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The other night while playing checkers with my 5 year old, he told me that he wanted to make up a game using the checkerboard which had different pieces that could do different things. I told him that there was a game already like that called chess. So I got out the pieces and we went through them and talked about what their names were and how they move and he seemed to enjoy it.

My question is, are there any techniques or simplified rules or setups that can help teach the game of chess?

I was thinking of setting the board with only pawns and kings and playing a game. Then adding in the rooks and playing, add the knights and play until we have all the pieces. What do you think?

Any other ideas or suggestions?

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I think the answer also depends on what you want out of this. A top level player or someone who is familiar with the game. Both require different efforts. –  picakhu Nov 15 '11 at 18:43
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10 Answers 10

up vote 16 down vote accepted

I highly suggest taking him through the puzzles in Polgar's book.

The book starts off with very simple chess problems, with only a handful of pieces, with the idea of "solve for checkmate in x moves". The problems are designed with a logical progression, highlighting specific tactics and strategies, and become increasingly complex and demonstrating more advanced concepts that build upon lessons learned from earlier puzzles. Polgar used the puzzles in this book to teach his daughters, who each became grandmaster players in their own right.

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Yours is a good idea: introduce him to the pieces gradually (though not too gradually - five-year olds learn fast!).

Here's another one: to make sure the rules of moving stick, place a piece on the empty board before each game, and ask him to point out all the spaces that piece can move to.
After he's got that down (a few days/weeks, depending on how often you play), set up actual positions, point to a piece, and ask him what squares that piece can move to (including captures).
After that, set up simple positions where the king is in check, and ask him if it's checkmate or not.

A good beginners book which has lots of "checkmate-or-not?" examples is Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess (which was not actually written by Bobby Fischer).

Make sure you play actual games with him between exercises. And don't forget to introduce castling and En Passant (I mention this because many beginners do not even know about these rules).

And don't forget the most important thing: make sure he's having fun. Losing is never fun, so take it easy on him for now.

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To make the game more even, so You don't win all the time, You can start f.i. without your queen. (That's how my dad taught me...) –  erikH Sep 29 '11 at 13:26
    
@erikH, Although I agree that it is a good idea to start with a piece down, I think it is better to play with all pieces and get into the habit of notating and analyzing games. I know I was notating when I was 7 (I started that year), so at 5, that should not be an issue. –  picakhu Nov 15 '11 at 18:40
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Go get Emanuel Lasker's Manual of Chess (there is a modern version with modern notation). It is an old book and definitely as a full book too detailed for a 5 year old, but the structure it offers to teach chess would be a very solid one for you to use with your son.

In particular it does a bit of what others have suggested but in a more formalized manner - it STARTS with the endgame (how to checkmate with just a few pieces), builds up to the middlegame (tactical decisions in a given position) and only towards the end of the book does it cover opening - what to do, how to think about the opening, how to make decisions (Lasker isn't a fan or proponent of memorization in the opening).

For a 5 year old I would suggest starting with puzzles with just a few pieces in various endgame positions - that teach him how each piece moves and how to win the game. Then I would move into other puzzle like middlegame positions along with starting to play full games. My grandfather taught me at a similar age by playing without his queen - but I wouldn't suggest this technique.

The keys are - play with him, have fun with it and mix up puzzles with games (based on what he is interested in paying attention to). Don't focus on the dull aspects of chess (memorization of openings) - instead focus on teaching him how the pieces move and start to teach him to think strategically - to look forward a few moves and start to make decisions about what to move based on likely outcomes many moves ahead.

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My question is, are there any techniques or simplified rules or setups that can help teach the game of chess?

Not really. He has to learn how each piece moves, What is the starting position, then how to check mate, then some openings.

I was thinking of setting the board with only pawns and kings and playing a game. Then adding in the rooks and playing, add the knights and play until we have all the pieces. What do you think?

Sounds good, but it is better to learn how each piece move.

Any other ideas or suggestions?

If you are bad teacher (like me), then I suggest you to get a book, and start reading it to your kid.

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Chess (as any other complex system) consists of: 1) Parts(pieces), 2) Interrelationships between them, 3) Goal/purpose. Seeing these interrelations and understanding roles/functions pieces have when interconnected is the most critical skill to acquire early. The same way as a QB must develop a great field vision with the ability to quickly scan the field for open receivers, in order to instantaneously capture the current line-up of all players on the field, who is being blocked, who is open, etc.

These basic contacts are: a) attack (2 enemy pieces involved), b) protection (2), c) restriction (2), d) blocking/pin (3 pieces involved).

All the above contacts are linear in nature, two points on the line, mere geometry, and every 4-year old kid can see it easily.

This should be absorbed in the first few weeks until it becomes second nature to give you a great board vision where you see/feel board contacts almost unconsciously and with no effort (like QB). It is then a solid foundation to teach and learn all other concepts in chess (tactics, strategy, coordination of pieces, etc.).

I've dedicated my chess blog to issues of modern teaching and learning chess backed on recent findings in neuroscience and psychology.

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Forks can involve up to 4 pieces, and knight movement is a bit more complicated than linear geometry. That aside, I'm not sure I'm seeing how this actually answers the question. Developing board vision is definitely important, but how do you teach a 5 year old to develop it? –  Beofett Oct 10 '11 at 14:16
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One thing I noticed which has still not been suggested is to teach the cooridinates and have him memorize the color of each square.

Ultimately he should be able to give you the color of each coordinate ("d6"=black, "h3"=white etc) without looking at the board. And also the names of each sqare on a given diagonal (for example "c5"=a3,b4,d6, etc.)

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Wow, can't get much more dry and boring than that... –  bwarner Oct 11 '11 at 13:25
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I think at 5 this is simply unnecessary and at the very least stupid. –  picakhu Nov 15 '11 at 18:41
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I am teaching an 8-year-old right now. He is so competitive that he was immediately addicted. We play with all the pieces. I think this is fine because he wants to feel he's being challenged and playing like an adult. When he wants to move a piece, and isn't sure what his legal moves are, he just asks me, and we talk through which moves are a good idea and which are not. I let the game go for a long time so he can have fun moving the pieces and taking the pawns. He has quickly developed a good sense of cause and effect, and knows not to move his pieces into the path of opponent pieces.

Before or after a game we often go over the legal moves for each piece with an empty board, or we set up one of the positions that occurred during the game and talk through it again.

There are good chess books out there that are written for kids. I just ordered [Chess for Children].1 This book would probably work fine for a 5-year-old, with an adult reading along. The boy I'm teaching had some difficulty with handling the little pieces of my book-style wooden set. He would also get so excited sometimes that he would knock the pieces over. So I got him a cheap vinyl tournament board and triple-weighted plastic pieces. This larger board and pieces is much easier for him.

The hardest concept seems to be checkmate. As in "I watch movies and play video games where it's kill kill kill, and now you want me to just keep this guy from moving?!" It's a very adult concept, and probably a good one for kids to learn.

I think the biggest thing at that age is to just keep it fun. If you can keep him playing, you are doing wonderful things for his critical thinking and spatial skills. He is learning how to think ahead, and he is developing a nuanced model for human interactions, including conflict and consequences.

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For a child that young, I'd suggest No Stress Chess. You begin by taking a card each turn that describes one of the pieces and how it moves. You have to make that move with one of your pieces. You win when you capture the opponents king.

Once the child gets the hang of how all the pieces move, there are transition games giving you more autonomy until you graduate to regular chess.

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Unlike GO, handicapping chess with missing pieces completely distorts the game; it is better to handicap on time. Buy a a chess clock, and use it for the game. Give yourself 5 minutes for a game, and give your son 60-75 minutes or more. This will give him a chance to actually win (because you are under such time pressure). From the start let him know that whenever he wins twice in a row, you increase your time by 1 minute for future games.

Nothing in his small world will compete with the thrill of his first victory against Dad; with the first victory against Dad at 30 minutes; and the first victory against Dad at even time.

Buy two small chess books on openings and combinations for yourself (not for him, hint hint, as that would be to much pressure) and leave them (in a book case or similar) where he can find them accidentally. Second hand books would be even better than new, so they look like old books of yours.

Prepare to be amazed at his progress.

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At that age they will have a bit of trouble just figuring out how pieces move. It will take a few games for them to remember it. In games with kids that are too young to quickly grasp how pieces move I simply make sure that on nearly every move I have a piece available for them to take (for free), and the problem I pose to them is which piece they can take and how.

When they have that clear in their mind, which may take more than one game, then it naturally transitions into things like "you can take this piece, but if you do then this other piece can take yours, this other piece is guarding that one".

Until movement and taking of pieces is transparent to them, they cannot really move forward.

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