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I sent my nephew a chess set for his 8th birthday. He doesn't play yet.

When my children were small, I taught them to play by working through a simple game in which each piece was introduced in turn. I made it into a story (e.g. "Now your queen is in danger! What can we do about that?") until finally the child won the game with a checkmate (of course).

I had to make it up as we went along, but I am sure there must be some well-known games that would do the same job better, which is to say more excitingly and succinctly.

Can you suggest something suitable for a beginner's very first game? It doesn't need to cover things like en passant, pawn promotion or castling - just the very basics, to introduce the different characters and the plot.

(By "well-known", obviously I mean well-known as a teaching game, devised for the purpose of introducing a complete beginner to the very basics. It's completely irrelevant whether the game is a famous example from the history of chess, since that will mean absolutely nothing to an eight-year-old beginner playing his first game.)

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I vote for the Opera Game. It showcases the very basics of strategy (controlling the center, getting the pieces developed ASAP, and attacking the king), and ends with a fantastic combination to force checkmate.

This is one of the most well-known games ever played, and it has been covered by nearly everyone online, so you can definitely find a good overview of this game in many youtube videos. If you watch a few yourself, (such as https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKvUQpQWie0) you should be able to present it as a story to your kid too.

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  • (+1) Daniel Rensch did a brilliant video on the Opera Game in the 'Everything you need to know about chess' series on Chess.com. Unlike other commentaries, it keeps things simple and focuses on general principles, whereas other commentators dwell too much on the technicalities to my liking (especially when this is an excellent game for the beginner). – Joe Jun 12 at 14:40
  • Thanks for this suggestion. I played this through, it's a great game, but I think probably too long for my purposes (i.e. for the beginner's very first game). Having said that, the queen sacrifice at the end is just the kind of surprise that provides the sense of drama I want. However even if it's not for a beginner's first game, it's definitely one for a fifth or sixth game, so I will use it eventually. – Daniele Procida Jun 18 at 11:13
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The suggestion of the "Opera Game" is a good one, but I'm afraid it still might be too advanced for a complete beginner. What might be more suitable would be the elementary games in a beginner's chess manual, of which there are numerous available. These are probably not going to be famous games between well-known players since they would be too sophisticated. If a well-known player would be involved, his opponent would most likely be a novice who would fall into an elementary trap. The following short, instructive game from Ken Whyld's "Learn Chess in A Weekend" did involve one famous player, Paul Keres.

[Title "Caro-Kann, Keres-Arlamowski"]    
[FEN ""]

1. e4 c6  2. Nc3 d5 {beginning the fight for the all-important center squares to gain maximum mobility for his pieces} 3. Nf3 {development toward the center in preparation for castling} dxe4  4. Nxe4 {recapturing to maintain material equality} Nf6 {challenging the centralized knight} 5. Qe2?! {defending the knight and setting a trap. This move really isn't the best since it blocks in White's king bishop, but White is hoping for a Black mistake} Nbd7 {Black, seeing only a knight exchange on f6, overlooks that his e-pawn will be pinned to the king if the knight on e4 moves elsewhere and blunders away the game} 6. Nd6# {a "smothered mate"}

                                                                               The following short game from Savielly Tartakower's "A Breviary of Chess" is between two famous players and is well known.

[Title "Caro-Kann, 1910, Richard Reti-Savielly Tartakower"]
[FEN ""]

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Qd3 {better than in the previous game} e5 {to open lines of play for the pieces} 6. dxe5 Qa5+ 7. Bd2 Qxe5 {regaining the forfeited pawn, although at the cost of several tempi, which are important in the opening when time in development is of the essenc} 8. O-O-O {instead of defending his knight by 8.f3, White conceives a plan to emphasize his lead in development of four pieces in play versus two} Nxe4 {falling into the trap} 9. Qd8+! {sacrificing his queen to force checkmate!} Kxd8 10. Bg5+ {double check, from which the king can only flee} Kc7 {or 10... Ke8 11. Rd8#} 11. Bd8#
   

Other beginner's manuals will have similar instructive games. Such books by I.A. Horowitz, Fred Reinfeld and Irving Chernev were popular during my older generation, but I'm sure current books for beginners are just as good.

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A beginner's "first game" should be his own game. Newcomers won't really understand the moves that are being made. Sure, you can give him an explanation about why the moves make sense, but you could give a just as convincing one about a game that goes **1.a3 a6 2.h3 h6 3.g4"

The only way to experience chess is doing it (and screwing it up) yourself

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Famous games are usually famous because both players are very high level and something unexpected happened, like a bold sacrifice or incredible positional play. While they are useful learning tools, they maybe aren’t what a true beginners very first games will look like.

I think illustrating games where one player captures (“om nom nom”, in childspeak) lots of material through very simple tactics (eg opponent leaving pieces en prize, knight forks a king and rook) are pretty illustrative. These games generally aren’t well known - with good reason.

So to find them, I recommend just playing some games online against some very low rated players who make these mistakes. As an added benefit to having played the game yourself, you can influence the game to illustrate whatever threats and tactics you wish. (And if you’re opponent doesn’t cooperate, feel free to demonstrate your cooked lines). You also have had time to consider some sidelines, which gives you the option on calling an audible if your kiddo suggests such a move while going over the game.

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  • Good points. However, I'm not asking for a famous game, but for a well-known teaching game that is designed to illustrate the basics. – Daniele Procida Jun 12 at 15:34
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    Famous and well-known are synonyms, right, so I’m not sure I understand the distinction you are trying to make. Greco’s games may be what you are looking for, as they were (possibly cooked) publications for teaching. – DongKy Jun 12 at 16:22
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    In my circles, famous means 'known about by many people', so by definition they are synonyms. Can you clarify what you mean by 'widely known' and how it would differ from famous, specifically in the context of a chess game? – DongKy Jun 12 at 17:46
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    The lettuce is widely-known. If you want to argue that makes the lettuce a famous vegetable, please be my guest. The English language has had so much damage inflicted upon it already, another injury will hardly be noticed. – Daniele Procida Jun 12 at 18:40
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    You haven't clarified what you are looking for. If you are still looking for references and help, please explain what you want so the community and I can assist. If you only want to argue about what the word 'famous' means, I have nothing else to add. – DongKy Jun 12 at 19:11

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