15 September 2015

Dear Chess Parents

I am certain that your child will enjoy chess club. Perhaps you think of chess as a game that your child enjoys, or perhaps you think of it as something more than a game.

Benefits of Chess

Chess may improve your child's academic skills, emotional skills, and social skills. Chess improves mental skills of observation, pattern recognition, memory, analysis, logic, and critical thinking. Studies have demonstrated clear improvement in math and reading skills for students receiving a few hours of chess instruction per week. Chess competition encourages growth in the personal qualities of patience, self-control, coping with frustration, self-confidence, and self-esteem. Playing chess develops sportsmanship, responsibility, and respect for others. See "Benefits of Chess" for a slightly expanded list.

None of these gains are automatic. When skills learned in chess club are practiced at home, the benefits of chess develop. Chess skill also improves.

What Happens in Chess Club?

My youth chess clubs include in-school and after school groups across several age levels. There are also classes that function much like clubs. At least half of the time of chess club is spent playing chess, but there is also time for instruction.

Instruction may be as short as a few minutes or as long as half an hour. It varies week to week. Each week, I prepare a set of lessons. Lessons vary in difficulty and usually include elements designed to aid the skill development of everyone from beginners to seasoned tournament veterans. Often there are worksheets with elementary tactics exercises, and there is always a strategy or tactics problem. Sometimes there are a series of such problems arising from a single previously played game. The history of chess from the earliest recorded games more than five centuries ago to games played in tournaments today offer an inexhaustible source for chess instruction. Hence, my "lesson of the week" is rarely repeated.

I make an effort during chess club to work with each child individually, teaching and testing skills. My chess awards provide structure to these lessons. The awards are sequenced according to the relative value of the chess pieces: pawn, knight, bishop, rook, queen, and king. Each award is progressively more difficult than the preceding one. A child who works through the Rook level will become one of the top players in the area.

When a child can explain the basic rules and recognize checkmate, he or she earns the Pawn Award. The rules concerning castling and en passant are difficult for most young players. The next award is the Knight. To earn this award it is necessary to master elementary checkmates with rooks and queens, as well as other skills. Beginning with the Knight Award, the tactics problem worksheets that are part of each award can seem daunting. The twelve problems on the Knight Award worksheet involve some sophisticated tactical skills and knowledge of checkmate patterns.

These Knight Award problems are posted.

More information on the Knight Award can be found at "Lesson of the Week" (18 October 2011).

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