Wednesday, November 28, 2007

First home lessons by Dad

After trying to teach Alyssa how the pieces moved and "playing" a few games with her I broke out Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess and began trying to explain checkmate to her. We didn't get very far. Even though I was quite surprised that she was able to answer some of the problems and felt she had some potential talent she didn't seem to have real interest in the game yet.

I decided not to push her and gave up again on teaching her for awhile.

When Alyssa turned 6 and entered a new school for 1st grade, they also offered a chess class as a once a week after school program for a few months. Though feeling slightly burned by our last experience, ever the optimist, I decided to put her into the program against her protests.

Thankfully this time it seemed to work out a little better. When I asked her which teacher she liked better she instantly responded "Michael," the new teacher, and from that I inferred that he was doing a better job of teaching to her level. We even began to "play" though a few games.

Around this time the kids enjoyed watching me click through games on the computer (I picked games from Paul Morphy since there are a few great short/open games to choose from) .
Unfortunately their attention span was short and we rarely made it through a full game unless it was a very short one.

One funny story: it occured to me that they might actually like to move the pieces physically on the board so I got them much more interested when I told them that they'd "play" chess against each other. I used one of Morphy's games and assigned Richie to move the white pieces and Alyssa to move the black pieces, simply pointing out their respective moves in turn. They enjoyed this a lot. The next day I set up the board again and picked another game and they started fighting over who
would be black. Richie said he wanted to be black and Alyssa also wanted black. When I finally thought to ask them why, Richie looked at me angrily and said "last time Alyssa got to win, I want black because I want to win!" In the previous game, Morphy as black had busted Paulsen with a devastating queen sacrifice and in the inimitable logic of kids--therefore in chess black wins.

Even now, almost 6 months later, Richie still prefers black and is disappointed when, after deep consideration he selects my left hand while choosing for colors only to find that it contains a white pawn. I let him play black anyway. I'm not sure whether to be pleased or alarmed when I notice him peeking from the side of my hands to get a read on which one contains the black pawn. I decide to save the ethics lesson for later.

Interestingly, most of the time I've tried to teach the kids to play I was really focusing on Alyssa. I just assumed that Richie was too young to learn much. Surprisingly, he seems to have learned almost as much as Alyssa has. I can see why, in families with several children, it is the youngest who generally seem to end up the more proficient at the game. I can think of a few examples: the Polgar's, Nakamura's, Shahade's. That's not to belittle the elder siblings accomplishments, but just to point out that the drive to beat the older sister or brother, can be a powerful motivator and accelerator of learning a game like chess.

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