What is the first principle we need to teach and learn in chess?

– Is learning how the pieces move on the board the first step in every chess player’s development?

In case you answered yes to the above question, then make sure you maintain reading as you may be up for a big surprise!

On Creativity

In his fascinating book “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention”, Harper Collins, 1996, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management, has complied an amazing work on creativity, profiles of creative people, how creativity comes about (or doesn’t), and common characteristics of successful creative people.

Manuscript 1220, Abbey Benedettina di Beuron

“Creativity is a central source of meaning in our lives. Most of things that are interesting, important and human are the result of creativity. When we are involved in it, we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life. It makes our day-to-day experiences more vivid, more enjoyable, more rewarding. When we live creatively, boredom is banished and every moment holds the promise of a fresh discovery.”

But few activities are misunderstood by the general public as creativity. Sadly, Hollywood and television often portray the great inventor, scientist or musician as some sort of “mad genius”. Actually, creativity should be encouraged and nurtured from the moment we take our first breath. It is astounding how few of us bother to invest enough mental energy to learn the rules of even one of existing domains (like music, literature, painting, a foreign language, etc.) and live instead exclusively within constraints of biological existence.”

In a previous post we have seen that each domain is made up of its own symbolic elements, its own rules. Each domain represents an isolated little world in which  we can think and act with clarity and express our creativity.

To be creative in a domain exposure is necessary. No matter how enormous chess gifts a child may have, they won’t be able to contribute to chess without learning its rules. Once young Mozart had learned the basic rules of music domain, he was off for his mission of a genius (not all of us will become a genius, but there’s still so much room to unleash your latent creativity).

Secondly, a clear definition of the basic principles will also help find a super-fast way to get up-to-speed on the basic chess knowledge as a prerequisite for all more advanced studies of strategy and tactics in chess.

Manuscript 1283, Monastery dell’Escorial

The First Principles of Chess

So what are the basic principles of chess?

It also seems logical that they should be the first thing addressed when we start to learn chess, right?

Now, if at this point, you start thinking what exactly that might be, it would suggest the basic principles of chess haven’t been clearly defined after all.

If, on the other hand, it comes to you it should be “how pieces move on the board”, well, we may not be on the right track right from the start!

But hey, that’s how we all have learned chess, one may say. Right, that’s something we’re used not to question. What’s more, any beginning book too starts with “the moves”. So what’s wrong with it?

Well, it happens in life often, we don’t deny “the Obvious”. We just go with it time and time again without ever challenging its validity. Even in the presence of hard evidence of what neuroscience and psychology tell us how human brain works and how we basically learn, we still teach a freshman “the moves” first (in an upcoming post I’ll try explaining why the moves first is basically flawed).

Dangerous Game. Where Every Move Can Be The Last

Another indication that we may be on the terribly wrong track comes from no other than the great maestro, Aaron Nimzovich. In his “How I became a Grandmaster” article published in the Russian “Shakhmatny listok”, or The Little Chess Paper, 82 years ago, back in 1929, he challenged the traditional approach to start teaching chess with “showing the moves first”.

One of the greatest thinkers, theoreticians and authorities of the royal game stated that “showing the moves was fundamentally false” (see Ray Keene’s “Aaron Nimtzowitsch: A Reappraisal”, p.16).

So what may be the answer to our enigma?

What is the most important principle we need to define to start teaching and learning chess more efficiently? And it’s not the moves.

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