David MacEnulty, How to Beat Your Kids At Chess: An Adult Beginnner's Guide to Chess, 2nd ed. (Russell Enterprises, 2012.) 303 pp. $19.95.
There's a micro-genre in chess literature teaching kids how to beat adults (their dads especially, alas), but what about the other way around? I don't know about you, but I hear adults complain about playing kids all the time, while kids just take it in stride or even get a little extra kick out of it. Why must adults suffer the indignity of losing to people half our size and a quarter of our age, knowing they've got loads of improvement ahead of them while we're most likely at or near our peak? It's time to reverse things: we adults want to know how to keep the young whippersnappers down as long as we can! At first glance David MacEnulty's How to Beat Your Kids at Chess looks like the cavalry to the rescue. Alas, the subtitle gives it back: An Adult Beginner's Guide to Chess. Oh well.
That means it's not really what serious tournament players are looking for, and indeed, no one should confuse MacEnulty with Mark Dvoretsky. The target audience isn't the adult club player getting tired of being abused by young up-and-comers. Instead, MacEnulty is trying to help adult beginners, who in his view tend to fall into at least one of five categories:
- Those trying to help their kids learn the game.
- Those trying to help kids in a scholastic chess program.
- Those who don't know much about the game and are therefore abused (over the chessboard) by their friends.
- Those who have always wanted to learn but are worried that it's too late.
- Those looking for ways to keep their minds active.
MacEnulty spends some time addressing those five types, and then dives in with the instruction. While he's explicitly aiming the book at adults, it's clear that adults could use the book to help younger children, and I think middle school kids (and up) could profitably work through the book on their own.
It looks like a pretty good primer to me, with a good mix of explanations and the simple sorts of puzzles that help develop the basic board vision all new players need. I like his approach in the book, and have used similar sorts of exercises with beginners and novices of all ages. On the other hand, I must admit that I am not an expert on this genre, and so I cannot evaluate this book compared to its rivals. So what I will do is say a little about MacEnulty himself, offer a closing thought or two, and leave it at that.
First of all, MacEnulty isn't a terribly strong chess player (1654 according to the USCF website), but while he may not have the secrets to masterdom he has been an extremely successful chess coach for many years, mostly (wholly?) in the public school system. (He hasn't been cherry-picking rich kids from private schools with private coaches.) His elementary school teams have won many national championships, and he has been an influential figure in the scholastic chess scene in New York. (He was also the character portrayed in the TV movie Knights of the South Bronx, showing just widely he has been recognized for his work.) He's also a very pleasant man, and I enjoyed working with him on occasion during my years in New York. He communicates very effectively with kids, as I've seen for myself on many occasions, and while adults aren't generally his pupils it's clear from the book that he can successfully target his writing for them as well.
In summary and closing: I don't know if there are better books for teaching adult novices and beginners, but my faith in him and a glance through the book suggests that if you're looking for a book of this sort (even as a supplement to help teach kids), this one is at least worth considering. I know a couple of adults who could benefit from this book, and if I can get them to try it and give me feedback I might revisit the topic and this book later. Finally, while this excerpt doesn't include any of the chess teaching, it may help you decide whether to pursue the book further.