Last time, we talked about how children can increase their chess playing skill: By solving carefully selected high quality exercises. This gives rise to another question: Where do the exercises come from?
For starters, the Steps workbooks are an excellent source of study material, from total beginners up to 2000+ players. One word of warning here: The workbooks are designed to fit with the lessons like a lock and a key. In our Steps courses, students take lessons, play games, receive targeted feedback, and solve HW exercises. This way, students systematically build up their vision of the board while learning how to think during a game. If a student's experience of the Steps is limited to the workbooks, they will be working exclusively on pattern recognition. Having said this, the exercises by themselves are still a high quality source of solving material.
Which book for which step, then? Of course assigning books by rating is not an exact science, but there is a helpful breakdown on the Steps Method website. I believe the Step 1 workbooks are designed for players rated up to 800 US Chess, Step 2 books are for players up to 1400, Step 3 to roughly 1600, Step 4 to 1750, and so on. When I first heard this, it seemed like the ratings were too high: After all, we are used to seeing relative beginners working on forks and pins. But after years of work with the Steps, I am extremely confident their recommendations are well thought out.
As great as the Steps books are, they are not the only ones out there :). Canadian master and teacher Jeff Coakley has a series of instructional books with excellently chosen puzzles to solve. The red book, Winning Chess Puzzles for Kids, is appropriate for a Step 2 (or aspiring Step 2) player: Puzzles about forks, pins, mate in 1, mate in 2, etc. I have also assigned Step 1 students the Mate in 1 exercises in order to help them internalize mating patterns. The Blue Book, Winning Chess Exercises for Kids, is much harder and deals with a wider range of positions: Sometimes you have to win material, sometimes there is a strong positional move, sometimes you have to defend, etc. The first pages are relatively easy, but eventually the material becomes challenging for experts!
If you're looking for a step up in difficulty level, check out the book Combinative Motifs, by Maxim Blokh. I discovered this book indirectly from both Grandmaster Alex Stripunsky and Elizabeth Spiegel. The book is an endless source of tactical training: Useful for strong players (I remember it really helped me go from 2200 to 2300) but also totally doable for a motivated scholastic player. I recently read in Chess Life about an 'adult improver' who made excellent progress - she identified Combinative Motifs as an excellent source of study material!
Now, what about electronic material? Check out the next blog!