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From here:

What is the best age to learn chess?

it seems that consensus is that that kids can start learning chess at almost any age. From around 5 years old they are big enough to learn the names of the pieces and the rules for how each piece moves.

Here:

https://chess.stackexchange.com/a/6225

it is suggested to not push kids to learn chess, but to lead by example.

Here

Where can I start to learn?

there are tips for how adults can learn chess.

My question is: Assuming you have an interested child age 5 - 10, how do you practically suggest teaching chess? Does it make most sense to just start playing with setting up all the pieces, or are there smaller "games" that one can/should start with?

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    Chess is like drugs; it is addictive. Why would you do that to a child? The best age is NEVER! If they want to play then that would be the age to let them, but pushing them to learn would not make them better at all. – edwina oliver Dec 2 '19 at 21:28
  • @edwinaoliver But drugs are awesome. – Strawberry Dec 3 '19 at 11:21
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    @Strawberry Obligatory: "Drugs are bad, 'mkay?" – Monty Harder Dec 3 '19 at 22:16
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    The learning material can make a lot of difference: for instance the Seirawan lectures made a strong impression on me when I started learning chess. All his beginner's lectures are mostly made for kids, so they are easy to follow, slow paced, fun and filled with stories, jokes, but also his choice of positions are quite instructive. So you can either watch them together, or use his lectures as inspiration. His lecture on 'Don't' be a copycat' is a fun one to start with ;) – Ellie Dec 4 '19 at 9:28
  • @edwinaoliver, of course you can push them to be better. see the polgar sisters. – Aequitas Dec 6 '19 at 2:53

11 Answers 11

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Does it make most sense to just start playing with setting up all the pieces, or are there smaller "games" that one can/should start with?

It doesn't really matter the age of the person learning to play, there is no point in starting with a full set. There is just far too much to take in and make sense of. The first thing to do is to teach them how to win!

So, first teach them how king, queen and rook move and then teach the basic mates -

  • KRR v K
  • KR v K
  • KQ v K

And I would do it in that order because it is the easiest and it is the way to introduce concepts like checkmate, king not allowed to move into check, two rooks working together, opposition, king and one rook working together, stalemate (to be avoided with KQ v K).

Next I would go on to KP v K, when you can win, when it is a draw and how to win.

Then I would go on to a game which many people start with (but there is no checkmate, so less fun IMHO) and that is 8 pawns v 8 pawns. Winner is the first to get a pawn to the other side or to "stalemate" the opponent - i.e. the opponent is the first to run out of moves.

After that I would reintroduce the kings and major pieces before finally going on to the full game.

You can see I'm working backwards here because that way the learner first learns where they should be aiming to get to and what to when they get there in stages starting from the destination.

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  • @Thomas Thanks! Fixed. By the way, if you see an obvious typo like that (particularly in one of my posts) then just edit the post. If you don't have enough privilege then your edit probably goes into a queue for approval but it should go through semi-automatically. – Brian Towers Dec 2 '19 at 21:59
  • Thank you! This was helpful. – Thomas Dec 2 '19 at 22:01
  • @BrianTowers Actually only you could make that edit - anyone other than the author of the post has to change a minimum number of characters (six I think). There is an ugly workround - make the real edit and add a line "text added to allow edit"; then make a second edit to remove the bogus line. This won't work for a reviewed edits, but it's usually best to just allow the author to make the edit. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Dec 3 '19 at 18:06
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    @MartinBonnersupportsMonica, I don't think that's right. I just did a tiny edit as a test (deleted an empty line at the end, for a total of two characters) and it went through. – itub Dec 4 '19 at 11:56
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I tend to disagree with the other answers that suggest starting with just a few pieces.

Kids absorb so much, so quickly. When my daughter was 4, she used to just watch me so she got some familiarity with the shapes of the pieces, but there was no teaching at this time. When she was 5, I taught her the names of the pieces, and then how they all moved. I did this all at one time. This took only a day or two of short sessions, and she had it. Then I taught her the special moves, castling and en passant, so she knew the game already, at least the rules.

We would play regularly, but the only problem is, and this varies from child to child, she really did not have a great interest in the game. If you can solve this, that is something because I am not the only parent, who I have heard say this. In middle school, the chess club at her school had an amazing 40 kids, so she would go to that and play. She would be proud when I would teach them, but even then, she only wants to play very sporadically.

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I started playing chess with 4y old - by just observing. My father played with himself and used books to replay Grandmaster games (and he still does it nowadays he's 82y old). - , at first I was not allowed to touch the pieces but he explained me the game slowly, until I understood everything, and started to play against him.

So in my opinion, just play the game and the kid will learn - learning by doing, it's not magic.

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You teach them chess the same way chess has always been taught: you give them the board, tell them the rules, and let them figure it out from there. As the saying goes, "10 minutes to learn, a lifetime to master". If they want to go into more detail to become a competitive chess player, provide them with the resources to do so, but there's no need to teach them about strategies or tactics otherwise.

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  • The socratic method is a big fail. They need to be shown some basics to save years of trying to get a rating as high as 1000. They need some basics of tactics and ideas of what is good/bad in openings. Later they need to learn basic endgames. They can expand from the basics but without a good foundation they will never be more than a patzers patzer. – edwina oliver Dec 6 '19 at 3:55
  • Who cares about ratings? If they want to play competitive chess, then give them the resources they need, but it not, don't force them. – nick012000 Dec 6 '19 at 5:52
  • -- everybody I ever met cared about ratings. Except a few sour grapers who were terrible bad. – edwina oliver Dec 6 '19 at 19:26
  • @edwinaoliver I don't care about ratings, because I don't play chess competitively, just like 99% of the population. – nick012000 Dec 7 '19 at 5:07
  • 99% of the population does not even know how to play chess. While many people have heard of the game, and some even know the moves, those who do play either are truly bad or they end up caring about ratings to validate what they have learned. – edwina oliver Dec 7 '19 at 14:35
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Teach them how the pieces move. Teach them checkmate with two rooks. Let them play some ridiculously easy computer for a while. Gradually introduce more advanced stuff (K+R vs K, K+Q vs K, the idea that you should put your pawns in the middle, the four move checkmate, the two move checkmate) Mini games are also very good for kids - putting a queen in the middle of the board and giving them a knight and asking them to do lots of knight paths, for example putting the knight on a3 and asking them to get it to f1 without going on a square the queen can take. For more advanced ones you can get them to do it mentally but that requires co-ordinatesenter image description here https://chessplus.net/the-bishop-and-pawns-game/ is another good one

Once they've got a bit more experience (can do four move checkmate and the two rooks vs king etc) then making up very simple mate in twos helps their calculation a lot. Then maybe they are ready for Seirawan's Winning Chess Tactics and How to Beat Your Dad at Chess. Both really good books but not for absolute beginners.

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I learnt to play chess around that age with Pritchard's Begin Chess, later moving on to "The right way to play chess". Both of these books should be available on amazon, and although they were written in the 1970s they stand the test of time in my opinion. I can highly recommend them.

Begin Chess starts off teaching the ways different pieces move, full of exercises that have solutions at the back (e.g. place 4 queens on a 4x4 corner of the board so that none attacks any other one), and then goes into more detail on openings and endings. My own experience was that I found the openings part a bit confusing (I had a lot of "why" questions that the book didn't answer) but the part on endings was really logical and made sense, at least after spending several afteroons on King + Pawn vs. King.

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I learned chess in grade school, with other kids who were learning too. This is the best way because it's a peer-oriented activity -- kids playing with other kids.

There wasn't a chess "club" so much as a pre-allotted chess "time" when any kid could come and sit down at a table and start playing chess with another classmate. The whole thing was supervised by a teacher, who went from pair to pair and gave brief advice and then moved onto the next player pair. Usually there were about ten to twelve students at the tables.

We were all 10 years old. Fifth grade. There's no reason to try to impose chess on a younger child. The child should be old enough to step back and see the activity as a past-time, and not become addicted or obsessed by it. 10 years old is a good age to also decide "I don't like chess."

Do I play chess today? No.

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Kids learn quickly - so I'd start with a full game (perhaps without special moves like castling or en passant until they've got the hang of the basics) and in a few games they'll get the idea. Just point out when the move they're trying to make is invalid, or offer occasional suggestions if they're stuck.

Don't play too seriously. They'll enjoy any game much more if ever win. Not all the time of course, but it's important. Also, you should do it in such a way that it isn't blatantly obvious - you want them to enjoy the excitement of noticing they can capture your queen (that you've left vulnerable for the last 4 turns) or generally getting you into check. That's engaging, and fun. Kids like that stuff.

Dad used to do this and I didn't notice until years later when I was actually good at the game and started to beat him for real. Pondering on previous games at that point clued me onto it, but at that point I already enjoyed chess. So job done!

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I learned on the excellent set « No Stress Chess », which introduces Chess concepts in ways I’ve never seen before.

The game comes with a two-sided board (one shows where all the pieces start, and includes an « opening position » to help get things started).

Players have a few « levels » to choose from, each of which involve using cards to move pieces. Players typically draw, and play one of one or more cards in their hand. Each card has a piece (pawn) and their movement options detailed. Levels increase options by increasing hand size.

Because of the structure, one can take interesting risks in the game—check, checkmate, and castling are left for « real chess », so you must actually capture the king to win.

I’ve used this with adults too and it works well.

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I wouldn't "force feed" them, but if they display any interest, I would just start by naming the pieces and gradually showing them how they move. This is the course I followed with my wife's 5 year old grandson. But he didn't really display a lot of interest, so I abandoned that project. I do however teach the youngsters at our chess club, some in the 5-10 year old range, following that same course. First we learn the pieces and how they move, as well as the initial board set-up. But I don't rush them into play. I always try to keep the training fun and interesting. I explain the goal of the game is to checkmate the king, showing some simple checkmates, and how that goal should be reached by a process of attrition barring the unlikely opportunity for a quick finish. I then show them basic tactics (forks, pins, discovered attacks) as the method to gain a material advantage, explaining the relative value of the pieces. Then I show them basic endings and engage them interactively in these so they know what to ultimately do with an advantage. When I think they're ready to try a game, I give them material odds and critique them as we go along, pointing out major mistakes they are potentially making, such as giving away material for nothing. I also give them some basic general strategy, such as quick development, early castling, play toward the center, etc. Then when I think they are ready, I let them play each other, going over the games later to point out errors and what they could have done instead. I never push them, and let them enjoy themselves. I consider chess first and foremost a game, to be played for fun and intellectual stimulation. If they display enough ability and want to pursue competitive tournament play later on, they can decide that for themselves then.

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I learnt Draughts/Checkers first. I can't say if it's optimal, but it certainly got me used to playing on square boards and diagonal takes/captures such as with pawns.

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