My new neighbors have a 2 years 10 months old kid. When he come to visit me, he often see me playing chess online. So he kept asking me, how to play this.

I got a plastic chess set and he opened it and grabbed the knight and screamed "duck, duck!"

I was kinda surprised that a two years old can recognize ducks, he's from Syria, he left Syria because of the war there so there's no ducks there. I told him, it's not a duck, it's a horse. He knew what a horse is. he seems very interested in chess.

So I decided to try the same educational experiment that László Polgár did.

But I'm having some difficulties. The kid is not in school yet, he doesn't know how to read and write, he can't speak English and the names of the pieces are too hard for him. I've been trying to teach him chess for less than a week. I met him last week, started teaching chess the very next day :)

So far he know what's a knight and he call it a horse. He know what's a pawn and I told him it's called grandpa. He knows what a king is and he call it a king, I decided that the word king is too hard for him and I told him that it's called dad. He didn't yet memorized the rook, he call it uncle. I am going to tell him that the queen is mom and the bishop is bob or cat.

I noticed that he uses the shape. He first memorized the horse, because it has a very unique shape. Then he memorized the pawn, because it's the smallest piece on the board, then the king because it has a cross. It's hard for him to see the difference between a queen and a bishop.

  • I was thinking of buying another chess set, one with superman and batman instead of real pieces. Is it a good idea or should I stick with the real pieces?
  • Is it good practice to change the names of the pieces in order to help memorize them?
  • If we keep at this pace, I think I can make him memorize every piece in a week or two, and next month I want to teach him the starting position, and two months after that, I want to start teaching him how the pieces move. Am I going too fast on him? Can his brain understand all this that quickly.
  • Is he considered smart for his age, or is it normal for kids of his age to start understanding what I'm teaching him?

5 Answers 5


I learned to play chess when I was 3. My biggest challenge was learning the starting positions of the pieces, and I also remember mixing up the bishop and Queen because of the shape of the point.

At that age, I wouldn't think language acquisition would be a big challenge, as I've known kids of that age (2-5) to pick languages up faster than teenagers.

You're on the right track with the idea of buying a distinct set of pieces, but I have no idea if Batman would help or distract at that age being that the pieces may resemble toys. It would certainly make the pieces more memorable, but so would animals at that age. I would try to find a set with animals or at least something that resembles actual chess pieces shape but uses the profiles of something meaningful to him like animals. I don't see any problems in training his visual and spatial memory and teaching him the names after he understands how they move differently.

Everyone is different, but I remember that it wasn't until after I understood the differences between the pieces' movements that I actually managed to memorize the starting positions. Perhaps that is something he can learn by watching. As you set it up on your side, you can have him mirror you down the files. This physical action of placing them in space will likely help him learn.

I think you will be very successful. Kids are neuroplastic sponges. I hope it's rewarding and teach him to enjoy losing. Keep up the noble pursuit!

EDIT: I've since found this resource for teaching kids chess.

  • 2
    There is a lot of evidence anymore that the ages from 2ish - 7ish are the best times to introduce second languages, music, and other "theory" type activities as it is one of the most receptive times for the human brain.
    – JohnP
    Apr 22, 2014 at 20:13

It seems that language is the biggest challenge that you are facing. Why not try another approach...

Why not forgo language altogether? Teach directly in the language of chess! We, especially children, learn by observation and imitation. Maybe you could ask the kid to just sit and watch some games and then ask him to tell you the rules instead of you telling him the rules! After all, when kids learn their mother tongue, nobody tells them the rules of grammar...kids figure them out on their own.

I am not sure whether this approach will work, but if it is to work, I think it will take a little time to show results because with this approach, I am guessing that the learning curve will be exponential.

And for some reason I think that if language is removed from the equation, the learner will develop greater insight into the great game.

Happy teaching:)

  • I like this answer very much, because it reminds me how I learned chess through playing BattleChess (yea not at the age of 3 maybe it was more like 7 or 10^^) at first I just stupidly clicked some pieces on the board, but as the software shows you where you can take the pieces (or restrict you from making an illegal move) that helped very much :) Apr 30, 2014 at 10:58

My two girls (2 1/2 and 4) are very interested in chess, since they see their dad play every single day. They both learned the names of the pieces at about 18 mo, learned the starting positions around 2, and started to grasp how some pieces move a little before 3, but it wasn't until the eldest turned 4 that she had the desire to learn, and the cognitive capacity and stamina to actually play a game.

One way we have the youngest share the pleasure of the game is to have her play alongside her dad. He'll ask her which piece she would like to move, offer two choices of positions, and let her actually move the pieces. And once she gets bored, she's allowed to play with the captured pieces. This lets her share in the social aspect of the game and associate chess with fun. The rest will be up to her once her brain reaches the necessary maturity.


(1) I don't think I would buy another set. The standard Staunton set has by far the most easily distinguishable pieces. I don't think the failure to distinguish the pieces is due to their similarity, but a function of brain development. If you felt the need to make them easier to recognize, you may just want to color the crown of the two queens with bright nail polish (green, in case the kid is color-blind.)

(2) I also doubt language is the problem. Chess is about symbolic understanding, spatial understanding, etc. So I doubt memorization is the long-term issue. I would continue in English, speaking clearly and repeating your self a lot.

(3) In terms of teaching, don't bother with memorization exercises. Just start playing. You announce your move like this, "I am going to move my bishop here. Bishops can move diagonal like this or like this (demonstrates). Now my bishop is can capture your rook on my next move (points to rook and demonstrates capture)". When it is the kid's turn, ask him which move he thinks is a good idea. Then suggest a better move and why. You are basically playing both sides. The kid will absorb it like a sponge. Don't get frustrated if the kid wants to be silly, eat a piece, etc.

(4) Is he considered smart for his age? Well, smart is a vague term. "Smart at chess"?--too early to tell. Is he smart for being able to name the pieces? No. A kid at 2-1/2 should be able to attach names to symbols with practice. They will know their colors. etc. To compare, my nephew just turned three a few days ago, and was memorizing the names of pieces that my kid showed him on the fly back in March. I think it is typical. If the kid is exhibiting positional understanding and tactics at an early age, then yes, "smart at chess".

Source: Teaching my kid to play. I taught my kid to the pieces and moves at 3-1/2, we stopped playing for almost two years, and he recently started playing again, having remembered the pieces and their moves, and is now a strong player for his age, with a growing understanding of positional play and tactics.

P.S. kudos for doing this


I am trying to teach my 2 years and 4 months to play chess. I am following the book Chess is Child's Play. But for the moment he knows the names of the pieces and he like to take all the piece and put them (semi-randomly) on the board, but he doesn't understand correctly the rock movement. I will wait some weeks and see if the develops more. In any case, I think that the approach of the book is very nice.

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