Learning Chess Through History

New Course Coming Fall 2018!

This is a work in progress. Curriculum subject to update.

Age of Students: 10 and up

Class Fee: $10

Prerequisite: Fundamental Chess

Class Length: Three Semesters

Teacher: Matt Bailey

Class Description

“Learning Chess Through History” is designed to teach students how to improve at chess while set against the backdrop of the game’s illustrious history. The benefits of teaching chess to children go far beyond their time spent in front of a chessboard. Chess has been proven to cultivate and sharpen study and life skills. Through chess, students hone their critical thinking, deductive reasoning, and strategic planning aptitudes. Chess improves focus and teaches children to stay on task. Parents and teachers have increasingly recognized that, as students gain confidence and become inspired by chess, they carry their newfound skills over to other disciplines, be it math and science or literature and arts.

In “Learning Chess Through History”, children trace the history of chess through the palaces and cafes of London, Paris, and New Orleans and through such historical periods as the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment, and the American Civil War. You will learn the history of chess from the 1400s to the era of Paul Morphy in the 1800s. Throughout their journey, they are introduced to diverse cultures and geography and learn new vocabulary. Studying the evolution of chess in its historical context will help demonstrate the high regard that chess has enjoyed as an intellectual pursuit that crossed national boundaries. This course takes a synoptic approach to the general history sections, which provide context to the development of chess and will hopefully spark curiosity so students are inspired to study each era in greater detail on their own where the historical chess players and chess instruction receive more in-depth attention.

This course is designed for students who already know how the pieces move as well as understand the concepts of checkmate and stalemate. The lessons in the beginning may be a review of concepts the student already understands, but they are presented in the context of the time periods when these tactics were first published. Regularly re-examining the basics of chess is always beneficial. As the course progresses, the instruction increases in complexity and shows the development of strategies that are still used by today’s grandmasters.

In his book “The Development of Chess Style”, Grandmaster Max Euwe shared that studying the history of chess can help you to improve your playing ability:

The history of chess (under its present rules) is the study of growth and gradual change of the strategic ideas of leading players of succeeding generations. Taking note of this evolution and thoroughly grasping it is the very thing which makes for better judgment and an increase in playing strength. The development of a chess player runs parallel with chess itself, a study of the history of playing methods therefore has great practical value.

Homework Requirements

Throughout the course, chess vocabulary words are encountered that the student may or may not already understand. Each student will be expected to keep a notebook of these vocabulary words as they hear them in class and fully define them as a homework assignment. They should also include these words in some sentences of their own along with the definitions to help remember these words in the future.

During each class lecture students will be given a list of questions to test their understanding of the material that is being discussed. The questions can be answered throughout the lecture as each student practices their focus and listening skills. Any unanswered questions can be researched online and answered at home before the next class period. These worksheets will be added to the class notebook in their respective sections.

Other homework assignments – as listed in the class curriculum below – will be assigned each week, and each student must also add this work to their class notebook.

Learning Chess Through History Curriculum




Week 1 – Part 1: Chess Origins & Development

  1. The First 2000 Years of Chess
  2. Video: Through the Golden Ages – The History of Chess

Week 1 – Part 3: Chess Competition Turns International

Week 1 – Part 5: The First American Genius

Week 2 – Part 1: Chess Origins & Development

  1. The Beginning of Modern Chess: Luis Ramirez de Lucena (Spain, 1465-1530)
  2. Pedro Damiano (Portugal, 1480-1544): The Giuoco Piano
  3. Ruy Lopez de Segura (Spain, 1530-1580)


  • The Fork
  • Pins & Skewers
  • Combining the Tactics
  • The Battery

Week 3 – Part 1: Chess Origins & Development

  1. The Italian Era: Giovanni Leonardo da Cutri (Italy, 1542-1587)
  2. The Italian Era: Paolo Boi (Italy, 1528-1598)
  3. The King’s Leap
  4. Castling
  5. En Passant

Week 4 – Part 1: Chess Origins & Development

  1. Giulio Cesare Polerio (Italy, 1550-1610)
  2. The Fegatello Attack
  3. Scholar’s Mate


  • Finding Checkmate
  • Possible Outcomes of a Chess Game: Checkmate or Stalemate?
  • Checkmating the Lone King: Pattern Recognition in the Endgame

Week 5 – Part 1: Chess Origins & Development

  1. Gioacchino Greco (Italy, 1600-1634)
  2. Time & Space


  • Discovered Attacks
  • Removing the Guard
  • King Safety

Week 6 – Part 2: Dawn of the Modern Era

  1. Chess in the Age of Enlightenment: Le Café de la Regence
  2. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (France, 1712-1778)
  3. Rousseau Meets Legal: Francois Antoine de Kermur, Sire de Legal (France, 1702-1792)
  4. Legal Meets Philidor


  • Applying Legal’s Mate
  • Finding Smothered Mates

Week 7 – Part 2: Dawn of the Modern Era

  1. Francois-Andre Danican Philidor (France, 1726-1795)
  2. Philidor and Blindfold Chess
  3. Philip Stamma (Syria, 1705-1755): Advice to Young Players


  • Chess Notation: Algebraic vs. Descriptive Notation
  • The Value of the Pieces
  • Evaluating Positions

Week 8 – Part 2: Dawn of the Modern Era

  1. The Importance of Pawn Structure
  2. Setting the Pawns in Motion: Captain Smith vs. Philidor (London 1790)
  3. The Case of the Solitary Pawn

Week 9 – Part 2: Dawn of the Modern Era

  1. Philidor and the Endgame: Maseres vs. Philidor (London 1783)
  2. Simplification: Atwood vs Philidor (London 1794)
  3. More on Simplification: Count Bruhl vs. Philidor (London 1783)

Week 10 – Part 2: Dawn of the Modern Era

  1. Philidor’s Position: Defending Rook vs. Rook and Pawn
  2. The Lucena Position: Winning Rook and Pawn vs Rook

Week 11 – Part 2: Dawn of the Modern Era

  1. Philidor in London
  2. Benjamin Franklin (USA, 1706-1790): Inventor, Statesman and Chess Promoter


  • The Morals of Chess

Week 12 – Chess and the American Revolution