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Learning and Teaching How to Play Chess for Kids
Teaching your kid how to play chess will be a lifetime skill wherever they may be. Chess has been said to be the most popular game in the world. In today’s digital world, chess is still at the top. This game is a challenging, yet fun strategy game that can be found in the New York city streets all the way to Moscow and around the globe.
Teaching your kid how to place chess can be a difficult task if not done with the right approach. There can be many ways how you can teach your kid chess, this is a guide of what worked for me teaching my kids. My approach is simple and to the point, being a success for teaching my three boys (ages 8 and under) how to play chess and loving it at the same time.
Chesskid.com has a good article on this topic also. Their video is a nice quick way to teach your kid how to play chess in a fun way. You can check it here;
Before we get started in teaching each move, I want to mention some of the benefits of teaching your kid how to play chess.
It may seem challenging to think about teaching your young kid this game, but the benefits outway the challenges. Some of the known benefits of your kids playing chess are the following;
- Concentration – You will not believe how involved your kid will get in this game. Once your kid understands the concept of the game they will be able to sit there for a long time, playing.
- Learning the Skill of Strategizing- Chess is the ultimate game of strategizing. The most important part of the game is the ability to think three, four, five or more steps ahead of your opponent. This will help with your kid’s critical thinking skills.
- Memory Skills- During this game you have to develop different plans for different scenarios. You can be focusing on your plan of attack on your opponent’s side of the board and then forget your defense on your side. You will have to teach your kid to remember the whole board, making sure they don’t forget all their pieces and plans as they play the game.
- Chess helps develop the young mind- There have been plenty of studies showing the benefits of playing chess for your brain. From the creative right side of the brain development to the analytical and methodical, of the left side. One study I read was recently conducted in children in Venezuela, showing how playing chess daily had increased their IQ. Link here to see the article.
- The best benefit- Simply the time spent with your kid playing this game will be memories that last a lifetime. At 42 years old, I still remember playing with my Dad as one of my best memories. I look forward to playing with my kids when they get older and at the same time, help maintain my own brain functions😂 .
Okay, you can see, I can probably go on and on about the benefits of teaching your kid how to play Chess, but we shall get into the nitty-gritty now.
Setting Up The Board
- When teaching your kid how to play chess, the most important choice your kid will make is to choose Black or White 😊. This may sound funny, but to my kid, it’s always important. Choosing your color also has a small strategic value, as the rule of the game states the player using the white pieces will go first. A common phrase my Dad taught me and is commonly used to help remember is “smoke before fire” with White being represented by the term “smoke”.
2. To stay in my theme of keeping it simple, the light colored square of the board should be at the bottom right-hand side when looking at the board. All the pieces will have the same position each time you play. Set all the little pieces (Pawns) on the second row (or rank) from the player, horizontally filling in all the square spaces like so;
3. The rest of the pieces will fill in the first row (or rank). There are sets of two of the Rook (Castle), Knight (Horse) and Bishop. Starting with the Rooks, they will be placed at the corners of the board in the first row. Next to the Rook, should be the Knight, followed by the Bishops standing on either side of the King and Queen.
4. The King and Queen will be side by side, with the Queen being placed on the same color of the piece the player is using. For example, if using White, your Queen will start on the White square space and your White King piece being placed on the Black square space.
Once you are all set up the board should look like this;
When you’re ready to play, the White pieces (traditionally) will go first. Now the fun begins!! Oh but wait, how do these pieces move!! Well, let’s see…
The simplest and most basic piece on the board is the pawn. These are the smallest pieces and are used best for developing your “opening” strategy of your offense. In order to teach your kid in the most simplest form, these pieces only move forward. The first move of your pawn, you have the option of moving forward two spaces instead of one.
Moving one or two spaces forward for the first move will be totally up to the players’ strategy and/or personality. Moving two spaces forward will definitely speed up the game in the beginning.
While moving the pawn you will be wise to alternate them, moving one or two spaces forward, making sure one is protecting the other. If you have never played this may sound strange, but when I tell you a pawn can only attack diagonally FORWARD one space, you can understand.
Two Important things to remember for this piece, First, the Pawn can never move or attack going backward. You kid will test you on this 😉. Second, when there’s a piece directly in front of the Pawn, it cannot move, because it can only attack diagonally and cannot move past the piece blocking its way.
The diagram below will illustrate the movement of the pawn.
The Rook (Castle)
The Rook is a highly valued piece on the board, probably right under the Queen. The problem with this piece is getting it out to play. The Rook’s starting position in the corners of the board and it’s movement make it difficult to start the game using these pieces.
The Rook’s movement is straight up, down, left or right, as many spaces as you would like to move it, Forward or Backwards. Yes, if the board is open you can move from one side to the other in one sweeping move, to capture a piece! This is why this piece is so valuable.
The earlier you get these pieces involved in the game the better, but again, it is difficult to do with a crowded board at the beginning of the game.
The Knight (Horse)
The Knight is a very special piece and can be the favorite piece on the board. The movement of this piece will be the most difficult for your kid to understand. This piece will take some extra patience in teaching your kid.
To start, the Knight is the only piece on the board that can jump another piece. A good way to remind your kid the movement of this piece is to tell them it jumps like a horse 😊. From the space it is standing, it can move either one space in any direction and then two spaces in another direction OR two spaces in any direction and one space in another direction.
For instance, one to the right or left and two down or up or two to the left or right and one down or up. Any combination of either one from the position the Knight starts from will work. A good way to remember this movement is that it moves like the shape of the letter “L” in any direction. This is the only piece that can jump another piece, all other pieces cannot move past another piece by going over or through them.
The Diagram below will illustrate this move the best as it is difficult to explain and will take repeated practice for your kid to understand. Hint: They pick it up quick when you continue to capture their pieces with it ;).
*** Note, according to the United States Chess Federation rules website the Knight movement also includes a variation of this illustrated movement;
“This move is sometimes called an L move, as it is equivalent to moving the knight two squares vertically, then one
square horizontally (or two squares horizontally, then one square vertically).” (See provided link above for reference)
This piece can be used as another valuable piece if used correctly. The way this piece moves is ONLY in a diagonal position. It can move as many spaces as you wish in diagonal movements Forward or Backwards. It is similar to the Rook, in that you can move from one side of an empty board to the other, to capture a piece. The only difference being that its movement is in a diagonal way.
An advantage the Bishop has over the Rook is that you can get these pieces out early on in the game and can be important to start off your strategy early. To be honest, I personally use these pieces to find vulnerabilities of my opponent and open the game up. I tend to sacrifice these pieces in trades (one for one) and value the Knight more.
Keep in mind, the two Bishops you will have, one will move along the black squares and the other one along the white, throughout the game.
The best way to teach your kid the movements of the Queen and to make sure he/she understands how powerful she is is to tell them it’s just like home 😁. The movements of the Queen is similar to the Rook and Bishop combined. Yes, left or right, forward or backward, diagonally or straight along the square spaces this piece can do it all.
This piece is by far the most powerful piece on the board. Be careful not to overuse this piece, trying to get it involved too early can leave it to getting captured and a big handicap for the rest of the game. When playing with your kid, try not to use it at all until he/she gets comfortable with the game.
The King is the most important piece on the board. Ironically it is one of the weakest because its movements are very limited. The King moves one space in any direction and that’s pretty much it. The King is really not meant to be moved around the board, but instead, to be protected at all times.
Now the special moves…
En passant– Don’t stress about the fancy name (French for in passing), a matter of fact, don’t stress about this move at all. Yes, technically you should know about it, but to be honest I never used it or taught it to my own kid. In case you would like to use it though, this move occurs while moving the pawns.
En passant happens when you first move your Pawn two spaces passed an opponent’s pawn, preventing them from capturing you diagonally. The opponent can capture your pawn only in the following move. If he does not, he/she missed their opportunity. Yes, sounds confusing to me too and like I said, you will not be at any real disadvantage if you decide to forgo this move until later on.
Castling- This is a pretty cool move and can be a great advantage during the game. You will not always need to make this move and it will not be necessary to teach your kid right away. Different than En passant, I would definitely teach this move soon after he/she understands the rest of the game.
Castling occurs when you move your King two spaces toward the Castle, while the Castle hops over to the other side of him. You cannot make this move if you have already moved the King or Castle before, it must be the first time you move both pieces. This will be the only time the King can move more than one space. This move is also the only time you can move two of your own pieces at the same time. You cannot make this move if your King is in check (we will discuss check later).
This move is important when your King is exposed and needs added protection. During the same time, the Castle is placed in a better position (more in the open) allowing for better-attacking moves.
Some Important things to remember while completing this move. This move can only be completed when the following conditions are in place;
- It must be the first movement of the King and Castle.
- There can be no pieces in between the King and Castle.
- You cannot make this move to get your King out of Check.
- Even though the King is closer to one side of the board than the other, the King will only move two spaces either way, with the Castle moving to the other side of the King.
Below is a picture of how it will look when you decide to Castle. The other side will be the opposite will look the same at the end of your move.
Pawn Promotion- This is always a fun move and usually occurs during the end of a game when one player is decidedly winning if it occurs at all. This move occurs when you are able to get your Pawn all the way across the board onto the last row. Once your Pawn lands on the space you can change it into any piece you wish (technically), but more often than not, the Queen is chosen. And yes, you can have more than one Queen on the board! As rare as this might be, once you promote more than one Queen, Castles and so forth become Queens also. A little imagination comes into play here 😉.
Now that we have gone over the setup and the movements of the pieces on the board, let’s talk about the whole point of the game, Winning!
The object of the game is to capture the King. You capture the King by putting it in a position where he is threatened. Once you have put one of your pieces in a position to attack the King in the next move, you must announce “Check” out loud to your opponent. When you announce “Check” to your opponent, they must get out of “Check” by using one of three different options.
- Move out of check,
- Attack the piece putting it in check.
- Block the piece that is putting it in check.
If the player cannot do any of the three different options, this is called “Checkmate”. This is the way you win in the game of Chess. Checkmate is the ultimate goal of the game and you announce it to your opponent out loud. As much as your kid will want to take the King, it is not necessary to win the game.
A Draw can happen when…
Both players simply agree to call it “quits”. This can occasionally happen when both players are down to a King and another piece of equal value. At this point, both players will basically be chasing each other around the board and may be worth the draw.
Another reason a draw can happen is when a player makes the same move three times for no reason other than to move or there are over Fifty consecutive moves with neither player moving a Pawn or capturing a piece. There are a few more reason I may have missed, but they will show themselves and it should be obvious a draw should be called.
A Stalemate is when your King is in a position where he is NOT in check, but your only move is to move the King, placing him in check. In Chess you cannot move your King into a Check position, therefore a Stalemate will be called and NO WINNER is declared.
If you would like to know the most frustrating end to a game, end it this way. There is no more frustrating feeling after taking your opponents pieces and really handing it to him/her and then get caught in a Stalemate.
As frustrating as a Stalemate can be for the winning player, it can also be the best way to get back at your opponent for the losing player. If you are in the losing end of the battle you can try and place yourself in a position to get a Stalemate called and not take the loss 😉.
Some more important points to the game…
Don’t forget to protect your King! Make sure to protect your King throughout the game. Kid’s and adults can get caught up in trying to capture pieces and putting your opponent’s King in Checkmate.
Don’t carelessly give pieces away, if you have to lose a piece, try to make it worth it by having a plan behind it. There is a value system, based on a point system for each piece, but you can value your pieces on your own as you continue to learn the game.
Don’t put off Castling, when you first get a chance to do it, get er done 😁. The King is in a more secure position near the corner and the Castle is in a better attacking position.
Don’t give up the middle of the board. Playing for control of the middle of the board is a winning strategy. You can read up on many strategies to fine tune your skills as you play. A good place to find official rules and strategies is U.S. Chess.org or Chess.com. You can get more in detail and even play right from the site.
Don’t let your kid get into a bad habit of moving and then changing his mind to move it again. It is actually a rule that once your hand is taken off the piece your move is finished. Don’t go crazy with it, but definitely start to instill this rule early, as you allow for some learning errors.
Alright enough with the “Don’ts”
Do have FUN! If you spend to much time correcting your kid while teaching him how to play chess, he most likely will hate it. Allow for mistakes and gradually correct them as they continue to learn.
The following steps have helped not only in teaching my kids how to play chess but have also instilled a love of the game that keeps them wanting to play more.
First, build it up.
Conveniently have them see people play chess 😉. As they watch tell them about the game and tell them “one day when your older, I will teach you”. You shall see, every day after, “Am I older enough to learn chess?”😊.
Start Slow, and have fun.
Sure you can sit there for hours and teach them each move of each piece and practice how each piece moves in every scenario. For me, I put the pieces on the board and taught as we played. As soon as I captured one of his and let him captured one of mine he understood what was happening😊.
This one goes along the same lines as the last point. Please, for the sake of your kid, don’t bore them with hours of “this piece does that and this piece does this”. Sure they need to know, but teach them as your playing. This will help keep their interest in the game and not want to grab the PS4 game controller instead 😊.
One scenario at a time.
After the basic steps of moving pawns one or two spaces forward, scenarios will arise to teach them how and when they should move their pieces. This kept it interesting and quickly intrigued my kid of how the game is played.
Encouragement and Patience.
There is a lot to learn in this game and it may seem overwhelming for a young kid. He may have a bunch of different plans on how he can move only to realize later, that they all won’t work. Encouragement is key to developing your kid’s love of the game, you have to give them some wins :). Be patient, it will take them some time to understand the moves of each piece and can be discouraging if you constantly have to tell them “no you can’t do that”. Correct them and then show them the different options they have to move the piece correctly.
Single player games on your phone App. won’t cut it. Time teaching (playing) with your kid how to play chess is the best option. Making the time to play can be difficult, but well worth it. Our everyday busy schedules can get the better of us sometimes, but you have to spend the time with them to teach them correctly. Relying on a computer version to teach your kid will not develop the love of the game and produce the memories you guys will have for a lifetime. For the times you can’t make it to teach your kid, a good option is Solitaire Chess. I will describe this game below.
One good way to help your kid to start out is by using Solitaire Chess. Check out the Amazon link and review below to see if you agree. The review came from our previous article Best 10 STEM/Educational Gifts Ideas.
Solitaire Chess – Mind Capturing Logic Game (8+) by ThinkFun
←Link to Solitaire Chess. This is a great Chess Starter up game.
Solitaire Chess is another great single player Logic Game by ThinkFun. This game can be used by kid chess players to improves their chess skills, but it could also be a great way to teach a non-chess player the basics of the game. With Solitaire Chess, the player captures the pieces, following the rules of movement for each piece, until they have only one piece left on the board. You can read the rest of the review on our previously mentioned article.
I went into further detail then I wanted too, but there is a lot to learn when first starting out. Don’t get caught up in the details of the game. When you figure out the setup of the board, learn how the pieces move as you play. Finally, the best way to learn how to play chess and become better is to play, play and play.
←Links to Chess Paperback book & Game Board.
I hope you will find the information in this article useful in teaching your kid how to play chess and maybe even yourself. Have fun and Chess Along 😉
Juno’s not so better half,