Thursday, October 11, 2007

Magnetic Sumo Kings

Continuing the theme of teaching the basics of chess one piece at a time, I present you with my handout on "Magnetic Sumo Kings," which makes a game out of lone Kings in order to teach "the opposition." It's practically the chess equivalent of tic-tac-toe.

The Kings are set up opposite each other and the first to force his way across to the other side of the board wins (unless they reach a position where neither can make progress, in which case it's a draw). The idea of imagining the Kings as "magnetic" (of the same polarization) struck me as a good metaphor to help explain how they can influence each other even though they must remain one square apart. A puzzle position from Capablanca then helps show how the principle of the opposition can be used to win games.

The main idea of "Magnetic Sumo Kings," as with "Pawn Battle," is to create an active learning environment where kids pick up complex theoretical concepts by engaging with them directly in practice. Active learning has its limitations, but it does keep kids involved and having fun, especially in group lessons. Have you ever tried to lecture to a group of 8-year-olds? Good luck.

Another good game to get kids to try is "The Szen Position," which is especially effective for brining home the idea of "zugzwang"--though it's unlikely you will get kids to cement the lessons from their practice by playing over the detailed analysis of the position by Jon Speelman in EG 73.5 (July 1983): 185-190. My group of a dozen 8-year-olds seemed to enjoy playing with the Szen position last week. Will they really gain much from the experience without some study? Tough to say. But at least I have made a start and sparked their curiosity and engagement.

It would be nice if the kids I teach would use what they have learned so far to go study the ending some more on their own. But it takes a rare child (or especially committed parents) to do that. That's too bad, since there are so many excellent online resources for learning the endgame these days, especially in the ChessCafe Archives. I especially enjoyed the following articles, which reinforce the themes of "the opposition" and "zugzwang" I have emphasized so far:
Will any of the kids I teach read this stuff? Maybe in a few years....

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