Maintaining Practicing

Pawn Shop: Play Chess for A Better Brain

Chess is the gymnasium of the mind.” – Blaise Pascal

Got ADHD or brain fog? Forget pharmaceuticals, turn to royalty.  Chess has been recognized as ‘the royal game’ since the 15th century. And for good mind-body reasons. This gymnasium of the mind challenges your brain (both right and left hemispheres) stimulating neurons to form important connections that other activities just don’t do. Playing chess encourages creativity and even appears to raise IQ scores, at least in children, studies suggest. And in all of us, it improves concentration, visual-spatial skills, and critical thinking. According to the US Chess Federation, it even appears to provide protection against both ADHD and dementia.

No matter what you’ve heard, learning chess doesn’t have to be rocket science. Really. You can get your queen’s gambit going in no time.  It’s like a swimming pool: you can go in the shallow end or the deep end. You can wade, or do some serious strokes.   If children as young as 5 can do it, so can you. (There is a World Youth Chess Championship for under 8’s).

Have fun: It’s a game, not grad school! Still, it’s good to have a little grounding so you don’t get lost or confused by the terms.


Chess was born before the 600s AD out of the Indian game chaturanga (a word which we associate with yoga today). The game spread throughout Asia and Europe over the coming centuries and eventually evolved into what we know as chess around the 16th century. One of the first masters of the game was a Spanish priest named Ruy Lopez (after which a popular opening move is named).

Each chess piece represents a character or object. The King and Queen are Royalty while the Bishop represents the church. The horse-headed Knight is a high-ranking fighter, alongside the Pawns who represent infantry. The Rook stands for the Castle Walls.

The goal of the game is to checkmate your opponent’s king and prevent him from any further moves. Here are some basics of the game.

  1. Who’s Who: Get acquainted with the pieces. Learn their names, their home base, and how each one moves. Pawns move in only one direction and capture diagonally. On their first move only, they can advance two squares. Bishops move diagonally any number of squares; knights can jump two steps forward (or back) and one square to the side. The knight is the only piece allowed to jump over other pieces.  The Queen can move in any direction, any number of squares. Practice moving them correctly until it becomes automatic.  White always moves first.
  2. Point Value: Learn the value of each piece. This will help you in deciding whether it makes sense to lose a piece of your own or capture one of your opponents. Pawns are worth 1, Knights and bishops 3, rooks 5, and the Queen is 9. No number is assigned to the King who is invaluable and is checkmated, never captured or traded.
  3. Know your Ranks and Files. Files run along the top and bottom of the board from A to H  and ranks are numbers running vertically from 1 to 8. For example, A3 would refer to a piece (probably a pawn) on the A file and the 3rd. Save yourself a lot of time and invest in a chessboard that comes already labeled.
  4. Easy Does it: Play a pawns-only game, and then…add the knights or bishops and so on until all the pieces are moving.
  5. Develop your pieces as soon as possible in the opening game. Remember the center of the board (e4, e5, d4, and d5) is where the action is. Pawns go first, then bishops and knights, creating openings for Queens and rooks to move. When all the pieces are out you are in the middle game. When your army is down to a few soldiers, you are in the end game.
  6. Chess Openings: Memorize a few of the hundreds of classic openings.   For example, French Defense, the Sicilian Defense, the Queen’s Gambit, the London System, and the Italian Game are all easy for new players.  Watch openings being demonstrated at sites such as and
  7. Two Don’ts, One Do: Avoid moving a piece twice, unless you are seriously threatened. And let the queen stay home until later in the game. Connect your rooks ASAP. This means aligning two rooks (of the same color) with one another vertically or horizontally.
  8. Game Over: When your king is checkmated it’s full stop. Your king is in check when your opponent threatens to capture him on his next move. If the king can’t escape and you can’t capture the piece that has him in check and you can’t block the check — it is Checkmate! If there is no way for either of you to win, that’s a draw. Or one of you can see the end in sight and resign.

Is there more to learn? Yes,  but mastery takes time. In the words of 20th-century chess master Irving Chernev,” Every chess master was once a beginner.”


*Subscribe to Chess TV at  Here you can watch other beginners and professionals play games online. Or jump in and play interactively with other newbies. Or watch chess grandmasters in competitive tournaments with the clock ticking.

*Join a chess club. See the directory at

Other resources:,,,, And see YouTube for animated cartoon instruction


Chess sets come in a confusing variety of materials, sizes, colors, and designs. Natural wood chess boards are the preferred choice by seasoned players. Roll-up vinyl chess boards are affordable, durable, and easy to carry, while Silicone boards are a good alternative to vinyl because they roll out flat and fold. There are also metal and leatherette chess boards.

What if you really need to have your hand held? There are electronic chess systems with a coach built-in, with interactive voice teaching prompts to highlight both your good and bad moves.

So let the games begin!

-Frances Goulart

Photo: Pixabay

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