I love chess.
Admittedly, I am a sucker for strategy games in general. But Chess is particularly good because compared to other equally challenging board games, the rules are simpler, the matches are over faster and the game is very well-known and popular.
For me, Chess trains my brain to be more careful when I’m problem-solving. Too often, in life and on the chessboard, I jump to a potential conclusion before I’ve properly thought it out. Putting together a sequence of effective moves in Chess also gets your brain performing forward planning, abstract thought and logic. It’s just like fitness training at sport or in the gym, but for your head.
The challenge is finding people who want to play, and are neither far above or far behind your own skill level. IF you are playing with someone of your skill level, then Chess can help you practice these mental skills even if you are not naturally proficient at them. Chess doesn’t just have to be for boffins.
To that end, my latest find is the website www.lichess.org.
It is a (free!) website where people play Chess against each other. You simply choose a time limit (say, 15 minutes a side) and the website finds someone else looking for the same type of game and pits you against each other on an online chess board. There is a ranking system based on your wins and losses so you’re not put against the next Grand Chess Champion of New Zealand.
The site comes with all the necessary functions; a take back button, a basic chatbox so you can shake hands after, and the ability to rewind and remind yourself what where the previous moves.
After the game you can request a computer analysis where an algorithm similar to what powers a Chess AI identifies which moves were inaccuracies, mistakes or blunders. There’s also a handy graph illustrating who had the advantage at any given point. More serious players could study this feedback to improve their play but I just like watching the replay with simple robotic commentary.
People who really want to train can also watch very high-ranked games, solve puzzles, consult the forum, find a certified Chess coach, and manually import the great games of the chess masters to scrutinise. I don’t do those things, but you could. It’s a one-stop shop for chess practice.
There is also an app so you can play on the train, on the toilet or just out and about. I’ve had no problems with the app; I have in fact held people up for the bathroom as I sat on the toilet trying to solve the Chess puzzles they keep throwing up (which you can also find on the site’s browser version).
If you create an account you can befriend other accounts and play regularly against your mates. It even keeps track of how many games you have each won against each other!
I think Chess is great. It trains brain fitness in a fairly short period of time (for a board game) and the key is to find people of equal skill so you can actually practice the game and not get curb-stomped every time. This is what Lichess achieves so seamlessly.
Lichess And Cybersafety: A Parental Guide
In my view, Lichess is very safe for kids. There is a “kid mode” under Account Preferences which blocks any ability for someone to communicate with you. When activated, the Lichess banner gets a Smilie Emoji next to it, so you know when your kids are protected.
There is a chatbox in each game, and you are usually playing against strangers, so if you don’t enable Kid Mode please ensure your child knows and can be trusted not to divulge personal information (like age, gender or location) to strangers. This is a must for all children anywhere on the internet, so check they know that anyway! Besides, the chatbox is almost never used because you’re both preoccupied thinking up your next move.
I do recommend that kids only add their real-life friends on Lichess, just like Facebook or any other online account.
Lichess also has a page listing certified Chess coaches; I haven’t tried this at all but it does seem legitimate and above board. I recommend that if your child wants formal coaching, do this alongside them – have access to their account, view their messages occasionally, and talk about how it’s going. With trust and communication, I believe families can identify any red flag quickly and safely without sounding paranoid or “uncool”.
Other than that, just use the same common sense, transparency and good faith you’d use for any other aspect of the internet. Facebook Messenger, multiplayer Xbox games, online multiplayer Minecraft servers, and above all, Snapchat are all far more potentially dangerous for kids than Lichess. Don’t get me started…