Thursday, May 19, 2011

Questions from parents and coaches

Questions from parents and coaches
May 19, 2011 - 3:56pm
Susan Polgar
Avalanche Journal

1. My son started learning chess about 6 months ago. He is still a novice player. What is the best way for him to improve at chess? (Mary from Atlanta, Ga.)

This is a very good question. One of the most important things to learn is middlegame tactics. Basic endgame is also very important. They are part of the foundation of chess.

What you can do is start with basic middlegame tactics such as: Checkmate in one, fork, pin, skewer, discovery, etc. Slowly increase the level of difficulties from one move to two moves, then three and so on.

In addition, what I recommend is to record the time it takes your son to solve each puzzle. Go back to the same puzzles 2-3 months later and see if he would be able to successfully solve the same puzzles faster than the first time. If he does, it shows that he is able to recognize the important positions and patterns.

The same thing can be done with endgames. Start with checkmate with King and Queen versus King, King and Rook versus King, King and two Rooks versus King, King and two Bishops versus King, etc. Be patient, work on one thing at the time. Don't expect him to be able to solve everything the first time. Make it fun and exciting. Reward him for job well done and give him the encouragement he needs if he makes mistakes. Good luck!

2. Is it good to allow young players to play a lot of Blitz? (Bill from Red Banks, N.J.)

Yes and no. Blitz is good but only with moderation. There are pluses and minuses when it comes to Blitz.

Some of the good things are they get to play more games and gain more experience. It also helps them to think and react quicker. Some of the bad things are they may follow the same bad habits in Blitz in regular games.

My recommendation is to keep blitz at around 25-30% of their chess activities.

3. What is the best age to teach children chess? (Jill from Chicago, Ill.)

This is a very commonly asked question. In my opinion, the best age is anywhere between 4-6 years old, depending on the child. Some kids are more mature faster and can start at 4. Some would be better off at 5 or 6. My children started to learn the rules of chess before they were 5. However, they were not really into chess until many months later.

No matter if it is 4, 5 or 6 years old, you have to make it fun, exciting and motivating for the children. That's the most important thing. If they do not enjoy it, they will not stay with chess.

4. My son is 7 years old. He is rated about 1,000. What is a good opening for him to learn? (Joaquin from Miami, Fla.)

I am not a big fan of spending too much time teaching openings to beginners and novices. In my opinion, one should not spend so much time learning openings until at least 1800 and above. I always try to focus more in middlegames and endgames. I would recommend choosing openings that do not require so much time memorizing the lines and new theories. Therefore, something like the King's Indian Attack or the Colle may be ideal.

5. Do you recommend Internet play? Which is a good Internet chess server? (Mike from Salt Lake City, Utah)

I do. I think the Internet can be very helpful. However, parents do need to make sure to monitor the environment. There are many good servers out there. Each has pluses and minuses. It comes down to personal preference.

Some of the well known servers include: ICC (, Play Chess (, FICS (, Chess (, Chess Cube (, etc.

6. I have two chess playing children at home. My wife and I do not play chess very well. Can chess software help my children? (Vinay from Toronto, Canada)

Absolutely! This is a great thing about chess in the 21st century. There are many chess software out there that can play 2600-3100 level. It is like having a grandmaster at home 24/7.

However, there are things you should be aware of. Chess programs do not understand certain chess position very well even though they are nearly flawless in tactics and combinations. Therefore, you may want to find a local, qualified coach when your children reach a certain level in chess.

7. Which chess software do you recommend? Fritz, Junior, Shredder, Tiger, Chessmaster, Rybka, Stockfish, or Houdini? (B. Castilla from Tampa, Fla.)

To be honest, you can hardly find the difference between them, especially for amateur or hobby chess players. They are all very strong. I think it is just a matter of preference. Chessmaster is just a small notch lower in strength but it compensates with cooler graphics. The strongest would be Houdini, Stockfish, and Rybka. Any of them can be great playing partners.

8. Can you recommend good books on chess tactics? (Anonymous from Brooklyn, N.Y.)

It actually depends on the level of the players. For beginners, I recommend World Champion's Guide to Chess. It has all the most important tactical motifs. The next one up would be Chess Tactics for Champions. I wrote both of these books based on my personal learning and teaching experience of over 30 years. They are also very affordable at only $17.95 each.

9. Should I enter my 6 year old daughter in an all-girls chess tournament? (Judith from Sacramento, Calif.)

Sure. If your daughter is not intimidated playing against boys her age or a little older, let her play in both: mixed tournaments and all-girls. If she has a confidence problem, start her out in all-girls event so she can feel more comfortable with the environment.

10. How do I start a scholastic chess club in my area? (Javier from N.M.)

This is a very good question. You can contact your school to see if you can have an after-school scholastic chess club. This is what many parents have done. It can be done at the cafeteria or library after school. Some parents started a scholastic chess club at a local café, restaurant or book store. If you need further help, you can send me a private email. I may be able to give you a hand with more ideas.

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