Our Step 1 beginner chess class reached an important milestone yesterday: Students learned about check! A check is an attack on your king. Parker told them that being in check is like hearing a fire alarm: You have to stop whatever you’re doing and deal with it. When you are in check, there are three ways you can get out:

  • Moving your king away
  • Capturing the checking piece
  • Blocking the check

  • These three things are also ways to defend when a different piece is being attacked - you can move it away, capture the attacker, or block the attack. But protecting your king does not work when you are in check. You would still be in check!

    Learning about check opens up some new possibilities. Students now have a fuller understanding of the king’s role in the context of an actual game. In order to see how it interacts with the other pieces, these are our favorite mini-games:

    Kings and Pawns


    Whoever gets a pawn to the other side, or captures all the enemy pawns first, wins! Of course the kings must stay on the board for the whole game. Remember to get out if you are in check!

    Once students are familiar with this, you can play the same game with all 8 pawns for each side, and put the kings on their starting squares for a real game. There are endless variations in pawn formation at the start, as long as the position is symmetrical.

    King Hunt

    There’s one other really cool game you can play. You start with an empty board! White only has a king, Black has all their pieces EXCEPT the king. White puts the king on any empty square. Black has to place a piece on the board so that it checks the king. White must reply by getting out of check.

    Every turn, Black has to put a new piece on the board to check the king, and White must get out of check. (Black can’t move a piece that’s already on the board). If Black manages to give a check that White can’t get out of, Black wins. If Black runs out of pieces before this happens, White wins. By the way, a “check you can’t get out of” is checkmate by another name! This helps students prepare to learn the concept next week.