The knight's move: why do children need to play chess?

Oksana Kosteniuk – FIDE chess master, head of the Aleksandra Chess School, producer, expert of the children’s programmes at JDI – talks about how chess impacts the future, what chess players and entrepreneurs have in common, and why chess is most definitely a sport.

Chess on the metro

I started playing chess at the age of two and a half. My sister and I were coached by our father (Honoured Coach of the Russian Federation Konstantin Kosteniuk) and we lived chess literally from morning to evening. The most vivid memory I have is travelling on the metro with dad, he would give us problems to solve “blindfold”: at one station he outlined the position, and by the time we arrived at the next the problem had to be solved. When I was about 11 years old, it became clear that I would not play chess professionally. Nevertheless, chess has become an integral part of my life. The lessons I learned as a child still help me in business and in life. But my sister, Aleksandra Kosteniuk, has devoted her whole life to chess. She is the twelfth women’s world champion and the most decorated chess player in Russia, and possibly the world.

Chess and sport

Without question, chess is a sport. Chess requires not only intellectual effort but also physical, psychological and emotional training. In chess, it is very important to be capable of concentration. And being able to have a clear mind depends on your physical condition. There is such a thing as an “inconvenient opponent” – when it seems that your level of play is higher in every aspect, yet the statistics show them getting the better of you. That’s because chess is also about psychology. Your psychological and emotional states also play a role. Although, Bobby Fischer once said: “I don’t believe in psychology, I believe in good moves.”

Chess and business

Chess is a mixture of logic, combination theory and strategy. So, it’s not possible to play without the ability to think outside the box. That is why parallels are often drawn between chess and business. Commitment and autonomy in decision-making are important qualities that need to be instilled to achieve good results in both chess and business. In addition, we are often taught that losing is bad. But that’s not the case either in business or in chess. Losing provides a great opportunity to work on your mistakes. My favourite phrase is: “Don’t ask how many times I have fallen. Ask how many times I have got up and continued.”

Sign language

The way a person plays chess and how he accepts defeat reveals a lot about his character. Is he playing closed openings or open? Is he playing a positional or tactical game? Does he prefer to attack or defend? And this isn’t just about professional chess players. I met a politician who, in order not to lose by any means, did not give the opportunity to switch the clock. It seems like just a small detail, and yet it says a lot.

Chess in JDI

The most important thing for us is not only to help children learn the rules of chess but also to instil a love of the game in them. We consider chess as one of the core elements of the multilateral development of a child, so our method has special sets of exercises that contribute to the development of memory, attention and imagination.

Victories and defeats

Not every child can be comfortable in defeat and not every parent can get over situations like this. Sometimes parents confuse their role with the role of the coach – trying to motivate the child for the game. However, in these moments it is better to remain in your role as a parent to the child – to support, listen, share the emotions, and certainly not to devalue the experience. After a loss, the most important thing is to understand what mistakes were made and how to avoid them next time – then it’s just a small step to the next victory.