Don’t know a Rook from a Castle? No problem!
Simple chess games to play with your kids, for adults who don’t know chess
You don’t have to be a chess expert to enjoy a game of chess. In fact, you might be surprised to know that there are chess games you can play without fully knowing all the rules! Although I love the standard game, all of these ‘chess variation games’
I’m writing about in this post are a lot of fun and I play them all the time – even against adults! Sometimes you don’t have too much time (or a chess clock), and want to play a quick game. Sometimes you’re just bored with regular chess and want to cure your boredom. Sometimes you have no idea what you’re doing, and don’t want to let on that when it comes to chess, you’re not the sharpest knife in the drawer. In all of these cases, we have some fun ideas for you.
Estimated Time For 1 Game: 3 – 10 minutes.
Required Knowledge: Basic pawn movement/capturing
This is a simple game that we build on to eventually teach all of the other pieces. The setup is really easy – fill rank two (the second horizontal row) with all 8 white pawns, and rank 7 (the seventh horizontal row) with all 8 black pawns. Just like a regular chess game, the white team goes first. The object of the game is to be the first person to get just one of your pawns all the way to the other end of the board. Then you win! Or lose. Or both. These games go by really quickly.
There is another possible ending – stalemate. If the remaining pawns are all stuck in front of each other, with no possible moves, it’s a stalemate. If it’s your turn, and all your pawns are stuck, it’s a stalemate, even if your opponent has some possible moves left – the important part is that it’s your turn, and you don’t. You’re not going to give up your turns so your opponent can win, now are you? No, you are not, because it’s against the rules.
Game: Super Pawntastic
Time For 1 Game: 3 – 15 minutes
Required Knowledge: Pawns and any other pieces’ movement and capturing
You’ve probably already figured out from the name that this game is basically Pawntastic, but it’s also Super. It is Super because you get to add other pieces. You can play Pawntastic with Pawns and Rooks. Pawntastic with Pawns and a Queen. Pawntastic with pawns and… I’m not going to type out all the possibilities, I will let you use your imagination.
I like to start with pawns and a King before working with the other pieces. There are now three ways to win Super Pawntastic – 1) Get one pawn to the other side of the board; 2) Capture all the opponent’s pieces; 3) Get a checkmate (if you’re starting with Kings on the board – this is more advanced and requires full knowledge of the rules). You can also have a stalemate, if there is no way that either player will be able to capture all the pieces, or if it’s a player’s turn and they don’t have any available moves. The version where you play to checkmate can be a really powerful endgame practice for more experienced players.
Game: Take Me Chess
Time For 1 Game: 3-15 minutes
Required Knowledge: Piece movement/capturing
Now we’re talking. Some purists might not like this game. I LOVE IT. This can be as tricky to play as regular chess, requiring two players of equal skill to look far into the future and meticulously plan for victory. It can also be over in a couple minutes with a well-planned chain of combinations. It’s great for newer players to learn squares of control, to plan ahead, and where not to move your pieces in regular games – all very important chess skills. For experienced players, it provides a refreshing challenge and you can play many games rapidly in one sitting.
Here I am getting carried away. I should probably just tell you the rules.
The game starts with a normal chess set up.
The object of this game is to be the first to lose all of your pieces. Here’s how it works (and why someone would capture your pieces if it’s against their interest). When it’s your turn, you scan the board for danger squares – squares where if you move there, you could be captured. When you move to one of these danger squares, before you let go, you say, ‘Take me!’ Then your opponent has to capture you with their next move. Now it’s your turn again. You find another danger zone, move there, and say ‘Take me!’ and they have to capture you again… and again, and again, until you run out of ‘Take me!’ squares to move to, and now it’s your opponent’s turn to go on offense. Or defense. Or… not sure what to call it. You guys keep going back and forth until someone says their last ‘Take me!’ and wins the game.
It’s important to note that while your opponent must capture your piece when you say ‘Take me!’ (and actually have a piece that is in a danger zone), your opponent can chose which piece they want to capture – if there is more than one – and which piece they want to use to capture it! This is where the strategy of the game can become pretty demanding, even for experienced players. Another important note: if your opponent does not say ‘Take me!’ before they let go of their piece, you do not need to capture them! Last important note: if your opponent says, ‘Take me!’, just like regular chess, you’re going to want to think before you move. If capturing your opponent’s piece puts your own piece in a danger zone, you can respond right away with your own ‘Take me!’ before you capture the piece. Then your opponent will have to capture you and you can flip the momentum.
Winning the game by losing your pieces is why some purists don’t like this game, “But, but, but, but, we’re not supposed to practice losing our pieces!” Don’t listen to them, or you’ll miss out on some serious fun times. This is chess, not baseball – it’s not muscle memory we’re practicing here, where if you practice missing your throw over and over again, all you’ll do is miss. Every chess or baseball player who plays this game is smart enough to know we’re playing a different game with different rules!
Game: Your Arm’s Off (No It Isn’t!)
Time for 1 Game: 5 - ? minutes
Required Knowledge: Full rules
Play this game when you know all the rules, but your friend/child/parent is a better chess player than you. It is basically a handicap game – the more experienced player starts the game with one or more of their pieces off the board. If your kid is a super chess ace, have them start with only pawns and King while you get all your pieces. Hopefully you’ll win and they’ll protest. You’ll say, “Of course I won, I stink and you were handicapped, let’s see how few pieces you need to beat me!” Then work in some more pieces. A common way to start is with the stronger player down a Queen. With very closely matched players, you can start down only a single pawn, although at that close of levels it’s better to just play regular chess.
Here are just a few fun games to play, even when you don’t fully know all the rules of chess. They are a great way to practice important chess skills, like planning ahead, thinking of cause and effect, and visualizing squares of control. You can still play with your friends/kids/family members while working your way up to a full game. You can play them pretty quickly. You can also keep the secret of not knowing the difference between a Castle and a Rook for just a little bit longer.
(We have a whole bunch more of fun games like this – look for additional games in future blogs!)