I saw a related question on Parenting, but this one is different, since it's a) about older children and b) not your own child.

Disclaimer: This is based on the experience of a friend - I will call him Bob. However, I was present and it got me thinking.


A social event with many activities for people of all ages. Chess was among them, staffed with good, amateur club players like Bob (no Bobby, though). A family strolled by and asked if their son could play. For sure, Bob was willing. Please note, that he neither knew the child, nor the family.

The child was between 5 and 7 years old. Also, the child was interested in chess, but not a wunderkind (beginner level, not yet fully acquainted with the rules of the game), so it became a rather one-sided affair. The parents were not present, and came back later.


How do you best approach such a game?

Goal: The game shall be a good experience for the child.

This especially from the perspective of someone, who is not good at interacting with smaller children (a bit reminiscent of bit reminiscent of that question). And when the game in question hardly involves luck. The question is not restricted to chess, you may also think of Go or something else, hence the generic question.

Bob's approach:
It was just one game. After repeating some of the important rules, Bob tried to neither let the child win, nor did to give his best. When the child seemed to get bored, he wrapped up the game.

  • 3
    You can help us understand better by mentioning the country/region/culture, etc. Maybe the gender of the child may be relevant as well. Perchance.
    – NVZ
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 18:06
  • You might add your approximation of the child's skill level, which might be a better gauge than age. There is a lot of room between "interested" and "wunderkind".
    – user3169
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 20:14
  • 2
    The answers for 5 year old child and 10 year old child should be completely different as they are completely different age groups IMHO
    – Joe S
    Commented Aug 8, 2017 at 15:40
  • What approach did Bob use? Did you notice something that worked particularly well or bad? For the child? For Bob?
    – Zano
    Commented Aug 19, 2017 at 13:07
  • The parents weren't there - you were babysitting the kid. Teach him/her the next thing to learn when you find out. Commented Jan 1, 2018 at 9:38

8 Answers 8


In these situations, I ask a lot of questions and run through scenarios. I'm not playing to win, I'm playing to set up the shape of the game in the child's head. I keep it friendly and semi-cooperative and most of all take time over their moves.

can you see which moves you can make?

If not, talk them through it

Let's talk through a few of your options:

if you were to move this piece then it would stop me doing this but force me to do this.

what are you thinking of doing? Let's work out what might happen

Then after a small discussion, at most a couple of options for a five-year-old. Maybe three for a 10-year-old. Let them take a move of their choice.

You then move your next piece to set up the next discussion. Hopefully, you get them into familiar scenarios within the game that they can think through. So basically you play both sides of the board to give them practice in how to think whilst doing your best to make them feel like they are choosing the moves.

I've done this kind of thing a lot with my own kids as well as kids of friends. It's usually hive that we play but I've now met a 9-year-old who can beat me

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    Sounds great if you were asked to teach, terrible if you were asked to play.
    – Weckar E.
    Commented Aug 28, 2017 at 11:05
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    @WeckarE. terrible if he were asked to play with an equal, which he apparently was not.
    – user2848
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 8:36
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    Just offering another question if you want it: my dad would play chess against me when I was young and often asked "Why do you think I made that move?" It was really useful, and I've found myself asking novice opponents the same. Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 14:37

Use it as a learning experience, especially if you have time.

Kids at that age are funny. Some of them are in the "I want to do things myself" stage and some are in the "help me get better stage". This method works for both but you have to change how you structure it a bit depending.

You have a few options but mostly it results in not actually playing a game - whether they're aware of the fact or not depends on which method you choose.

When I was in middle school, a little older than this, I attended a weekly chess meet up and learned a lot from the adult players there. Rather than simply trouncing me week after week, one of the adults took me under their wing and the way we played was slow because we would talk through our moves. If I made a move that he thought was interesting, he'd ask me why I chose to make that move, requiring me to explain my thinking and where I was going... and sometimes the answer he got was "I didn't know what else to do". Usually, at that point, it devolves into strategy planning and thinking ahead. Sometimes he would show me alternate moves that would have been better or point out a pitfall I'd missed.

If you beat them easily, work backwards from the end of the game. Set the final pieces back up and talk through an alternate strategy that might have lead to winning the game, or lasting more moves. It's helpful if you track moves on a sheet of paper so that you can recreate them if needed, too.

The subtler way of playing, which works as a learning experience with kids in the "I want to do things myself" phase is to not play to win, instead playing to test their skill. You may have heard this in books... young knight has been training for months and finally gets the chance to challenge the best knight in the realm, in a sparring session. Usually, the session starts out with the master putting the young knight through their paces. They intentionally leave holes in their defenses to see if they take the bait and how they respond. The young knight often thinks they're winning until, in the end, the Champion stops testing and trounces them.

So, in the game example, if you're expert enough to do something similar for them, do so. Test them and see how they react. Subtly guide them without telling them what to do. If they ask for help, offer it.

  • 2
    I like your answer a lot, but I chose Kev Price's, since it is a bit more tailored to the situation of someone uneasy with children facing a stranger's child only once and for a short duration. But you have helpful suggestion, and I appreciate them also! Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 6:55

A traditional approach in old chess clubs was for the better player to play with a handicap.

The most common handicap is for the better player to start without major piece(s), like both rooks, or the queen, or one rook, et cetera. These handicaps can even be ranked, so the handicap can be reduced if the difference between the players is less than expected. Two rooks are worth at least 10 points; the queen is worth 9; one rook is worth 5; a bishop is worth at least 3 points; a knight is worth up to 3 points. (These point values were calculated based on the average number of squares that each piece can move to during the middle of typical games between very good players.)

A less common handicap is for the better player to have much less "time on the clock" to think. This method does not work very well in chess, because good players can plan their moves while their opponent is thinking. Top chess players can win a dozen games simultaneously against ordinary opponents.

  • 2
    In modern chess, a clock handicap is actually much more common than a material handicap. Anyway, I don't any of the two can be a solution for the situation described by the OP.
    – Evargalo
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 14:20
  • 1
    When I was young my grandfather regularly played with a material handicap and I remember having enjoyed this. In order to make things even less complicated, you may limit material on both sides: Pawns and king for both and another queen, rook, whatever for the child.
    – Thomas
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 9:06

Just bite the bullet, and lose the game at least 1/3 of the time.

Children like engaging with adults: but letting them win all the time is patronizing, and only helps lead them to a false self-concept. And winning all the time is dispiriting, and doesn't give them much emotional reward for being with you.

So play with training wheels. It is kinder.

  • Out of curiosity, why 1/3?
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Aug 15, 2017 at 2:24
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    Mostly to give them enough positive experience to enjoy the game and the interaction, but not so much that they draw the conclusion that they are as smart or as capable as an adult (unless, of course, they are: my nephew used to beat me soundly at chess when he was only 11).
    – Curt
    Commented Aug 15, 2017 at 2:38
  • I think most kids will eventually find out if their partner lets them win on purpose and likely lose interest, then. Of course this depends on how old (and how smart) the child actually is...
    – Thomas
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 9:09

I think the age of the child is important. At age 10, I would play reasonably well but not at cutthroat level.

The child is likely to be mostly interested in playing and the interaction, and possibly learning how to play better, rather that win/lose that is important to adults.

Interact with the child, and if the child makes an obvious mistake, use it as a teaching experience if the child is open to that.

  • For that last sentence: say something like "Are you sure you want to do that?" Commented Aug 8, 2017 at 22:05
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    @ShawnV.Wilson I'd avoid "are you sure you want to do that?", it makes it feel like you're wrong and being criticized for it. It's usually better to ask "Why are you planning to do that?" instead, so they can explain their reasoning (and you can give them better options instead)
    – Erik
    Commented Aug 15, 2017 at 6:50

The important part is not that the opponent is a kid, the important part is that they're likely to be inexperienced.

The goal of this social event is likely for all participants to have a good time. Bob is one of the staffers, so he has been tasked with making the attendants have a good time.

If the kid just wants to "push sticks around", as my grandfather used to call it, they'll get bored no matter what, so there's no way to make the kid have a good time, except by letting them play with the pieces.
Once the kid gets bored, there's an opportunity to teach them chess. If they're not interested in that, there's nothing else to do except waiting for the parents.

But should the kid want to play, and let's assume that is the case, Bob should play as he would against any inexperienced player, and adjust his playing level according to the perceived level of his opponent. Warn his opponent of really bad moves and let them take the move back. Explain. Think out loud. Ask his opponent why they make a specific move. Go through the options together.

To keep the game interesting for Bob himself, he could try out some unconventional moves and see where they lead. An experienced player would punish those, but an inexperienced player may not know how, so this is an opportunity for Bob to explore a bit.

  • Seeing 3 down votes, I'm open to suggestions how to improve my answer.
    – SQB
    Commented Aug 8, 2017 at 7:31
  • Answers should be more than suggestions. You need to explain why your suggestions are good. Describe the experience you have with this scenario that causes you to think your answer is right.
    – user288
    Commented Aug 8, 2017 at 21:36
  • I think the fact that "the opponent is a kid" is important. A kid is used to getting advice and knowledge from a grownup, and may actually appreciate it; an inexperienced adult (or teenager) might see it as condescending. Commented Aug 15, 2017 at 17:59

From the perspective of the parent, if my child plays a game with adults, he knows they're not obliged to go easy on him or give him a handicap. So if he comes in there with some smack talk, feel free to crush him. Do not underestimate him in Connect Four or Catan.

That said, if he humbly asks you to go easy on him, as a parent I would appreciate it if you tried to make it fun for everyone. If a new player has a good first experience with a hobby, you are strengthening that hobby for everyone.


For Chess, I like to provide a different experience for them. Trade queens at the first opportunity. Most people rely on the queen too much and this helps them learn to play better with the other pieces (and maybe you too). You can also get more pieces into play before trying to take any pieces. This gets more options for them to consider than most games they play and makes the game look more epic than most games kids play. Kids will feel they did well just by having played a longer game. Obviously, this doesn't preclude the other ideas of how hard or easy to play but does make the game more interesting for the them.

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