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Chess Basics (workbook and DVD) / Chess Openings 1 (workbook and DVD), Endgame Strategies (workbook and DVD) / Chess Tactics (workbook and DVD), Color My Chess World (workbook and music CD) / Pawn Gam Review by Marisa CorlessStephen A. Schneider
3565 Evans Road
Atlanta, GA 30340
A few years ago at a homeschool convention, I came across Stephen A. Schneider and his collection of workbooks and DVDs. I really wanted my son to be able to learn to play chess, but I couldn't afford the set at the time--and he was a little young. I did, however buy the Chess Basics workbook and with that taught him how to play chess. There were still many holes in his game, like openings, endgame strategies, and various tactics. I was so excited to be allowed to review this product because I was hopeful that it would help him with his chess game. I was not disappointed. For example, the day after learning about one endgame strategy called "Two Rooks Go Walking," my son used it in a match to win.
The website offers each book individually, each DVD individually, or sets of a book and a DVD. The Color My Chess World is only available with the CD included. It is geared for preschool-age children to familiarize them with the pieces and board of chess. There are coloring pages, dot-to-dots, stickers, and activity ideas. The accompanying CD has some cute songs about the way the pieces move. It is a very non-threatening way to introduce chess to a preschool or kindergarten-age child.
Following the Color My Chess World book, children can move into Chess Basics. Chess Basics, as well as the other books, is geared for early elementary age and up, and it includes a more advanced introduction to the pieces and their movements. There are quite a few basic "pawn games" to familiarize students with correct movement of the pieces.
Each lesson in this book, as well as in the other workbooks, includes simple puzzles to help a child think about where pieces should or could go. The page following the puzzle has the answers with an explanation. After Chess Basics, the child should move on to Chess Openings, which introduces various game openings such as the "Queens Raid" and "Fried Liver." Chess Endgame Strategies is next, and it teaches checkmate techniques such as "Two Rooks Go Walking" and "Smothered Mate." It also includes a section on how to get the advantage (even if you are behind a pawn) and either force a draw or stalemate rather than withdraw and give up. The final book, Chess Tactics, teaches methods of setting up the game to allow checkmate or gain material advantage over the opponent. The very first lesson teaches a thinking flowchart. It also includes explanations of various techniques such as "Pins" and "Skewers." The Pawn Games workbook and DVD should be used with Chess Basics because it allows the child to challenge the computer in various pawn games.
The workbooks can stand alone or can be used with the DVDs, which feature Coach Steve Schneider teaching a two- to five-minute lesson on the chapter. Following the lesson the student is expected to go to the workbook and complete the puzzles. When I first used Chess Basics, I did not have the DVD. I find them to be helpful in teaching the more advanced techniques though, because Coach Schneider uses a large pocket chessboard where he can move pieces around to provide more visual information for the student. The DVDs are also especially helpful for any parent who is not strong in chess. By the time a student has completed all the workbooks and practiced the techniques during play, he should be a fairly strong chess player.
In addition to the workbooks, and possibly DVDs, it is essential to purchase a chessboard with all the rank and file markings (the alphabet letters and numbers). Throughout the workbooks, students are encourage to identify squares by name, and having an actual board will help facilitate this as well as familiarize the student with recording movements. The website offers appropriate tournament-size boards.
Overall, I think this is a clear and concise program for teaching chess. I really liked the DVDs and feel that they go very well with the workbooks. The one thing I did not like was that the DVD kept playing when my son was supposed to go to the workbook. When we watched the first video and it came to the "Now It's Your Turn" part, I wrongly assumed that the video would either return to the menu, pause, or present the puzzles from the book. Instead, it waited for a few seconds and then moved on to the next lesson. I had to teach my son to pause the DVD, go to the workbook and answer the questions, come to me to review answers, and then go back to the video for the next lesson.
I would have liked the puzzles explained on the DVD after the student did the workbook, especially because sometimes a child comes up with another answer. It would be helpful to have Coach Schneider explain why his solution is the best solution. As I mentioned before, the workbook does offer the solutions, including some written explanations when necessary, but sometimes the verbal explanation is necessary to help a child understand. The other thing I found a little frustrating was that the "How to use this book" section was at the back of most of the workbooks, so I had to go searching to figure out the whole system. Once I figured it all out, though, it was no problem. The "How to use" section includes instructions on using the book with younger beginners, older beginners, and a chess club. My four-year-old loved the Color My Chess World workbook. I found all my kids singing the chess songs one day. My eight-year-old, who has spent a week at chess camp and played a few matches, absolutely loved learning more techniques to best his father with! I feel that these books are terrific products with a lot to offer--even for intermediate players.