I've been asked recently to try to put on a few chess exhibitions for some local kids and their parents in a mostly urban setting, and one thing that I'm keenly aware of is the basic 'uncoolness' that surrounds the game for some people. I'm trying to fight that tooth and nail, and doing that means figuring out how to make the game Fun with a capital F.

One idea revolves around 'slam chess', which one of my acquaintances from DC introduced me to. Basically it involves allowing extravagant moves (such as tossing your queen up in the air and catching it before moving her) and allowing mild smack talk if someone falls for a trap or something. Doing some research, it turns out Maurice Ashley learned chess this way. I've never been introduced to this before so I have no idea how people will react to it.

Another idea is to get deconstructionist and to not worry about the overall game as much as putting up a bunch of tactical problems that people can engage and solve, with people giving hints if need be, with the ultimate goal having people solve 3-5 tactical problems to frame chess as a bunch of little victories instead of one longer game.

The big goal is to make the game exciting and get the human element involved in it; the two big pieces of feedback I heard when asking around were after the fashion 'nobody plays chess' or 'it's too much work to learn'. The solution as I see it is to just make the game fun, then people play and it's not work to mess with it (it's fun). I'm decently familiar with programming, video editing, etc so if anyone has a particular idea for websites or media production to help a presentation I'm all ears as well.

PS: I saw this question, but it more related to talking to individual people than putting on a show for a group.

  • chessboxing? bullet/blitz chess? choker? bongcloud? – BCLC Apr 10 at 17:04

I've been to a lot of events that have featured the live-action chess game. It's usually a big hit with people not normally into chess. Make a giant chess board with paper or tape or whatever and bring costumes along for people to act as the pieces. You'll want to run quick games that way so the people don't get bored. And be prepared for the kids to get antsy and run off. Having some backup players on the wings to take over can be helpful.

Try to work up a crowd with a couple "main events", and steer people around to the shorter things like your tactical idea on the side-lines. More often than not, a big crowd in one part will create interest for others, even if they wouldn't be interested normally.


What always comes across as pretty impressive, is blindfold chess. But of course "wow"ing people is different from convincing them something is fun.

I also think blitz usually comes across as dynamic and fun, especially if you can show the game on a big screen with some good commentary. Another idea is to have the clock on an separate table so you always have to do a little sprint to press your clock. That definitely involves a lot of action.

But you also have to consider whether it really should be your objective to win over those people, who have a decidedly negative attitude towards chess. Chess IS an activity, where you sit down for hours and think. The attraction of chess, is the attraction of mental activity. So you definitely shouldn't move to much away from that, just to accommodate people who aren't interested anyway.


As a variant on the "live chess" thing, one exhibition that we used to do was to use large (and sometimes fanciful) pieces. (I remember doing one with a piece set based on farm animals for a state fair exhibit, for example.)

The idea is two players who call out the moves and one or two volunteers who walk around on top of the board and move the pieces. People will often stop and watch as the players circle the large board looking at the position and thinking. The farm board mentioned above was also elevated, so we often moved around as if "sighting" down a diagonal or file. There's lots of opportunity for physical comedy or other theater in those cases, as well as trash talk. (Trash talk is a good tool for engaging the crowds, so long as it's good-natured and fun, rather than violent or personally offensive. The line between isn't always clear, and changes with the potential audience for the exhibition.)


A couple ideas...

1) I remember kids really loved battle chess back in the day... Its fun seeing the pieces actually fight. I bet it wouldn't be too hard to resurrect that computer program.

2) I remember kids at the Berkeley Chess club were really into Bughouse chess... having a teammate made for crazy complication and cooperation. It tended to be a much noisier game.


In my experience, people have shown distinct interest (though often fleeting) when presented with the idea of chess variants. This is a hit-or-miss topic, since it has not uncommonly caused people to quirk their eyebrows in askance, but it's intriguing more often than not -- "and there's no such thing as bad publicity".

If you get people talking about it, even if it's to debate the very idea, then they will still have been drawn in (as well, it sometimes cascades to their conversations with friends and family, later), and some of them find their opinions swayed. :-)


I have an idea for a fun event to attract attention. What makes chess less interesting to the majority is (i) the level of patience required (rather than skill or intelligence), and (ii) chess being a 2-player game rather than a team game.

My idea is to adapt chess to team game situation (not team chess). The event is human chess (i.e. pieces are people), but the twist is that it is not a 2-player game. The pieces get to make some decisions. Apart from pieces, there are black and white counselors who decide which piece to move, and the pieces will decide where to move (including capture, castle, and en-passant). This will bring some team dynamics to the game in a social sense (already co-ordination of pieces has a team-dynamics in chess, but not to the beginner's eye). Counselors should know some chess. But, it is okay for the chess pieces to know only basic rules. In this format, mistakes are unavoidable, but it will be good for a fun event I suppose.


Show the 1995 Dutch movie Lang leve de koningin ("Long live the queen") with subtitles in your language.

This is a great kids movie about (among other things) chess.

Here is the trailer on Youtube. There's even a (probably illegal) full length copy on Youtube.

You'd have to find out about legal rights to show it of course.


The chances are small that you can set this up, but it would be great:

Organize it when there's an important chess match going on and have that broadcast live during the exhibition, maybe with someone commenting.

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