But what about the children?

While doing my podcast last week with chess author John Herron, I had a realization that most of the chess authors and teachers and coaches are really interested and focused on helping kids to improve.

This is probably obvious, but I had never really thought about it, since I am not really involved with scholastic chess.

It makes sense, because there are so many kids playing chess, and for the same reason that people rob banks because “That’s where the money is”, chess people tend to cater to kids because “that’s where the money is”.

Fair enough.

I’m not saying they are only doing it for the money, or there is anything wrong with this.  Like Whitney Houston sang, “The children are our future”.

Personally, I really don’t have much interest in helping kids. My main interest is in helping adults.

Don’t get me wrong.  Kids are people too.  Sort of :-)

I think that most kids do just fine on their own. Their brains are like sponges.

My girlfriend’s daughter is 9 years old, and speaks fluent German.

Is this because she spent hundreds of hours going through German textbooks learning the language?


It is because when you are young, it is so much easier to learn things like languages, because your brain is still forming a lot of the patterns and pathways that are needed.

Children can pick up a new language with almost no extra effort.

I took a “Psychology of Languages” course in college, and it is very difficult for an adult to learn a language from scratch, and almost impossible to do it without some sort of accent.

To me learning chess is not that much different than learning a language.

This is part of the reason why I think that so many books written by Grandmasters completely miss the mark when they are trying to reach a wide audience of class players.  They are focused on the things the GM finds interesting, which is often fascinating, but will do nothing to improve the ratings or win percentages for a typical chess player.

The GMs learned the game when they were children, therefore they learned a lot of this stuff while their brains were in the “sponge mode” of learning.

All of the basics were just soaked in from day one.

My focus - teach old dogs new tricks

As an adult it is often more difficult to learn a new thing, because our brains have already formed so many pathways and patterns.  Sadly there is some truth to the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”.  Really it should be “It is harder to teach to an old dog new tricks”.

Many of these GMs also had a tremendous amount of natural ability to begin with. In some cases the government would identify them early as having a high IQ or other gift, and give them the best training on earth.

So you take a person who has

  • unbelievable natural ability,
  • learned at a very early age,
  • played constantly in their youth,
  • and then was given the best training on earth from day 1,

and these are the main ones teaching the unwashed masses like you and me how to play chess? It doesn’t really make sense, since most of us are in nothing near this type of situation.

The natural talent alone can differentiate a lot of these people.  If you watched the 60 minutes episode last night on Magnus Carlsen, he has a tremendous gift.  Some of the things his brain can do would be considered “impossible” by cognitive psychologists.

In case you missed it, you can watch it here (highly recommended):

This is also why a lot of the best athletes in other sports tend to make terrible coaches. They can’t “get” why other players can’t do the things that they could just do naturally. They didn’t have to work as hard to be good at something, so they can’t relate to other players who don’t have their natural gifts.

So I just wanted to give a shout out to all the adults out there who want to improve.

Especially those like myself, who never played as a kid, and still believe it is possible to kick the butts of those little under rated “ankle biter” kids who love to steal our rating points!

Not everyone is concerned only with the kids and screaming “But what about the children!!??”

I’m in YOUR corner!

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2 thoughts on “But what about the children?

  1. Thank you very much for this. I always see interviews with GM’s and IM’s and they always say they learned from their father when they were 5 or 6 years old. This is nice and all, but it can be a little disheartening if your an adult striving for a master level of play. This article brings a little hope to me.

  2. I love your comment, “Kids are people too. Sort of :-)” I enjoy playing against kids in tournaments and giving them a few words of advice after the game. It seems like a charitable thing to do. But it is an odd feeling when I play them again a few years later, when they are no longer kids, and now they are stronger players than me! I don’t like to lose, but somehow it is satisfying to see them play so well and beat me. Children are the future of chess!

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