Teaching chess to someone who's not a total NERD
March 12, 2012 12:58 PM   Subscribe

A friend and I would like to start playing chess together. The only problem is that I'm a fairly strong player and he's not (knows the rules, hasn't played much, and not in a long time). Have any of you been in this situation? What to do?

Three questions come to mind:

1. Assuming he's not all that interested in poring over chess problems and memorizing openings, how can I help to get him on my level, or at least good enough to make our games interesting?

2. Any suggestions for handicapping our games? Have any of you played handicapped games? Is it worth it?

And 3., which I guess is related to the first two: I came across a variant where the players play with only pawns, where the pawns move and capture as usual, and the player who's the first to promote one of his or her pawns wins. (It's mentioned by Lev Alburt in his Comprehensive Chess Course.) Any similar variants that might be educational, fun, or both?
posted by Busoni to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Let him pick a piece for you to lose before the game start.
posted by fellion at 1:00 PM on March 12, 2012

I'm confused, are you offering to teach him or offering to play together?
posted by polymodus at 1:00 PM on March 12, 2012

Fischer Chess might be good to start with--it'll take away from you a lot of experienced reflexes and make you work again, while your friend won't be under any impediment because he won't have built up a history. You'll both be concentrating on pure tactics and strategy, which you can help him out with as you go, depending on his tolerance for being helped.
posted by fatbird at 1:01 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Okay, this seems ridiculous, but you never know... Years ago, I saw this episode of Cheers on which Sam had to play Robin (rich boyfriend of Rebecca) in a game of chess. Obviously, Sam knew nothing about chess. So, he secretly had one of the guys play a computer game of chess, where that person would make the moves that Robin was making and then feed Sam the moves that the computer made in response. That could be an interesting, albeit tedious, way to go.
posted by AlliKat75 at 1:02 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

You could play pion coiffé (or "capped pawn"), a variant in which the stronger player has a certain pawn (or other piece if weaker odds are desired) visually marked at the start of the game and must checkmate with that specific piece, or the game is considered a loss.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:11 PM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've played handicapped and played with a starting advantage. It is as fun as anything. They get a fighting chance, you get a game of desperation. You get new kinds of problems (okay, slightly unnatural ones). It breaks up the normal setup of the board which causes problems but that is the idea.

Offer a serious handicap, like a rook or a rook and a pawn. You just start the game without it. Then if he wins a consistently for 4 or 5 games change it to knight or bishop, then a pawn. It is easier to start big and go smaller. If you start small and they need more of an advantage but are improving, it can confusing if they are wining because they are getting better or because of the advantage. Beginner players might get demoralized by a loss when they start with an advantage, another reason to start big.
posted by bdc34 at 1:16 PM on March 12, 2012

Play with handicap, and try to teach a few basic openings, and then work up some basic attacks and methods of ending a game.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:19 PM on March 12, 2012

Time handicap works really well. Get a clock, set yours at five minutes and his at thirty. Adjust as needed. The clock actually adds a lot of excitement to the game on its own as well.
posted by 256 at 1:27 PM on March 12, 2012

Just wanted to say you could just play evenly, especially if he is *also* playing with beginners elsewhere. Part of learning the game is watching an experienced player play, so just that will help him a lot. My dad said when he was learning chess, he would play with his dad and with people at school. He would use the moves he learned from watching his dad in competition against his classmates -- he went on to beat his dad eventually.
posted by DoubleLune at 1:29 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

As someone who's bad at chess but enjoys playing, I would never want to play a handicapped version. I'd relish the chance to play with an experienced player so I could observe what they're doing. If that person is playing with different rules, that would make it more difficult for me to understand why they're making the moves they're making. I don't see why it matters how often each person wins unless you're playing for money or something.
posted by John Cohen at 1:44 PM on March 12, 2012

First - I think you guys should play several games and see how it works out. In Chess, there is nothing like experience and practice to sharpen a game - I wager he will start rising to your level very quickly (assuming you are not a titled player in the USCF, and are simply an interested amateur like me). If he's not winning even 20% of the time, or the games are so lopsided they are no fun - I would handicap by forfeiting a pawn, or by forfeiting a piece.

For fun variants- - I second the vote for Fischer Random Chess, ie Chess 960. It completely removes the opening book by randomizing the back rank placement of pieces (with just a few logical constraints).
posted by machinecraig at 1:57 PM on March 12, 2012

I was in your friend's position (and probably still am) - what I enjoyed with much more experienced players was Speed Chess. It helped me build practice iwth the rules and the speed of the turns helped keep the disadvantage down a wee bit.
posted by infini at 2:03 PM on March 12, 2012

I don't see why it matters how often each person wins

For a lot of people, games where they will always be crushed are not fun. This is just part of the normal variation in human psychology.

How strongly are you attached to playing chess per se with this friend? Lots of great suggestions for handicapping etc above, but also there are other boardgames with simple rules that offer interesting strategic play but with some luck thrown in to level the playing field between super-strategists and novice gamers. (Happy to recommend some if that sounds at all interesting.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:04 PM on March 12, 2012

The best way to play handicap chess games and have it still be chess is to have a time handicap. Depending on how much better than him you are, you can bring your total time all the way down to one minute or something. Of course this means he's going to have to play timed as well, which might be more stress than you guys want.

As for helping him improve, if he's not interested in working on tactics, he's not going to get better. I would point him at Chess Tempo, which serves up tactical problems tailored to your level. The feedback of watching his rating improve (hopefully) might be enough to keep him interested.
posted by dfan at 2:07 PM on March 12, 2012

Of course this means he's going to have to play timed as well, which might be more stress than you guys want.

Not necessarily. Depending on how lopsided the level of skill one option would be to limit your own turns but allow him to take as much time as he likes.
posted by juv3nal at 2:12 PM on March 12, 2012

Handicap based on how often you win against each other. Your first game is not handicapped (you assume parity), but you adjust the handicap as you win or lose each game. Suppose you use time as the handicap: for each game you win, you lose a little time on the next game, or he gets a little more time, or (perhaps best) both. If he's starting from almost scratch, he may improve a lot more than you will, so the handicap might gradually disappear. But even if you always win, eventually you'll get down to some unworkable amount of time in which you are certain to start losing, while he has enough time to really plan his moves.
posted by pracowity at 2:15 PM on March 12, 2012

Reading through your answers, I see that mine is a minor variation on AlliKat75's.

Allow him to make a certain number of moves a game, say 6, with advice from the chess-playing program of his choice.

As he gets better, you could reduce his number of permitted consultations.
posted by jamjam at 2:44 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

When my dad was teaching me to play, and we had gotten past the rules stage, we would frequently play a normal game and then switch sides at some point-- usually when the going started to get rough for me. Instant challenge for him, more of a chance for me, plus I got to see how he wiggled out of whatever mess I had gotten myself into.
posted by charmcityblues at 3:24 PM on March 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Any suggestions for handicapping our games?

Here's what I did when I was in this situation. First I made sure my pal understood that if I played full-on against him it was going to be no contest. Then I made sure he was okay with me helping him and giving him advice. Then we'd play, and I'd play full-on. As soon as he realised it was looking bad for him, or that he'd made a silly mistake, we'd switch sides. And then again. Until he "won".

Then, so long as he was still into it, we'd talk about what he did wrong, and what I did to try to repair the mistake after we switched. Gradually, we had to switch sides less often. That's how he knew he was improving. :-)
posted by Decani at 3:34 PM on March 12, 2012

We either play "blood bath", the object being to simply try to demolish as many of his pieces as possible, at the cost of many of my own (non-competative good fun), or failing that, my much more talented brother walks me through the very wrong choices I'm about to make.
posted by Phalene at 4:14 PM on March 12, 2012

I'll second the recommendation for a time handicap. That's how we did it when a friend was teaching me chess.
posted by tdismukes at 4:54 PM on March 12, 2012

Wandering through the book store one day I saw a version of chess that game with a deck of cards. The cards had a piece on them and that's what the player had to move. I'd imagine that it forces you to make some awful moves, and I'm not sure what you're supposed to do about being in check.

But it does seem like a really interesting way to play the game.
posted by theichibun at 6:15 AM on March 13, 2012

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