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Can I Teach a Preschooler How to Play Chess?

Two of the most common questions we get from parents are: “Can a 4-year old really learn how to play chess?” and “Can I teach my child the game even if I don’t know how to play?” We know from our own experience that the answer to both is a resounding “Yes!”  In other words, children don’t have to know how to read to learn this game.  They just need a little assistance from someone who can read.

 
We recently connected with the parent of three, ages 9, 7, and 4, who wanted to teach their 4-year old the basics of chess. The 9 and 7-year olds learned to play at school, and the youngest child, who is not yet in school, was motivated to learn so that she could keep up with her siblings. The parent had a slight advantage in that they used to teach preschool and used to play chess when they were small, but their chess skills were a bit rusty from lack of use. In other words, they weren’t all that confident they could teach their youngest how to play, but they were willing to give it a try. Their daughter is a pre-reader who recognizes letters and numbers but can’t yet decipher words. Here are a few tips they shared on introducing chess to a pre-reader:

  • Use ChessKid in order to keep your little one engaged; it’s one of the best tools out there for learning the game. Try using it on a tablet rather than on a computer or laptop since a 4-year old’s motor skills aren’t yet fine-tuned.
  • Narrate for non-readers. This is more than simply reading to them what’s on the screen; it also encompasses conversing with them about which instructions they’re hearing and what they’re learning. For example, if ChessKid tells them to “find all the squares where the pawn can move,” then it’s important to ask them what they heard as well as to offer encouragement as they are solving the puzzle. Ask them what the puzzle is teaching them, and maybe even ask them to teach you what they’ve just learned.
  • Pack your patience. If they express frustration while learning a new concept, help them push past it by working with them rather than letting them quit. Offer plenty of praise and remind them they are getting closer and closer to learning the game. 
  • Allow for mistakes and remind them this is how we learn (trial and error).
  • Encourage your child to actively observe older siblings or other family members working puzzles and/or playing a game. Have older siblings help younger ones; you can even call them “Chess Buddies.” 


The next steps this parent would like to take is to give ChessKid Adventure on the tablet a try and then move over to an actual board for a game. Plan on using a large chess set with sturdy, plastic pieces that your child can manipulate easily rather than a fancy wooden set. We’ll continue to follow along with them as they move forward and report on their progress!

Here are additional resources you might find helpful:

Library Chess Resumes

One of our goals at the Indermaur Chess Foundation is to promote and support chess clubs in public libraries around North Carolina (see Libraries Up Their Game By Adding Chess).

When COVID arrived in 2020, the libraries took a hit like everything else, and chess was suspended.  We were excited to learn that the chess club at the Eden Public Library, in Rockingham County, has been up and running again since October with 10 children and 4 adults regularly participating.  Rachel, the coordinator, said that the children have had a blast getting to know one another across the board and are even enjoying their own inside jokes.  She’s planning on hosting a tournament in the spring, and we’re looking forward to hearing all about it!

If you’d like to start a chess club at your local NC library, please apply for our Game Changer Program.

Anyone – Even Adults – Can Learn This Game!

Can old dogs really learn new tricks?  If they’re a few ticks past middle age, like I am, there’s hope!  Over the years when my husband taught our children to play chess, I stayed in the background and didn’t get involved.  After all, I was a tired mom who was busy with other responsibilities and who had decided that it would be too challenging for me to learn such an intricate game.  We’ve all heard the stories about how chess is for brainiacs, right? By the time I’d birthed my sixth child, it was news to no one that I’d lost more than a smattering of brain cells. Give me Scrabble, Boggle, Bananagrams, or any other word game … but chess?  Nope.  That was not going to happen in this lifetime. I was too scared to give it a try. What if I couldn’t learn how the pieces move? I mean, this game has a knight, amirite? Forwards “L,” backwards “L,” right-side-up and upside-down “L” moves – what if I were even more spatially challenged than I thought? Patterns just aren’t my thing. (One time I tried to follow a pattern to sew a pair of shorts, and they fell apart in two panels the first time my daughter wore them). And don’t even get me started on castling, putting my opponent in check, or recognizing that I was the one in check!  I had completely talked myself out of ever being able to learn this game. I was content to smile politely and nod at the appropriate times when other chess parents were discussing their child’s chess moves. When they exclaimed with excitement, “Did you see little Jimmy whip out the Ruy Lopez in that game? Wow, what a great opening!” I, having no idea what they were saying, heard “Living La Vida Loca” start to play in my head. The Sicilian defense?  I was dreaming up delicious pasta dishes.  

Running an elementary chess club alongside my husband, Mark, didn’t require any special skills from me other than behaving like the mom that I am.  Kids are kids, and they need supervision, encouragement, and, on occasion, reining in.  I could perform all three duties with aplomb.  Even though I could set up a chess board at lightning speed and had learned to field questions about whether or not someone’s king was in check, I knew it was time for me to begin getting acquainted with this game.  I was inspired by the enthusiasm that five and six year olds had for learning how the pieces move, so I started doing puzzles on ChessKid and found them to be all sorts of fun.  Chess mom Beth C., who says she learned chess “by accident” when her daughter was new to chess club, agrees: “The children were encouraged to do lessons on ChessKid. At home, we used the lessons as a privilege that our daughter could have while eating dinner. Since electronics aren’t normally allowed at dinner, this served as a great motivator for her to do her ChessKid lessons.” Beth added that she got sucked in to those lessons and, before she knew it, ChessKid dinners had become a nightly ritual in her house. The enjoyment she experienced in learning the game surprised her, and she says she “certainly didn’t expect it to become such a source of bonding” with her daughter.  She had so much fun that she had to stop herself from logging into her daughter’s ChessKid account to do the lessons while her daughter wasn’t home! 

Beth went on to hone her new skills by teaching beginning chess to the youngest members of Hunter Elementary School’s Chess Club in Raleigh, NC. 

Crystal W. concurs, explaining that her chess playing youngster urged her to learn the game after his coach, Mark Indermaur, challenged the children in the chess club to teach their parents to play.  She also relied on ChessKid to learn how the pieces move and was soon sitting across the board from her son as his worthy opponent. Like Beth, Crystal found the most valuable part of learning the game the “added closeness” with her son. “When he wanted to test out new strategies, I was a willing victim. When he wanted to excitedly chatter about how a tournament game had gone, now I could follow along.” 

Whether you want to keep your brain sharp, or connect with others, or even if you just want something to do to pass the time, why not give chess a try? These resources can get you started.

Remember, anyone can learn this game – even adults!

Reading a US Chess Rating Report

Congratulations for playing in a US Chess rated tournament or for encouraging your child to play in one!

If you asked to get notified when your rating is updated in your US Chess membership profile, then you will receive an email with a link to your tournament’s rating report.

If you played in one of our rated tournaments, then you can also access your event’s rating report from this list: http://www.uschess.org/msa/AffDtlTnmtHst.php?H6041494

I will use this example from the 2021 US Championship to explain how to read your rating report:

Before your name, you will see your pairing number for the event. In this example, Fabiano Caruana has pairing number 1, and Wesley So has pairing number 2.

Under your name you will find your US Chess member ID, the type of rating (R=regular, Q=quick, B=blitz, OR=online regular, OQ=online quick, OB=online blitz), and your rating before the event followed by your rating after the event. In our example, Caruana’s regular rating changed from 2871 to 2861.

The next column will show the total number of points that you earned in the event. You will get 1.0 point for 1 win, 0.5 points for a draw, and 0 points for a loss. In our example, Caruana, So, and Sevian tied for first with 6.5 points.

If you do well in a tournament, you may earn a norm. If you do, then the information below the “Total Pts” score shows the highest norm you earned in this event. For more information on norms, see The USCF Title System.

The columns after the “Total Pts” column will list your result for each round in the tournament (W=win, D=draw, L=loss, X=forfeit win, F=forfeit loss, U=unpaired), the pairing number of your opponent, and whether you played the W=white or B=black pieces. In our example, in round 4 Caruana got a draw with So while playing Black.

For more information about US Chess ratings and rating reports, please see:

Congratulations, again, on playing in a rated tournament!

Now that your child knows their new rating, please help them analyze their games using the ChessKid Analysis Board.

If you have any questions about reading your rating report, please ask by submitting a comment below.

Motivating Students with National Events

Twenty-six NC players, including many students, competed in the 121st US Open during the summer of 2021 in Cherry Hill, NJ. Everyone in this event played in a single section, so they had a good chance of playing a FIDE Master, an International Master, or even a Grandmaster. If one of your students does get to play in an event like this, please ask their parents to take photos to share with your club.

Getting to play in an event like this or a national scholastic championship would clearly be an exciting experience for any student, but, even if they cannot attend one of these events in person, you can still use them to teach and motivate your students.

First, you can follow the events using articles on uschess.org or other chess websites. You can also find players for your students to follow and root for. For example, this page, www.uschess.org/tournaments/2021/usopen/?page=ADVANCE lists the players registered for the US Open by section and by state.

Then you can review games from the top players as part of your chess club lessons. You can leverage expert analysis to help you prepare for these lessons. For example, this US Chess article describes the US Open event and summarizes some of the top games: https://new.uschess.org/news/three-schedules-one-task You can also prepare by watching live streams or recorded video analysis of top games using sites like: https://www.twitch.tv/uschess

It will be exciting to see your students cheer for and learn from top players!

Partnership with US Chess to Serve At-Risk Youth

Nearly everyone knows that chess is a powerful mind-strengthening tool.  Regular play improves concentration and memory and has a profound effect on confidence and decision-making.  But did you know that children who play often also have opportunities to develop crucial social skills which positively impact their educational experiences?

At the Indermaur Chess Foundation, we partner with NC schools to offer these and other benefits of chess to all students, especially those at risk, through our Game Changer Program. We provide each school accepted into our program with 5 chess sets, Chess Step instructional materials, and ChessKid.com subscriptions.

This fall, US Chess introduced a new program supporting affiliates who offer chess at Title I schools, providing each school with 16 free youth memberships and 8 additional chess sets.  We’re excited to announce that we applied and were accepted into the new program on behalf of Wiley International Studies Magnet Elementary, a Title I school in Raleigh, NC.  We look forward to helping their new chess club run tournaments as well as making it possible for them to play other NC schools online via ChessKid. 

“We are so grateful to the Indermaur Chess Foundation for helping to get Wiley’s chess club off the ground!  Our group of 28 students are in first through fifth grade and are getting so much out of the program.  The guidance from the Foundation has been invaluable. We are also thankful for their help in securing support for the club from US Chess,” said Bridget Harrington, Wiley’s parent lead for the chess club.

If you’re interested in starting a chess club at your NC school, consider applying to our Game Changer Program! Let us know if you’re a Title I school so we can also apply for the US Chess program on your behalf.

Getting the most from your new US Chess account

Set up your US Chess account

Once you or your child have joined US Chess, you will want to set up your account to get the most out of your membership. Then you can get emailed as soon as your child’s rating is updated and score major “chess parent points” after every tournament!

Click on “Member Site Login” which is to the right of the big blue “DONATE” button at the top of the uschess.org home page.

Create your US Chess website login

On your first visit, you will need to set up a new login and password.

US Chess does not require you to have a unique email address on file to become a member and get an ID number, but to use their new membership system you will need to have a unique email address associated with your membership. 

Parents registering multiple children will need to use a unique email address for each child.

If you are certain your email address is attached to your ID number, click the “Reset Your Password” button, and enter the email address associated with your member record on the form that appears.  You will receive an automated email with a one-time link that will allow you to set up a new login and password.  Once your new login is confirmed, you may return to the above screen and log in.  

If you know your email address is NOT attached to your ID number, or you are not sure whether it is, click the “create a new website login” link, and complete the form you see there.  The form will attach the email address you specify, and set up your new login.  You will receive an automated email with a one-time link for setting up a new password.  Please note, this form is intended for members who do not have an email address already associated with their ID number.  

US Chess strongly recommends choosing a login that is NOT your email address.  Users do not have the ability to change their logins, and if your email address changes, you will avoid confusion if you follow this recommendation.

When you successfully log in to the new system, you will see your user dashboard.

Update your US Chess profile

From your dashboard, click on “Manage My Profile” to add or update your address. At a minimum, enter your “State/Province,” as that will help Tournament Directors find your information (especially if you have a common name). It will also qualify you to play in special events like your state championship.

To get notified by email when your rating or your child’s rating is updated, select “Ratings” under “Communication Settings“. Then you will get an email (at the email address in your child’s profile) as soon as their tournament has been rated. The email will have their old and new ratings and a link to the tournament rating report. You will often receive this email several minutes before the new ratings are posted on the uschess.org website, so you could score extra “chess parent points”!

In the “Tournament Announcements (TLAs)” section, you can sign up to be notified of upcoming tournaments in your area.

If you would like to play online rated games on US Chess’ online partner sites like ChessKid.com, Chess.com, or lichess.org, then you can link your US Chess Member ID with your user account on those sites in the “Online Chess Partners” section.

Accessing US Chess publications

Once you have set up your child’s account, they can access Chess Life Kids magazine by logging in to uschess.org and going to: https://new.uschess.org/chess-life-kids-magazine-issues. This link is also on the bottom of the US Chess home page. Then they can read issues online in the digital viewer or download them as PDF files.

You can also access Chess Life magazine in the same way at https://new.uschess.org/chess-life-magazine-issues.

For more information about the new US Chess Information Technology (IT) systems, please refer to these US Chess blog posts:

Online Activities for Your Chess Club

When NC schools switched to remote learning in March, many of the chess clubs we sponsor also switched to meet and play online. Thanks to tools like ChessKid.com and Zoom, they could continue to meet remotely. Many families appreciated staying connected with their school community through chess club while so many other school activities had to be cancelled.

We continued to support our clubs by scheduling weekday tournaments which are open to all of their students. Since schools closed in March, we have run over 230 of these free online tournaments, and we have also helped run several low-cost, online USCF-rated tournaments.

Through all of these online chess activities, we and our chess clubs have gained experience and would like to share how to make the most of this online environment.

Let’s start with which activities children and parents liked the most. At the end of 2019-2020 school year, one of our elementary school chess clubs surveyed their families about online chess club activities, and 33 familes representing 44 children responded. Here are the results of their survey.

During the summer, children wanted to keep playing chess online as a club and in rated tournaments but were less interested in lessons. Parents also said that their children wanted to continue the social and relationship-building aspects of chess club, so we provided instructions to “Help a child play chess online with a friend.

Families preferred weekdays for summer chess activies.

The vast majority of students would join chess club again next year even if it were online. Some families explained that they had planned to do other activities next year, but since those could not be done online, they would rejoin chess club instead. The few who said that they would not join really preferred playing chess in person with their friends.

During the school year, children would like a broader range of chess club activities, and they are much more interested in having lessons. Our clubs can leverage “Using online resources to teach young children how to play chess” for these lessons. Parents commented that their children looked forward to the social and relationship-building aspects of chess club. Clubs can definitely leverage tools like Zoom or Google Meet to enable students to interact while they are playing online. Larger clubs can use these tools’ breakout room features to split into smaller groups for more interaction.

Children would also like to play with other NC schools and even with schools in other states or countries. This Raleigh News & Observer article, “Hunter Elementary students play chess with Nigerian school,” shows how schools can use ChessKid and tools like Skype or FaceTime to play with schools in other countries.

Familes preferred weekdays after school for school-year chess activities.

Most parents in this club were also interested in getting Chess-Step workbooks to supplement the online chess learning resources.

Please use these survey results to help plan your chess club’s online activities, and please share your club’s ideas and suggestions in the comments below.

If you would like to start an online club at your NC school or library, please apply for our online Game Changer Program.

Transforming Lives with Chess

It is one of the most gratifying experiences as a chess coach. A young student from a disadvantaged background joins your chess club and begins to play. They enjoy the game and play more and more, gradually learning from every game, every mistake, and maybe even from some of your lessons. They keep playing and learning for months, or even years.

Then it happens. They do something that they never dreamed was possible and win against an older, stronger opponent. They are bursting with pride as they rush to tell you, “I beat a 5th grader!” It is exciting to congratulate them, but what happens next is the really gratifying part. As they reflect on their accomplishment, you see it hit them. Some even cry when they realize what it means: They are capable of much more than they had ever thought. If they can beat someone so much older at an intellectual game like chess, what else can they do? Suddenly, a new world of possibilities opens for them.

There are famous examples of this power of chess to transform lives. NC author Tim Crothers tells the inspiring story of nine-year old Ugandan Phiona Mutesi and her coach Robert Katende in The Queen of Katwe (which then became a Disney movie). Former NC scholastic chess champion Elizabeth Spiegel coaches the I.S. 318 chess team. The documentary, Brooklyn Castle, follows her inner city team as they face the challenges of poverty, school budget cuts, and even snow storms while pursuing state and national championships.

Every child, and for that matter, every adult, should have the opportunity to play chess and experience its transformative power, but sadly that is not the case.

The shocking death of George Floyd has exposed the reality and extent of racism in America. It has also motivated millions to understand, protest, and work for real, substantive change.

We want our small NC nonprofit to contribute to this change. We are committed to providing equal opportunity for all people, regardless of race, color, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion, physical ability, political affiliation, or economic status. 

We will continue to help more NC schools, libraries, and community centers start chess clubs, because we firmly agree with the US Chess Federation core value highlighted in their recent special statement.

“We believe everyone has a seat at the chess table.”

Start an online chess club for your school

With the coronavirus preventing chess clubs from meeting in person, we updated the Game Changer Program to help NC schools and community organizations start online chess clubs.

While many of our children’s activities have been canceled due to the coronavirus, some, like playing chess, can be done online from home. By starting an online chess club, you can help your students stay connected with their friends and enable them to receive the benefits of chess until your club can meet again in person. You will also make it easier for them to keep playing during summer break.

NC public, charter, and private schools, libraries, and community organizations starting new chess programs are eligible to apply for our online Game Changer Program to receive an online chess club starter kit with a ChessKid Gold account for their chess program coordinator, ChessKid basic accounts for their students, online support, and more. You can apply using:

We will support your online club with blog posts like, “Help a child play chess online with a friend,” “Using Online Resources to Teach Young Children How to Play Chess,” and “Playing in a ChessKid Fast Chess Tournament.”

We will also arrange online tournaments for your club. Since NC schools closed in March, we have run 136 online tournaments on ChessKid.com to support our clubs and to enable their students to keep playing with their friends. In the eight weeks since schools closed, 295 students from our clubs have played 10,529 Fast Chess games, completed 650 lessons, and tried 13,885 puzzles!

Apply for your online starter kit today!