Why Play Chess?
Well, you're here, reading a chess article, so I assume that you have some interest in chess! But it's a good question... Why play chess? Really, what can chess do for you and how can it help you develop?
As usual, being a chess enthusiast but not a competitive player, I don't feel qualified to answer this question... so I have to consult my wife! Agnieszka is a Woman International Master, current Alberta women's champion, former world champion under 20 in rapid chess and has taught hundreds of students in her career as a teacher and coach. Who better to help me answer this fundamental question?
The Number One Reason to Play Chess
Are you ready for this? The number one reason to play chess, more important than trophies and international glory is... because you enjoy it!
Just like in any sport or competitive field, kids are sometimes pushed into chess for the wrong reasons. Dad always wanted to be a champion? Mom wants to brag to her friends about how smart her little girl or boy is? Those are not good reasons to take up chess.
Agnieszka started playing chess after she and her brother got a chess board for Christmas when she was nine years old. Her brother started to teach her how to play and she soon found that she really enjoyed the game, so she signed up for an after school chess club at her primary school.
At this point, she didn't imagine representing the Polish national team in Brazil or playing for team Canada at the chess Olympiad in Georgia (the country... not the state!).
She played because it was fun. If her parents and teachers had put a lot of pressure on her from the start, maybe she wouldn't have continued. So just relax, have fun and play the game. Some students will want to play competitively and some won't. And guess what? That's okay!
Some Skills Chess can Teach You
Besides just having fun, Agnieszka believes that chess can offer students some really valuable life skills. There are few other activities that combine logical thinking, decision making, planning ahead and staying focused in the same way that chess does.
But it is not only mental skills that are developed through chess. Agnieszka sees chess as a way for students to learn emotional and social skills, especially for students who may not like taking part in physical team sports.
A lot of activities that are considered more academic lack a social aspect. Chess is a great option as it allows students to play with others and learn to win and lose in a sportsmanlike way. This is a very difficult thing for a lot of kids to get used to, but it's very valuable in life and the fact that fair play and etiquette are such a big part of chess helps students develop a good attitude from the beginning.
Chess can also help open students' eyes to the world around them. As a teenager, Agnieszka had the chance to visit countries such as Brazil, India and most of Europe. This was pretty unusual for a small town Polish girl in the 90s!
Because chess is so popular worldwide, it is a great opportunity to play tournaments and analyze games with players from different countries and cultures
But I'm a Girl!
Sure, it can be intimidating for a young girl to get started in chess. When she walks into the chess club and there's only one other girl and twenty boys, she may feel a little out of place. Agnieszka knows this well, because she experienced it herself.
Since then, she has seen tears of stress from young girls who were attending their first class or camp. But the good news? Things are getting much better.
In our lessons with Jumping Knight, we are happy to see a good number of girls in attendance. They may still be outnumbered by the boys, but not by nearly as much as they used to be! Good job, girls.
And with inspirational real life stories like Judit Polgar who became one of the world's elite players and Phiona Mutesi, who went from a slum in Kambala to the Ugandan national team and Disney fame, girls around the world can proudly take up chess.
Closer to our home, we're happy to see girls chess camps springing up in Alberta and it has been a real pleasure for Agnieszka to participate in girls camps in Edmonton, Calgary and Fort McMurray.
But, while Agnieszka thinks these camps are a great opportunity for girls, she would also like to encourage them not to limit themselves to girls only events. Get out there and play all opponents, girls!
I'm 42 Years Old... Have I Missed the Boat?
Is there a right age to start chess? Well, that depends very much on the individual and their expectations. If you're middle aged and just starting out, the chances of you becoming a world champion are slim to none! But if you just want to learn for fun, then it's never too late.
Agnieszka says that in Poland it's common for kids to start at four or five years old. Of course they aren't expected to play tournaments at this age, but they at least get introduced to chess in a fun way.
In Canada, it tends to be a bit later, with most kids starting in grades one to three, but there really is no magic age of when to start playing. The best answer is to begin when you're ready to enjoy it.
Agnieszka currently has a student in his eighties... and if he can enjoy chess, so can you!