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Book Review: "Chess Is Child's Play"

posted Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Review by IM Daniel Rensch

Laura Sherman and Bill Kilpatrick have written an easy-to-read and practical yet fun beginner's chess book...not for kids, but for parents and educators!

As a "chess professional" (as if there is such a title in the workplace), I have been around the block when it comes to chess literature. Though there is certainly no shortage of great chess books that provide concrete chess knowledge -- i.e., specific chess concepts, strategic ideas, opening repertoires, analytical manuals meant to serve as guides to improving your calculation, etc. -- the list of chess books that actually focus on teaching teachers how to teach chess is a short one.

In an attempt to provide a fresh perspective on how to teach children chess and "troubleshoot" (literally) the everyday issues that occur for a chess coach in the classroom, Laura and Bill tried several new tactics in this book.

I will get into a few of my favorites below, but before I do, I will make clear that my recommendation for this book is to parents, coaches, and educators -- not kids!

Adults who may or may not know much about chess, let alone how to teach the many different levels of chess understanding they will encounter in a classroom, will surely enjoy and learn a ton from this book.

First, what separates Chess is Child's Play from other "beginner-level" chess books and teaching manuals?

For starters, Child's Play provides practical tips that have as much to do with what's off the chess board as to what's on it, like "how do you teach a child that doesn't know their right and left hands yet how to set up a board?"

Any coach who's experienced teaching kids younger than four knows that getting kids to remember "white on the right" (light square h1 or a8, of course) knows that it's not always easy -- despite its fundamental importance to their ability to set up a board and play a game of chess.

Laura provides fantastic advice to these kinds of questions and others in her "troubleshooting" section at the end of each chapter.

Of course, there are more concrete chess troubleshooting tips too, such as "dealing with a child who's confused about stalemate vs checkmate."

All coaches know that can be a serious issue for beginners to handle.

I really liked the way each chapter is brought together with these final troubleshooting and practical tips, and I personally learned several practical "tricks of the trade" that -- despite being an international master and having taught chess in the schools for almost a decade -- I had never tried. (And I wish I had when dealing with some of my, um, trickier students.) Wink

Second, I loved the pacing, tone and readability of Child's Play!

The only negative feeling I had towards the book was its sheer size. Physically, it's the size of an eighth-grader's math or science book -- and I thought "OK, this is going to be way too much text for the simple task of teaching beginning chess concepts."

Those fears were quickly put to rest, however, when I began flipping through the book. Big letters. Easy to read font. Great spacing between one concept and the next, and the tone remains consistent and clear throughout.

Bill and Laura are talking to parents and coaches, and in doing so, they are delivering valuable tips and insights. I took a picture of one of my favorites here:

Laura's real-life, in-classroom experience dealing with kids proved valuable in this book.

If you're an experienced coach, you likely already do a lot of those things yourself, but if you're just learning the game and the concepts, having access to advice like "make sure you be silly, after all, you're talking to kids!"  Tongue Out can be really important.

Finally, I love coffee talk!

Anyone who knows me knows I'm not kidding! But specifically to this book, "coffee talk" refers to fun stories, tips, and lessons from Laura and Bill's real-world experience teaching kids chess.

Some of the quotes and stories like this one were absolute gems! Hilarious! And great teaching tools!

I may end up using that sumo wrestler line in a few videos from time to time.  Wink

One of my favorites that actually hit home was a coffee talk story about a two-year-old girl who recognized all pieces as "not a pawn."

I won't include a screenshot of that one, but having recently attempted to teach my own two-year-old daughter chess, I ran into the same idea that every piece was either a knight or "not a knight." (She loves horsies, what can I say?)  Tongue Out

I really connected with those fun stories. They make the entire book more enjoyable.

Obviously, I recommend the book. And get nothing from it! No affiliate links here to outside "revenue-generating" sources.

This is just a good, old-fashioned explanation of why I think  Chess is Child's Play is a great pick for educators and parents to teach their kids chess, especially for adults without much chess knowledge or chess teaching experience.


Chess Blind Spots

posted November 7th, 2014

Written by guest author Greg Delaney for Wholesale Chess.

A basic concept in psychology is often illustrated by a graphic called the “Johari Window.” Simply put, the four “panes” of the “window” represent various states of self-awareness of who we are and what parts of ourselves we share with the world. The “subconscious” is that part of us about which neither we nor other people know. The “open” pane is the part of us we know and allow to be known by others. The “secret” pane is the part of us we know about but do not share with the world. The fourth and final pane is the “blind” area – the parts of ourselves that we cannot see but others can. I believe that these “panes” exist in our chess playing as well. We prepare openings and plans in secret, we show ourselves and our opponents our tendencies during play (open), and psychologists have long consider those who play chess to be acting out subconscious conflicts when they play. Do we have “blind spots” in chess? Are there things about our play that others can see but we cannot? Could knowing these things help us improve? The answer to all of these is a resounding “Yes!”

Too Much Time at the Chess Board?
Too Much Time at the Chess Board?

Of course, if we are “blind” to these things, we need in some way to find out about them in order to benefit. My bias is that in chess we need feedback from stronger players just as in life we might need feedback from a counselor – we just can’t see it! While working with my chess coach, a number of very important “blind spots” about my play have been revealed to me. For example, she pointed out to me after looking at some of my games that I very often retreat chess pieces rather than move them forward. This tendency shows how passive my play has been – something needing badly to change. She has also pointed out to me (more than once, I am afraid) that I lack confidence in myself and this leads to indecisiveness and self doubt during play. Practically speaking, I use up too much time on fairly evident moves, wondering what I am missing in my calculations or positional assessments.

Many players cannot, of course, afford the relative luxury of having a chess coach, but most players do know a stronger player who might be willing to look over some games and provide some feedback that will prove useful towards chess improvement. It might be a friend or a local club champion. Sometimes, a brief, inexpensive consultation with a titled player is enough to bring to light problems that, after correction, will help us to play a stronger, better game of chess. By whatever means, changing those chess “blind spots” to known problems will help us focus our improvement efforts.

Greg Delaney is Life Member of USCF who returned to chess in 2005 after a three decade hiatus from the game he loves. He is an educator, club player, and student of IM Yelena Dembo. For fun, he blogs about chess and his work to improve as a player.


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