Here’s How Kids Can Learn to Play Chess for Beginners

Learning to play chess sets kids up with the decision-making skills to change their entire lives! While the game of chess may be intimidating, there are simple ways that beginners can learn chess without stress.

Beth Harmon from the Queen's Gambit showing that anyone can learn to play chess, at any age.
The Queen’s Gambit is a wonderful new show about a chess prodigy.

Why Learning Chess is Good for Kids

Making decisions is notoriously hard, for my kids. Ask them what they want for supper, or which of two things they would prefer. Usually, I’ll get an “Ummm…”, if I’m lucky.

When the kids go to bed, I have been watching The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix. I just can’t get enough! It is the story of a young orphan’s rise to stardom as a chess prodigy. Obviously, there are some downfalls to such a life.

What struck me, though, is Beth’s amazing ability to make decisions. That is a key skill in learning how to play Chess!

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How to Teach Children to Play Chess

Learning how to play chess can seem daunting, even for adults! So many different pieces move in different ways! Fear not! Anyone can learn to play chess. It is never to early or late in life for learning the game of chess. Encouraging high level thinking is critical at any stage in life.

We are a family that loves hands on activities, so the only way to learn is to do!

Have you read our article about how to make your own board games? My kids love to learn and make new games. Learning Chess has opened their possibilities to even more games!

This book is a great way to learn the game, as well as to teach it to little ones! Kids and adults alike can become chess masters in no time!

1. Start the game off slowly, with Pawns only!

These are the pawns!

Start with the easiest piece! Take turns moving one pawn forward, one space at a time. Then, let them “capture” one of your pawns, diagonally!

Next, set the pieces up on the second row, as they would in a regular game, and teach that the very first move can be two spaces. But, only the first move of each pawn.

Once the pawn is mastered, it’s time to add new pieces!

2. Introduce the Bishops and the Rooks

The Bishop moves diagonally and the Rook moves in straight lines.

So, your kid is beating you with only pawns, and you need to bring in other pieces. Been there! The next ones to introduce are the Bishop and the Rook! You can break this into two steps, if you need, and play with one at a time, alongside the pawns.

Place these pieces in their positions on the board. The rooks go at either corner, behind the pawns of the same color. Skip one space, and then add the Bishops, between.

Now you introduce these pieces movement! The Rook can go straight forwards, or backwards, and side to side. The Bishop can move diagonally.

It helps my kids to see diagonally as the bishop can move to spaces of the same color, only. And then the rook has to change colors, each time, in the same direction.

Play so that you try to be the last person with a piece on the board.

3. Time for the Knight to join the Game!

One of the last chess pieces to teach is the Knight!
The Knight is the hardest piece to learn!

The knight’s movements can be complicated. It has to go two spaces in one direction, and then one space in a perpendicular direction. Take time with your child, and one knight on the board, to make as many connecting Ls as you can. The L-shape movement of the knight makes it as fun as it is troublesome to learn.

Next, pick a spot on the board and have them try to get there, using different L shapes.

After they get this, you’re almost ready for a full game! Play a few rounds with the Pawns, Rooks, Bishops, and Knights available.

4. Teach Check and Checkmate

Checkmate is the goal of Chess.

With only four pawns per color, the two rooks, introduce the King and Queen. Reveal that the King is the target, and you must capture him. Using two simple pieces, the pawn and rook, makes it easy to now focus on the Queen, who can move in any straight line.

Learning to use the queen, and not forget about the opponent’s queen, is crucial! Play several games, in this style. Learning that the King is always in danger helps to develop the skill of thinking ahead!

5. Turning a Pawn into a Queen

At this step, you can also teach that getting one pawn to the other side of the board will turn it into a queen! This game style makes it possible to have several queens on the board at one time without it being overwhelming.

Finally: Play A Full Game of Chess!

My boys love to play Chess together, these days.

It is time to bring it all together, now! Place all of the pieces on the board, and let the battle begin! Make sure to keep things fun and upbeat, and to leave opportunities for them to capture your pieces.

Remember, if your child wants to go back to playing without any of the more complicated pieces, like knights, that’s ok! They can always add those pieces back to their games when they are ready.

WikiHow has a really great guide to teaching kids to play Chess, if you would like more information!

What is the real Queen’s Gambit?

I am far from a master of chess. I have never been able to pull off a Queen’s Gambit, even against my kids! Check out this video that does a great job of explaining it.

The Best Chess Sets for Kids

Getting started with the right chess set really helps kids to get drawn in! That initial interest is key to building a lifelong love of Chess.

No Stress Chess

You can play instantly because the special game board guides you to set up your pieces and each card in the innovative deck shows you how to move the piece it pictures. You just set the pieces on the board, shuffle the deck, and begin to play! Click here for more!

Family Fun Chess

This color-coded, learn-as-you-play game is great for kids and adults! Click here for more info!

Easy Travel Chess Set

The adorable pieces with their bright colors makes this set perfect for our littlest learners! Click here to find out more!

Iconic Lego Chess Set

This is such a fun option for kids who already love Legos! They can even insert their favorite minifigures in places of pieces, for extra fun! Click here to see more!

Outdoor Giant Chess Lawn Game

My kids always have so much more fun with giant things. Games and toys that seem too big, seem to hold their interest for so much longer! And being able to play chess out in the sunshine is an added perk! Click here to see it on Amazon!

This one is even bigger, but needs a space to be devoted to it. Definitely something I’ll consider if my kid’s are still playing chess, this time next year!

Harry Potter Wizard Chess Set

Bring the Wizarding World home to your family room with the officially licensed Harry Potter Wizard Chess Set. Go head-to-head in the ultimate duel with this highly detailed miniature recreation of the Wizard Chess Set as seen in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Marvel’s Avengers Chess Set

S.H.I.E.L.D. side characters include Iron Man as King, Captain Marvel as Queen, Black Widow & Captain America as Bishops, Spider-Man & Black Panther as Knights, Hulk & Thor as Rooks, and S.H.I.E.L.D. as Pawns. HYDRA side characters include Thanos as King, Hella as Queen, Kingpin & Red Skull as Bishops, Killmonger & Venom as Knights, Loki & Ultron as Rooks, and HYDRA as Pawns. This Marvel Chess Set is just too cool!

Star Wars Chess Game

 Featuring traditional chess game play, this edition includes pawns that are modeled after characters from the Star Wars universe. It includes those featured in the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Click here to see it on Amazon!

Playing Chess Just Like In ‘The Queen’s Gambit’

Learning to play chess doesn’t happen overnight. It will take some time for your children to build their skills. That is the most important part, though.

Even more important than technical knowledge of how to play chess is the decision-making skills they are building.

Alongside that, chess builds crucial abilities to think ahead and make strategies. Even if they are not a prodigy, learning to play chess can change their life, forever.

More Games & Strategic Fun from Kids Activities Blog

Have you started learning chess with your kids? Do you have any tips on how to learn to play chess for beginners?

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