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March 14 - Chess Puzzles

There's so many great reasons to teach your kids how to play chess, but the best reason in my book is HOLY CRAP I JUST WANT TO TRAIN SOMEONE I CAN PLAY CHESS AGAINST. I went through a period in college where I was playing chess every day, and man, I felt so sharp when I was doing it. I was at a point where the game started working its way into my dreams (similar to the way Tetris can get into your dreams) and I would see problems in my life as chess problems I only had to play out to solve. I want to give my kids that confidence and that ability to strategize. So teaching them chess was one of the original morning activities I ever developed.

I mean, I shouldn't quite say I developed it. I lean heavily on "Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess" (1972 Bantam edition), which I got years ago and still think is far and away the greatest Chess instruction book ever written. Fischer might have his issues, but he was an indubitably great chess mind, his book is easily accessible, and it has just the right amount of cockiness and swagger to make it impossible to put down. It's filled with loads of little puzzles illustrating small pieces of chess strategy, cleverly organized into a detailed program of instruction. The puzzles show various situations the reader is asked to play out; sometimes these boards come from Fischer's own career. Like the above board, which Fischer tells us came from his match against Paul Keres in the 1959 Bled Tournament in Yugoslavia. Fischer was playing black. Can you see the move that gets Fischer a checkmate?

 Zephyr sizes up the board.

Zephyr sizes up the board.

The fundamental thing I've been trying to teach Zephyr is that when the king is in check, he has three options:

  1. Flee
  2. Capture the attacking piece, or
  3. Interpose (put a piece between the king and his attacker)

So as Zephyr puzzled out what he could do, I just asked him over and over, "if you did that, what could the king do to get out of it?"

 Moving his queen there... nope. King can flee to there.

Moving his queen there... nope. King can flee to there.

It took a little time for Zephyr to get it (he's admittedly out of practice... we used to have weekly chess lessons for him, but they're on hiatus for the moment). But not getting it gives us more time to game out what would happen in that scenario, which reinforces the lesson. Eventually he got it.

 Eureka!

Eureka!

For Lyric, it's still a little early for chess lessons. So what I do with Lyric on these days is quiz him on piece names (and then hopefully we'll move to how each piece moves once he gets that.)

Today he was 4 for 6 (he thought the Pawn was "the other word for Castle" and the Bishop was "the lighthouse", but he got Rook, Knight, King, and Queen). Not too shabby!

Afterwards Zephyr and I played a quick round of chess together using this old Russian chess clock I have. It has great action when you press the button to stop your clock and start your opponents, Zephyr loves using it.

 I really dig this Pavilion Chess Teacher set because the way the pieces move are written below each piece. It's the ideal teaching set IMHO.

I really dig this Pavilion Chess Teacher set because the way the pieces move are written below each piece. It's the ideal teaching set IMHO.

The joy of the morning didn't hit me until a few hours later when I realized that I had produced a being that could play chess against me. I beat him handily at the moment, but he's learning, and watching him learn is so AWESOME. One day (if I keep at it with the training) I know he's going to beat me at chess, and that's a moment of pride I can't wait to experience. That in my mind is what fatherhood is all about.

 Bonus peek inside my obsessive compulsive behavior! This is how I insist on organizing the interior of my chess box. It's a very precise arrangement.

Bonus peek inside my obsessive compulsive behavior! This is how I insist on organizing the interior of my chess box. It's a very precise arrangement.