Why there is a huge quitting rate in chess?

We typically get involved with chess early in our lives, then most of us “slowly climb to a certain rather low level and stay there.”[1] We hit an invisible, but very painful, wall. The learning curve flattens, we may get bored, interest wanes, and we never get deeper into the game to be able to enjoy it more fully. Sadly, too many give up altogether.[2]

Some of this quitting is okay — after all, we as kids should get exposed to as many different activities and experiences as possible so we can possibly find our passion, “the game of our life.”

But usually the reason behind quitting is attitude – before we quit we measure ourselves against the best in-field competition, and we figure we have zero shot at catching up with them. We may feel our progress is unsatisfactory, we are not talented, and so we get discouraged (while in reality we may just be slow learners) and, wrongly, we end up giving up too soon.

Martin Mißfeldt, Patt auf dem Brett

Is our broken initial instruction setting red lights to any real progress in chess for too many people? Is it carrying bitter fruits to successive generations? Martin Mißfeldt, Stalemate at the Board

The number one chess fallacy

There might be another explanation for quitting – inadequate instruction at early learning stages before we get deeper into chess and stay there for good. It seems that we simply aren’t getting a sound foundation and necessary preparatory knowledge to stay on the learning road for any real achievement later.[3]

Today I’d like to share with you one game I witnessed firsthand, so you can see how chess education, as Dr’ Lasker put it, goes “in a most haphazard fashion”[1] and what bitter fruits we may be reaping due to our traditional way we approach chess.

And what we traditionally do? We all start in chess by being shown how chess pieces move, right? It is a sine qua non. Now, amazingly, let’s see what kind of really tragic consequences that usually leads to. Here is the game – just the first three move will be sufficient to help identify the problem:

Pretty disheartening, isn’t it?

But what did the game tell us so strikingly?

The boys knew the movements of pieces, but they did not see how the pieces interacted.

As we all know very well, chess men exert force and make movements along the very same lines on the board. What the above game clearly demonstrates is that the brain sees one thing – movements  while the other – relationships – is not that all transparent to it. A manifest of Poor chess vision set in already .

One is under impression that the boys didn’t get to make sense out of the game the way they had been taught (when the game was played they had been in organized chess for about a year?!?).

Is our initial chess education the main culprit?

The game just shown might be the key for assessing merits of the “obvious,” deeply established way of teaching chess basics for generations of chess players.

The real question is this, does our traditional instructional method contribute to creating deep understanding of chess basics, the understanding that can lead to, or prepare to future learning? Does it create a solid foundation for all the coming chess concepts we need to acquire to play and enjoy chess for a life time.

Looks like we do need a profound shift in the way we start teaching and learning chess.

[to be continued]

© iPlayoo! 2013



1. Final reflections on education in chess, Lasker’s Chess Manual, Dover Publications, 1960, p.336.

2. Numbers are unhealthy across the board in all domains; for example, more than 70 percent of American kids quit organized sports by age 13. http://thetalentcode.com/.

Math is also notorious for giving people “trouble”.

3. In the first, critical period of learning, the learner needs to receive knowledge that will pave the road for future growth of a particular skill

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!