Scouting and Chess
by Bill Wall

From December 1966 to December 1969, the magazine of the Boy Scouts, "Boy's Life," had a chess column called Checkmate, written by Bobby Fischer. Larry Evans also wrote some of the columns, and continued after Fischer stopped. The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St Louis, along with its founder, Dr. Jeane Sinquefield and Jerry Nash, helped develop the chess merit badge.

The chess merit badge was created in September, 2011. The first chess merit badges were earned by 20 scouts in St. Louis in September, 2011. By the end of the year, there were over 6,000 kids who had earned a chess merit badge.

It has become one of the most popular badges of the over 130 badges in the Boy Scouts of America. Over 100,000 Scouts have earned the badge since its inception. The Chess badge is ranked among the 25 most popular badges.

The July 2015 issue of Chess Life highlighted the chess merit badge.

The requirements for a Chess Belt Loop is to identify the chess pieces and set up a chess board for play; demonstrate the moves of each chess piece to your den leader or adult partner; and play a game of chess.

The Cub Scouts offer a chess pin for playing chess. The requirements for a pin is to demonstrate 5 of the following requirements: demonstrate the basic opening principles; visit a chess tournament and tell your den about it; participate in a pack, school, or community chess tournament; solve a specified chess problem; play 5 games of chess; play 10 games of chess via computer or Internet; read about a famous chess player; describe the USCF ratings for chess players; learn to write chess notation; and present a report about the history of chess to your den or family.

In 2011, the United States Chess Federation provided the primary contributing writers for the Chess Merit Badge pamphlet.

Here are the merit badge requirements for chess.

Discuss with your merit badge counselor the history of the game of chess.

The history of chess can be traced back nearly 1500 years, although the earliest origins are uncertain. The best guess is that the predecessor to chess (chaturanga) originated in India before the 6th century AD. The game then spread to Persia and evolved to chatrang. When the Arabs conquered Persia, chess (now called shatranj) was taken up by the Muslim world and spread to Southern Europe. The Old French name was esches, which evolved into chess in Middle English. In Europe, the game evolved into its current form in the 15th century. Under Christianity, the shape of the pieces changed from the original Islamic nonrepresentational to carved images of men and a horse. By 1500, the queen's and bishop's modern moves were finalized. Books on chess also began appearing. Soon, chess organization developed, from coffee house to chess clubs and chess federations. By the 19th century, chess became competitive with chess matches and chess tournament. In the mid-1800s, time pieces, from sandglasses to check clocks, were introduced. In 1861, the first modern chess tournament was held in London. In 1886, the first official world championship was held, won by William Steinitz. In 1924, the World Chess Federation (FIDE) was founded. The Soviets dominated chess from the 1940s to 1972, when Bobby Fischer won the world championship from Boris Spassky. In 1975, Fischer refused to defend his title and Anatoly Karpov became world champion. In 1985, Garry Kasparov became world champion and dominated chess for many years. Online chess appeared in the mid-1990s. Developments in the 21st century include use of chess computer and engines and digital chess clocks. In 2016, Magnus Carlsen defended his world championship in New York and is considered the world's strongest player.

Explain why it is considered a game of planning and strategy.

The thought behind position play is called planning. The art of chess strategy is knowing how to formulate a plan for the chess game and arrange your chess pieces to accomplish this plan. It is a game of strategy by controlling the center in the opening. Good strategy is playing each piece one time to its best square. Good strategy is to develop your pieces quickly. Good strategy is keeping your king safe and castle early. A player who simply makes the moves he likes and hopes to win by random tactics usually loses to someone who has a plan behind his moves. A plan is formulated by visualizing a future position and working toward it. If you see a possibility to checkmate, then the plan and strategy is to aim your pieces at your opponent's king. The thing to notice is that chess does not involve chance. There is no luck in chess. The player with the better planning and strategy will always win.

Discuss the benefits of chess, including developing critical thinking skills, concentration skills, and decision-making skills, and how these skills can help you in other areas of your life.

Chess is an exercise for the mind. It helps develop mental abilities used throughout life. It helps develop critical thinking skills, concentration skills, decision-making skills, abstract reasoning, problem solving, increased reading skills, and enhanced pattern recognition. These skills can help in other areas such as improving cognition, improving verbal skills, improving emotional intelligence, and improving mathematical skills. Chess teaches the importance of planning and its consequences and promotes mental alertness. Chess provides practice at making accurate and fast decisions under time pressure. Chess teaches sportsmanship and good etiquette. Chess teaches you how to learn from mistakes. A chess game you have lost will teach you more than a game you have won.

Discuss sportsmanship and chess etiquette.

Sportsmanship is the conduct and attitude considered as befitting participants in sports, especially fair play, courtesy, striving spirit, and grace at losing. Chess enhances sportsmanship and self-esteem. Chess teaches you how to deal gracefully with difficult situations and loss. Etiquette is the conventional requirements as to social behavior and the proper conduct as established for any occasion. Good etiquette in chess means to be polite and greet your opponent with a handshake before the game starts. Always follow the rules of chess. Don't boast or try to intimidate your opponent. Don't be annoying and don't discuss your game in progress with anyone. After the game, be a good winner or loser. Thank your opponent for a good game with a handshake. At all times be respectful and considerate of other chess players and the game of chess. Remember, chess is a game of honor. If you cannot handle losing at other sports or games, you are probably not ready for the Chess merit badge.

Demonstrate you know the following:

The name of each chess piece: pawn, knight, bishop, rook, queen, and king. The most valued piece is the king. Next comes the queen, with the value of 9. The rook has a value of 5. The knight and bishop has a value of 3. The pawn has a value of 1. If the king is placed in check, and the king cannot move to a safe square, and the danger cannot be blocked, or the checking piece or pawn cannot be captured, the king is said to be in checkmate and the game is over.

How to set up a chessboard: Set the board so that the bottom-right square is white (or light colored). Place a rook on each of the two corners. Place the knights next to the rooks. Place the bishops to the insides of the knights. Place the queen on the remaining, matching-color square. Thus, the white queen is on a white square and the black queen is on a dark square. Place the king on the remaining square.

How each chess piece moves: The king can move one space in any direction, but can never move into check (threatened by another piece or pawn). The queen can move in any direction and not limited to just one space. It can move diagonally, vertically, or horizontally. The bishop moves along the diagonals of the board. It says on the color squares that it started on. The knight is the only piece that can ‘leap' over other pieces. It moves in an L shape of one move over and two moves up (or down). The knight will land on the opposite color square that it started on. The rook moves horizontally (the file) or vertically (the rank). The pawn has the option of moving one or two squares on its first move. To capture, the pawn moves diagonally one space. The pawn can never move backwards.

Castling: This is a special move that involves the king and the rook. This is the only time in which you would move two pieces at the same time. To castle (kingside or queenside) the king moves over two spaces and the rook is then place on the opposite side of the king. You cannot castle if you moved your king or the rook that would have involved castling. You cannot castle if you are in check or moving into check (even though you are not in check after you would have castled).

En passant is a special move involving the pawn. When a pawn reaches the 5th rank, an opposing pawn on the second rank can move up two squares. However, the side with the pawn on the 5th rank has the option of capturing that pawn as if it had moved up one rank. Although the pawn has passed the capture square of the opposing side, the player can move his pawn diagonally, as it does in capture, to the square that the other player had skipped. The pawn that made the double move has been considered captured in passing (en passant), and is removed from the chessboard. The resulting position is the same as if the pawn had moved only one square forward and the enemy pawn had captured normally.

Demonstrate scorekeeping using the algebraic system of chess notation.

Algebraic notation looks like this: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6. Each square of the chessboard consists of a letter and a number. The vertical columns of the squares (called files) from White's left (the queenside) to right (the kingside) is labeled a through h (a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h). The horizontal rows of squares (called ranks) are numbered 1 to 8 (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8), starting from White's side of the board. Each piece type is identified by an uppercase letter. So K is for king, Q is for queen, R is for rook, B is for bishop, N is for knight (since K is already used). There is no symbol for pawn in the algebraic system (otherwise it would be P in descriptive notation). Each move of a piece is indicated by the piece's uppercase letter, plus the coordinate of the destination square. So the move Nf3 means the knight moved to the f3 square. The move e4 means that a pawn moved to the e4 square. When a piece makes a capture, an "x" is inserted before the destination square. A colon is sometimes used instead of "x". So Bxc6 or B:c6 means the bishop captured something on the c6 square. Castling kingside is O-O. Castling queenside is O-O-O. Check is indicated with a + and checkmate is indicated with a # symbol (sometimes it is indicated with ++) at the end of the move. If White wins, the notation for the win is 1-0. If Black wins, the notation is 0-1. If it is a draw, the notation is ½-½.

Discuss the differences between the opening, the middle game, and the endgame.

A chess opening is the group of initial moves of a chess game. The opening phase is the beginning of the game where the pieces are getting developed, controlling the center, and king is being moved into safety such as from castling. The opening is usually the first 10-20 moves.

The middle game is the phase where the creativity of both players takes hold. It refers to the portion of the game between the opening and the endgame. The middle game is when you begin to coordinate your primary pieces and attack your opponent's weak spots. There is no clear line between the opening and the middle game, and between the middle game and endgame. The middle game is usually from the end of the opening to around move 40.

The endgame is the phase of the game when few pieces are left on the board. The most common endgames are rook and pawn endgames. A major goal may be to move a pawn to the other side of the board and thus turn that pawn into a queen (or any other piece except another pawn).

Explain four opening principles.

There are many opening principles to consider. One important opening principle is to develop knights before bishops, as they are slower to move. Knights and bishops (the minor pieces) should be developed before the rooks and queen (the major pieces). Another opening principle is centralization of your pieces. Another opening principle is quick development and control of the center. Another opening principle is to don't move the same pieces multiple times in the opening unless necessary. Another opening principle is to develop a piece with a threat. Another good opening principle is to castle early and protect your king while getting your rook into play. Another opening principle is don't bring your queen out too early.

Explain the rules for castling.

If the king has moved at all prior to castling, then it can never castle at any time during the game. If the rook with which you wish to castle has moved at all, then you can never castle with that rook during the game (you may still castle on the other side with the other rook if it has not moved). You can never castle when your king is in check. You cannot castle into check. You cannot castle through check, meaning that the king moves through a square that is attacked by an enemy piece. You cannot castle if there are pieces between your king and rook.

On a chessboard, demonstrate a "scholar's mate" and a "fool's mate."

Scholar's mate is 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6?? 4.Qxf7#. The moves might be played in a different order or different variation, but the basic idea is the same. Another example is 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.Qf3 Bc5 4.Qxf7#.

Fools' mate is 1.g4 e5 2.f3?? Qh4#. It is a check mate in two moves. There are multiple ways of checkmating in two moves with the same idea. For example, 1.f4 e5 2.g4?? Qh4# is another way.

Demonstrate on a chessboard different ways a chess game can end in a draw.

You can draw by stalemate. Stalemate is a situation in the game where the player whose turn it is to move is not in check but has no legal move.

You can draw by threefold repetition. A player can claim a draw if the same position occurs three time, or will occur after their next move, with the same player to move. The repeated positions do not need to occur in succession. You can claim a draw after 50 moves have been made and there have been no capture or a pawn moved during the last 50 moves. You can draw if a checkmate is impossible, such king vs. king or king vs king and bishop (or knight). You can draw of both players agree to a draw.

Explain the following elements of chess strategy:

Exploiting weaknesses — A weakness is a flaw in a chess position that can be exploited. A weakness could be a square from where your or your opponent can land your pieces for various operations, or it could be a weak piece or pawn which is difficult to defend. There are also weaknesses caused by poor piece placement or overworked pieces. To exploit a weakness in an open line, occupy it with a rook if possible. Exploit weak pawns such as doubled pawns, backward pawns, or isolated pawns by attacking them.

Force — Force can be considered to be a show of strength. Force is another word for material. Material is all of the player's pieces and pawns on the board. The more pieces, the more material or force you have. The person with pieces and pawns of greater value is said to have a "material advantage." Force is greatest when all the pieces are working together. Force is the sum of all the pieces and pawns working in combination with one another to control specific areas on the chessboard.

King safety — An unsafe king is generally the greatest weakness a position can have. Since the loss of the king means the loss of the game, the player whose king is well protected has a big advantage over an opponent whose king is poorly protected and exposed. Castling early places the king in relative safety, protected by the pawns. During the middle game, the king that has castled is often protected in a corner behind its pawns.

Pawn structure — Pawn structure is the configuration of pawns on the chessboard. It is the position of the pawns, ignoring the position of the pieces. The pawn structure is one of the most important elements of the position and is a factor that primarily decides how the game will progress. The pawn structure lays out the terrain of the coming battle. Pawns can be connected (strong) or isolated or doubled on the same file (weak). However, a weakness in the pawn structure should be fixed before they become permanent.

Space — Space is all the safe squares that your pieces can use. It is all the squares controlled by the player. Space advantage refers to one side controlling more squares of the board than the other side. More space means more options that can be exploited tactically and strategically. A player controlling more squares than the other is said to have a spatial advantage or more mobility.

Tempo - Tempo is the speed with which you carry out a plan. There is an optimal number of moves required to carry out your plan and there is the number of moves you actually played to carry out your plan. Tempo refers to a "turn" or single move. If a player takes one more move than necessary, he "loses a tempo." If a player achieves a desired result in one fewer moves, he "gains a tempo." You gain tempo if your opponent wastes moves. Tempo in the opening means that a player has made more effective moves than his opponent.

Time — Time is measured in tempi (plural of tempo). Having a time advantage is having the initiative. The initiative should be kept as long as possible and only given up for another advantage. A common way to gain an advantage in time is to develop pieces and pawns before your opponent does.

Time control — Tournament games are played under time constraints, called time controls, using a game clock. Each player must make his moves within the time control, otherwise, he loses the game on time. In some cases, each player will have a certain amount of time to make a certain number of moves, such as 40 moves in 2 hours. In other cases, each player will have a limited amount of time to make all his moves, such a game in 1 hour (with perhaps a 5 second delay per move).

Explain the following chess tactics:

Clearance sacrifice — A clearance sacrifice is a type of sacrifice where the sacrificing player aims to vacate the square that sacrificed piece stood on, either to open up for his own pieces, or to put another, more useful piece on the square. An example would be a pawn that is pushed forward and sacrifices in order to open a files or diagonal.

Decoy — A decoy in chess is used to lure a piece to an unfavorable square. It is finding a poisoned square that your opponent would never want to go to and doing everything you can to make them go there. It is used as a tactic of ensnaring a piece, by forcing it to move to a poisoned square with a sacrifice on that square.

Discovered attack — An attack made by a queen, rook, or bishop when another piece or pawn moves out of its way. It is an attack revealed when one piece moves out of the way of another. It succeeds when the opponent is unable to meet two threats at once. If a discovered attack is a check and threatens the king, then it is called a discovered check.

Double attack — A double attack is the simultaneous attack by a single piece on two enemy pieces or two important squares. When two (or more) pieces are threatened at once, this is known as a double attack.

Fork — Fork is a tactic where a single piece makes two or more direct attacks simultaneously. An example of a fork is when a knight can move and fork two or more pieces at the same time. A pawn fork is when a pawn moves forward and attack two enemy pieces at the same time. A fork is a type of double attack.

Interposing — Interposing is a blocking tactic by putting a piece in front of a more important piece, such as the king, to shield it. It is a way of defending a major piece by interposing another piece to block an attack.

Overloading — Overloading, or overworking, is a chess tactic in which a defensive piece is given an additional defensive assignment which it cannot complete without abandoning its original defensive assignment. A chess piece is overloaded when it has more than one defensive job to do.

Overprotecting — Overprotecting is a strategy of protecting a pawn or specific square of the chessboard more than is immediately necessary. The side that overprotects does so in order to dissuade the opponent from launching an attack against that point.

Pin — In chess, a pin is a situation brought on by an attacking piece in which a defending piece cannot move without exposing a more valuable defending piece on its other side to capture by the attacking piece. It occurs when a piece is attacked and if it moves, a piece of greater value will be under attack. The queen, rooks, and bishops can pin, but the king, knights, and pawns cannot.

Remove the defender — Removing the defender leaves the piece it was defending vulnerable to capture. It is a tactic in which the defensive piece is captured, leaving one of the opponent's pieces undefended or under-defended.

Skewer — Skewer is an attack upon two pieces in a line. In a skewer, the more valuable piece is in front of the piece of lesser value. The opponent is compelled to move the more valuable piece to avoid its capture, thereby exposing the less valuable piece, which can then be captured. A skewer is similar to a pin except the piece of greater value (such as rook, queen, or king) is in front.

Zwischenzug — The zwischenzug is a chess tactic in which a player, instead of playing the expected move, first makes another move that poses an immediate threat that the opponent must answer. After the zwischenzug move, the player then plays the expected move. It is a German word that means ‘in-between move'.

Set up a chessboard with the white king on e1, the white rooks on a1 and h1, and the black king on e5. With White to move first, demonstrate how to force a checkmate on the black king. White can play 1.Ra4 to block the black king from approaching any closer to the white king. White would then play 2.Rh5, 3.Ra6, 4.Rh7 and 5.Ra8 for checkmate. If the king approaches one of the rooks, move it to the other side onto the file next to the other rook (rook on h5 could be played to Rb5) and continue to confine the black king.

Set up and solve five direct-mate problems by your merit badge counselor. The mate in 1 or mate in 2 problems should be easy enough. Find ways to attack the king and the remaining squares around the king. The rook or queen cover squares in a row or column. The bishop ad queen can cover diagonal squares. The knight can cover a diagonal square. Forcing the enemy king to move to another square could create an opportunity to give checkmate. Look at which pieces are pinned and cannot move and look where it may be possible to break the pin on a piece. Pins to a king prevent a piece from moving. Breaking the pin makes it possible to move that piece.

The most important part is playing the game. Scouts can play against each other or their counselor, participate in a scholastic tournament, or organize a tournament of their own.

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