Is it a good idea to let kids win sometimes when teaching them to play chess? Some say “no
way!” Others say “why not?”
There are those who say that letting a child win – even a young child just learning – hampers their ability to truly learn the skills required to play the game well and does them a disservice. Others say that letting them win occasionally, without letting them know you did so, gives them encouragement to keep playing and that they will develop the skills eventually through repeated play.
The last thing a parent wants is a child who becomes so frustrated with the game that they don’t want to play at all. But, conversely, no one wants a child who develops a false sense of confidence and then doesn’t have the drive to excel. The answer likely lies somewhere in between.
Here are a few suggestions for ways to teach children chess in a way that is healthy and not patronizing, but perhaps less stressful than hoisting them headfirst into hardcore competition.
PLAY WITH A HANDICAP
This is a method that has been used for hundreds of years. Handicaps can be very creative. Here are a few ideas.
Fewer pieces: Have the player who is more advanced start out play with fewer pieces on the board. It helps keep the game challenging for both players, while leveling the playing field for a novice.
A next step to this approach might be to add a game piece to the “handicapped player’s” side of the board for the next game if the “learning player” wins. This also gives the learner a tangible measurement of their progress as they work to master the game.
Imposing a tight time limit on the advanced player’s turn makes it more challenging and forces them to not spend as much time studying the board and plotting moves in advance before making a move – a habit that is characteristic of advanced play.
PLAY WITH CHESS “RIDDLES”
Rather than actually playing a competitive head-to-head game, consider setting up individual game situations that might be encountered in a real game. Challenge the child to study the game board and consider the results of their various choices. This makes the activity more of a teaching moment rather than an actual game, but can still be fun. If siblings work together, it becomes a collaborative, critical thinking exercise.
OFFER “HINTS” DURING COMPETITIVE PLAY
Encourage a child who begins to make a bad move to stop and examine the board and double check what they are about to do. Help them think their move all the way through. Combine play with coaching.
Take care not to do this on every single move though. Allow them to learn from the natural consequences of their mistakes too sometimes. It can become laborious to them if every single move they make is critiqued by you. Remember, this is supposed to be fun!
Michelle Spelman is Editor and Inventor Relations Liaison for Chicago Toy & Game Group. She is a game inventor, and co-founder of Flying Pig Games LLC, creators of award-winning Jukem Football card game. She is also founder of Cincinnati Game & Toy Industry Professionals group, and is the Cincinnati Children’s Toy Examiner. An independent marketing consultant providing contract services, executive coaching and strategic direction, she’s in her sweet spot when she is working with companies focused on women and family-oriented products and services.