Chess is the world’s most popular board game and the chances are, if you read GeekDad, you probably know how to play it. You might not know a Sicilian defence from a slice of Sicilian, but you can remember enough to get through a game. What might be tough to remember is how difficult it is to learn to play the game. Imagine yourself as a kid, sitting down for the very first time. With so many pieces, each with different abilities, strengths and weaknesses, it’s confusing!
Fortunately there are some new books from Mongoose Press that can help kids (or even adult beginners) get on the road to chess greatness. The first, Gary’s Adventures In Chess Country, is a great book for someone who’s never seen the game. This book cleverly explains the pieces and their movement through a storytelling narrative that involves a boy named Gary who is learning to play chess for the first time. Starting at the very beginning, Gary learns about ranks, files and the importance of different areas of the board. Lessons are followed by a short quiz or puzzle to reinforce learning.
Gary then learns about pieces, movement and attacks. Bishops, rooks, pawns and even squares come to life, extolling their individual virtues and limitations. As the reader progresses through the book, the story takes more of a backseat and the traditional chess puzzle plays a stronger role. By the end of the book, your child will be solving mate-in-two puzzles and (likely) giving you a run for your money.
Gary’s Adventures In Chess Country is an impressive book and one of the best we’ve seen for teaching kids how to play chess. It’s available in hardcover or in a kindle version. While a paperback may be seen eventually, we recommend the hardcover version because chess puzzles can be tough to read on electronic reading devices and we think it’s important to be able to write in chess books.
Another new release from Mongoose is the series of Chess Camp books. Chess Camp is created like traditional puzzle books that more experienced players will be familiar with. Gone is the narrative of Gary’s Adventures, replaced by page after page of puzzles. However, unlike traditional puzzle books, Chess Camp is created with younger players in mind. Puzzles are more simple, designed for the younger player. This gives the inexperienced player the tools needed to build a strong foundation and become a better player later. It should be noted that kids may need some guidance in working some of these puzzles – either from a parent or a coach.
Chess Camp serves as the logical next step after completing Gary’s Adventures In Chess Country. Volume one of Chess Camp addresses the simple skills moving, attacking and capturing. Puzzles begin with a single piece type and progress to multiple combinations of pieces. Volume one does cover concepts like stalemate, en passant and others, so a working knowledge of some of the more advanced rules is helpful.
Volume two of Chess Camp deals with simple checkmates. The goal for this book is to teach players how to identify when checkmate is imminent, learn basic patterns for mate in the opening, midgame and endgame and understand that material isn’t everything. This book teaches players that mate is possible when outnumbered or overpowered.
The last book in the Chess Camp series, volume three, looks at checkmate with many pieces. Here, the player learns about complex positions – there are openings gone wrong, mid and endgame situations, and, for the first time, players are introduced to popular and basic openings (and how to gain advantageous position against them). Volume three also introduces tools like pins and discovered and double checks. It’s also in book three that players will begin to see the importance of small changes in position.
There’s a nice increase in difficulty throughout the series, but the slope is gradual. Each of the Chess Camp books has about six hundred puzzles, so there’s ample opportunity to learn and practice skills. All of these books were written by Igor Sukhin, a chess teacher to children for more than 20 years and an author to more than 100 chess titles with over a million copies in print. Gary’s Adventures in Chess Country and the Chess Camp series are a great way to get your child interested, involved and up-to-speed in chess quickly.