Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Life Lesson in a Chess Lesson

As a chess teacher I do different things to get kids involved in the material I'm trying to cover. I try to make it interesting, and will use humor to draw their attention to what I'm trying to show them. If some kid tells you that his king is taking the secret tunnel to the other side of the board to avoid mate, chances are he was in my lesson on the ladder mate.

Sometimes no matter what I do I'm not going to reach certain kids. Those are the kids who don't want to be there, but mommy thinks it's a good idea to learn chess or uses after school programs as a cheap baby sitter. There's also the kid who has learning problems. Chess is just another one of those things that he can't quite grasp or sit still long for enough to understand what I'm trying to tell him. "No you can't move the pawn 3 spaces, or yes kings can go backwards."

Sometimes to try to reinforce a mating technique I will have little contests to see who can execute that mate against me in the least amount of time, and number of moves. I particularly like doing these types of exercises for Q&K vs K. When I teach the mate, I'll start with this position. I show them how they can force the king to the side of the board with no checks by positioning the queen a knight move away and by mimicking the king move with the same queen move.

After the kids learn the technique, I'll put the kings and queen on different squares and see if they can execute the checkmate. Once I feel they have the technique down, I'll issue my checkmate challenge. I set a clock with the move counter on and give them 10 minutes to get the mate. The best I've had a student do against me is 8 moves in 11 seconds. From this position it can be done in 7 moves.

When I do these contests I give the winner a chess pin. I also give these pins out to anyone who wins or draws against me in a simul. There's nothing unusual or valuable about these pins. However the kids think they're special because they have earn the pin. It gives them a little extra incentive to work at the challenge I give them.

However just like the incident on Sunday with "James/Jimmy" and the medal he did not win, kids having various ways of coping with not earning the award. Sometimes the important lesson has nothing to do with the game itself. Last week in class I had given the checkmate challenge, and told the kids the one who do it in the least number of moves and time would win something. I had forgotten to bring the pins with me. In a class of 10 third graders less then half wanted to give it a try. That's unusual for me. Normally most of the class wants to do it. I only had one kid successfully checkmate me. It took "Victor" 20 moves to do it. The others either stalemated, or took 50 moves without being able to do it.

This week I brought in the pins and let "Victor" pick one. Then I offered the class another shot at the challenge, and another chance to win one of the pins. I figured if the kids saw what they would win some more of them would be inspired to give it a try. I have two girls in the class, and neither one of them wanted to do it. They just wanted to play each other. "Jake", one of the better players who always answers questions during the lesson refused to even give it a try. One of the kids, "Henry" asked me if he could buy one from me for a dollar. I told him they're not for sale, and that he'd have to win the challenge to get one. "Henry" at least was willing to try to earn it.

"Stan" was the first player to give it try. He had not been able to do it last week. He kept chasing my king around the board, and fell victim to the 50 move rule. This week he remembered not to keep checking, but he still ended out stalemating me. He immediately wanted to try again. I told him he could have another turn after everyone else had a turn.

"Dan" was next up. He got my king over to the side of the board in 7 moves, but he wasted a tempo on an unnecessary queen move. He executed the mate in 20 seconds and it took him 9 moves. I figured that was going to be hard for anone else to beat, considering that it was one of the best times ever in any class that I've done this in.

"John" was next. He started out on the right track, but on his 5th move he put his queen right next to my king. Naturally I took his queen. When I do this exercise with the kids, I'm aiming to draw so I'll take any free queens or stalemates I can get.

"Henry" was last one to give it a try. He chased my king around the board for awhile and then finally got me to the side. Unfortunately for him, he put his king on the wrong square allowing me another stalemate. Even if he had managed the checkmate, it was many more moves then Dan's.

I gave Dan his pick of the remaining two pins. "Henry" rationalized his not getting one, by saying. "Who cares? It's just a junky badge anyway." This became the party line for him and "Jake" who had refused to even give it a try. In reality it is a junky badge, but don't tell that to the kid who earns one. He will wear the pin proudly, and if someone asks about it he'll be able to say he won the checkmate challenge.

Though I'd rather not have kids denigrate an award that they did not get, it's preferable to Sunday's situation with "Jimmy's" "missing" 1/2 point. As I told "Jake" at the end of class, one can not avoid competition. It's always going to be there. Hopefully they will learn to deal with the reality that one is not always going to be the winner.

The real winner was "Stan". After everyone else had taken their turn, he came back and tried again. He still wasn't able to get the checkmate. However he wasn't calling the prize a "junky badge".


tanc(happyhippo) said...

that class sounds like a lot of fun!

i think in any class, you're bound to get the "sore" losers, which is pretty much more of a self-defense mechanism that kicks in when events don't turn in our favour to lessen the pain of embarassment and defeat.

i've encountered players who openly remarked that his opponent won because he got "lucky" during competition and it's pretty much the same thing.

all in all, a very interesting experience. thanks so much for sharing this story. :)

Temposchlucker said...

So the life lesson is "learn to appreciate a junk badge as if it was made of gold and gems and you will be able to work your ass off"?

Polly said...

tanc: It is challenging at times, though that's not my most difficult class. The hard classes are the ones with kindergarten and 1st grade. Keeping their attention is tough.

tempo: LOL For some of the kids they do treat it it as if it's gold.

I just found it interesting how one kid from one school decided to try to pull a fast one to get a medal in the tournament, and a few days later a kid decides to denigrate the prize when he can't win the challenge.

We work our asses off for rating points. Is it any different? :-)

BlunderProne said...

You are awesome!

I used to coach a bunch of elementary school kids. I would show them the power mates as well and then have them mate the chump. They really got charged trying to beat the teacher. I never had pins though.