Chess: A Bond Between Father and Son

by George Alexander (March, 1999)

My son and I share some very special times with the game of chess. This is a game that has strengthened our relationship and taught us both many useful lessons in life. Although we are both beginners, I know that this game will continue to be a special part of our lives together for many years to come.

Kelsen started playing chess almost four years ago, in Kindergarten. He heard about the chess club at school because his older sister, Courtney, had been going with her friends. For Courtney, chess club was a social function--a time to be with friends, but Kelsen took an immediate interest in the game. He really wanted to learn what this game is all about. What started as a desire to learn has taken him to three different chess clubs, several tournaments, and an official USCF rating (this is a very big deal for a 9 year old).

I learned how to play chess as a child also, but only in casual settings and many years ago. To me it was much like any other game: something to play for fun. I do remember playing many games with my great-uncle, Floyd Patten. Every time I visited, Uncle Floyd would have his chess set handy, waiting to see if anyone cared to play. Kelsen even got to play chess once with his great-great uncle Floyd, still loving the game to his recent passing at 90 years. By the time Kelsen started playing, it had been several years since I had played a game of chess, and my few skills were certainly rusty when Kelsen started playing. So far I have been able to keep up with him, though he wins about as often as I do now.

My interest in the game has grown with Kelsen's. His enthusiasm is very addictive and refreshing. The best part is that this is something we can learn and do together as parent and child. Chess has become a focal point for our time, a special bond between us that is sure to last forever. Thanks to the rated beginner tournaments in Madison, we have even been able to play as competitors in the same field. These have been great events--where else can a parent and child compete on the same field, with equality? Though we may be playing at different tables, the day is still ours together. A glance from across the room can tell me volumes about how Kelsen's game is progressing, and I know he has an equal interest in mine. We get to share in each other's victories and losses and hope to grow and learn from both.

The lessons from chess go way beyond moves and strategies. They don't even come close to staying on the board. Chess has taught my son many valuable life lessons at an early age. First of all, I'd say Kelsen has learned a lot about teamwork. Chess may be a game for individuals, but to play well, you have to use all of your pieces. The chess player is perhaps more like a manager or coach. Learning to coordinate the positions of knights and bishops is like becoming a better team player in other sports. Kelsen has easily adapted to playing the proper position in baseball and in soccer, and he knows how to make use of the whole field wherever he is. I am sure that his chess skills have helped.

Kelsen has also learned about future planning. When he sees something on the chess board, even several moves away, he'll devote all his energies to attain the position he wants. He knows that development is important and that it takes time to get the best of what you want. He's seen plenty of quick efforts fall short. One good move is not always enough, and what looked good at the time may be entirely different after your opponent's next move. Being able to look ahead and prepare for several possibilities at once is a skill that will serve my son well.

Hand-in-hand with planning comes a recognition of consequences. Once you make a move (especially with "touch-move" tournament rules), you have to live with the effects. Chess really helps a player to recognize that his own actions will have consequences. Learning to play well involves predicting those consequences, and choosing moves that have the right consequences. In this sense, chess teaches responsibility.

I know there are many more good reasons to play chess. These are just a few that seem to resonate most with Kelsen's experiences. And now that my youngest son, Arren (a Kindergartner) is also looking at the game, I am sure we will come across a whole new set of unforeseen lessons from his own unique perspective. I am very blessed to have all of these wonderful children and the time to share life with them. I look forward to all the fun, love, and learning yet to come.

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