The Right Coast

March 01, 2005
Chess lady
By Tom Smith

Why are there so few female chess masters? Beats the heck outta me, but here the question is pondered.

I have been on a chess tear lately. Of my many offices and dignities, I am the chess coach of the Local Catholic Academy chess club. I am trying to improve my game. My game, unfortunately, sucks. And I am not just being modest. I am trying to figure out how to teach chess to kids, so that they actually get better and have some fun. For now, I am taking the no nonsense approach. Last week, one 3rd or 4th grade boy starting whining when I said they had to keep a scorecard of their game in algebraic notation (that's the standard way to keep track of a game, and essential to learn if you are to read chess books, study openings, etc. etc.). "No!" he said. "That's boring! I won't!" I tried reasoning with him, briefly. To no avail. So, out he went. Off to day care. He can come back when he's ready to write down 1 e4 e5. If he doesn't come back, fine. I guess he's not the next Bobby Fischer. I am on a mission from God.

There is a real paucity of stuff to teach kids chess. The gap is between "Here's how the knight moves, boys and girls! Like a horsey!" and "The 'dragon' variation of Sicilian Defense is particularly aggressive, its asymmetrical positions being favored by many modern masters." I am taking my usual approach of throwing money at the problem. I would have made a good liberal. I have purchased a giant demo board, chess computer programs, chess clocks, and innumerable books. Kids who want to throw pieces at each other are dropping out. I feel like Gene Hackman in that basketball movie, except the ending may not be so happy.

One of my most promising players is a little girl, a second grader, as cute as a bug's ear, who is very shy and just kicks the butts of older boys not every time, but often enough to make an impression. Also, unlike several of the boys, she has never hit anybody.