Once upon a time I had some pretty lofty goals with respect to chess. My goal was to be a national master (NM) by the time I was 25, an international master (IM) by the time I was 30, and an international grandmaster (GM) by the time I was 35. Truthfully, only the first goal was anywhere near realistic, with the rest better slotted along with the goal to be a goalkeeper for the US Men’s National Team. Despite the fact that I’m nowhere near the first goal, and I’m 35, I still love chess, when I have time for it. I’ve passed on a love for it to my oldest son and my daughter. My younger son, the middle child, is a bit ambivalent. But then again, he’s the actor of the family. And chess is just a bit too slow paced for him, though he loves WWII board games. The boy is dangerous with armor!
Well, I still want to one day be a chess national master. And part of that goal is to first become an expert rated player. While I’m not currently active in tournaments, I know what it takes to get to that level. And that, primarily, is mastering tactics. Tactics will get you close. After that, the deeper understanding of strategy, mastery of endgame play and opening theory, and practice is what it takes to go further. But if you don’t have tactics, you don’t get to expert, much less any farther. And while I love tactical play, it’s an area of my game where I still need a lot of work. And I know it’s an area where my kids will need to work if they want to get better, too.
GM Murray Chandler has a great pair of books out which focus on tactical play and they are labeled as being for the junior player (under the age of an adult). The second of these books is Chess Tactics for Kids. Now let me stop right there and say that I think this book is mistitled. When I think of kids, I think pre-teen. And I don’t know many pre-teen chess players who will be able to handle this book. It’s probably good for a junior level player who regularly competes in tournament play and generally knows the game. It’s great for an adult who is similarly skilled. But a pre-teen player, no, it’s a bit too difficult for most.
With that said, it’s a great book. It follows the same format of his previous book, How to Beat Your Dad at Chess. How to Beat Your Dad at Chess was appropriate for a junior player, a pre-teen player, and my oldest enjoyed it quite a bit a couple of years ago and it helped boost his play. Part of it is do to the format. What Chandler has done is break down 50 lessons. These center around key tactics in Chess Tactics for Kids and checkmate patterns in How to Beat Your Dad at Chess. He spends a brief amount of time explaining when to look for it and what’s needed to be successful. That description is all in words, not in a line of play. Then comes the examples in progressing order of difficulty, enough to give you a firm idea of the lesson. There are several examples for each lesson, taken from actual plan. The examples may also reveal situations where it’ll look like the tactic or mate will work, but it won’t. Chandler explains why, again in a minimum of lines for analysis, so that a player can understand when not to seize upon a tactic or mating pattern. And in cases where there is a slight divergence to the pattern, such as when a knight can successfully go to d5 instead of e4, GM Chandler explains why that works, too. And as in the How to Beat Your Dad at Chess book, those 50 lessons are organized in a reasonable progression of difficulty. So all in all it’s a good build up towards more and more complex ideas.
Needless to say, I enjoyed the book, finishing it up in a couple of days. Took the 54 problem quiz at the end and missed 4, which perturbed me a bit, since I don’t like to miss any, but the misses were valid. However, as I worked through it, thinking as a former chess coach who has coached from the elementary school to high school level, I realized that some of the tactics were on a level far above what I would expect of a normal scholastic player below high school age. Hard working middle school/junior high school players can probably get the material, but with quite a bit of work and some slow progression. I would think only exceptional elementary school players would be able to handle this book. It’s doable, but only with quite a bit of handholding and probably some supplemental examples per each lesson. Given that I can think of a few other tactical books like Seirawan’s Winning Chess Tactics or much of Pandolfini’s work which are better suited for less experienced players, if I was dealing with them, I would set this book aside until they get more games under their belt.