Chess Gymnasium by Jaan Ehlvest

12/27/2011 – Chess in Schools has become the hottest topic in the game. A new book by the Estonian GM Jaan Ehlvest (who now lives in the US) introduces us to the “Russian way” of teaching chess to young children. It is a method born of decades of research. “Chess Gymnasium” introduces each concept slowly, but with depth. The author, once ranked number five in the world, describes the project.

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Chess Gymnasium

By Jaan Ehlvest

A few years back I wrote an autobiographical book “The story of a chessplayer“. It was more like for grown-ups. Now I have just published a book for children: “Chess Gymnasium” was presented just before Christmas in Tallinn, Estonia.

Chess in schools has become a hot topic lately and it is used even in chess politics, if you read and follow it more closely. The FIDE President made it his first priority and is helping local chess federations to get more attention from local authorities, mainly from their ministries of education.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov visited the Baltic states recently. In the above picture he is signing my book... present it to the representative of Estonian Ministry of Education.

The official presentation of the book took place few days later in Solaris Center in Tallinn at the bookstore Apollo. In this picture the publisher Andres Adamson from Argo is making the introductory speech and the author is standing in the middle. In Estonia three million books are sold annually. My publisher thinks that the colorful book for children is far better then the computer screen and I fully agree with him.

The author of Chess Gymnasium GM Jaan Ehlvest

I still like to remind my chess friends of our vision here. There are many different schools of martial arts, and they all have their own philosophy. In chess nobody had the courage to declare their position; most of the time chess politicians only repeat slogans without trying to put together some kind of system. This is an unfortunate situation and we need to change it. First we need to find the best place for chess in our world and show its future. Anybody is welcome to cooperate, because our slogan is: “victory is achieved by the mind.” It does not mean that you win against somebody just with your mind, it means that everybody wins. We need to understand that a draw is the best outcome and the fairytale of the winning Maharaja is somehow today forgotten again.

I would like to wish holiday greetings to all chess lovers around the world.

Jaan Ehlvest, 49, has been a grandmaster since 1987. He was briefly a world top ten player when, in 1991, he ascended to the number five slot on FIDE's official list with an Elo rating of 2650. Jaan was named Estonian sportsman of the year in 1987 and 1989. Since 2006, he has represented the United States of America. His brother Jüri Ehlvest is a well-known writer in Estonia.

Chess Gymnasium

This manual differs from other beginning chess books available in the United States. This is the “Russian way” of teaching chess to young children. It is not an arbitrary method but the result of decades of research. “Chess Gymnasium” introduces each concept slowly, but with depth. We do not attempt to have students play legal games against each other as soon as possible, but rather to use the very process of learning the rules as a teaching tool. This is important, and what makes this manual different from others. For this reason, two lessons are devoted to each piece. Besides simply learning how each piece moves, the students solve various problems with each piece before they have learned all the rules of chess. Along the way, particularly close attention is given to the geometry of the chess board itself.

The ultimate goal of chess – checkmate – is not introduced until Lesson 21! After learning the material in this book, students will know all of the rules. However, we can say that they will gain much more, and have a much more solid foundation in chess, than if they had been taught the rules as quickly as possible without discretion.

This book is designed to be used by any adult who wishes to teach chess to a child. You do not need to know anything about chess! Thus it can be used by a master who is teaching chess in a classroom, or by a classroom teacher who knows no more about chess than the children. It can also be used by parents who wish to teach their children chess at home.


Lesson 2: Getting to Know the Chess Board

Introduction to the chessboard, with the tale of “The Two Know-It-All Mice.”

Begin the class with the children sitting facing each other on opposite sides of a chessboard (two children per board). The boards should be placed either correctly (with a white square in the right hand corner) or incorrectly. Ask the children to turn their board so that it is placed correctly. Go around the room, checking each board and turning it 90 degrees if it is not correct. A chess game involves two “opponents” – one on each side of the board.

Here is a story for those who are just discovering the chessboard:

Once upon a time in a green valley there were two brothers-mice who lived on a chessboard. One mouse was white and had his nest on a white square, and the other was black and had his nest on a black square. Both mice loved to brag, and thought they knew everything. This was why they were called the “know-it-all mouse brothers”. Because they lived on a chessboard, they thought they knew EVERYTHING about chess.

Then one day a young girl named Polly came along. She listened to them brag about how much they knew about chess.

“You don’t know anything about chess!” she said. “Look here – on this chessboard there are many black and white squares. See, this is a white square, and this here is a black square.”

“We know everything about the chessboard – after all, it is our home!” said the mice.

“Well then tell me,” said Polly, “which squares are bigger, the white ones or the black ones?”

“White,” said the white mouse.

“Black,” said the black mouse.

“What do you think?” (ask the children)

“Oh, you know-it-alls!” said Polly, “they are the same size. And can you tell me, what shape is the chessboard, and what shape are the squares?” “The chessboard is round,” said the white mouse.

“The squares are also round,” said the black mouse.

“Is that so?” (ask the children)

“Silly mice! Your heads are round, a ball is round, but the chessboard and the squares are BOTH square. They have four sides and four corners.”

The mouse-brothers were very embarrassed. After that they stopped bragging, and even started to learn how to play chess!

The mice learned a lot about the chessboard from Polly. What do you know about the chessboard already?

Show the children the chessboard, and point to the black squares and white squares.

How many squares are there in total? Have the children guess the number of squares on a chessboard. Once it is established, write it down on the chalkboard (64). And how many white squares and black squares are there? Write this down on the chalkboard (32). There is the same number of white squares as black ones.

Worksheet 14: Win a piece

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