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Based on how quickly and completely you guys nerded up this post, I feel pretty safe coming to you with my current conundrum. I was taught chess in what I'm guessing is much the same way you were taught chess: first you learned where all the pieces lined up, then you probably learned how many spaces they could move and in which directions, then maybe you learned openings, etc... My point is that endgame strategy was probably one of the last things you were taught or gave any thought to, and yet it's the most important aspect of the game. I'm getting somewhere with this, I promise.

James Altucher talks about this a lot because he's a big time chess player. I think he may have even hustled the lightning games for a while. Anyway, I've read where he's said more than once that the guys who absolutely master the game have thousands of entire games from start to finish memorized in their heads. So they're not thinking a couple moves ahead of you; they already know how the game is going to end from pretty much your opening move. This seems like a ridiculous waste of head space to me, but to each his own. However...

This weekend I finally delved into the weeds of The 4-Hour Chef. My wife bought me a new Kindle Fire HD for Father's Day and it's much more enjoyable to read it on that than to lug around a 20-lb book. Anyway, at one point in the book Ferriss describes the way one chessmaster teaches new students, and a light went off over my head when I read it.

Rather than teaching a kid how to set up a chessboard, how everything moves, what goes where, all the rules, and then hoping he or she has remained engaged enough through the drudgery to actually develop a passion for the game, this chessmaster puts three pieces on the board: the two Kings and one Pawn. The student then plays the side with the Pawn and the only goal is checkmate.

This teaches the student endgame first, before learning all the mechanics of the game. When the student can reliably checkmate the teacher's King, another piece is introduced. It's kinda revolutionary when you think about it.

Now the reason I'm bringing all this up is because I taught my oldest boy the game when he was about to turn eight. Luckily, he was interested enough to stick with it and he even joined the chess club at school this year where he managed to get a lot better. But I taught him the way I was taught and the way most people are taught, and his success has been slow going.

Now it's time to teach my youngest son the game. His focus and attention span is not what his brother's was at that age, so I know I need to keep things moving quickly if I want to keep him engaged. But reading this has me wondering if this might not actually make him a better player from the jump (which would be a real bummer for his older brother, lol).

I know we must have some chess fanatics on WSO. What do you guys think? Is this a better method for teaching chess, or will you somehow lack a foundation in the rules if you learn this way? It seems like a really clever hack to me. In just about every other aspect of my life I begin with the end in mind, so I can't imagine this should be any different.

Let me know what you think.

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Comments (27)

  • Heijira's picture

    I have younger cousins who were taught the game of chess with this "end-game" approach. I was taught the simple way.

    It's really interesting to see how the thinking is very different. Where I see it as a game of me manoeuvring the pieces and trying to trap the player and put them in lose-lose positions, my cousins see it as a game of patterns. From the get go, they know what the objective is, as they play, they will recognise "kill scenarios" (their words not mine) where they can already see that 10 or more steps down the line, they will be able to take which pieces and to also win the game.

    infuriating...especially when you consider they are 8...

    Maybe its a different approach to the game, but its like the rubiks cube. Most people, i believe, who claim they can "solve" the cube nowadays, are those who have memorised algorithms that teach them how to respond to different scenarios so as to solve the problem. Does this really demonstrate intellect or strategic thinking? I would argue probably not.

    Likewise, in this way of teaching chess, has the game become more a question of recognising the correct situation and executing the best "algorithm" to end the game and subsequently less a game of intellect and strategy but more of "rote" learning? I understand that chess has so many variables, it is almost impossible to perfectly have a strategy that will work every time, just because your opponent is also human, but I think it comes close to "standardising" how a person plays chess.

    Ultimately I think it boils down to what is your objective in playing chess. Are you looking to play chess purely to win? Or are you using it as a tool to force you to think analytically and creatively? I would like to think that learning to play a game of chess the old school way, helps you develop more creative and lateral thinking, where as the end-game approach is a much more "best-practices" formula.

    Disclaimer: maybe my bias towards old school is just my bitterness at having lost so many games to my cousins... BUT when I do win,.. hohoho cousins or not, I'm making them cry.

  • UFOinsider's picture

    Get Yasser Seirawan's series "Winning Chess" and teach from that. I've probably read hundreds of chess books and these are probably the most accessible to the new player. Do "Winning Chess Tactics" as soon as you can, this way he can get some early 'hand to hand' advantage. I say this because most of the people he's playing at this point probably aren't too sophisticated, and a decent grasp of tactics will enable most beginnersto dominate their circle of players. This is a confidence booster, and also ingraines a very important mindset: in chess, it's better to be the attacker, and to think like an attacker. Alekhine, Bobby Fischer, Capablanca, Kasparov, most of the greats were offensive players and even had that mindset when playing second. Fischer especially made heavy use of the Sicilian defense, which was really nothing more than a way for black to go on the offensive from move one.

    Endgame theory is very good to know and I wish I'd taken it more seriously early on, so probably do that book next. There's nothing worse than having a decent lead and then blowing it with one careless move. Laszlo Polgar, father of the female wonder players, wrote a book about endgames that is HUGE, so if you really want to be thorough you could do that. If you're not trying to cultivate him for master level chess it's probably overkill, but hey, spend a few weeks on that and he'll most likely crush the majority of people he'll encounter for the forseeable future.

    Again though, stick to confidence boosters and then learning based on good theory. The confidence booster builds in the mindset of hunter killer chess, and the higher quality theory will prevent him from getting sloppy. Endgame training is good to visit early in training, but also realize that in most cases of non master chess, it's pretty clear who's going to win after about 15 moves. Once he gets more competitive, then go back and do EVERY endgame, opening, and theoretical exercise. Thing is, it's kind of dry and kids tend to have shorter attention spans, so do the exciting stuff first to keep them interested. You want the formation of thought to be the best but at the same time Emanuel Lasker's "When you see a good move, look for a better one" can be challenging for kids. And AVOID SPEED CHESS LIKE THE PLAGUE, all it does is reinforce bad habits while you're trying to run the other guy's clock down, and it's ruined many young players. Timed games are one thing, but 2 minute games should not be played early on in training.

    Way to go on giving your kid a leg up, I was the only chess player in my house for most of my life....everyone else liked monopoly :)

    Get busy living

  • couchy's picture

    My mentor who was an award winning HF manager (retired at 38) said he kept a giant list of investment ideas, ready to use. Then he'd wait, sometimes 2 years, before the trade opportunity became available.

    Kind of similar to chessmasters memorizing chess games, memorizing rubiks cube algos. I've seen it in math competitions too - the kids memorize every trick in the book and are trained to see clever ways of applying them.

    This is why a lot of standardized tests are just a measure of preparedness - its testing if you've seen every problem you should've learned in highschool

    I actually read a book where an author mention that chessmasters see giant groups of pieces instead of the individual ones. Tennis players aren't reacting to the ball, but paying attention to opponents entire body - especially the wrist. These are all examples of reducing a big problem into several smaller ones you've solved before.

  • Killabeez's picture

    I used to play competitive chess- travel internationally for tournaments. Got a scholarship to college to play on the chess team and we were national champs for 3 years. In college I had a chess business where we taught chess in elementary schools. It depends on the student- but the main thing is really to keep them engaged in whatever way you can- have a decent mix between playing and teaching.

    I always taught how the pieces move first by clearing the board, teaching about the piece, how it moves, how many "points" it is worth. If I was teaching how the bishop moved for instance I would setup a pawn chains around the board and have the bishop start on X square and student would learn to move the piece by taking the pawns in the way. Then I teach them what a checkmate is and put just a few pieces on the board and teach them what a checkmate in 1 move was- when they get good at that checkmate in 2 moves. Then start with basic checkmate endgame scenarios. Eg King and Queen vs King, King and 2 rooks vs King, King and Rook vs King. Lazlo Polgar had a few book titled something like "5000 chess problems" where it has a checkmate in 1,2,3 etc alos has basic endgame positions.

  • tyrion's picture

    Great post @EddieBraverman and I think its a great idea you are teaching chess to your kids at such an early age. I think having having an excellent "end-game" is what separates good players from greats. Using Golf as an example, Tiger Woods was taught with the Green to Tee approach rather than Tee to Green which was the conventional method.

    Its true that most masters have openings memorized but that doesn't mean that they know the outcome of the game unless the other player falls into an obvious trap and hasn't studied the material him/herself.

    The best players "find" the hidden moves to win games and not replay the memorized situations in their heads. This was my strategy as a player and I have won tournaments and used to be an excellent chess player. Just like crunching numbers in accounting or finance, you have got to crunch moves. There are only about 16 pieces you can move and you can quickly calculate alteast 2-3 moves for every single piece seeing how things may turn out and based on your calculations you will start to see patterns and there will be about 4-5 pieces that will be key to every situation. Once you find those 4-5 pieces and start to move them around you will start to see things that hopefully your opponent does not yet see. This ofcourse while also calculating what your opponent may do as to defend against your attack or trap. Or if he is planning on attacking you may also want to calculate out all the moves he is capable of making which will show you where all your weaknesses lie.

    I don't think the "end-game" approach is a bad strategy however they may get overwhelmed in mid-game. Giving them puzzles will take their game to the next level because they will start to see the game as a puzzle with hidden moves at every corner rather than a competition between two players. Although chess is played by two players, the rules of the board dictate the game and as long as you master the board the competition doesn't really matter at the end of the day.

    Hope this helps

  • onemanwolfpack's picture

    I was obsessed with learning the ins and outs of chess, until I discovered poker.

  • go.with.the.flow's picture

    In high school we had a break room which was an assembly point for the virgins and nerds. It was an all-male break room so chess became a pissing contest for the nerds. While girls next door cried over boys (literally) or did their secret girly stuff, nerds would duke it out on the chess boards.

    I used to go their to bunk classes so I started playing occasionally too. I thought I was decent before I got check mate in 5 mins by the king of the nerds. This guy could play blindfold and 2 games at once. Nice guy too, got a full ride to Oxbridge. Godspeed NERDS!

  • Fetter's picture

    onemanwolfpack:

    I was obsessed with learning the ins and outs of chess, until I discovered poker.

    I hate both... but I grudgingly admit that they both develop useful skills. So important to be able to read a person

  • exceptionruled's picture

    Semi-professional chess player here.

    I think the most important thing for beginners to learn is point values (1 for pawn, 3 for bishop/knight, 5 for rook, 9 for queen), typical checkmate patterns (scholar's mate, back-rank mate, smothered mate), and basic opening strategy (develop pieces, control the center, castle). After that you can start with basic endgames (mating with just a queen, rook, two bishops, bishop and knight)... doing these helps you understand piece movements which can translate into other parts of the game.
    \
    Then you can do the basic king and pawn endgames, honestly these are so basic everyone should know them, even though it probably will not generally occur in a beginner-level game. I's kinda like learning the multiplication tables, everyone who is coached learns them. It may not be the best way, but I guess that's how the Russians learned it. There is a popular phrase in chess when something is really obvious you say "Every Russian schoolboy knows..."

  • fakeapp0's picture

    I'd start by throwing all the pieces on the board,teaching him where they move and suggest the relative values. If he can't pick up all the rules within two hours (don't worry about teaching say en passant, castling, stalemate etc at the start) and determine that a queen is worth more than a pawn, I'd be surprised.

    This gives him a basic idea of what the game is about, before moving in to some end game strategy. Do it the other way around and he may get bored. It's like football (soccer) practice - at young ages none of the kids want to spend all their time doing ball skills, they want to play a game. Only a poor coach would never allow a game to be played.

  • Going Concern's picture

    UFOinsider:
    Do "Winning Chess Tactics" as soon as you can, this way he can get some early 'hand to hand' advantage.

    I can vouch for this book, read it when I was younger, good stuff.

    In terms of the OP, I don't think that teaching endgame theory first is the best way to learn chess, to be honest. It's an interesting approach in that your entire perspective on strategy is altered by focusing on how the whole game will unfold to lead to the final moments where you can be victorious by having the edge. But often in games played by non-experts, the game doesn't even get to the 'endgame' stage, so making it the focal point of every move becomes a bit moot if you just get outplayed tactically.

    Honestly, the best way to get good at chess is to have a good personal coach. And to just read a lot of books and practice a lot. There aren't a lot of shortcuts. I think after getting familiar with the game, learning common openings and basic tactical maneuvers are good first steps. If you want to get a bit more thoughtful, the important thing to learn isn't so much what is the best move in any scenario, but rather why the best move is the best move.

    It's the why that's important.

  • SirTradesaLot's picture

    Edmundo Braverman:

    Based on how quickly and completely you guys nerded up this post

    yeah, sorry about that. To be fair, mikesswimm took it to a whole new level (pretty good shit IMO).

    adapt or die:
    What would P.T. Barnum say about you?

    MY BLOG

  • Dedline's picture

    Let your kid play online if he gets into it. I caught on to chess at a young age when some college dudes came in to show us how to play. I won a few tournaments at my school which translated into confidence and thirst to keep winning. I took my talents to Yahoo Chess! where you are able to play anonymous people your level. My mother saw how much time I was spending playing virtual chess, she signed me up for USCF (US Chess Federation). I ended up ranking top 75 in the nation for my age bracket and but then got into Yahoo Pool!... Terrible career path choice for me haha!

  • UFOinsider's picture

    Heist:
    I caught on to chess at a young age when some college dudes came in to show us how to play. I won a few tournaments at my school which translated into confidence and thirst to keep winning.

    ....beating a dead horse here, but for kids and especially boys, keeping them interested is going to ensure they focus on getting good at something. Given your post today about 'being persuasive' I'd add the confidence booster part and tell your son this: hey, if you win, you will want to win again, and if you practice technique you WILL win

    Get busy living

  • In reply to Edmundo Braverman
    Simple As...'s picture

    I spent so many hours on my parent's dial- up internet service playing that game it's unreal.

    patternfinder:
    Of course, I would just buy in scales.

    See my WSO Blog | my AMA

  • UFOinsider's picture

    whotookmybowtie:

    Yes, considering that chess is a game with perfect information that should be solved with backward induction.


    When the day comes that chess is a "solved" game, I will cry because it will shift from a test of training and intelligence to merely how many moves people can remember XD

    Get busy living

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    "I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse."

  • BlackHat's picture

    I hate victims who respect their executioners