In this post, Dr. Alexey Root, WIM provides a little chess history and introduces two chess books that she recommends as resources for:
- Beginning to intermediate level chess players ages 11-18+.
- Boy Scouts interested in earning the Chess merit badge.
- Chess coaches who work with either of these groups of students. In particular, the Fischer columns have “chess puzzles” which would be good for homework or for group problem solving. Prepare With Chess Strategy provides exercises that teach chess strategies. Resources for teaching chess strategies are less common than tactics resources, such as “find the tactic” books and Internet trainers.
In the United States, if you say about someone “he’s a real boy scout” you mean that he is a role model. The type of person you would pick to organize donations after a disaster or to instill pride in America. But hearing “he’s a real boy scout” would not make you think of World Chess Champion Bobby Fischer in his later years. In the decade before Fischer died in 2008, he denounced the United States after 9/11 and was not welcome in his homeland.
Nonetheless, Bobby Fischer as an old man was not the same as the young Fischer. Fischer was a Boy Scout as a youngster and later worked for the Boy
Scouts of America (BSA) as a chess columnist. Leading up to his World Championship-winning match in 1972, Fischer was an American hero. Fischer was seen as the lone American who could defeat the Russians at their own game, chess. As I wrote in Prepare With Chess Strategy (Mongoose Press, 2016):
When Boy Scout Bobby Fischer was a high school freshman and already a top chess player, he was interviewed for Boys’ Life (the official youth magazine for the Boy Scouts of America). Several years after that interview, GM Bobby Fischer became the chess columnist for Boys’ Life. Fischer’s “Checkmate” column began in December of 1966.
Russell Chess Enterprises has collected Fischer’s “Checkmate” columns into an attractively-formatted book. An excerpt of Checkmate: Bobby Fischer’s Boys’ Life Columns is here. As noted in publisher Hanon Russell’s introduction, Fischer’s columns ran every other month from 1966 to 1970. There are a number of neat features about those columns and this Russell Chess Enterprises-published book. First, Fischer often annotated one of his games. Always a clear writer, Fischer’s annotations were refreshingly free of computer variations. Instead, Fischer told you in plain English what was relevant about key positions and what he was thinking about during critical moves. Second, the publisher has made several good choices. The book’s notation is uniformly algebraic, though the original columns sometimes used descriptive notation. The chess diagrams Fischer used, to positive effect, are included in this book. Publisher-added timelines, noting where Fischer was in his chess career, usefully break up the presentation of Fischer’s columns. Third, Fischer gave a chess puzzler the end of each column. These puzzlers are harder than typical checkmate-in-three problems and generated responses from Boy Scouts eager to be one of the correct responders. (The first ten Boy Scouts who mailed in correct answers received an autographed photo of Fischer.) For the first puzzler published in December of 1966, more than 50 correct responses were received. The solution to the puzzler was published in the month that did not have a column. These puzzlers could be added to the repertoires of chess coaches or merit badge counselors, to challenge advanced learners.
According to a February 1986 article in Boys’ Life magazine, Fischer “became the single most popular guy in the magazine, and that includes the sports stars and outdoorsmen.” The Boy Scouts were such voracious readers of Fischer’s columns because of the huge overlap between Boy Scouts and chess players. As I wrote in Prepare With Chess Strategy, “Boy Scouts are usually between 11 and 17 years old, although they can be as young as 10. As of 2013, there were about 830,000 Boy Scouts (Scouting.org). About 22,000 members of US Chess are also ages 11 to 17, with boys making up more than 85% (roughly 19,000) of that total.”
Thus Boy Scouts are a natural audience for chess, a fact that the BSA took advantage of by hiring Fischer in the late 1960s and continuing his column (with other authors) in the early 1970s. This century, more specifically in the last five years (2011-2016), the BSA has taken Boy Scouts and chess to a whole new level. With the introduction of the Chess merit badge in September of 2011, chess has exploded in popularity. More than 100,000 Chess merit badges have been awarded with many more expected to come in future years. The requirements for the Chess merit badge teach Scouts algebraic notation, checkmates, and even tournament play. Introducing over 100,000 Boy Scouts to chess is one of the big achievements in chess promotion this century! Most of the credit for pushing through the BSA’s adoption of the Chess merit badge goes to Jeanne Sinquefield of St. Louis, MO.
One of the Chess merit badge requirements is to discuss sportsmanship and chess etiquette. Interestingly, Fischer touched on that topic in his very first Boys’ Life column in December of 1966. He wrote, “Don’t try to bug your opponent with any of your idiosyncrasies and don’t make up any for the occasion.” Good advice from a well-respected sportsman, which Fischer was then. Checkmate: Bobby Fischer’s Boys’ Life Columns reminds readers of the chess wisdom of the young Bobby Fischer.
Prepare With Chess Strategy helps Boy Scouts and other chess players meet the requirements of the Chess merit badge and improve at chess. Click here (and scroll to p. 7) to try one of the activities from Dr. Root’s book. The activity teaches how the strategic concepts of “force” and “space” interact.
Dr. Alexey Root has a Ph.D. in education from UCLA. She won the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship in 1989. Root is a senior lecturer at The University of Texas at Dallas, teaching online courses about chess in education. She has written seven books about the educational uses of chess, available at this link. Root also teaches at summer chess camps and is a Chess merit badge counselor for the Boy Scouts of America. You can reach Alexey via her Facebook page.