Monday, December 10, 2007

Chess Variant for Kids and Encouraging Multiple Move Considerations

Michael recommended that I play a game with the kids where I give them all of the pieces vs. my lone king. The idea is that it is difficult for young children to coordinate several pieces or visualize the lines of force from multiple attackers. It also reinforces the concept of stalemate which can be hard to avoid when there are too many pieces in play.

I played a few times with Richie, who really likes this variant because of the huge advantage, I guess. On Michael's suggestion I enforced the touch-move rule. The first game ended in stalemate and I captured one piece that was left hanging. The second game he checkmated me by getting a second queen.

After that I decided to remove his two center pawns and Queen, and I told him he was not allowed to make a new queen. At the start of the third game, he hung a piece again and was a making a few aimless moves when there were "obvious" better moves available. So tried a new experiment which worked out pretty well, I think. He was in the habit of touching a piece before actually deciding where it should go. That's pretty natural for new players. I can remember doing this myself--keeping my finger on the piece after I moved while I "looked around" to see if it was a good spot. But in order to slowly get him used to planning his moves a little more, I asked him before each move to point (without touching) to the piece he wanted to move and then point to where he wanted to move it. Then, I asked him to pick another piece (or I suggested another piece to consider), and I asked him to point to a move for that piece. Finally I asked him which of the two choices he preferred and asked him to move. Interestingly, when I did it this way, he was reasonably likely to choose the stronger of the two moves, usually picking the move that checked the King. At least once, though, he preferred his initial move.

The last game ended with R to f8 checkmate which he found after I said "you can checkmate me in one move!" but it was a bit of an accident as he didn't immediately see what prevented me from escaping to d2. I think he's figuring that checkmate usually happens when he moves a piece next to the king! I also was surprised when he used a discovered check on me for the first time on purpose.

Alyssa's attempt using all pieces demonstrated a preference for symmetry which I found interesting. All of her moves were made to preserve symmetry up until the end.

I produced the ending position diagram with this editor. I recommend it as it's very easy to use. "You can set up an arbitrary position (as many queens as you want or black pieces at the bottom) and generate a JPEG image of the chessboard. Everything happens online through your browser. No downloads, no applets."

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