Not sure if your child (or student) will like chess? It is hard to know ahead of time, but many chess players share at least some of these characteristics: they enjoy a challenge, are competitive, are good students, have good concentration skills, enjoy playing and working on computers, have good memories, and like other games, especially games of strategy or those involving spatial relationships. Chess players also tend to be systematic and logical, able to plan ahead, and creative and flexible thinkers.

There are many exceptions to these generalizations. Some very strong chess players do not excel at academic work. Others have learning or developmental disabilities. But virtually anyone can learn the game and enjoy it, and most children have the ability to progress and gain self-confidence.

Beyond having widely differing abilities, chess players also vary widely in their interests and temperaments. Some are loners; others are highly social. Some are top athletes; others are not very athletic. And so on.

Girls seem to like chess as much as boys, and scholastic clubs are often 25% to 50% female. In the past, competitive chess has been dominated by men, but some of the world's top players are now women. The best program directors work hard to make their clubs welcoming and comfortable for both genders. (For more on this subject, see “How to Keep Girls Involved” in Maurice Ashley’s excellent book Chess for Success.)

Many of us have been surprised to see how quickly many kids take to the game. If you know how to play, take out a board and see how your child reacts. Or visit a club and let your child watch others play. Often you’ll know within a few minutes.

The steps along the chess path are described in the following section. That section outlines typical starting points for new chess players and steps they can take towards advancement. It also describes the rich array of opportunities available for kids who enjoy competition and may be ready for the fast track. Whether a child is ready to compete is a subject explored in our “Guide to Scholastic Tournaments.”

Especially for young children, it’s important that their trip down the chess path be enjoyable. Toward that end, we pass along advice from experienced parents and coaches: as children begin to play, try to ensure that they win a reasonable percentage of their games (a third or more). A child who always loses is likely to lose interest in the game. If you’re a stronger player than your child, turn the board around sometimes when you’re winning and let your child play the stronger position. If your child is playing against a computer and you can adjust the strength of his or her “opponent,” set it so that your child has a reasonable chance. They’ll have a lot more fun.