Monday, June 15, 2009


As more and more schoolchildren get interested in the game of chess, parents are naturally intrigued why their young'uns are taken to the standing pieces on top of black and white squares. Most parents do not know the game and are helpless when answering questions about chess from their kids.Hence they are unable to tell what is required for a child to play the 16 pieces. Many thought that learning the rules of chess will do. It's just plain madness, I tell you. Wonder if you should let your children turn the ignition of your car??

So here's where a good trainer can help, in my humble opinion.

A newbie is one who admires how the pieces are shaped and stacked and not how they move. For them, chess trainers have to make them learn the moves of the pieces and get them to enjoy it too.

Then its time for them to know how to switch the King and Rook around (castling), check the King, tell the difference between CHECKmate and STALEmate. That took a lot of time in my last student. It's not an easy concept to grasp for 5 year olds.

So a good trainer should think twice about teaching chess to children below the age of 8, in my opinion of course. Children need to understand the value of pieces, know how they can win or lose points based on the way they capture. Otherwise, it's not chess anymore.

However, if the parent insists, then the following should be taught well (after the rules):

1 How to checkmate the King with the lone King and Queen
2 How to promote just 1 pawn to Queen with 2 lone Kings
3 How to capture and re-capture without losing value
4 How to develop the pieces at the start of a game.

The child should try to play with others and attempt to explore the board (ie know what squares are suitable for each piece at the start of the game. Next he/she should also be able to have some 'board vision', ie picture the squares which are not safe for his/her pieces.

I highly recommend that coaches make use of the book 'CHESS MAZES' by Bruce Albertson and give the exercises to help the child see the board. This will significantly reduce the mistakes the children will make, resulting in the loss of pieces), when they are asked to move the pieces.

It is not really important for children at this stage to learn openings to play. Being familiar with checks, how best to deal with checks, captures and threats is probably better bang for the coaching dollar.

Monday, June 1, 2009


If you are reading this for the first time, welcome.

I am John Wong, a chess enthusiast for 34 years. I started teaching the game when I was 18 and turned chess trainer since 2003 when I was retrenched. It has been a good 6 years, where I have been receiving students of all ages ( from 6 to 60) and temperaments.

During my 34 years of involvement in chess, I was once active in organising chess, having been involved with running chess tournaments, being in several positions in the Singapore Chess Federation during 1987-1998 and a brief return in 2003-4. My involvement in the National Junior Training Team in 1987 taught me valuable lessons when working with talented chess juniors then.

As for journalism, I was also active then in the publishing of the Singapore Chess Digest back in 1986-87. I also wrote several articles for the SCF, the last being the obituary of Prof Lim Kok Ann who was a mentor and elder. As for chess, I do think I am widely read, having 400 or more chess books in my library collected over the 34 years. In time to come I shall share my knowledge of what books are perhaps crucial in one's understanding of chess.

What made me write this blog?

There seems to be an aura of mystery about the topic of chess training, especially amongst parents today. Many have a vague idea as to what chess can do for their children, most are keen to try it amongst other mind-bending pursuits like Sudoku, abacus, math olympiad training and what not. Many parents sending their kids to chess training DO NOT play the game. As a result they are at the mercy of any party who claims they can do the job. Hence it is useful to have some guiding information by which these parents can evaluate and ascertain which trainers are beneficial for the child's chess education.

Hopefully my next few posts can shed some light on this area, in the hopes of informing what chess trainers can do, should or shouldn't do.

More to come ... do watch this space.