06 November 2011

Teaching the Rules of Chess

A Beginner's Confusion

At a youth tournament yesterday, I was called in by a judge to deal with a case where one player insisted that he had checkmated his opponent. The checkmated player did not understand that he was in checkmate. I had taught him to play when I taught the game in his first or second grade classroom. As a second grader, he was part of an in-school chess club that I run. Now in third grade, he is part of an after-school club. I continue to teach the basic rules in these clubs. Some of these children do not play chess at home.

The diagram below shows the essentials of the position. There were perhaps another dozen pieces on the board, more white than black.

Black to move

I asked him to show me where his king could legally move. The youth's argument was thus: if I move to f7 and he leaves his queen there, I can capture the queen on the next move. Can the queen capture your king, I asked. "No, you're not allowed to capture the king," he replied. But, I told him, you're not allowed to move your king where it may be captured. Is there any square where your king can move that it cannot be captured? We went a few rounds with this conversation before he acknowledged that he was indeed in checkmate.

Teaching the Rules

How does one explain the king's movement, check, and checkmate to young children? Do many chess teachers say that a player cannot capture the king? I've heard chess coaches tell children, "you cannot capture the king, you must checkmate him." I have expressed the basic rules in terms of a paradox: the object is to capture the king, but the king cannot be captured.

FIDE Rule 1.2 supports this notion:
Leaving one’s own king under attack, exposing one’s own king to attack and also "capturing" the opponent’s king are not allowed. The opponent whose king has been checkmated has lost the game.
FIDE Handbook, http://www.fide.com/fide/handbook
How does this prohibition against capturing the opponent's king function? If it is possible to capture the king, what must be done? If the king is in checkmate, the game is over. But, what do we do if the players failed to notice the check? What may be done if the player moved into check?

FIDE Rules, Article 7 addresses irregularities, including illegal moves.
If during a game it is found that an illegal move, including failing to meet the requirements of the promotion of a pawn or capturing the opponent’s king, has been completed, the position immediately before the irregularity shall be reinstated. (7.4.a)

After the action taken under Article 7.4.a, for the first two illegal moves by a player the arbiter shall give two minutes extra time to his opponent in each instance; for a third illegal move by the same player, the arbiter shall declare the game lost by this player. (7.4.b)
The position prior to the illegal move must be restored, and the game recommence by a legal move. In classrooms, I teach the children to politely request that their opponent recognize the check, take back the illegal move, and make a move that does not leave the king in check.

Sometimes the children learn these rules incompletely.

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