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Friday, January 20, 2012

Kids: They Get It

I was at a friend’s house a few days back, and he had gotten me a great big chess set for my birthday. I had never seen anything like it, that’s for sure. It came with gigantic plastic pieces, a huge vinyl mat, and a small instruction booklet with the rules.

This is it, here:

Anyhow, we set the thing up and then I figured that would be the end of it, but his son wanted to play a game. Apparently, my friend had taught him the moves and whatnot a while back. Sure, I said, I’d love to!

Well, the kid hadn’t played but a few games in his entire life and so he was hanging knights and queens left and right, which I declined to take right away. I would hint at their impending doom and allow him to move them away, encouraging him to find the best square or, at least, be able to explain a reason for moving it where he did.

The kid ate it up. Soon, he was trouble.

We reached an endgame where he was a piece up. No, he didn’t actually outplay me to get there, I was helping him along the way; once I lost a rook, though, the help stopped. He had mate threats and piece threats everywhere, and a scary passed pawn.

I would make a move, see a really good reply, and ask the kid to take his time and find the move. By that stage of the game, though, he was finding better moves than I was. Seriously. He had the right idea, and you can take that to the bank. He made odd-looking moves I hadn’t seen and, after a few seconds of looking, I would see that the moves were very strong. Stronger than the moves I was looking at, and I’m not a beginner by a long shot.

We eventually reached a position where my king was stuck on the bottom rank and I had, or thought I had, one more defense before it was white flag time. I announced to the room that we’d reached a critical position and I explained to the kid why I had moved where I did. I asked him if he could find the win in two moves.

He checkmated me in one.

Needless to say, I was a bit embarrassed. In my defense, I had consumed more than a couple adult beverages and probably wasn’t playing at my usual Bobby Fischer level. The point is, that the child was picking the ideas up quickly. Scary quick. He is ten years old and I fully believe that if he took the game up, he’d be regularly smashing me inside of two years time, and it has taken me ten years to get where I am today. It really is amazing how fast they learn.

I didn’t have the opportunity to enter the chess world when my age was still a single digit. My father taught me how to play somewhere in my teens but I had no clue there was a whole chess underworld, full of tournaments, fun blitz and study. I just thought it was a board game, like every other average citizen.

Please, if you have kids, teach them the moves early and see if they like the game. If they take to it and stick with it, they’ll be masters in no time and with ease. I saw so many teenage FMs and IMs at the Vegas tournament it blew my mind. What I wouldn’t give to go back in time and carry a 2400 chess rating before I could legally drive a car.

Damn. Just imagine it...

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