How I Teach People To Play Chess

I am not a great chess player. I’ve never joined a chess club, read chess publications, or been able to listen to someone start discussing chess strategies with letters and numbers without having my mind immediately wander away preemptively confused. But I know enough about how to play the game that I don’t make the immediate, obvious colossal errors that chess novices make. I have an intuitive enough feel for the game to win basically half the time against other casual players and that’s about it.

But I really enjoy teaching people to play chess. This is partly because I just really enjoy teaching people things. But the other reason is that I can teach someone while at the same time having an actually competitive chess match.

My method to accomplish both things at once is simple. Every time my opponent/student makes a glaringly terrible move, I show them what they did wrong. We talk about how if they’re going to make  that move, I’m going to do all these other things and beat them without having to think at all. And where is the fun in that? Then I let them take the blunder back and try again. If it’s a reasonable move that I cannot see anything seriously wrong with, I just respond as competitively as I can. They make another mistake that would make it just too easy to beat them and I stop them again and go over it with them.

Over the course of a game, or multiple games, my opponent/student starts to avoid more and more blunders and we correct the oversights and ill thought out moves whenever they occur. By the end if I am able to beat them, it’s totally legitimate and satisfying because when I trap their pieces in ways they can’t escape, I know it was my own cleverness and not their ignorance that gave me the advantage. And when they start trapping my pieces in ways I can’t evade and they flash a triumphant, mischievous smile at me, even as I lose I am proud that I cleared their way of the ignorance and inexperience that would have prevented them from ever (or for months) experiencing the delight of winning at the game.

When I take an interest in my opponent winning, becoming stronger, then I don’t have to win the game. If I do that’s fun. But even if I lose, I wind up on the winning team, and being on a winning team with someone is a great way to create a bond with them.

Your Thoughts?

More thoughts on education:

A Statement of my Teaching Philosophy

My Philosophy on What the Best Freethinking and Free Speech Really Entail

Training Students To Think For Themselves

Both Refute The Best Counter-Arguments YOU Can Think Up And Create Gestalt Shifts (Tip 8 of 10 For Reaching Out To Religious Believers)

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Stacy

    I’ve used chess to teach patience and respect to patients with autism. Actually, the patient (at 9 years old) taught me, and when I’d win I’d let him know that the win was also his, given that he was the one to teach me how to be such a great chess player. There are so many fabulous lessons that we can learn from playing chess! Thank you for the post!

  • http://wateringgoodseeds.tumblr.com Shira

    I don’t know diddly about chess. But what a great teaching method!

  • John Moriarty

    Ha Daniel with these remarks, yes its evident you lack the killer instinct of a grandmaster! But you knew that.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      HA! Grandmasters can’t be kind to novices??

  • ohellino

    By your teaching method the student will not learn continuing to play after a mistake, how to make the best of a bad move and have the inclination to want to ask the best move. I found it invaluable to see the entire “good play” of another player (but I understand you are talking about those just learning chess). That being said, I’ve also played chess players who stop me from making a bad move because they themselves want a “good” game. Your method does kind of level the playing field. I had friends who would practice chess by just playing the endgame and they were really good at chess.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      They can learn after making a mistake. They just don’t have to lose over catastrophic mistakes that are impossible to recover from (which novices make constantly). They learn from the mistakes that a legitimate player could make.


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