Four Questions

When I was running primary school chess clubs I would occasionally go up to a student during the game and ask four questions.

1. What was your last move?

Quite often, they were unable to tell me, because they weren’t really concentrating on the game. First lesson: you have to concentrate at all times when you’re playing chess.

2. Why did you play that move?

They’d often shrug their shoulders and look bemused that I could even consider asking that question. Or if they gave a reason at all, it would be “Because it’s safe”. Second lesson: when you’re playing chess, every move must have a purpose and be part of a plan.

3. Why didn’t you play this move instead?

(I’d select a plausible move rather than a pointless move or an obvious blunder.) Again, they wouldn’t be able to answer that question at all, because they’d just play the first move that came to mind. The idea of considering alternatives and choosing the one you like best was totally foreign to them. Third lesson: you need to develop breadth of vision, to consider several moves before making your choice rather than jumping at the first thing you see.

4. What do you think your opponent will do next?

Yet again, usually no answer beyond “Dunno”. Thinking ahead wasn’t something they were yet able to do in any meaningful way. Fourth lesson: you need to develop depth of vision, to look ahead, to calculate, to assume your opponent is going to play a rational move rather than fall for your trap.

Young children under, say, 1000 strength, will find this way of thinking doesn’t come naturally to them. If they’re doing chess intensively at home, they’ll eventually get the idea, but if they’re only playing once a week at school they won’t. It’s difficult for most young children to use these thinking skills without specific training. But, to a certain extent, the questions apply to all players of all ages and at all levels up to, well, certainly 1500 and arguably 2000 strength.

For a lot more on children’s thinking skills in chess, I’d direct you to this article I wrote almost 20 years ago.

Richard James

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Richard James

Author: Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy ( or and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966. Richard is a published author and his books can be found at Amazon. Richard is currently promoting minichess (games and puzzles using subsets of chess) for younger children through his website, and writing coaching materials for children (and adults) who want to start playing serious competitive chess, through View all posts by Richard James

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