Is Chess for Everyone?

Maybe it’s obvious, but I thought I would reiterate that the game of chess is not for everyone.

My sister’s birthday is this coming Sunday, which reminds me that in all my years of playing chess and being a chess professional I could never get my mother or sister interested in the game. My sister knows how to move some of the pieces, but I doubt my mom could identify all of them!

On the other hand, my dad is a beginner, but has  real interest in the game, sometimes calling or texting me random chess questions! He is the one who taught me how to play one fateful night almost 30 years ago…

I love them dearly all the same. I think it’s better that we’re not all into chess.

My experience with my family has informed my philosophy in spreading the game to others. I like chess, but there’s more to life than a board game.

Whenever I taught chess in schools as part of a curriculum (i.e., students had to learn chess and couldn’t get out of it), I tempered my expectations. Not everyone wanted to learn, and I wasn’t going to force them to like me or “my” game.

I always say, chess is one of the worst possible activities to be forced to participate in if a person doesn’t like it! Squinting at a board of full of plastic pieces in a nearly silent room? Can I blame a kid for preferring sports, art, or music?

I didn’t try to “convert” anyone. I just asked that students gave a decent effort and didn’t disturb others who were interested in learning.

It turns out that some students believe from the very beginning that chess is not for them. It is a game “for smart people,” and they believed they were not smart enough.

This is a different issue than not being interested: here I would try to build the student’s belief in themselves that they could learn. Chess is like anything else: if you work at it some and have decent instruction, you will learn! Genius is rare in chess.

I remember one third grade student in particular two years ago at my last school. For some reason she was convinced she couldn’t learn chess. But she had my class five days a week!

I promised her that if she came to class and simply tried, she would learn.

And she did! Once she realized she was starting to get it, her confidence soared. I actually think she missed me when she didn’t have my chess class any longer!

No wonder karate and taekwondo schools have forever sold “self confidence” as one of the main benefits of taking their classes!

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