– What is the first thing to teach a beginner in chess?

– What is the basis for playing creative chess?

– How much time it may take to master chess basics and cross into realm of the creative?

Last time we have seen that in order to be highly successful in whatever we are doing in life we need to be aware of the contribution of all the three parts of the brain.

This time we are going to talk about how we behave and how our brain works to make decisions. Then we will apply that knowledge to chess, and to teaching in particular. What follows might sound a little bit academic. I promise I will try to present it in the most condensed form possible. Without this  basic knowledge we wouldn’t be able to make  some important insights about flaws of traditional approach to early teaching in chess we actually want to attack here (chessly speaking:). We will also show (in part II) a novel approach to teaching (after a recommendation by Nimzovich in 1929) that has potential to improve and speed up the teaching. The new innovative approach will form the basis for iPlayoo beginner’s course on Facebook and Twitter (see icons above) to start next Tuesday, June 21.

Foto: Elena Boric

Vision and patterns

We experience and understand the world in terms of information our sensory equipment is programmed to process. Our brain activity is primarily influenced by vision as the primitive brain is constantly scanning the environment for changes. “The main role of our senses is to allow us to monitor our environment and to react to it in ways conducive to survival” [1].

Basically, our brain is “composed of maps, arrays of neurons that represent entire patterns of perception or cognition.” [2] “The mind is continually looking for patterns, thinks in term of patterns, and incorporates new information in terms of  patterns it is already familiar with.” [3]

Most of the time what we do is what we do most of the time…

It is important to know that we behave in terms of built-in responses we call habits. They are situation-specific, well-learned, and performed with little or no conscious intent. Why do we have habits? Because there must be some evolutionary advantage. Habits are also goal-directed, as they started as primitive functions to fulfill some survival-ensuring purpose. The habit-goal interface is of utmost importance during learning process as we will see later on.

Now if we are exposed to a stimulus through our visual faculty, the brain, which works by analogy, starts looking for similarities, differences, or relationships between new information and stored patterns. When it matches up the same or similar pattern, a response is executed based on the previously learned, coded activity/expected behavior.

But what happens when the brain is not familiar with a new stimulus? That will initiate learning process we will deal with in Part II.

Symbolic systems

“In addition to the narrow windows on the world through vision, we opened up new perspectives on reality based on information mediated by symbols. Perfect parallel lines don’t exist in nature, but by postulating their existence Euclid built a system for representing spatial relations that is much more precise than what the unaided eye and brain can achieve. This is a way to make the information accessible that otherwise we would never have an insight about.

The knowledge conveyed by symbols is bundled up in discrete domains – geometry, music, chess, etc. Each domain is made up of its own symbolic elements, its own rules, has strict internal logic that maximizes clarity and generally has its own system of notation. Therefore it’s easy for a young person to assimilate the rules quickly and jump to the cutting edge of the domain in a few years.” [4]

Chess is also a structured domain. Seeing GMs as young as 12, we may assume the basic rules of chess domain are pretty simple and clearly postulated and provide for an effective learning.

This brings me back to my question, what is the first thing we should teach an absolute beginner?

If they say it’s showing the moves of individual pieces, then we seem to be on the wrong track right from the start! See you in Part II


1. John Hallward, Gimme!

2. John Ratey, A User’s Guide to the Brain

3. T. Bitler, 50 Psychology Classics (in Eduard de Bono, Lateral Thinking)

4.  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity

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