Chess Education

Researched, compiled, written and copyright 2005-15 by David Cohen. Last updated: 2015.06.17.
Main web site & contact: Canadian Chess.

Chess


What is chess?

Chess is a board game played by two people.

Where did chess come from?

When Alexander of Macedonia invaded India with his army from Greece, over 2,300 years ago, he tried to combine the two cultures. Chess resulted from the combination of the logic games of Greece and the race games of India. Think of the logic of how the pieces move, and the racing of pawns to the opposite sides of the board.

The board represents a battlefield. The pieces represent the Indian army’s leader (king); advisor to the leader (queen); and four components: infantry (pawn), cavalry (knight), chariotry (rook) and elephantry (bishop).

Chess spread to the East to China and Japan, as well as across the Arabic world and into Europe. From there, chess came to Canada around the 17th century, brought from England and France by explorers and the military.


Why play chess?

In a learning environment, chess can help you improve your math, logic, sports, and life skills.

Skills Developed by Chess


Math Skills

Children develop math skills with chess because of a common requirement of chess and math: visualization. This usually occurs in Grade 2 (at age 7). Chess develops visualization abilities as follows:


Reading skills

Reading comprehension is improved because sorting out what is important in a chess position is the same as sorting out the contents of a multi-media web page.

Logic Skills

Critical thinking skills can be developed from chess in the field of logic, with applications to reading, writing, research, and learning:

The development of these skills is due to the forced alternation of moves by the two players of the game. To have any success in a chess game, a child must learn to reason as follows:

"If I do this (move 1), then my opponent will do that (move 2)"; and

"If I do this (move choice 1), then it will be a better result for me than if I do that (move choice 2)".

Celebrity quote

"Chess really taught me how to think critically and to consider all possible alternatives to my decisions."

- Ahmed El-Sohemy, Researcher, Universityy of Toronto.
'Going Places - Ahmed El-Sohemy - Finding genes that fit', Toronto Star, Thursday 2004.01.01, p.B2.


Sports Skills

Chess can help you with your (team) sports:

Celebrity quotes

Rowing

"Q. What are some things people might not know about Marnie McBean?

A. My first trophy was a chess trophy. I used to play in a lot of chess tournaments; I was a little Bobby Fischer. I was ranked in Canada for under-16 in the top 25 one year."

"One of the jobs I have in the boat is dealing with strategy and tactics. It's my responsibility to talk to Kathleen Heddle, my partner, to inform her of what is going on around us. I have to anticipate not only our weaknesses but also our strengths, as well as the weaknesses and strengths of our opposition. I have to anticipate the moves of the opposition around us. I think that my gift for that has come from my background in chess. Chess led me to develop a strategist's mind by teaching me how to think tactically, and how to think about options, selections and different possibilities. I think that my background in chess has made me one of the best racers and one of the best bowsmen in the world."

- Marnie McBean, 3-time Olympic Gold Medaal Rower.
"McBean at 35: Still strokin'", interview by Randy Starkman, Toronto Star, Sunday 2003.11.09, p. E2. Quote reprinted in En Passant 142, 1997.02, p.33.

Boxing

"I always felt chess was very good for boxers. They've got to think ahead about their moves; they can't just be reactive."

- Adrian Teodorescu, Atlas Boxing Club, TToronto, former Canadian national coach, and Lennox Lewis' boxing trainer in his amateur years.
'Lennox Lewis: Final Round - Leaving as lord of the ring' by Kevin Ward, Toronto Star, Saturday, 2004.02.07, p.C3.

"Q. When did you learn to play chess?

A. During high school, and actually my [amateur boxing trainer] Adrian Teodorescu helped me develop it.

Q. What is it about chess that appeals to you?

A. There's strategy involved, there's thinking. You have different opportunities to use [pieces] that all work differently and you have to decide which [pieces] you want to work for your best advantage."

- Lennox Lewis, chess expert; Olympic Golld Medal in boxing for Canada 1988; World Heavyweight Boxing Champion 1992-4, 1997-2001, 2001-4.
'The king of the world', interview by Randy Starkman, Toronto Star, Tuesday, 2002.11.12, p.C3.

Baseball

"[In both baseball and chess, you are] always looking ahead [and cannot] afford to underestimate your opponent."

- Ron Guidry, major league baseball pitchher, New York Yankees 1975-88; 4-time All-Star (1978-9, 1982-3); winner 5 Gold Glove awards 1982-6; winner Cy Young award for best pitcher 1978; winner two World Series Championships 1977-8.
Cover story, 'Ron Guidry: A fierce competitor on the field and the board' by Bruce Pandolfini, Chess Life, 1983.09, p.6.

"[When playing chess, Ron Guidry] puts up a poker face and cleverly disguises his intentions."

- Bruce Pandolfini, chess author.
Cover story, 'Ron Guidry: A fierce competitor on the field and the board' by Bruce Pandolfini, Chess Life, 1983.09, p.6.

"At one point he [Roy Halladay] took up chess, which emphasized some of the skills required by a pitcher: attention to detail, thinking several moves ahead."

- 'Halladay: a master of detail' by Cathal Kelly, Toronto Star 2007.03.12, p.E6 on Roy Halladay, pitcher, Toronto Blue Jays.

"I enjoyed it, but it kinda became a distraction. It's one of those things you get caught up in, you find you're doing way too much. I had to limit it."

- Roy Halladay, pitcher, Toronto Blue Jayys
'Halladay: a master of detail' by Cathal Kelly, Toronto Star 2007.03.12, p.E6.

Basketball

In 1935, the Ontario men's basketball champions from Long Branch (Toronto) played chess once per week!
- 'Basketball Champions Developing into CChess Fiends', Toronto Star, 1935.11.19.

"... the [chess] competition was very steep and very exciting."

- Elvin Hayes, basketball player; 1968 USS College Player of the Year; 16 years (1968-84) in National Basketball Association (NBA); 12-time NBA All-Star; among top four all-time in NBA for games and minutes played, points scored, and rebounds; won NBA Championship 1977-78; member Basketball Hall of Fame, NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.
'Celebrities and Chess' by Irwin Fisk, Chess Life, 1992.01, p.88.

"But [opponents are] going to try their best not to let me do that. Then it becomes a chess match. I just have to out-think the defence."

- Chris Bosh, Toronto Raptors.
' Bosh feeling the pinch in the post' by Dave Feschuk, Toronto Star, 2007.03.06, p.C2


Life Skills

In the right teaching environment, chess can be used to develop a wide range of life skills for the student's personal growth and ability to interact socially. Here are some examples:


Learning by levels


Pawn Level

Board and Pieces

Requirements

Knowledge

Ability

Recommended reading


Knight Level

Rules

Requirements

Knowledge

Ability

Recommended reading


Bishop Level

Tactics (basic)

Requirements

Knowledge

Ability

Recommended reading


Rook Level

Tactics (intermediate)

Requirements

Knowledge

Ability

Recommended reading


Queen Level

Tactics (advanced)

Requirements

Knowledge

Ability

Recommended reading


King Level

Strategy (basic)

Requirements

Knowledge

Ability

Recommended reading


Recommended reading list

Beginner and Intermediate Levels

For Beginner (Pawn, Knight) and Intermediate (Bishop, Rook, Queen, King) levels, please see the recommended readings for each level.

Advanced Levels

You need to combine reading, practice exercises, and competition. The rating you obtain in competitions will reflect your knowledge and skill. At a young age, you learn quickly, so your rating will likely be lower than you'd expect; don't worry, it should catch up to your knowledge and skill level as you continue to play.

A rating of 1200 is average for everyone who plays chess (casual and competitive). A rating of 1600 is average for everyone who plays in chess competitions. When you have completed the books at the Beginner and Intermediate Levels, and your playing strength is roughly in this range (1200-1600), then you are ready for the following books which are recommended for your continued progress and enjoyment of chess.

Tactics

Any book of practice diagrams is good. If you know the category of tactic, e.g., double attack, then you can study and practice this particular tactic. On the other hand, if you are presented with a diagram of a position with no hint of the tactic involved, then you can better place yourself in game situations.

Encyclopedia of Middlegame Combinations published by Informant
Anthology of Middlegame Combinations published by Informant

Strategy

Middle Game in Chess by Eugene Znosko-Borovsky
Modern Ideas in Chess by Richard Reti
My System by Aron Nimzovich
Judgement and Planning in Chess by Machgielis (Max) Euwe
Middle Game by Machgielis (Max) Euwe & H. Kramer
Ideas Behind the Chess Openings by Reuben Fine - pawn structure
Modern Chess Strategy by Ludek Pachman
Art of Attack by Vladimir Vukovic
Art of the Middlegame by Paul Keres & Alexander Kotov
Think Like a Grandmaster by Alexander Kotov
Play Like a Grandmaster by Alexander Kotov
Elements of Positional Evaluation by Dan Heisman - modern theory on piece mobility
New York Times Book of Great Chess Victories and Defeats by Robert Byrne
Test Your Opening, Middlegame and Endgame Play by Ken Smith and Roy DeVault

World Champions and Grandmasters

Play through their games. The best way to do this is with a book annotated by the player.

All match games played for the World Championship from Wilhelm Steinitz (1886) - Gary Kasparov (2000):

Wilhelm Steinitz (1886) - Alexander Alekhin (1937)
Mikhail Botvinnik (1948) - Robert Fischer (1972) - especially Tal-Botvinnik 1960 by Mikhail Tal
Anatoly Karpov (1978) - Gary Kasparov (2000)

One book per player of annotated games:

Adolph Anderssen
Paul Morphy Chess Masterpieces by Fred Reinfeld and Andrew Soltis - 40 games
Wilhelm Steinitz
Emanuel Lasker
Akiba Rubinstein's Chess Masterpieces by Hans Kmoch - 100 games
Chess Praxis by Aron Nimzovich
My Chess Career by Jose Capablanca
My Best Games by Alexander Alekhin - originally 2 books
Complete Games of Paul Keres by Paul Keres - originally 3 books
15 Games and their Stories by Mikhail Botvinnik, Botvinnik on the Endgame by Mikhail Botvinnik
200 Open Games by David Bronstein
My Best Games of Chess, 1935-1957 by Vasily Smyslov - 100 games
Life and Games of Mikhail Tal by Mikhail Tal - 100 games
Tigran Petrosian
Spassky's 100 Best Games by Boris Spassky - 100 games
My 60 Memorable Games by Robert Fischer - 60 games
Anatoly Karpov
Gary Kasparov

Grandmaster Tournaments

Play through these games. The best way to do this is with the annotated book of the tournament.

Hastings 1895 - originally edited by Horace Cheshire
Saint Petersburg 1914
New York 1924 by Alexander Alekhin
New York 1927
Nottingham 1936 by Alexander Alekhin
Avro 1938
Zurich 1953 by David Bronstein - also excellent for strategy

Enjoyment

Any book by Irving Chernev.

What to eat before your after-school chess

What is a good snack for kids immediately after classes end, and before they start their after-school chess program?

Here are the recommendations of Julie Daniluk, nutritionist at The Big Carrot food co-op in Toronto, made in response to my question on City-TV's Perfect Fit show hosted by Tonya Rouse, 2007.03.15.

Constraints were: nut-free, and affordable for low-income.

Fruits such as apples and bananas are best.

Kids won't eat these because they are boring, so they need to be disguised and made fun, as follows:


Running a tournament

Children should not be pushed to play in a tournament. When they ask for it, here is how to run a tournament. You can find more detailed descriptions in publications available from national and international chess organizations.

A win is 1 point, a draw is 1/2 point, a loss is 0 points.

Swiss Style

Swiss style can be used for larger groups, e.g., more than 8 players. This would be the case if you don't want to break the larger group up into smaller groups; or if you are running a different round of the same competition each week.

The use of knock-out tournaments is discouraged. Notice that the Swiss style is actually a form of a knock-out event, but one that lets everyone not in the running for first place continue to play.

1. Rank the players by playing strength (rating) from strongest (highest rating) to weakest (lowest rating).

2. Divide the group in two. The player at the top of the first (higher) half plays the player at the top of the second (lower) half, and so on down the line.

3. After the first round, the players are first divided into groups based on how many points they have. Rank them by total score, with the highest point total in the top group. Within each group, you pair them as previously described. When you have an odd number in a group, take a player from the next group down.

4. If you are keeping track of colours, then balance out players' colours every even numbered round, so they get White half the time. Otherwise, just ask them to choose their colours randomly every time.

Round-robin Style

Round-robin (all-play-all) style can be used for smaller groups. It works best when you have a group of players of similar strength, and all of the games will be completed during one session. Don't keep anyone waiting; as soon as possible after they finish a game, find them another game (i.e., ignore the fact that there are 'rounds').

When you have an odd number of players, do not assign the highest number; the player matched with it has a bye, and must wait for another game to finish.

If you expect 4 players, then use the chart for 6 players, in case one or two more people arrive late. Simply leave the top and bottom spots (1, 6) blank, and use them if necessary.

The number on the left plays White.

3 or 4 players

1 - 1:4, 2:3
2 - 4:3, 1:2
3 - 2:4, 3:1

5 or 6 players

1 - 1:6, 2:5, 3:4
2 - 6:4, 5:3, 1:2
3 - 2:6, 3:1, 4:5
4 - 6:5, 1:4, 2:3
5 - 3:6, 4:2, 5:1

7 or 8 players

1 - 1:8, 2:7, 3:6, 4:5
2 - 8:5, 6:4, 7:3, 1:2
3 - 2:8, 3:1, 4:7, 5:6
4 - 8:6, 7:5, 1:4, 2:3
5 - 3:8, 4:2, 5:1, 6:7
6 - 8:7, 1:6, 2:5, 3:4
7 - 4:8, 5:3, 6:2, 7:1

Double chess (bughouse)

Rules


Acknowledgements

Thanks to Grandmaster Yuri Averbakh for citations for his theory on the origins of chess.

Sources: V poiskah istiny (Looking for a truth), by Yuri Averbakh, Moscow, 1992; presented by Yuri Averbakh at the 4th International colloquium "The board-games in Academia", Fribourg, Switzerland, 2002, published in Step by step, University of Fribourg, 2002. Averbakh's ideas were also presented in Chess: an illustrated history by Raymond Keene, Simon and Schuster, 1990.