DEWEY CHESS CALENDAR
the value of chess for students
following is taken from Bruce Pandolfini's "The
Q&A Way" at www.chesscafe.com. Pandolfini is
a well-known teacher and author of numerous excellent,
highly readable chess books.
As a public school teacher who tries to teach chess,
I am constantly trying to explain the value of chess
to other teachers, administrators, parents, and people
in general. It's not always such an easy task. I figure
you, with your many years of experience, have had to
justify the value of the game many times. What kinds
of reasons do you give for playing chess when trying
to sell it? In other words, what do you tell people
that chess players do when playing chess? (What talents
do they need to play the game, etc.) I respect your
opinion on this question maybe more than anyone else's.
(Michael Rosetter, USA)
In some ways I feel the game sells itself. Just
watch kids playing chess and you'll be left with little
doubt. But I wouldn't echo the former position of the
U.S. Chess Federation, which used to advertise "chess
makes kids smart." I found that educators were
almost always repelled by these words, purposely rejecting
chess once they heard such ideas espoused. Rather than
saying that chess makes kids smart, I'd argue that playing
chess gives kids practice at doing things that some
smart people do. Few educators would object to this,
it happens to be true, and it gives critics a convenient
out, so they can claim that some dumb people play chess,
too. But I'm not a cognitive scientist, so instead of
stating what chess does for a person, I'd probably prefer
to describe the apparent skills chessplayers enlist
when playing the game, as I see it from my unscientific,
anecdotal teacher's point of view.
what is it that chessplayers do when playing chess?
For one, it seems to me that chessplayers commonly draw
analogies between things. They're constantly comparing
and contrasting. At least through some unconscious process,
if not indeed mindfully, they're looking at positions,
investigating how situations are alike and how they
differ. Moreover, chessplayers typically adapt the solution
of one problem to solve another, and another, and another.
also tend to chunk concepts together, in Gestalt fashion,
so that one thing stands for many. This explains how
they can look at a small portion of the board and by
inference reliably assume where most of the other units
are, as well as where some aren't. Accordingly, chessplayers
often try to classify what they see. For example, they'll
wonder from which opening a particular position was
generated. When they encounter a tactic or stratagem,
they'll try to name it. This can be helpful, because
when something appears in a category it usually takes
on a whole bunch of characteristics, so that suddenly
many other things can be assumed by implication.
also naturally arrange facts in series, making sure
everything follows logically. They learn fairly early
on that many problems are solved by changing the sequence
-- that is, by reversing the move order, or by playing
the second idea first. Furthermore, chessplayers are
receptive to the notion that reorganizing the elements
is a vital aspect of creativity, where some of the most
interesting ideas seem to come out of nowhere, yet we
sense they've really been in front of us all along.
(Scrabble players typically experience these creative
afflatuses when they rearrange the tiles on their racks.)
the way chessplayers refocus their lenses. They are
cognizant that sometimes it helps to change perspective,
to look at circumstances from the other player's vantage
point or simply from a different angle. So, when trying
to figure out how to defend, chessplayers often pretend
it's the opponent's move. Occasionally chessplayers
actually get up and change their line of sight, even
to the extent of standing behind the other player, though
here it might be sagacious to consider the size of the
opponent before shifting anywhere.
brings us to perhaps the most important thing chessplayers
do, and this is visualizing moves and positions in their
heads. Chessplayers not only try to envision the future,
they try to control it to their own ends. Even here
chessplayers rely on different approaches. Sometimes
they must make sophisticated generalizations about the
way things might go. This is an aspect of strategy.
But most typically doing headwork implies calculating
variations: you know, figuring out where to go if he
or she goes there. You can't avoid this tactical give-and-take
if you want to play chess. And still other solutions
are achieved without seeing very much at all, where
suddenly a player gets an insight that seems to come
from the ethereal plane. This brings us back to creativity
and intuition, to which most players are hardly attentivel,
yet its value is undeniable to the spirit of play.
are also inclined to be target-oriented. Once they imagine
their aim, they naturally look homeward, toward the
starting point of the quest, similar to the way many
of us try to solve mazes. That is, some chessplayers
look backward, from the goal to the middle. Then they
look forward, again toward the middle, hoping to bring
the two lines of thought together, or close enough to
link. The difference is that in chess the maze is more
conceptual than actual.
you talk to, whether parent, teacher, or administrator,
I'd tell them that chessplayers are fond of step-by-step
procedures, and they appreciate a good algorithm. Moreover,
they are prone to break complex ideas down into simpler
ones. At the same time, they typically build elaborate
structures of ideas, such as comprehensive opening systems
and intricate middlegame strategies. Furthermore, though
chessplayers love precise variations and clear reasons,
they are not unfamiliar with the principles of generalizing.
Still, they know that the most beautiful generalization
can be destroyed by a single hostile fact, as in the
case of an unexpected move that defies a theory or proves
to be a valuable exception to it.
there's beauty, and chessplayers always seem to seek
it. They value solutions that rely on aesthetic principles,
such as simplicity, economy, proportion, and so on.
They are usually repulsed by an idea that goes against
the grain. But they also grasp that true beauty may
contain a dash of the ugly, in that the real world naturally
contains imperfections, irregularities, and unexpected
chaos. It may be their feeling for aesthetics, however,
that leads them to resign once the point has been made.
But at the same time, their resourcefulness and practicality
keeps them involved until the last chance to salvage
a position has finally disappeared, for they know no
one ever won by resigning.
the human level, chessplayers appreciate psychology.
They understand the importance of the will, and how
the stronger tends to wear down the weaker. Chessplayers
are idealistic. They naturally strive for truth, but
they can be awfully realistic when the situation calls
for it. They are aware that sometimes errors have to
be admitted and plans changed. They will do whatever
works in the situation at hand. They can be superbly
optimistic, and they have great passions. They love
beautiful combinations, resourceful defenses, grand
strategies, precision, ingenious tactics, finesses,
nuances, sudden turns and twists, and many more things,
perfect and imperfect. They also want to feel part of
a community. They recognize the value of participating
in an intellectual environment, with its own universal
language, that bridges many cultural differences. They
learn to believe in themselves, and chess offers them
a chance to stand on their own two feet. The game tells
them that they must accept the consequences of their
actions. Ultimately, it gives them focus and purpose,
and once they succeed at chess they feel they can do
could say much more. Others could say it much better.
But I'm also sure you don't really need anyone's advice
to help you promote the game. As I said upfront, the
game sells itself. And if some of us won't buy it, maybe
chess isn't quite right for them. Some people love saying
"no," and some will vote for the other guy
no matter what. Funny thing is, in chess there's room
for them too.
article originally appeared at www.ChessCafe.com . It
is copyrighted 2000-2006 by Bruce Pandolfini and CyberCafes,
LLC. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted wtih Permission.