zwischenzug (ZVI-shen-tsoog) — noun

A chess tactic in which a player, instead of playing the expected move, first interpolates another move, changing the situation to the player's advantage (such as gaining material or avoiding what would otherwise be a strong continuation for the opponent).

Showing posts with label educational. Show all posts
Showing posts with label educational. Show all posts

Monday, December 3, 2012

Father Geek Article on Buying Chess Sets as Gifts

Last year I wrote this post about buying chess sets for the Holidays.  I covered the topic again over at  Father Geek.  If you read last year's post you won't find this one that different.  Whichever version you read, it makes sense to buy a child a good chess set that will last for years.

It's Your Move!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Teaching Chess to Kids – One Rule to Wring them All!

 Most people think chess is a hard game to learn.  It’s not.  Once someone learns how to move the pieces they can play.  Sure, there are a few slightly complicated moves like castling or en passant, but generally speaking moves aren’t an issue.  Learning how to move pieces in combination, that is where the game gets involved.  It’s not the rules; it’s all of the strategy and tactics that make the game complex.

Except with kids.  Now we are into a whole different area.  First of all, kids want to know all of the odd-ball rules, not only castling and en passant but also the three-position and 50-move rules.  Normally, I try to just move past these topics, but generally someone has heard of them and I eventually end up explaining these rules.  They will try to invoke them, and be completely wrong; this is particularly true of the three-position rule.* However, we get past them and put them away.

So what is the concept that wrings all the certainty out of their heads, leaving the idea that chess is hard?  What is the hardest thing for children to learn (that actually does show up in their games): the knight’s move? No, they need some help with that, but it comes pretty quickly.  The key to that is not only the shape of the move, but the fact that the knight changes the color of the square he stands on with every move.  If the knight is on a dark square now, it will finish on a light square.  What about the pawn?  The fact that the pawn moves differently when it attacks causes a little confusion, but that’s cleared up quickly. 

The toughest part of chess to teach is check (and by extension checkmate!)  Then how do they end the game?  They end the wrong way, at least in the beginning.  Here are the most common misconceptions:

  • “If I threaten the king on this turn, and don’t call check, I can capture it next turn!”  Of course, the king is never actually captured in chess.  When the king is threatened, it’s in check, and must get out of check.  If the king can’t get out of check, then it is checkmate and the game is over.
  • “But you didn’t call check!”  Check is check, called or not.  Often it doesn’t need to be said, because it’s that obvious.  This is a common source of disagreements, because this statement will probably follow the previous thought!
  • "I’ll move my king next to theirs and put my enemy in check!”  The problem with this is that two kings next to each other are both in check!  Since a king cannot move into check, it’s an illegal move.  Last night I actually had an 8th grader, who has been playing for a year, suggest that doing this would allow a player to win with just a bishop and a king – wrong!

How does this get solved?  In the immediate game, I try to back the players up to the last legal move, and then continue the game.  Otherwise, I call it a draw.

Speaking of draws, stalemate is also a problem concept, but not as hard to overcome.  It is truly amazing how often stalemates occur at this level.  Last year our youngest member played his first ten games without a loss – 3 wins and 7 stalemates! 

As frustrating as it can be, teaching chess has its own rewards.  It is wonderful to see their enthusiasm, and fun to watch their faces as the “light comes on”.  Even though my son graduates from the school this year, I can’t imagine giving this up.

It’s Your Move!

 * The three position rule says that an exact board position occurring three times is a draw.  For this to happen, every piece and pawn must be in the same position all three times with the same moves available.  As a result, a piece captured or a pawn moved means none of the prior positions can be repeated, since those pieces can never go back to where they were.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Chess Sets for Gifts

One of my last posts was my buying guide for holiday gifts.  I suggested that the dedicated chess player is so focused that buying chess items for him or her is more likely to fail then succeed.  However, that's not true of the starting chess player.

This year's Chess Club at school has a lot of new kids in it.  I am so glad my wife is there as the librarian, so that she can use her classroom management skills to my benefit.  In the interest of crowd control, she has taken all of the new members and is walking them through a short introductory course in the game which will finish soon.  This is mandatory, even if you know how to play.  Meanwhile, I have the veterans, who are starting their chess ladder.  I will go into this another time, though I talked about it briefly in a post from last year.

With all of these new kids, I know there will be a few Christmas Lists that have chess sets on them.  Wednesday was the Feast of St. Nicholas, so jolly old St. Nick picked up all of those lists as he stopped by and dropped off tangerines and candy (at least at our house!).  So, where should Santa go if he needs a few more chess sets then he has ready?  I will give you two ideas:

The Chess House is a great place to find a chess set.  I have personally purchased from there, and the transaction was quick and easy.  I would buy their   Quality Regulation Tournament Chess Set Combo .  This set has several advantages: 1) this set (or one VERY similar) is the set used in the school, so children are used to it; 2) this set is a regulation tournament set, so it can be used in official events; 3) it transports easily; 4) it's nearly indestructible.

Similar sets can be found at the US Chess Federation's online store. Their are more options here, with different styles of bags, combinations that include chess clocks, and some that include the book How to Beat Your Dad at Chess.  Always popular.

The US Chess Federation (USCF) is the governing body for chess in the United States.  While you're there, consider getting a gift membership for your little chess player.  It will be well worth it.

I will apologize to my overseas friends; this post is very US-centric.  However, I am sure there are scholastic memberships available in your part of the world too, so the advise still holds.  Regardless of where your live, support your little chess enthusiast and your school's chess program!  There are studies that show how beneficial chess is to young minds, and there are measured results.

It's Your Move!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Getting back to it...

I probably owe an apology to anyone who regularly looks for my posts.  Life has been crazy, as I have mentioned, and I have had no time for gaming.  This has resulted in a combination of writer's block and tiredness for the past several weeks.  Another issue with these circumstances is that I can find the time (thanks to the wonders of smartphone technology) to troll eBay for games.  As a result, my gaming purchases have gone up a little.

So now I am getting back to playing.

I am getting ready for this Sunday's monthly Game Day.  Our gaming group will be playing one or more of the following games, all with a Halloween theme.  Which games will depend on how many people show up, and what they pick:

  • Fury of Dracula
  • Fearsome Floors
  • Coach Ride to the Devil's Castle
  • Spooks
We have only played the first one, which is fairly complex; I have read the rules of all but Coach Ride to the Devils' Castle. I have that in my briefcase, and will read it at some point.

The next thing coming up is the school chess club, which starts again in a few weeks -- November 2nd to be exact.  I am a little scared, over 50 flyers have been taken by students, and I have no idea how many of them will show up.  This is probably the year to start taking dues.  Just a few dollars from each would help with some equipment needs, and it will help cut down on those kids who want to just wander in.

I am having a lively discussion over on BoardGameGeek about starting a chess club.  Another BGG member is taking up the task with his wife, and asked for advise.  One German gentlemen and I have a friendly debate going on over including chess variants and chess clocks.  He favors including both; I would exclude both.  Nonetheless, as Shakespeare says, "The play's the thing."  What ultimately matters is that the children learn to play the game!

Which leads me to ask if it's time that YOU get back to it.  Clearly, you have some level of interest in games, or else you wouldn't still be reading this.  There is a school out there where the kids are itching for someone to teach them chess.  The benefits are so clear for those kids who do play.  Is it your time to "get back to it"?

It's Your Move!

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Friday, August 26, 2011

3 Reasons Why Your Child Should Play Chess

Last month I wrote about whether or not chess was good for schools.  If you read that post (and I will put a link at the bottom), you realize that I think chess definitely belongs in schools, but it needs to be carefully monitored.  There are ways it can go astray.  Regardless of whether or not your school has a chess club, parents should make sure their children are playing chess.  Homeschoolers should be teaching it, even if they have never played themselves – learn it together!  I will give three reasons why this is true: what it teaches, the wide open opportunities to play, and it’s lifelong nature.

First of all, chess teaches logic, which directly impacts a child’s performance in schools.  Studies repeatedly confirm this fact.  Kids who play chess get better grades; it’s that simple.  What’s not always mentioned is that chess is also teaching the ability to plan ahead, which is important in academics and in life in general.  Hand-in-hand with lessons on planning are lessons on consequences.  Often enough, right behind that comes lessons in digging yourself out of a hole.  (At least that’s true when I play!)  All of these things exist just as much in the classroom as they do in the game of chess.

Dayton's Chess club is a landmark downtown.

Secondly, chess is a game that can be played anywhere.  Opponents are easy to find if you want to find them.  An obvious possibility is the school.  It’s so obvious I’ll move on.  For those children who are homeschooled or do not otherwise have school opponents, there are local chess clubs.  Most small cities have a chess club; larger cities may have several.  They will be in the phone book if nowhere else.  Often a club will have a Kids’ Night, in which children are the focus of play.  They may even have some adult players providing some casual coaching.  Libraries are increasingly involved with gaming, which is particularly true for chess.  Our local library in Dayton has at least one chess night a month.

If the local chess club or library isn’t an option, chess is one game that can be played online very safely.  They should be monitored of course; I strongly believe in knowing where your kids are both in the real world and in cyberspace.  However, chess is often played with no conversation between online opponents.   There are sites exclusively provided for children like, which is run by the people at  This a very user friendly site that allows parental control.  I play at, and I find the entire experience to be easy and fun.  There isn’t any software or crazy connections, and games can be downloaded for study.

One of my boards is this old Tandy 1650, which is great!
Another way to play is against a computer opponent.  This can be a computer program either on an actual computer or on a gaming console.  Nearly all of the consoles have them for sale.  It could also be an electronic board, complete with pieces.  I have an old, small Tandy electronic board, and it is great.  I will say I rarely use it, though, since I play online and can use my phone.  I would recommend a program, since they generally have tutorials or some way to rate play, and are therefore better at helping a new player improve.  Don’t worry about buying the best software.  Anything sold these days is far better than most people will ever be.  Go with what fits  your budget.

The third reason to teach your child chess is that it is a lifelong activity.  Chess is a lifestyle game, which means that it can become a major hobby by itself, exclusive of other games.  Bridge and go are other lifestyle games.  Magic the Gathering and poker are too, but they can be much more expensive!  In any case, introducing your child to chess may give them something they enjoy for the rest of their life.

Don’t worry about equipment at first.  A simple dollar store chess set will do.  So will books out of the library, if you are on your own.  As your child shows interest, it’s easy to find more books at any reasonably sized book store.  Nicer chess sets can be found all over the internet, and tournament sets and boards are not expensive.  The important thing is to make sure your child is having fun.  The learning is in the play, not necessarily in the lecture.

It's Your Move!

Related Posts :

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Educational Games – An Incomplete Grade!

This past Sunday was the monthly meeting of our gaming group, 3rd Sunday Gamers.  Several of the members teach at my son’s school.  One of them brought a new game, Numero, and we played 10 Days in the USA.  I realized that I missed a few great games that really need to be mentioned when talking about educational games.

Photo by Tony Archer
Numero was very interesting and very good.  Essentially, players are attempting to lay down numbered cards into multiple piles from their hand to make matches.  Once a match is made, the matching player takes that pile and set it before them, sort of like taking a trick.  Rather than create a new pile, players can change the value of the pile by adding numbers to it.  There are also “wild” cards that allow you to perform other arithmetic operations to a pile.  In this way, the value of the pile can be matched and taken.  Not only were there the basic operations (adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing), but with percentages and a cube root thrown in, this game was a math refresher in a box, yet actually was a lot of fun.  It could be tuned to younger players by taking out some or all of the wild cards.  I had never seen it before, but it definitely bridges the “educational” vs. “fun” divide.

Photo by Nathan Morse
To start things off, though, we played 10 Days in the USA, which is part of a larger series of games that I should probably write about.  I actually gave this game to my wife for Christmas a few years ago because it reinforces United States geography, so I really had no excuse for missing it.  In this game, you are attempting to create a trip throughout the states by walking, driving or flying.  Walking and driving requires you to know which states touch or are close together.  A map board is provided.  This game not only bridges the gap, but builds a autobahn between “educational” and “fun”!

Photo by Z-Man Games

We closed the night with Pandemic, which thinking about it, also has a map board as part of play.  It shows the major cities around the world, and therefore would also be educational to some extent.  I miss that because this game is so much fun!!  Honestly, this is one of my favorite games.  It is also a big hit in our group, with roughly 20 plays in the group.  Beyond geography, it really teaches teamwork.  I won’t go into it more; I will put a link to my previous review.

We also played 7 Wonders.  While thematically based on history, game play really doesn’t teach history.  There might be some background on the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World somewhere in the box, but then I missed it.  It was a very good game; everyone liked it.  I had prepared much more than the last time I tried to teach it, which was a disaster due to lack of preparation.  We managed to get in two plays, a learning game and a real play.  I will review it in the future.

Playing four games, and one of them twice, made for a great day.  Any of these games would be great in a family or casual setting.  I’d love to be able to tell you who won what, but we really don’t care that much.  Hey, we have enough trouble keeping track of who’s turn it is!  But now,

It’s Your Move!

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Educational Games

Image by Jesse Elliot
My wife hates it when I do this.  And she is right, I should not disparage games like Following Directions, or any number of games that just sound boring!  Following Directions might be an incredibly fun game, despite is rating of 2.0/10.0 on BoardGameGeek.  Who am I to judge?  The simple fact is that the title of the game was written to appeal to teachers and parents, and not to students.  That’s the problem I want to address as our thoughts turn to the upcoming school year (at least in my little piece of the cosmos).

 We have a tendency to divide the world of games into two camps: games that educate vs. games that entertain.  The first are almost universally seen as worthwhile (though I might be the lone exception to that rule), and the second are seen by many as an indulgence (particularly when played by adults).  Very few games, maybe just chess, are seen as both, though most people I know have only a passing knowledge of chess.   However, that division is a false one that is largely brought about by the laser focus our culture has on academics.  Not only do our kids have more homework at a young age, but heaven forbid they play a game that is just for entertainment!  We even turn sports into hard work!  How do we know that a game is educational?  One glance at Following Directions makes it pretty clear that it’s not fun, so it must be educational.

Unfortunately, the kids have exactly the same impression.  Whether or not Following Directions is fun (and I really have no idea), the simple fact is that it doesn’t pass the cover check, and that’s all the kids need.  Children tend to be incredibly influenced by cover art and other (missing) glimpses of the Awesomeness Factor, including the title.  What results is a game time that requires effort just to get the kids to play!   There are ways around this problem.

Promotional Image from Jolly Rogers Games
The first is to find games that have at least a fairly cool name and a nice look.  At the very least, it can’t be boring.  This is less important if the class is all involved in the same game and cannot really see artwork; my wife has had the after school program playing exciting games of 20 Questions for Kids and was asked to bring it back.  Bananagrams makes a great, short word game.  I would love to see a game of Founding Fathers used to teach about the writing of the United States Constitution.  Art Shark is a solid game that shows off classic works of art and their artists, reinforcing the history of art.

Another approach is to re-theme a game so that it has more relevance to the classroom.  Play Risk, but with a map of the United States, teaching geography.  Play memory, but make it so that you pick three cards, and must make a math sentence out of them.  (Hey! I just thought that one up!)  One of the easiest games to do this with is Trivial Pursuit, by making up your own set of cards.  Break the classroom into four or five teams and you are set!

Lastly, expand your idea of educational.  Personally, I think that most game teach some very important life lessons that are key to success.  Most games teach kids, “be patient, and wait your turn”.  (How many video games teach that?)  From games, kids learn that sometimes you have to make due.  My dad would say you must “play the hand your dealt”, and he wasn’t just talking about cards.   Games teach that sometimes you don’t get to “have it all”, you must make tough choices.

And if you must play Following Directions, for heaven’s sake please disguise it.  Lose the box and call it “Traffic”.  (“Oh no kids, the words ‘following directions’ on the backs of the cards is just what you do with the cards…”)  The game board actually is pretty well done.  And who knows, maybe with a teacher that shows a little enthusiasm, the game is actually fun!

It’s Your Move!

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Friday, July 1, 2011

I am asking too much...

I have been listening to the Ludology Podcast to and from work.  There are several podcasts that I listen to regularly; this particular one is more of a once-in-a-while type of thing.  The topic was family games, and it ventured into a discussion on the developmental stages of children and what games work well at those stages.  I came to realize something in this podcast -- I am asking too much from my chess club kids.  Simply put, chess offers too many decisions with too many options that impact too many moves down the road for these kids, particularly the younger ones, to grasp.  I thought starting at 4th grade would allow for more cognitive ability, but I was wrong.  Some of the junior high kids should start to get it, but the younger ones, no.

I guess that really means I am a chess teacher, and not a chess coach.

It's Your Move!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Mass Market Marvel – Qwirkle

What in the world is a Qwirkle?  You know the old saying: “He’s a psycho, you’re eccentric and I just have a little Qwirkle!”  No, can’t say I’ve heard it either…

Promotional image from Mindware
Qwirkle is a game for two to four players that has been described as Scrabble with shapes and colors.  Not exactly how I would phrase it, but nonetheless it gives a mental picture of what each player is doing.  It has been available at Target for quite some time, and has made its way to K-mart in my area, which is fantastic.  Why?  Because it is a great game that won the 2007 Mensa Select award and is now up for the 2011 Spiel des Jahres.  It is fun, accessible for all ages, and develops pattern recognition skills.  However, do not mistake this for an “educational game”; this game is quite a bit of fun!  What follows is a look at the pieces, an overview of game play, and a bit on accessibility.

The components to Qwirkle consist of black blocks with six shapes painted in six colors on the “face” side.  The combination of color and shape gives thirty six individual blocks, each of which is repeated three times for a total of 108 pieces.  There is no board; the only other component is the draw bag.  The heft of all of these blocks means this game is a great game to play outdoors.  Nothing will blow away in the wind.  I probably wouldn’t take it camping (and certainly not backpacking!) due to the size and weight of the game, but my wife and I have played at the football field during our son’s practice with just a little folding game table and some chairs.  Playing this on the porch on a cool summer evening would be great!

Game play is equally simple.  On a players turn, they choose from one or more tiles in their “hand” and play them together to the table.  The goal is to create lines of one color with all six shapes, or lines of one shape with all six colors in a crossword style pattern.  One point is awarded for each tile (including already placed tiles) in the newly enlarged line.  If two tiles are added to a line of two existing tiles, the player will receive four points.  If they manage to add to more than one line, points are awarded for all of them.  If the play completes a line so that all six colors or shapes are present (called a Qwirkle!) the player receives an additional six points.  Then, tiles a drawn from the draw bag to replenish the “hand”.  The player with the highest score when blocks run out is the winner.  It’s easy to see where the comparisons to Scrabble come to mind.
Promotional image from Mindware

The game box says that children down to six years old can play, and that sounds about right.  Getting a typical 6-year-old to sit for 45 minutes at one game might be a trick though.  Nonetheless, Qwirkle is a game that we have taught lots of people to play, some of whom had never played games even as kids.  Occasionally, there will be a misplay by a new player, but I still sometimes make an illegal move by mistake, so I can’t complain there.  Those moves are normally caught by someone, before it becomes an issue.

This is a great game that I highly recommend.  It is priced very reasonably; great for a game on a budget. Particularly for family play, this game is fantastic.  

Vital Statistics:

                Ages:                     6 and up
                Time:                     45 minutes
                Players:                 2-4 (but we have pushed this to six players!)

It’s Your Move!