One great source of joy as a father is teaching my 5 year old how to play chess. We got into the habit of playing every day for 30 minutes or so during the summer but have fallen out of that as of late. Still, we find time to play a game or two per week.
Yesterday we had time to play a couple games. I wrote down the moves and some observations he made. Let’s go over them together.
Let’s start in the opening. My son does a really good job in the opening. He regularly watches ChessKid videos on YouTube. One of his favorites is their two part series on the opening. He consistently gets his pieces out to active squares, fights for the center with his pawns castles to safety.
In game 1, dad (me) is playing white, and my 5 year old has the black pieces.
- d4 d5
- Nf3 Nf6
- g3 Nc6
- Bg2 Be6
- O-O Bf5
- c4 e6
- Nc3 Bd6
- b3 O-O
This lands us in the following position:
I give my son a solid B in the opening. His only misstep was moving the bishop twice, playing Be6 then Bf5 the next move. That being said, the bishop is much better on f5. Kudos, kiddo, for getting the LSB to the correct square. On e6 the bishop has no scope and is blocking the e-pawn from fighting for the center.
Other than the bishop hiccup (biccup?!), black’s position looks pretty good, and I am a proud dad. All of black’s minor pieces are out, his pawns are contesting the center and his king is castled and safe.
With all that said, white is still better. White has more active pieces, harmonious development and can win the bishop pair at a moment’s notice with Nh4. Black’s c6 knight is also a bit awkwardly placed, as c5 (some day) would be a desirable pawn break.
This is where it gets a bit ugly for my little prodigy. He immediately blunders a bishop after…
9. Bb2 Rc8
10. Nh4 Qe6
Here, black missed a few things. First, his bishop is trapped after c5. Second, Nxf5 doubles the f-pawns and, in turn, hangs the d5 pawn. After the move 9…Rc8, my son observed that no pieces had been traded yet! I didn’t want to win a piece super quickly, so I instead took a less ambitious path forward.
12. Rc1 Rfd8
After I won the bishop, my son said “You won the trade a bit because a bishop is a little better than a knight.” Wise word from my little 35 pounder. Attacking black’s weak pawn. Here I did give my son a hint. His first reaction was to play the move g6 to defend the pawn but “I didn’t want to weaken my king.”
He had the right idea, so I gave him a little pointer here and helped him defend his pawn without g6. The game continued.
14. Qc2 (attacking the pawn again) Ne7
15. cxd5 g3
I played e5 here mostly to see if my so would spot the pin. Amazingly, he did! Without prompting he said “I’m not going to move this (f5) pawn because you’ll take my queen.” I was honestly shocked that he picked up on this motif.
A big weakness of my five year old, and beginning players in general, is to relieve tension as soon as possible. A big part of this weakness is mindless captures. In this exact position, I expected my son to immediate play fxe4 and me giving a gracious take back. Instead he played Nxe4.
17. Nxe4 b5
After I played Nxe4, my son again showed discipline in not recapturing the pieceIn this position, I got to play the very satisfying Nf6+. If the fork was not possible, b5 is a pretty good move, grabbing some queenside space and freeing up room to activate his cramped pieces.
After Nf6+, winning the queen, my son said “well if I have to save one piece I have to save the king.” Wise words, grasshopper. I’ll save you the rest of the moves, but Dad went on to win the game. You can analyze the game on chess.com here.
What I’m most impressed by in this game by my son was not the moves he played but rather his sportsmanship. He was never upset when I won a night for free, won his queen or won the game. He was having fun, and just happy to spend time with me.
Chess is a great game to play with kids. It develops critical thinking skills, problem solving as well as patience, focus, and sportsmanship. There really is nothing like it.
One of my life’s greatest joys is playing chess with my sons. My five year old can play a real game of chess, my 2.5 year old can knows the names of all the pieces.
I only ever play chess with a physical board and pieces with my children. I think it makes the game more “real” and it also reduces screen time. Getting a child to focus on a single thing (that isn’t a movie) for more than five minutes is a superpower, and chess does that for our family. I love the friendly competition and quality time that chess allows.
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