Tips on Teaching Beginners

b0091obI started teaching chess about ten years ago in Chicago. In that time, scholastic chess has exploded throughout the United States, which is quite amazing to see. Chess has the power to shape the minds of children and prepare them for challenges that they may later face in life. This is why I was thrilled when one year ago Metropolitan Chess approached me to start a new program called California Chess School. Over the past year, I have been able to build CA Chess to run programs in 20 schools and teach over 200 students thus far in Northern and Southern California. One thing that we felt was missing from many current scholastic programs was a good supplemental workbook that the students could go through while at home, helping them retain as much information as possible. For this reason I wrote my first scholastic chess book: The Standard Chess Workbook: Beginner, which was released in Fall last year. In this book I present all of the rules of chess (piece movement, captures, check, checkmate, castling, and En Passant) in a fun and engaging way. The book is packed full of diagrams, cartoons, and exercise problems with solutions. We gave each CA Chess student a free copy of the Standard Chess Workbook, but it’s important to stress that when it comes to teaching beginners, especially children, a book cannot replace the value of a good teacher, whether in school or at home. For this reason, I wanted to share five big tips for teaching chess to beginner students: 1. Start Slow – The board, the pieces, and the rules Introduce the board and the squares first. Then teach each piece individually and show their full range of movement. Use mini-games like pawns vs. pawns only or just pawns & kings. Only use the full set when the student can demonstrate full knowledge of every piece. Once students can play with all of the pieces, spend a lot of time on the differences between check, checkmate, and stalemate. 2. Encourage Thoughtful Calculation Tell students that chess is the only game where you can tell the future! Tell them to list the options in their heads. Make sure they are calculating the opponent’s moves as well as their own. Then choose the best move after they take their time. And, for the perfectionists, to choose good practical moves instead of trying to calculate everything. 3. Make Sportsmanship a Priority Have students start the game with a handshake and “good luck”. They should end each game with a handshake and say “good game”, no matter who won. Stress that it is important to play by the rules and learn from their mistakes. Disputes are bound to happen but be clear that arguing is not acceptable. They should raise their hands and ask for help from the teacher/tournament director when they cannot agree. These basic rules will help keep the classroom civil and foster polite, respectful development. 4. Focus on Principles Once students demonstrate an understanding of the basic rules, the basic principles behind endgame and opening play are essential. Students need to learn endgame principles such as opposition and the ‘square of the pawn’ along with learning how to checkmate with King & Queen and King & Rook. They should focus on the steps/goals (drive the enemy king to the edge of the board) first and foremost rather than rote memorization of a technique. The same is true for the opening. Memorizing opening lines is not important and may be detrimental to their play in the long run. If they know the major principles of development, central control and king safety, then they will not need to learn any opening lines until they reach higher levels of play. 5. Use Examples from Real Games Students need role models as well as model games. Show games that illustrate basic checkmate patterns and tactics; plus use stories and anecdotes about the players behind the moves. Chess can spring to life in a child’s mind when there is a real person behind the games. The achievements of historical and modern chess players will give students motivation and hopes for potential achievement. These players and games will provide education in all chess topics and will give the game a deeper meaning than pieces on a board of 64 squares. If you found these tips useful, or if you have any other suggestions to add, please let me know in the comments section, I’d love to hear from parents and coaches alike. The Standard Chess Workbook is currently available for individual sale as well as wholesale for use by scholastic chess programs throughout the world. I am currently working on SCW: Intermediate and SCW: Advanced, which are due to be released later this year! For more information about California Chess School, please visit You can pick up a copy of the book at USCF Sales.