This was originally published in my monthly column for www.ChessCafe.com.
Scholastic Chess Q & A
Scholastic chess is booming in America and scholastic memberships are growing steadily each year. In the past few years attendance records have been set in nearly every national or regional scholastic chess event that I have attended. Kids love chess because it is a cool, fun and challenging game. Parents love chess because it helps their children develop logical thinking skills, concentration, patience, creativity, discipline, self confidence, self esteem, self worth, etc.
Thousands of parents have enthusiastically asked me countless questions about scholastic chess. Below are some of the most important or interesting questions:
How can I attract my children to the game, maintain their enthusiasm, and make chess fun too? (Veronica J. – New York)
That is an excellent question, one which has been asked by many parents. First of all, it depends on the ages of the children. From the age of 2 or 3 years old, you can start teaching the children the names of the pieces. Use fun terminologies such as ‘Horsie’ and ‘Castle’ rather than Knight and Rook. At the ages of 4, 5 or 6, children can learn the rules of chess and basic puzzles such as checkmate in one, pins, forks, etc. The most important things are to frequently motivate your children and always make it fun and exciting. Reward instead of punish! If they do not find a solution, you can help them with some small hints rather than getting upset or frustrated. If the children enjoy the game from an early age, chances are, they will stay with it for a while. Good luck and have fun with your children!
Can chess software help my children improve? (Jesus V. – Texas)
Yes! One of the main reasons why today’s children improve at an earlier age is because of chess software. Programs like Fritz & Chester, Fritz, Chessmaster, Majestic Chess, etc., all have fantastic features to educate your children and to keep them busy and excited for a long time. Many of the programs on the market can point out blunders and recommend better moves. In addition, they often offer a database of games that your children can learn from. All in all, they offer plenty of return for a small investment.
My children know the basic rules of chess and how the pieces move. What is next? (Mary W. – California)
This is one of the most frequently asked questions. Teach your children fun, exciting and challenging things such as tactics (pins, forks, discovery, etc.), combinations, checkmates, and basic endgame puzzles. These are extremely important areas, which you can give your children some from each category daily. This will keep them from getting bored. My 4-year old is doing up to 50- 75 of these puzzles daily. He absolutely loves it and constantly asks for more puzzles. He enjoys them so much that I use them as a reward. The better he behaves each day, the more chess puzzles he gets. I also give him fun stickers when he does a great job solving these puzzles. Therefore, he is constantly motivated!
Can a chess coach help my children? If so, how do I select a good one? (Aditya K. – New York)
Yes! A good coach can help a great deal. There are many things a coach can offer that you cannot get from a book or software. It is a challenge to find a good one. Start by looking for a coach who has experience with children and a good record of positive results. Some coaches are good with adults but not with kids. If the coach does not have the patience to deal with children or the ability to connect with kids, it will not work. In addition, it is important to find a coach that genuinely wants to help and does not teach purely for a paycheck. Check their references and ask to speak to the parents of other children they have taught. Of course there is no perfect way to select a great coach. However, if you follow these steps, you should do fine!
My two daughters really love chess, however; because of the ratio of boys versus girls playing chess (about 10 to 1 in their school) they got frustrated and no longer want to play outside of our home. What do I do? (Jennifer C. – Tennessee)
Unfortunately, there is no magic wand that can change this instantly. I am trying to correct this problem by creating programs and tournaments specifically for girls. I will post as much information as possible on my website www.SusanPolgar.com or on the website www.ChessDailyNews.com.
Girls and boys approach the game very differently. Many boys see chess as a form of competition and brute force. They want to win at all cost! Many girls view chess as an art form. They are less worried about the results and more concerned with the beauty of the game. I was the same way; I did not perceive chess as an egotistical competition as did many of my male counterparts. I wanted to win just like anyone else, but that was not my top priority. I am happiest when I produce a beautiful, artistic chess game.
Many girls also like to attend different tournaments to meet and make new friends. By understanding girls have different priorities and interests; it may make it easier for parents to motivate their daughters. I have seen many parents who are too preoccupied with the win-loss records for their daughters and that may not be the way to maintain their interest in the game.
This is also one of the reasons why I like separate classes for some, but not all, girls. It helps them build camaraderie, friendship, self-confidence, and self esteem before competing against the boys. It also improves the chances of girls preserving an interest in chess.
Is it better to learn chess from books, Internet play, or from computer software? (Anonymous – Ohio)
There is no single correct method, as all of the above can assist your children. They should learn from books or software and then practice with their friends or on the Internet. Playing alone is not sufficient and there should be a balance between learning and practice.
How important are chess ratings for children? (Betty W. – Massachusetts)
My answer may be unpopular but ratings are not very relevant at an early age. The problem is that many parents are so concerned about the ratings their children become too timid to play “proper” chess in order to improve. They are so afraid of losing that they play not to lose instead of playing to win and this can seriously hinder the development of their children. While in the short term ratings can satisfy one’s ego, it is better to look at the long term outcome. If you help your children improve their chess, their ratings will eventually reflect their true strengths.
Are there regular chess programs on TV that can help kids? (Dexter J. – New Jersey)
Not that I know of. In fact, there are few chess broadcasts in the US even though there are many chess scenes in various commercials, movies, and TV shows, etc. This demonstrates the trend of chess acceptance and is a very good sign. ESPN recently televised the Kasparov vs. Deep Junior and X3D Fritz in New York City, but that is the extent of it right now.
Good news may be coming in the near future though. There are more than 40 million people who play chess in America and this is a very large market. With the proper programming contents, creative ideas, excellent marketing, and dynamic host(s), it can be a big hit that will give US chess a big boost and bring it to the next level.
What is your prediction for the future of scholastic chess in America? (Ovid P. – Georgia)
I have no doubt that many parents will eventually realize the wonderful benefits of chess for children. So will the educators and politicians. I see a very bright future in scholastic chess in America!