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A Guide for Monday Morning Chess Helpers

You've volunteered to help at Monday morning chess club. Great! We're so glad to have you! Here's a FAQ for new (and not so new) volunteers.

What should the kids be doing?
Playing chess! Seriously, there's an expectation at chess club that the kids will be playing chess from 8:00 to 8:50, and they do. No wandering the halls, no playing tag, no reading, no doing homework, no browsing the library shelves. Sometimes the kids get a little noisy. That's fine, as long as they are playing. Generally kids behave quite well in chess club, and they are on task.

I don't know how to play chess, so how can I help?
You do something even more important: supervise the kids. Insert yourself right into the room. Stand near one of the tables. Make sure kids who have finished a game get re-paired with new opponents. Quiet the children when they get too loud or rowdy. Prevent unwanted "kibbitzing"-one kid offering suggestions on another kid's game. If a game gets stuck on a chess question, find an adult who knows how to play chess to answer the question.

If you don't know how to play chess, it's never too late to learn. Keep your eyes and ears open and you'll pick up a bit of it. Or ask us to borrow one of our beginner books. Or volunteer to work in the beginner room.

How do I match the kids up for games? (Pair the kids)
Usually there will be someone in the room who knows most of the kids and can pair them according to ability. We try and put kids of similar ability together. Once in a while, we'll give a kid a tougher opponent, and then we warn him or her "This will be a challenge for you, but I think you're up for it."

Grade level is also a decent guideline for pairing kids; although we have some young members of our chess club who can beat people several grades older than they are.

If four kids walk up to you looking for new opponents, you can sometimes let winners play winners and losers play losers.

I feel so bad for them when they lose.
Losing is half of chess. Kids can learn as much from losing a game as from winning. Losing hurts sometimes -- especially when you make a mistake and lose your queen -- but it's part of the game. Losing hurts most when the winner of the game is a bad sport about it. When they get comfortable enough with losing, they will take risks, play more difficult opponents, and grow more quickly as players.

How do I settle disputes about games?
Sometimes kids will call you over to settle an argument over a game.

  • "Is this checkmate?" There are three ways to get out of check: 1) move the king out of check, 2) take the piece that's checking your king and 3) block the check with another piece. If a player can't do any of those things, it's checkmate.
  • "Is this stalemate?" Stalemate occurs when the player whose turn it is has no legal moves, but is not in check. This typically happens when the player has only a king left, and he/she is not in check, but doesn't have any safe squares to move to. A stalemate game is a draw, or tie. As a matter of fact, a stalemate is something of a coup for someone who only had a king left and figured they'd lose the game.
  • The "touch move" rule: if you touch a piece, you must move that piece. When you let go of the piece, it must stay where it is. Encourage players to think through the move before touching the piece. At tournaments they will play by the touch move rule, so they may as well get used to it at chess club.
  • Game completely stalled by a dispute. Here's what I say to kids who dig in and refuse to settle a dispute about a game: "You know, I wasn't watching this game, so I can't make a judgment about what happened. There are only two options for you: you can work it out, or you can abandon this game and start it over. Which would you like to do?"

Very, very fast games.
You pair a couple of kids. They come back one minute later and say "he won."

  • Did the winner do Scholar's Mate (the four move checkmate) on the loser? If so, winner needs to go back and show the loser how Scholar's Mate works and how to defend against it.
  • You can send them back and tell them to switch sides (white player plays black, black player plays white) and play another game.
  • Or, just re-pair them with other players.

What is chess etiquette?
Chess etiquette is how people conduct themselves while playing. Players shake hands and introduce themselves at the start of a game. They do not trash talk or put their opponents down. They do not annoy their opponents when it's the opponents turn and s/he needs to think. They do not call each other "stupid." (By the way, there are bad moves, but there are no bad chess players.) When the game is over, they shake hands and say "good game" to each other, then set up their boards.

Grand Master Susan Polgar has a motto about this: "Win with grace, lose with dignity." Wouldn't that be a great thing to learn by the time you're out of fifth grade?

I do know how to play chess. How can I help the kids?
If you know how to play, you can help when kids have chess questions.

You can also help them become better players. Observe a game for a few minutes.

  • If you feel you can offer a helpful suggestion about the game to BOTH players, do so. "White needs to think about this, and black needs to watch out for that."
  • Offer them both suggestions about development and getting their back row pieces out into the game.
  • If a game is stuck on checkmate, offer to show BOTH children how to do the checkmate and finish the game. Say to them "black is going to lose this game, and that's OK. I want both of you to see how to do this checkmate."
  • If your own child is one of the players, be very careful. We do not want your child's opponent to feel like he's playing against you, too. If it's your own child at the table, offer help to both players, then move on, even if your child is very young. Kids need to play their own games. They usually do better when their parents are not engaged in or watching their games. If you want to teach your own child more about chess, it's probably best to do it at home.

Two kids are in the middle of a game, and they're stuck.
They've made their opening, and they're not quite sure what to do next. Neither player has any great plans. The game is poking along and the players are unsure of themselves.

Offer both players as many observations as you can about what you see on the board. Say things like:

  • "White's pieces are well developed."
  • "Black is about to lose a piece."
  • "White has a bad bishop."
  • "Notice how the D file is open."
  • "Look at that long diagonal."
  • "See how all of black's pawns are on black squares and white only has a white bishop."

It's 8:50 a.m. Now what?
We tell them to set up their boards and leave them on the tables. They set up the board so we know we have all the pieces to a set. Adults put the sets into zip-loc bags, then move the chairs back to the usual library arrangement.

[Following must be fact checked:

Children are expected to exit through the library stairs and out onto the playground. They are NOT to go through the school.

If it's raining, they walk through the school to the Auditorium (3-5 grade) or the Gym (K-2 grade).]