Playing at the next level

When I was a child, my father was teaching me to play chess.  First, he started from showing me how different figures move. We were doing this on an empty board, to better understand it. Then he explained what check and checkmate means. He was teaching me to put up a check or checkmate using different figures (queen mostly, of course). Then we started practicing: for example, I had a king and a queen, and he only had a king – and my task was to checkmate him.

When I internalized basic moves, we started playing, but of course I couldn’t win. So, my father was playing without his queen on the board. He was explaining to me my mistakes when I was making very stupid moves, and I could redo my moves (sometimes several times). After some time (a year maybe, or more) I started winning sometimes. With time, I started winning much more than 50% of the games, and my father started playing with his queen, but without a rook. I started loosing again, but this time I already knew I could win. So, the game was challenging for me again, however I could win occasionally, if I was really focused (and he was not 😃 ). After years, he was playing without a bishop or a knight, then without 2 pawns, 1 pawn, and finally I was able to defeat him (very rarely, I must admit) with all figures on the board.
What he did was ingenious. There were many advantages in that approach:
  • It kept me interested in the game. If you know you have no chance to win – why even try?
  • I had better feelings about my father. After every win, I felt good, and part of that feeling was targeted on him.
  • When he offered me to play chess – I was always eager to play with him. And spending a good quality time with your father is extremely valuable.
  • If he was playing with me normally, with all figures on the board, it would be useless for him. But trying to play without his queen, even against inexperiences player, would force him to think more moves ahead and to find new creative ways to play, and this helped him improve his game and to prepare for more serious opponents.
So, that was a win-win situation, or more precisely win-win-win, as it was good for me, for him, and for our relationships.
It makes sense to always apply similar approach when you play any games with your children. For example, you most probably can win when you play scrabble. Are you absolutely sure you can? Then what is the point winning at all? Instead, spend you time helping you children, let them win. From the practice and brain exercise point of view, it doesn’t make any difference if you compose words for yourself of for them. But if sometimes you let them win – they will be more willing to play with you next time.
Same approach works not only for intellectual games, but also for sports, whether it’s football, tennis or basketball. Winning a game against your child will not make you a better player. Instead, it will make you worse. Just try playing 3 tennis games (or whatever you favorite sport is) with your child or any other weak player, and then with someone of your level. Chances are high that you will start loosing, and it will take some time before you adopt back. So, winning makes absolutely no sense. Instead, focus on helping your child play better.
I often hear people complaining that playing chess with their kids is not interesting, as it’s too easy. And I believe in the opposite: playing sports or intellectual games with your children is not an easy or boring task! Instead, it requires more effort and creativity – when done right – and may ultimately turn more useful, funny and tough than you could ever expect.

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