Review of a Learn to Play Chess Set from Chess House

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 I have a confession to make about chess. Although my dad tried to teach me to play chess quite a few times as I was growing up, I still have trouble remembering what each piece can do. I mean, why can’t you just have one piece that moves through the board by rolling the dice. I can understand that. My son has shown some interest in chess. He’s learned quite a bit from his cousin who is pretty good. He’s also taught two of his sisters. It is pretty embarrassing when my 9 year old catches on quicker than I can.

I was quite excited to review the Starter Chess Learning Kit from Chess House. We received a set with a vinyl chess board mat, a learn to play DVD, playing pieces, and a nice carrying bag. This kit sells for $39.95 on the Chess House site. There is no age guide listed, but I can tell you from our experience that we used it with ages ranging from 9 to me (let’s just say over 25 shall we?).

I was interested when I poked around on the Chess House web site for a while. There is an article about the link between chess playing and academic performance. This makes perfect sense because, as I quickly learned, the whole point of chess is to out-think your opponent. Isn’t that a really good life skill?! There are also some incredible chess sets on the site. I’d love a Lord of the Rings set or a Civil War set. Maybe I should just learn to play first.

I was determined to learn. The starter DVD is considered the Pawn level. There are other DVDs to watch as you become a more advanced player. I think I really needed something like prePawn level. I started watching with trepidation. Charles- age 12- was willing to “help” me. He watched the DVD also even though he already knew the beginner information. He was watching to pick up some strategy tips and to help me (which often involved mocking my lack of playing ability.)

I was very impressed with the DVD. Elliot- our DVD teacher- started with some very basic information about the chess board. I never knew much about how to even set up the board. Elliot described how the board should be set up and described a way to label the squares of the board. Even Charles hadn’t known that. I learned “white on right,” an indicator of what direction you should set up the board.

Then the DVD has “chapters” where Elliot describes each piece on the board, where to put it, how it moves, and some strategy about playing it. He begins with pawns and moves through all the pieces. I also didn’t know that each piece has a “value” in points. I did know that the king was the most important piece on the board and that you lost if he was captured. (See I did have some prior knowledge.) These chapters were very helpful. I not only learned how each piece moved, but Elliot shows examples of moves and demonstrates various strategies. By the time that I had watched all of the chapters about the various pieces, I finally felt like I understood the movement part of the game (mostly).

The last three chapters talked about some other important things like using your pawns as shields and when to move them out or not, the strategy of castling (even Charles learned some things here), and development- how to get all of your pieces in play to protect your king and capture the other player’s pieces.

I was very impressed with this set. I loved the actual set from the beginning. The nice bag and vinyl board that rolls up makes it easy to take the set anywhere. We took ours on our Disney trip, and I’m looking forward to taking it to the beach with us in the summer. We always enjoy board games. The mat has the numbers and letters that Elliot describes in teaching how the board is labeled. This makes it easy to learn when he using examples on the DVD. The mat and the chess pieces themselves seem very durable and able to withstand a houseful- like us- using it often.

The DVD was a great instructional tool. I was a little afraid that it wouldn’t be basic enough, but it does start at the very beginning. It was basic enough for a beginner, but it did offer some tips for players with some experience. I think Charles would probably do well to watch one of the higher level DVDs also. (The DVDs are named after chess pieces and gradually get more difficult and teach more strategy.) Included in the DVD case was a small booklet with some games/activities for practicing what is learned. There are workbooks that go with each DVD for sale on the site also.

I still haven’t managed to beat Charles. I look forward to continuing to play with him. And my dad wants to watch the DVD because even though he knows how to play, he’s never learned much strategy or any advanced play. I’m going to share it with him, and maybe we can get a little family tournament going.

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You can read what other Schoolhouse Review Crew members thought about their chess sets by clicking below.


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