Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Chess House Review

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Chess House is a company that was started in 1972, changed hands a couple of times, and is now owned by the Neff brothers.  Their company provides instruction in chess through DVDs, books, school kits, giant sets for parks, etc.  They are a resource for everything chess including boards, pieces, software, and so on.

We received the Starter Chess Learning Kit.  It comes with the "Pawn Level" DVD; a classic chess set with two spare queens; a 20" x 20" flexible board which is made in the USA (needs a solid surface on which to play) and is odor free; a cloth carrying case with handle which holds all pieces, the rolled-up board, DVD, and activity booklet.  We even received a chocolate bar with the Chess House logo imprinted on it.  Needless to say, that didn't last long in our house.  It was a nice little treat.  This kit usually sells for $49.99, but it is on sale now for just $39.99.

As soon as the kit arrived in the mail, we opened it and put the DVD in so that we could begin learning.  I was hoping that chess might be something my middle child could enjoy, something that might intrigue him enough to spend less time in front of his computer.  This didn't happen, but my daughter who is almost 12 enjoyed it and was eager to play me so that she could beat me.  I wanted to learn as well because the only thing about chess that I could remember over the years was that the knight moved in an L shape.

The instruction on the DVD is provided by National Master Elliott Neff.  He breaks the basics down into 10 lessons on this 53-minute DVD.  The lessons are as follows:

Intro to Chess
The Queen
The King
The Knight
Pawn Shields

Each lesson from Pawns to The Knight explains the piece's worth, its placement on the board, and its movement.  Elliott does a good job explaining each piece.  He is shown sitting in front of a chess board with the pieces on it that he is talking about, but as soon as he starts moving them an animated board is shown so that it appears we are looking down upon it.  That helps the viewer to understand the movement better.  Elliott gets basic but keeps his speech and explanation at a level that does not speak down to his viewer.  The video is geared towards those who are 4 years old and up, but he speaks as if teaching his equal.

The Castling, Pawn Shields, and Development sections on the DVD provide strategies to make the game more interesting beyond the basic movement of pieces.  My daughter and I were sure to employ these techniques in our games with each other.

As we played, there were things I couldn't remember from the video, but my daughter had no trouble remembering them.  I'd go back to the video to be sure, and she was always right.  One thing I would like to have in this set (and it could be included in the activity book) is a guide that simply lists the allowed movement of each piece.  After the game is played a few times, this information becomes routine, but when just starting out it would have been helpful to have it on hand without needing to go back to the video.

The activity book included in this set provides games for each piece so that they can be understood better.  We didn't play the games, as we just wanted to go directly to a regular chess game, but each piece has 2 or 3 additional games to play.  On the last page of the booklet, there is an order form for certificates of completion signed by Elliott Neff, succeeding videos in the series, and workbooks.

I feel Chess House has provided an excellent resource for teaching chess.  It is taught in a professional manner with nothing childish or cutesy in it.  The materials are of good quality and made in the U.S.A., which is a bonus.  I will continue to try to get my middle son to play chess, but if that doesn't work I at least know my daughter has taken to it.  Of course, that may be because she enjoys beating me at something.


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