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How to develop intelligence ?! 09 November 2006


Grand master, Honoured Russian coach Сhairmen FIDE Trainer’s Committee.

– Jury Sergeevich, let’s talk about teaching pupils chess.

– First of all, I would like to note, that at last public opinion has changed, and not only in Russia . On business I’ve travelled throughout the world a lot and I’ve seen it everywhere. For example, the report on the recent junior chess championship in the USA hit the headlines of the “New York Times “. Never before has any chess event, except for the games Kasparov versus computer or Fisher’s victory over Spassky, produced such a reaction in society!

Or here is another example. I know that FIDE is now negotiating to help Indonesia introduce chess in schools. How different are these countries in their economic development but they solve one and the same problem!

I remember, in 2003 in Linares Anand told me about his project of teaching chess through the Internet in Hyderabad , India . I liked Viswanathan’s answer to my question of how many pupils they wanted to teach chess to. He said: “One million”.

– India has its own scopes!

– Yes! And lately I have been to Singapore and I was surprised at the range of chess education in this country.

– You mean that now nobody needs to be agitated for chess?

– Yes, the world has already admitted it. The question has now shifted to practical matters: what’s the best way of introducing chess into the school program? And here, as a rule, there is a failure. What is the problem? We hurry to realize this undertaking at once, off-hand, but firstly we should answer some questions precisely. The first one: why is it necessary to teach chess at schools? In fact just playing chess cannot be an end in itself.

– In my opinion, all specialists have almost the same answer to this question: nobody is going to train grandmasters and masters at schools, it is a fact that chess promotes general development.

– That’s it. Many years ago I had a friend (unfortunately, he has passed away) Nikita Glebovich Alekseev who was a prominent psychologist and methodologist. I remember Alekseev’s remark: “Yura, it’s impossible to solve general problems generally!” So it is wrong from the methodological point of view: one can’t develop thinking, it is an unscientific approach. It is necessary to select a precise, specific object, correct direction, and it will help to solve the problem as a whole.

Alekseev has derived a very precise theoretical line. He referred to the works of outstanding Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget who asserted that at the age of 6-12 the so-called mechanism of “mental actions” is formed. I don’t want to go into details now, I’ll only say that it is the most important period when children learn to play the whole situation in mind before they do something or even say. In Piaget‘s opinion, mistakes incorporated in the mechanism of mental actions during this period are difficult to correct in future. Bluntly speaking, around the age of 6-12 years it is decided whether a child will be a clever person or not, their intellectual potential depends on it! And Alekseev made up a conclusion that chess is almost an ideal model to form this mechanism.

It was very interesting to me and I repeatedly talked to Nikita Glebovich on this topic. And as a result we wrote an article in common and I also created some lessons for beginners which Alekseev checked from the psychological point of view. As I recall, at that time I invented a slogan for this program: «Mental action is born in a game! » I started approving these lessons, and also I persuaded my colleague, Kiev grandmaster Dmitry Komarov to examine them. His parents were well-known doctors, and the uncle was a psychiatrist with a world-wide reputation, the head of the rehabilitation center in Kiev . With uncle’s permission Komarov conducted lessons with the patients who had various mental illnesses and brain diseases. It is necessary to give Dmitry due: he creatively approached those methods which were formulated by me and Alekseev. And the results were really impressive. Experts unanimously asserted that it’s impossible to achieve such results using usual conservative methods. There you are, how unexpectedly all has turned out.

If by some reasons a child lags behind in development a little while and they have no organic diseases or injuries then chess is a strong catalyst. As the practice proves, the child can catch up with their contemporaries and overtake them for a short period of time.

In general, in the middle of the 90s I worked hard at creating a manual for beginners – at first together with the company “Convekta Ltd”, then with Kasparov. I had to read much, and I paid attention to Fisher’s book. In essence, it is an attempt for programmed learning. Fisher considers chess to be a continuous forward movement that consists of solving chess exercises. I.e. chess for him is a model for perfecting skills of constant decision-making. I must say that all of Fisher’s ideas concerning chess – a new kind of chess, clocks, time control, manual – are ingenious!

– So, we have taken the first step – we have started to polish the mechanism of mental action…

– In this direction there were very curious by-products. Being engaged in training grand masters, I made sure that the following Alekseev’s hypothesis is valid to my great surprise: wrong calculation of variants (blunders) is, as a rule, a consequence of some defects in the mechanism of mental action. I tried to eliminate these defects: I took the scheme of psychologist Galperin on dividing the mechanism of mental action into stages and applied it to chess. And it helped a number of chess players to improve their calculation quality significantly. This applied find convinced me once again that the whole scheme is correct.

So, a child should learn to concretize a situation and to make a decision. A curious experiment was held in the years of the USSR : they took children who had studied chess for a year, offered them various positions to solve and watched their reaction. And as a rule, the reaction was the following: I am afraid, I would like, etc., i.e. merely emotional. It turns out, that even in a year of chess studies the child hardly masters such a concept as the analysis of a situation, they make decisions based on emotions. But in fact it is the most important moment of any human activity. How can the child be engaged in self-education then, and not just carry out the teacher‘s orders?

– You mean, the child should be able to formulate a problem themselves and then aspire to realize it?

– Yes, indeed, it is necessary to study the nuts and bolts of the analysis. And it turns out that chess is extremely convenient as a model, on which this mechanism is trained. Certainly, it works only if the education technique is chosen right.

– When the child has already learnt chess rules, I think, it is much easier to teach them– it is possible to let them solve some positions for a mate in one move, “fork”, bind, etc.

– Yes, the teacher often tries “to slip” the major stage – explaining chess rules – as quickly as possible. They simplify the situation which is really much more complex. Piaget has a brilliant work on the formation of children’s morality through games. He deduced a very interesting formula: morality is respect for rules. That’s why working at mastering the rules is the major internal work of a child. As just through games, through game rules their morality is formed and it is a vital component of any person.

Pay attention to the fact: any sports, which children play, have their own rules, too. But what does a foul, breach of rules result in there? It results in some punishment, penalty. But if you break chess rules – the game is over. Thus, the concept of “rules” itself is much more important in chess, than in most children’s games. If now we look at the computer world we’ll see a similar situation there: a foul leads to a computer that stops working. It is amazing that chess proves its similarity to the computer even in the fundamental principles, in nature! Modern people live in this world of high technologies, and any breach of rules is unacceptable here. It might seem that chess is thousands year old but as an aid to the formation of children’s morality – this game enters modern life almost perfectly! Therefore the teacher should focus special attention on this period –the period of mastering chess rules.

But here there is a counter question – how to make it so that children won’t be bored? The matter is that it is impossible to start such a vast subject based only on the enthusiasm of teachers and school directors. We should have a system. But only when computer programs and the Internet appeared did I understand that the crucial point had come. It must be confessed: everything beyond a computer and the Internet isn’t interesting for modern children. The child considers it unworthy of their attention. 10 years ago I started cooperating with the company «Convekta Ltd» so that we could solve that problem together. Recently you have joined the work with this problem too, and I am interested in hearing your opinion.

–I’ll explain the situation in a bit more detail for our readers. The company “ Convekta Ltd ” (director Sergey Abramov) together with Jury Razuvaev and well-known Russian methodologist Igor Sukhin has developed the technique of teaching chess at schools using computer technologies in this process. It has created a powerful computer complex for local networks and prepared all necessary documents: lesson plans, methodical manuals for teachers, etc.

– Yes, it is impossible to begin teaching chess if you don’t have a full package of documents at hand.

– Such a package is completely finished. Year and a half ago the decision on introducing chess general education was made in Khanty-Mansiysk autonomous region (region to the north of Russia , rich in oil and gas). In April I conducted advanced training courses for chess teachers at schools in Khanty-Mansiysk. However inertia is extraordinary big and introducing chess general education is still being put off in the region …

– You know, recently one has formulated a very interesting problem – the so-called two-level teaching. It sounds rather vague so I will try to explain the scheme in more details.

So, the expert is delivering lessons through the Internet, sitting at home or maybe somewhere in a Moscow office – it’s unimportant. And he doesn’t only explain new material, but also answers the questions of any child. This teacher should be a high quality expert really. As well as this, there is another teacher who is physically in the classroom, who is responsible for keeping order in the classroom and who helps the expert in technical matters (as children have different levels of computer skills). The great advantage of this method is that all the children’s solutions are saved to the host computer, and the expert can always check who and how tasks were solve on different topics. Literally each movement is fixed! It gives huge material to the teacher which allows them to analyze the progress of each pupil, from the first to the last lesson.

The program Chess for Networks being perfected by«Convekta Ltd» now suits these purposes perfectly. So it’s not accidental that interest in it has been shown in Sweden , while in Slovenia this system already works. In Europe extended-day classes have been entered everywhere and the two-level system of training is ideal for it.

Chess can unexpectedly appear to be a great support for teachers. The analysis of decision-making at a chess lesson shows the general level of a child very well. The chess teacher can suggest to other teachers, what they should pay attention to when working with this or that pupil. And, by the way, the teacher themselves can select exercises with a bias to a necessary side of development. Thus, we approach the science-based application of chess as a model for thought development. As a matter of fact, it is indeed the purpose of chess.

Teaching chess is a very different task if we compare e.g. to teaching all children to swim. Here we work at thought development.

– When is it better to start chess education– in the first or the second form?

– I would still choose the second form. Or the preparatory group of a kindergarten as in China . In general, it is very logical, as chess helps the child to learn to be independent.

In the first form children face crucial changes in their way of life, therefore the second form is ideal from the point of view of the principle « do no harm! ».

– Let us suppose we take second-form pupils and we deliver lessons to them once a week. At what rate should we move ahead, what should the children know at the end of an academic year?

– I would tell, they should not so much know as be able to do. So they should solve one of two-move chess problems, imagine a chess board in mind, analyze some elementary situations. It would seem a lot for the child. But it is real, I have seen it.

– Skills to solve a problem in mind – isn’t it too complex?

– It turns out that children have excellent natural abilities for it. Once I delivered a seminar for chess teachers and said them: « You teach children to play toy soldiers! And chess is a totally different game, it’s a geometrical game. First of all, the child should imagine chess space well, that is the most important thing. And at you this moment drops out ».

– What place in education should be given to chess duels? In fact someone will win, while someone will lose – and doesn’t it happen that a weaker player will lose interest in chess?

- It’s a difficult question. Boys should win and lose, while girls, as a rule, don’t like playing but they like solving. For boys it is important to find out who is stronger.

–Won’t we lose those who are defeated at chess?

–When a child loses, it’s the teacher’s duty to say: « Yes, I see, this and that are your weak points, you should learn about them! Here is a test for you so that you can improve it. We have proper exercises and the situation can be corrected. I shall help you! » I.e. at once there should be an overcoming command. From the psychological point, defeats or mistakes are an opportunity for development, any failure is an opportunity for overcoming it. Therefore it is vital to develop the correct attitude to mistakes, to redirect the child towards eliminating faults. It’s necessary to focus attention not on failure, but on the lack of skill or knowledge and – on overcoming this moment.

– As we speak about a school subject, is it necessary to grade pupils at chess lessons?

– If we deliver computer lessons then there is a percent of the solved exercises there. So why should we give a score when the computer has already graded the pupil? The host computer records all attempts to solve exercises including the unsuccessful ones, the child cannot “wipe” them.

– And if there is no computer – should the teacher put a grade for chess into a pupil’s mark book?

– I do not know. I would not put it.

– But without grades children can treat chess as something minor …

– I do not presume to judge, I am not ready to this question. It should be well-considered. The children’s attitude to this subject seems very important to me really. In the Russian city of Satka , where there is chess general education, I noticed the following reaction: children quickly understood that this subject was there to develop their thinking. They understood that they were taught important things in life. The desire to be clever, as well as the desire to be strong is inherent in each child. The computer makes chess lessons go especially smoothly because it’s a machine.

Now there is an adaptation of chess to the social sphere. Society waits to see if chess will become a kind of applied art where skills of independent decision-making, analysis and the mechanism of mental actions are improved. What is more it is good that people should learn in this modern hi-tech world, figuratively speaking, tete-a-tete with a computer.

Vladimir BARSKY The conversation was conducted by

Vladimir BARSKY

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