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I plan on teaching a chess class (5 classes in a sequence, each building off the previous, 1 hour each) to high schoolers, with emphasis on applying chess principles to real life. Now, it'll be unproductive to have players of maybe <1200-1300 strength, since they won't quite understand positional and tactical ideas well, and will likely find the class advanced/unproductive.

Given the short time frame, I'd like to somehow assess their playing strength at the beginning of the first class in as short amount of time as possible, so as to make the rest of the sessions most productive for the rest. Any suggestions?

I thought of tactical puzzles, and someone suggested multiple choice format for guess the move, but both will require a good 10 minutes for the students to have a good chance at getting them right.

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    A quick, easy method is to assume that students with good grades, especially is the hard subjects, will preform will in chess. Although the really talented ones often do poorly in school due to boredom.
    – Mike Jones
    May 9, 2020 at 16:35

8 Answers 8

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Perhaps show them positions and ask them to assess them and analyze the various salient features (i.e., king safety, piece mobility, central control, weak squares/color complexes, etc.). Naturally, novice players likely won't be able to formulate a cogent response, but if you're looking to identify at least reasonably strong/experienced players, then I would imagine that kind of approach would be more efficient than presenting them with tactical puzzles.

Tactical puzzles are also slightly scattershot; a strong player can occasionally overlook a tactic, but classic positional motifs are typically readily apparent (as long as the positions you select aren't either overly subtle or purely tactical in nature). I wouldn't expect them to formulate concrete positional plans on the spot and in a short amount of time, but I think the mere ability to identify positional imbalances is a sufficient indicator of some chess skill.

I think you could present a few tactical puzzles as well, as long as they comprise common motifs and don't require overly long combinations. Puzzles that would take ten minutes strikes me as excessive. As an indicator of playing strength, the (in)ability to solve a few fairly simple puzzles in a short amount of time would be relatively conclusive. If the puzzles are short, you can also administer more of them, which is apt to yield more accurate data than the results from a smaller number of more complex puzzles that each require deep thought.

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    I did mean multiple puzzles requiring about 10 minutes. My current plan is to get about 5 tactics problems from chesstempo.com that are rated between 1000 and 1500, and give the students 5 minutes to solve them all. May 7, 2013 at 5:54
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The best way to assess a player's strength is to play a game against them. I would guess that the stronger the player the more accurate that player is able to gauge their opponent's playing strength. Presumably the teacher (you) is a relatively strong player.

It may also be useful to record a few games for each student at the beginning of the course for comparison or analysis at the end of the course, to see if they have improved for example (if it were me, I'd probably allocate time for a game every session in fact, probably at the end so the students can apply what they've learnt and ask questions).

If it's impractical to play each student yourself before the first session, you might get them to play each other and have a look over the game afterwards.

Another approach is to simply ask each of your students how strong they think they are. Perhaps you could combine this with a simple questionaire - a few questions on chess fundamentals, such as:

  • Do you know how to mate with king rook vs king?
  • Do you know what a bad bishop is?
  • Do you know what a knight outpost is?
  • Do you know the three opening principles?
  • Do you know what a fork is?
  • etc.

Perhaps some general questions might help:

  • How often do you play chess?
  • When did you start playing chess?
  • Do you have a FIDE rating or played in any formal tournaments?

Keep it simple and keep it fun.

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Get the class to play a blitz round robin. This is then a measurement of strength as opposed to a subjective guess. Plus it's fun.

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  • This is a test of relative strength, not absolute. Pit a bunch of novice chess players against one another and there will be a tournament winner, but that is no indication that any of them have any particular level of skill at all. The OP needs to know the absolute skill level, since teaching the class to a bunch of 500 Elo players will be pointless, even if one of them is a 700 and can handily beat everyone else. Jul 13, 2023 at 21:43
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I used to help run a chess club.

Some of the signs of a weak player are:

  1. lack of imagination;
  2. distraction;
  3. little to no calculation power.

Some of the signs of strong or soon-to-be-strong players:

  1. interesting, if sometimes crazy, moves;
  2. focused on the task at hand (though can be distracted between moves)
  3. generally can crunch through a difficult tactic, or they see and appreciate the logic behind a great tactic.

So how to test?

Pure chess puzzles may not be good, because everyone can have a bad puzzle day. A pure blitz round robin is good, but, again, everyone can have a bad day. And with the latter, one bad game at the beginning can be the end of even a strong player.

Why not combine the two? Have the round robin -- 5 minute games (because bullet chess is just not for everyone). Have puzzles at each table, very difficult, multi-move ones, but make sure they are all different, and for the opposite color (if a student is playing a game as white, his puzzle is for Black). Imagine the brain gymnastics that this requires, especially during blitz! I know that I would have fun doing this, and at the end of the day it should be clear who are the better players.

Good Luck!

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I had this questionable test done on me:

Watch a game being played quickly in front of you, your task is to remember all moves and replay the entire game from scratch.

This test is quite subjective, I know many players who are terrible at blitz play and are extremely strong players with long time controls. I also know the opposite type of players. I think this type of test only tests for blitz ability.

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Preface

I have two methods to propose, and I shall post them as separate answers (so that people can upvote/downvote them separately).

First, I remark that trying to estimate player strength under 10 minutes is not a good idea unless you intend to train them specifically for blitz (not everyone work well under such time pressure). Hence, spending 15 or 20 minutes for this is required to avoid feeling too much pressure (and this time is worth spending since measuring strength of the audience before doing other sessions is important).

The first one is similar to tactics puzzles idea *[Note1].

Answer

Instead of giving tactics puzzles that have a right solution which is probably tricky, give positions and ask them to give their moves if that occur in their games. In those positions, there may or may not be a tactical resource. The side to play may even be lossing. The idea is to give positions that simulate actual game situation, and to test judgement in addition to caluclation ability.

My suggestion is the "What's your move" exercise (appears as Practice (3) in this answer; the usual tactics training method is Practice (2) ).

A set of 6 or 8 positions are given. Each student should select 4 of them and answer the question "What is your move in this position?" for those four. A position in the set may or may not involve a tactic, and it may have more than one answers (e.g. depending the plan the player comes up with). This simulates the game situation more closely. I suggest to include easily winning positions, clearly lossing positions, calm positions, and so on. The player has to decide which positions require a more thorough calculation. There is no guarantee that there is tactical resource for you (e.g. no automatic sacrifices). Deciding when to calculate deeply is a crucial skill for a serious chess player.

I also suggest to include positions with different point values for answers. E.g.: there may be a hanging piece, a royal fork and a quick checkmate available. The move that initiates the checkmate is the best move and gets full points (say 5 points), still the royal fork gives 4 points, and capturing the hanging piece gives 3 points. The bottom-line is not to evaluate answers as binary (best move or not).

A set of positions similar to this idea is available at this link (although the webpage cannot properly do the task claimed, this should be sufficient for your task). Of course, you need to bring down hardness level of the puzzle set to suit your intended audience.

*[Note1] By the way, the multiple choice idea is bad since it eliminates some important aspects of tatics such as creativity, and tests only others such as decision making skill.

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Note: Please read the preface to the previous answer.

This activity is similar to the idea of having them play each other, but with a vote chess element. Since not every good player can play blitz well, this activity will take around 1 hour. The idea I propose is to make sure the activity takes not more than 1 hour.

Divide the class into two teams. Team 1 plays white against team 2 on a single board in a timed game (say 15min+3sec). First, the clock starts and a player from team 1 proposes two candidate moves. The rest of team votes between the two moves (discussion allowed), and move with most votes is played as the team's move.
Then, it's black turn and the same process is done with Team 2. Next, it is white's turn again, and this time another player gets to propose two candidate moves. The game contiues in this fashion.

The choice of moves selected by each player, and more importantly the discussion they have for choosing moves would give a decent idea of their playing strength.

One idea to ensure the game ends in one session itself is to start with a position with fewer pieces on the board (but the players still has to do piece development, and so on).

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This is an old test that I've found it to be quite reliable on the few times that I've tested it. But note that it doesn't work on players who've practiced doing the test beforehand.

  • Position the player as if s/he was playing W on an empty chessboard.
  • Add B pawns on c3, c6, f3, and f6.
  • Add W knight on a1.
  • The player should make legal moves to bring the knight sequentially along the first rank from square a1 to square h1. So a1-b1-c1-d1-e1-f1-g1-h1.
  • After reaching h1, the player has to continue moving the knight, but now along the second rank. So going from h1 to h2 and then along to a2.
  • Repeat sequentially for each of the other ranks.
  • BUT (and this is the important part), the player must never allow the knight to occupy any of the 8 squares attacked by a B pawn.

The faster the player can move the knight legally from a1 to h8 (row by row) without using any square attacked by a B pawn, the stronger the player is.

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