Thursday, July 26, 2007

chess club

In perhaps a fit of madness, I agreed last month to start and lead a chess club at Nova Bastille Free Public Library.
Chess is one of those games I wish more people played. One of the reasons we had children is so we could have new people to play, ourselves. So when I was asked if I would consider running such a club, I knew I was going to say yes even though I asked for time to think about it.
We had our second session today, and it went well overall, I think. I am a little stymied by Rachel's attendance, as she is convinced that she can do anything her older sister can, even when it's patently obvious that she is hopelessly out of her depth, such as when she insists she can play chess without knowing even how to move the pieces correctly. I'm trying to teach her, but it takes time and she's only 4½.
It was a bit hectic for a while because I had three other small kids who wanted to learn to play, and one of the tenets of the club is that anyone who doesn't know how to play can be taught. I walked them through a few of the pieces -- the pawns, the bishops and the rooks -- and was relieved when they decided to play checkers instead.
I'm hoping to build the club up into some sort of tournament arrangement, where the kids can play one another and jockey for position on a pyramid, but so far that's largely imaginary because only five kids have shown up both weeks, and the range of skills isn't that wide. Two of them basically have no idea what they're doing, and all of them keep forgetting that you don't actually capture the king -- you have to announce when the king is in check and force the other person to get the king to safety.
Today we actually had a game where one of the players had three queens on the board at a time, had his opponent on the ropes, and then she managed to take out all his queens in less than four moves -- including one she eliminated with a pawn and another she captured with her king (!) -- and then had no idea how to get him in checkmate with two queens of her own. The game actually ended in a stalemate, with his king not in check but unable to move anywhere. As I wryly remarked afterward, they each managed to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory.
I matched Evangeline up with a much older boy, and she nearly beat him. He remarked afterward that if she hadn't started to lose interest in the game and let her attention wander, he would have lost. So I was duly impressed with her, and very proud.
I have to figure out how to make this work better, though. The less skilled players need some coaching to help them get better, yet it's hard to give them that coaching if all my effort is spent working with kids who are too young to learn to play the game in a library setting.

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