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 teaching. Show all posts
Showing posts with label teaching. Show all posts

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Better Late Than Never

Wow.  This has been a pretty different year.  Lots of things in my personal life have worked against my gaming, which is why I haven't posted as much.  Here's a quick recap.

So far, I am on pace with last year.  In other words, I am having another bad year in terms of number of games played.  At this point in time last year, I had played 28 games of twelve different titles.  This year, I have played 27 games of 14 different titles - though seven of those games are a special case as you will see below.  It's amazing to me that I have dropped off that much.

I have received a lot of fun by learning new games.  I have found that I learn a new game, and I am much better able to teach a new game, by playing the game through by myself with several players.  It's a sort of "multiplayer solitaire", but it's been good.  Of course, that's also kind of sad; I am getting the most gaming enjoyment from playing a game by myself.  Ugh.

The good news is that the gaming group is managing to meet every month.  The group was very hit an miss last year.  Right now, we are hitting on all cylinders, and it looks like there isn't anything to get in the way this year.  That's great, because my gaming outside of the group is down.

We also finally got the chess club started at the school.  With only a month left, there was some question as to whether or not it was worth doing, but the kids really wanted it.  We are just going to play, and not give much formal instruction.  I played seven of the kids at once this past Wednesday, which is what I was referring to above.  So instruction will be on an individual basis, as I point things out to the kids as they play. 

We are going to try something different this year.  I play a lot of chess on, which is a great site.  (My number of plays doesn't include online chess games.)  They have an associated website for kids, on which parents and coaches can control the amount of contact their kids have.  I will be introducing it to the parents, so that the kids can continue to play over the summer with each other, and with me.  I will be able to comment and keep track of their progress.  If I can keep them playing, I will.

It's their move!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Teaching Lessons

Yesterday, I got in the car and started listening to one of my favorite gaming podcasts, On Board Games.   In this particular episode, the hosts, Donald Dennis and Erik Dewey, were talking about teaching games with their guest, Giles Pritchard.  It was a pretty amazing coincidence to me, since I had an interesting teaching challenge this weekend at our gaming group.  Back in April 2011, I wrote about not being prepared to teach 7 Wonders, and I actually put it away rather than ruin the initial play experience for my gaming group.  I was teaching a new game at our monthly meeting on Sunday and once again wasn’t prepared, but in a way that caught me completely off guard.  Playing the game is one thing; scoring is another.

[As a complete aside, I really have to endorse not only the On Board Games podcast, but also Giles’ blog, Castle by Moonlight.  These are great resources for those interested in gaming at any level.]

We started off playing a couple of filler games until everyone arrived.  Afterwards I announced that I was teaching China (a fantastic game I will review soon).  I have never played the game, but I often end up teaching games that I have never played before.  It’s unavoidable, since I don’t get to other groups or conventions to play games with experienced players.  The game play is straightforward in China, literally taking only a few sentences to explain.  Normally, explaining the game play is the hard part; it can be very difficult to explain the various phases and options the player has on their turn.  Let’s use Monopoly as an example.  If you are playing strictly according to the rules, the player rolls the dice and moves their token.  From that point, they either: a) pay the owner of the property; b) buy the property; or c) do nothing.  Option a) is dictated if the property is owned.  If the player chooses option c), the property is put on auction, and there is a set of rules for that.  Of course, all of this goes out the window if the player lands on Chance, Free Parking or one of the other places on the board that have their own set of rules, too.

The scoring for Monopoly, however, is simple; there isn’t any scoring.  The winning player is the last person standing when everyone else has been eliminated.  Many games, and nearly all of the games our gaming group has played, have relatively straightforward scoring systems.  A few others are an exception, like Carcassonne, having a relative scoring element as one part of the whole score.  In Carcassonne, scoring farms is relative to how many completed cities touch that farm.  In China, nearly all of the scoring is relative.  That’s the difficulty in explaining the rules.  That’s what I wasn’t prepared for.  How much you score in a given province in China is relative to how many pieces other players put in the province.  That tension between gaining points and possibly giving away points forms the strategy.

I probably should have seen this coming.  I have trouble teaching Carcassonne precisely because of the farm scoring.  Instead, I fumbled around with an explanation of scoring on Sunday.  Fortunately, the other players were willing to play anyway, and after a first “learning game” we played a game with everyone understanding all of the rules: both game play and scoring.  It’s not that the scoring is hard to understand; it’s just hard to put into words.

In teaching the game I learned a lesson.  In the past, I would teach a game by first introducing the game’s theme or story, giving the game objective in story terms, giving the game objective in terms of the rules, and then explain what a player did on his or her turn.  Along the way, I would explain the various game components.  Explaining the scoring was simple enough that it just worked out in explaining everything else.  In China, that’s just not going to happen.  Explaining the scoring will need its own focus, and will probably need to include examples as I teach.  I will need to work a little more on my teaching technique.

It's Your Move!

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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, November 8, 2011

I'm Not Ready Yet!

Tomorrow is the first day of chess club at our school.  We wait until after football season is over, since my son and several of the other boys play football.  That just makes it too hectic for my wife and I to get every place we need to be, so chess waits.  Of course, as I mentioned in previous posts, I made great plans for moving forward this year.

I love the "whooshing" sound that great plans make as they blow right out the window.

We bought a chess curriculum last year, and I might still be able to use it.  Hopefully I can do that enough to becomes at least familiar with it.  I have a little more time, since this week is just the first week, and is really about getting acquainted.  As I said this morning, the kids should break down into four groups, who can be generally dealt with separately.

The first group are the kids who were coming last year.  They all know the rules, and can actually play a game.  Some of the older kids are decent players.  We will set up a chess ladder like last year, although I need to look at some of my "lessons learned" from last year.  Nonetheless, those kids can be turned loose to play for the first day if need be.  This is an easy group.

Group two consists of those kids who willingly admit they have no clue how to play.  These are the children who just admit up front they can't even move the pieces correctly.  This is the other easy group, since we have material to teach them with, and nearly anyone can use the material.  Typically, my wife takes this group and brings them along.

The last two groups are the hardest, since they need assessment.  The better of the two are those kids who are mature enough to know if they can play chess or not, but don't have much experience.  They may fit in great with the returning members, but also could be intimidated.  Helping them level the playing field is important.

The toughest group are the kids who truly believe the know how to play, but don't.  In the same group are those who are too embarrassed to admit they don't know how to play.  Either way, you have to get them to the point where they know it's okay to be learning the game from the ground up.  That's a particularly tough job. Last year, I had a girl in the club who could not grasp all of the rules, but insisted she did to the frustration of her opponents.  She was crying at the end of the year, because she never won a game.  How could she?

In the end, all of these groups will resolve into two; those who know the rules and those who don't.  When we figure out where everyone is at, then we will know how to proceed.  All that really matters is that the kids get a bit of a mental workout, and have fun playing!

It's Your Move!

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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!

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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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