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Hello Chess World,

Chess at Three hires the best tutors in New York City. This last Friday, one of amazing tutors, Amanda, reached out to our tutor base asking for advice. We were thrilled to see our network of tutors share their teaching strategies and tips. We wanted to share some highlights from the thread as a way to show you how much our tutors care for your children and their development. Here’s the original question:

“One of my students keeps saying, “This is so unfair.” when I capture his pieces or when a plan doesn’t end the way he thought it would.

When he misidentifies an outcome he doesn’t like as unfair, I usually respond with something like, “Oh no! Did I break a rule?” 

“No.”

“Oh! I’m confused then. Can you describe what’s unfair?”

These little chats are definitely making an impact on his game. I’ve repeated all the stories that have to do with planning ahead. He is slowly becoming more aware of the fact that he is in charge of his own moves and also in charge of predicting my moves. 

I feel like I’m on the right track and am making progress but would love to open up a conversation for further ideas on teaching fairness.” – Amanda Then the Chess at Three community sprang to life! Here are some of the answers: 

“I’ve run into this occasionally as well. One thing that occurred to me is that there is some unfairness to the fact that we are adult chess teachers playing against a 5yr old. They really don’t have the ability to win unless we let them or make a careless mistake. Sometimes I think my students are feeling this inequality when they are getting frustrated like this. 

In the past, I’ve tried giving my students an “advantage”. Something to even the playing field a little. You could give them a “pocket queen” that they can play anywhere on the board once they’ve done all their secret missions. Or 2 “help from the teacher” moves during a game. Or you could play without your Queen to make it harder for yourself kind of like a handicap. 

You can also try playing against Magnus (with the Play Magnus App) together as a team so if you lose it’s as a team and you can model the appropriate behavior.” – Jessica 

“I’ve had several kids who needed fairness/being a good loser to be a thing they focused on. Here’s a few things off the top of my head that I’ve leaned into:

-I tell all my kids (and I mean it) that very few of my students have ever beaten me at chess. I use the chess variants (Crazy Chess, Knights Tour, Fischer Chess) as games they can beat me at.I’ll also play most of my kids without my queen until they can beat me that way. As a continuous incentive to essentially say “I’m the goal, chase me instead of pouting.” – Max

“King Richard and King Deboulajae both don’t want chess to be fair. Both of them can’t handle the reality of chess’ ‘fairness’ and use unfairness to cope with their insecurities. In both stories, we see how playing chess unfairly (playing chess alone b/c no one else knows how to play, or playing chess alone without any rules because chess isn’t allowed) is self-evidently not fun. The magic behind both of these stories is that children get to see what chess would be like if it wasn’t fair and they discover the answer: not fun. 

I would go back to those stories and emphasize the parts that show children what unfairness is, unfun.” – Tyler

“This may be a solution more to students who want to give up because they think there is no way to win, but I have also used it when students would say things are unfair.  When trying to demonstrate this, I would give my students the opportunity to switch sides at any point during the game. If they said, “this game is so unfair,” I would let them take over my team and I would play as there team.  After 5-10 moves if they once again would say, “this is unfair,” I would let them switchback. Changing sides can help the student see that the game is balanced and there is always a way to win and do better.” – Jon

In addition to the other suggested ideas, I have also tried to stress the lesson that losing is no big deal.  Sometimes if I see that a student is about to have a really emotional moment, I’ll shout, “Time out!” Then suggest a silly thing we have to do: Stand up and do the weirdest dance we can.  I might make funny sounds or show how I can do a one handed clap by shaking my hand super fast and letting my fingers go limp (it looks ridiculous and makes adults laugh). Just getting the student to smile or laugh in that moment can be a Pavlovian way to get them to positively associate instead of negatively associate – I have had great success with both of the above mentioned cases- getting them past the fear or negative association with losing.  

I think it’s also a great thing to talk to the parents about in terms of what we are working on in chess.  And when I see great mile markers (like the kid who used to have a meltdown, 5 moves before he was about to lose, instead putting his hand out really fast and saying Good Game with a smile on his face) – that’s huge progress and I want to make sure that I and the parents give lots of praise to reinforce that behavior.” -Sara

“I like to talk about how in chess, and really every game, we make an agreement. Whether it’s spoken or not, both players are making an agreement to play the same game with the same set of rules. Some of my younger students would try to change the rules when the game wasn’t going their way and I would talk about how that breaks the agreement we both made about how we would play.

If I capture my student’s piece, that can be frustrating, or bring up lots of emotions (all of which are okay to feel). If I capture a piece with my rook moving like a bishop, that is very clearly breaking the agreement that we both made and unfair. That contrast can be easily felt and has helped me talk about it with some of my students.” – Brian

Thought I’d add a very simple saying or mantra that I began using about two years ago.

Towards the middle-end of the game I’ll say “You’re playing very well, (child’s name).. Now, I’ve been playing chess a lot longer than you. If you beat me, I will be so impressed. But if I beat you, you won’t be upset, right?”

The child will almost always shake their head ‘no’ and we proceed from there.” – Jake

As you can see, Chess at Three and our tutors really care about your child’s chess experience. If you’d like to schedule a lesson with one of these incredible tutors, click here!

 

 

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