chess pieces" then great; if you want them to learn some actual chess, the guidance of somebody who knows what they're doing seems helpful. Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 9:05

My advice is not to play them at all, instead pair them with other kids of approximately equal skills. You can go over their games afterwards and coach them through their mistakes. If you must play with them you can set up tactical positions and make it a game about finding the right move. Also a good idea is to play a game where the kid has to voice his thought on why he is doing a move, and you do likewise, try to find faults in his reasoning.

  • How do you propose to go over their games afterwards? If you ask them to write their moves down, the result will most likely be a total mess. Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 9:06

I like thinking children will be interested in playing chess by themselves. If I were you, I let them to win sometimes to hope they play at home in the future. In that case, they could learn with software or internet by themselves.

Moreover, in several cases, you can try to explain them how their moves are bad to learn from their mistakes.

I think you can mix two solutions.

Handicap chess as shuuchan proposed can be interesting to maintain equal chance to win bewteen children and you.


I play good chess moves without thinking too hard. If I am threatening something I would say "Be careful". I strongly emphasize kids to ask the basic question after my moves: "What is my opponent threatening?" to the point it's second nature. I wouldn't play silly moves.


Odds chess seems like it could be helpful. Even giving a queen and rook, or a queen. And as they get better, offer them shorter and shorter odds. At the start it's important to learn just to hold on to pieces, and there's too much to keep track of otherwise.

  • 1
    Does this add anything over javatutorial's answer?
    – hkBst
    Commented Sep 9, 2016 at 12:30
  • Oops. I thought I read through twice to check things out, but I didn't. I even searched for text, but I didn't search for "handicap" as I'd always thought of it as odds chess.
    – aschultz
    Commented Sep 9, 2016 at 18:57

(I teach chess in an afterschool program at a variety of schools.)

I despise playing "easy" against a kid.... it's lying to them.

Whatever handicap I give them (material or time) I explain why I do it that way and that that is the ONLY advantage they get, that I'm going to now play my hardest against them. And that beating me means they get to "level-up" to a smaller handicap.

I avoid playing kids when I can, but sometimes a class has an odd number of kids and no one wants to play as a team.

Or some little overdeveloped ego has their heart set on playing the teacher. Actually had kids try to 4-move me more than once :-) OTOH there was that 1800ish 2nd-grader no one warned me about. But all the other kids knew what was about to happen. Ouch.

Having them play out won endgames against you is often a better alternative.

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