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TEDx: How Chess Improves Learning

“…they suffered from a common misconception. That only smart people play chess when in fact it is the other way around. Chess makes you smart.”

Thank you for this link, Amy Lee!

Make Big Mistakes

Accelerate Learning: Embrace the Possibility of Mistakes

Can Chess be Used to Improve Executive Functions? Collaborative Research Project

Here is a great article and accompanying video about our research collaboration with Dr. Ellefson from the University of Cambridge and Dr. Serpell from Virginia Commonwealth University.


There are lots of great chess apps out there.  We can’t claim to have tried them all, but here are five that we like and use.  We like apps that don’t require much reading (if it is for younger kids), that do not allow chatting with unknown people, do not have excessive in-app purchases (to be an ongoing annoyance for younger kids and their parents), ads are discrete or non-existent (please use your judgment about the appropriateness of apps with ads for your child), are easy to navigate and with clear/simple instructions.

1. Dinosaur Chess: With this app, kids can learn and play chess.  There are no in-app purchases or communication with others.  Has great audio for non-readers.   Primarily for beginners and younger players.  We link to the iOS version, but it is available in a variety of formats.

2. Maurice Ashley Teaches Chess: This app has lessons, skill builder games/drills, puzzles and chess playing. Has a lot of audio, but a younger child may need help reading instructions for the skill builders and puzzles, especially the first time.

3. Solitare Chess: Great little chess based puzzle app.  Progressive difficulty.  Younger players may need help initially, but once they understand the rules, they will enjoy playing without help.

4. Chess (Optime): Simple chess playing app.  Free with ads, low fee for ad free.  One player or two.

5. iGame Clock (free): A simple chess clock.  Works like a real chess clock, but free so that your child can practice using a clock without purchasing a chess clock.  It cannot be used in a tournament, but it’s a great way to see what using a chess clock is like.  It also makes a great travel clock.

What are your favorite chess apps for kids?  Has anyone used Chess with Friends, Chess Academy for Kids or Chess Kids? These three looked interesting; however, we were unable to do sufficient to make sure that it fit our criteria.  Specifically, we look at whether apps are too new or have too few reviews to be sure they aren’t buggy, have inappropriate ads, are too expensive, and if it is possible to chat with strangers.  Please let us know your experiences with these or other chess apps.

Recommended Chess Supplies for Beginning Chess Players

Overwhelmed trying to figure out which chess supplies your beginning chess player needs?  Here are our recommendations.

Chess Board, Set and Bag

Triple Weighted Chess Set

This set is regulation size and triple weighted. The extra weight is especially important for younger players who tend to knock over lighter pieces and get frustrated. Having used a variety of pieces with large numbers of kids, we highly recommend paying a bit extra for the weight. It will make for happier kids. If you buy them for a club, we recommend purchasing one or two extra sets (not boards and bags) so that you have extra pieces in case of loss or breakage.

Scholastic Chess Set

Pawn Mower Combo Edition

Pawn Mower Combo EditionPawn Mower Puzzle books are a great way to learn how to move the pieces.  We suggest that beginners start with one piece and skip around doing only puzzles with that piece until the movement of that piece becomes second nature.  Then, they should do the same with each of the other pieces in turn.  This is a completely non-intimidating way to learn how the pieces move.  Initial puzzles are so easy that beginners of all ages find them completely approachable.  Don’t be fooled though, the puzzles gradually increase in difficulty until they are quite challenging.  Players who keep attempting more and more difficult puzzles will see their board visualization (the ability to see how various pieces move around the board without calculating it directly) improve drastically.  

The Most Valuable Skills in Chess by Maurice Ashley

The Most Valuable Skills in ChessA great resource for beginning players and/or their teachers. Begins with the rules and moves on through to basic tactics. Taught in GM Ashley’s signature engaging style, this book is a great place to start.

The Most Valuable Skills in Chess

Beginner Supplies

Chess Camp Puzzle Books

Puzzle Books

Chess Camp Volume 1

These books provide great puzzles for beginning players that reinforce a wide range of important skills. Learning through puzzles is a great way to discover basic tenants for oneself while having fun.  The cover art may appeal more toward younger children, but the puzzles are suitable for beginners of any age.

Chess Camp Puzzle Book 1     Chess Camp Puzzle Book 2    Chess Camp Puzzle Book 3




Chess Master Software

Daniel King Introduction to ChessChess Master Software includes lessons, a chess playing engine and training activities. It is has a reasonably intuitive interface and will serve beginners well beyond the beginner phase. Any version will do.


Daniel King Introduction to Chess

Introduction To ChessThis book is visually appealing (which often makes the difference between a book that is used and one that isn’t, especially if the player feels ambivalent about chess) and a great introduction for anyone, but children in particular will find it engaging. It covers the rules as well as beginning strategy and tactics.

Optional: Chess Clock

Chess Clock for BeginnersHe is a link to a simple, easy to use, but durable chess clock for beginners.  Clocks are definitely optional at the beginner stage.  However, once a player starts considering the idea of playing in a tournament, they should purchase and practice with a clock.  Even though clocks are not usually required in K-3 or K-5 age brackets, if one player brings a clock, it must be used, so it is best to be accustomed to using one.  Otherwise, play may be poor due to uneasiness about using a clock.   Beginner Chess Clock


Have you worked out your brain today?


For more information about the maleability of your brain, click here.
For more Pawn Mower workouts, click here.


The topic of “grit” and whether or not it is more important than intelligence in predicting success is creating quite a stir all around in the media.  What is it and what’s the debate about?  Here are a few introductory articles to get you started on the topic.  This is not meant to be complete, nor are we advocating one position or another.  We want to get you thinking and discussing.

1.  Here’s the NPR piece on the topic:

2. Here is a piece by blogger and author Paul Thomas with another point of view: ““Grit” is a mask, a marker for privilege and slack that suggests people who succeed do so because of their effort (and not their privilege and the slack of their lives) and that people who fail do so because of a failure of character (and not due to the scarcity that overburdens them).” Read more here.  If you scroll to bottom of the post, you will find a number of other posts by Thomas and others on the topic.

3. Here is apost by Alfie Kohn (linked to in the Thomas post as well) that challenges some very strong (U.S.) cultural norms such as the idea that what children need is grit, perserverence, self-discipline, will power, and “plenty of bracing experiences with frustration and failure”.  Check it out here.  While you are there, here’s a quote about one of the alternative explanations he offers: ”

Educational psychologists have found that when students are induced to think about grades and test scores — particularly, though not exclusively, when the point is to do better than everyone else — they will naturally attempt to avoid unnecessary risks.  If the goal is to get an A, then it’s rational to pick the easiest possible task.  Giving up altogether just takes this response to its logical conclusion.  “I’m no good at this, so why bother?” is not an unreasonable response when school is primarily about establishing how good you are.”

4. TED Talk about “Grit” by psychologist Angela Duckworth.  A great introduction to the topic.

5. The Research: If you want to get serious, here you will find a list of articles by Angela Duckwort, a psychologist who researches competencies other than intelligence that predict academic and professional achievement…[particularly] self-control and grit.

6. Slack for Success?  Positive reviews of the “Grit” concept abound, so I feel obligated to throw in contrarian points of view.  This one by P.L. Thomas is interesting. What is  mean by “slack”? “Slack” is the term identified by Mullainathan and Shafir as the space created by abundance that allows any person access to more of her/his cognitive and emotional resources.” Read the comments.  They are thoughtful as well.  For example, B. Calsbeek emphasizes the importance of distinguishing between the research on ‘Grit’ and the “no excuses/grit” point of view that can give us an excuse for not addressing the very real problems that children living in poverty experience.  Seriously, the comments are well worth the read.

7. Growth Mindset: Related work by Carol Dweck, read about it here.  This research suggests that thinking that cognitive skills can improve by engaging in challenging activities rather than thinking that intelligence is fixed/biological is a key predictor of success.

Questions that I still have:  Are “Grit” and “Growth Mindset” completely distinct?  They seem to have quite a lot of overlap?  Why is “Grit” considered a “non-cognitive skill”? It seems to rely on (or be reflective of) cognitive skills.

Product Review: Best Chess Clock for Beginners

We often get questions about selecting the best chess equipment for beginning chess players. We have tried a fair amount of clocks in our chess camps and school-based programs, so the clocks we use get a lot of “energetic” use by a lot of different kids. This clock is, by far, the easiest to set and use and the least likely to break (others have buttons that break off, digital displays that stop working in spots and/or high general failure rates). One big advantage for beginners is that it is simple. More advanced players usually prefer a lot of features, but beginners, especially younger kids, do much better with few features.

Great Chess Clock for Beginners

Easy Game Timer

Does Mindfulness training have a place in schools?

Here is a talk about mindfulness.  Andy’s organization, Headspace, offers an accessible, “no uncomfortable positions, no incense” approach that may be more approachable for children and teens.  Does this have a place in schools?

Here’s a quote from his site: Psychologists from the University of North Carolina have found that after this amount (80 total minutes/ not at once) of meditation, people performed significantly better in complex reasoning tasks – tasks that require you to hold lots of information in your mind at the same time.

Sounds like working memory to me.

Is this puzzle too easy?

GM Ashley said that this puzzle is too easy for the newspaper.  Do you agree?  I think it is a fun one.

Remember the rules: A bishop moves diagonally in any direction as many spaces as desired.  Use the bishop to capture all of the pawns.  A pawn must be captured on every turn.


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