Playing games

I taught my 5-year-old chess. That may be me bragging a bit, but what else was I to do? She loves board games and I was sick of Candy Land. I had found this fantastic set of storybooks that explained how all the pieces move. Go buy it at Barnes & Noble. Plus the set included a dry-erase chess board so I could help her by drawing where her pieces move.

The whole process of teaching her chess and playing with her has been very, very rewarding for the both of us. For her, it’s been another opportunity to spend time with her dad. For me, it’s been an opportunity to see her grow, both in her thought process and in her confidence. And she is eager to play, too. She even bought me a portable chess set for my birthday so we could play anywhere, any time (she hasn’t been a fan of the chess app on my phone).

Take this move, for instance:

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Bam. She put her queen right up cozy to my king, never mind the fact that she left it totally unprotected and was going to lose her most powerful piece on my next move, and declared with her most defiant voice, “Check!” It. Was Glorious. My little girl, daring to take a huge risk and without hesitation. Did it pay off? No. Not at all. But she proved that she has it in her to take chances and damn the consequences.

In another instance, we almost couldn’t finish a game. I was setting up for the endgame, and I was certain to have her in checkmate in just two more moves no matter what she did. The amazing thing? She saw it coming. She saw it all coming, she saw that the end was near and she almost lost it emotionally. We had to talk it through, that she needed to continue until the very end of the game even though she knew she had no chance of winning. It’s not easy, dealing with a losing situation, especially with a child that experiences feelings as huge as she does. We did have a positive takeaway, though: The fact that she saw the checkmate coming. She has developed the ability to think more than just one move at a time, to see a strategy develop. And while she was wallowing in her own loss before it happened, I was beaming with pride at the logical leap she had made.

And then there was this last Saturday:

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That’s right, my little girl took on a chess master at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. She didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning, but she was the one who asked me to let her play. Did she do the whole game independently? Well, no, I was there to make sure she didn’t put her pieces in unnecessarily vulnerable positions. But she was essentially the one playing, and the master manning the booth was exceptionally good at teaching while he played. He gave reasons for some of his moves, warned her that he will take any opportunity to remove her pieces from the board, and replayed and explained his endgame after he beat her. My daughter walked away from the loss smiling. So did I.

So, yeah, my 5-year-old daughter plays chess. She plays it carelessly, doing things like moving the knights simply because she “likes horses”, but she still enjoys it. And she’s getting better, and hopefully she can apply those critical thinking skills to life. Once she gets good at it… Watch out, world. This little chick means business.

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