Education Opinion

Solitaire Chess

By Tamara Fisher — January 20, 2011 5 min read
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Oh, chess connoisseurs, you will love this new challenge!

The ThinkFun company (creator of Rush Hour) has come out with a new game called Solitaire Chess. It’s a one-person game using the pieces and moves of chess whereby you try to eliminate all but one of the pieces on your 4x4 board. Every move is an attack until you successfully find “the last man standing.” And is it ever addicting! Like Rush Hour, it features a “leveling” system so that each puzzle brings an incrementally more difficult challenge - and there’s a level for everyone, beginners and pros alike.

Another exciting twist is that the Solitaire Chess app debuts today in the Apple iTunes Store! The free version includes 40 challenges (10 at each level) and the pay version includes 400 challenges (100 at each level).

I ordered some of the hands-on version (60 challenges) that arrived recently and tested it out with my students over the past week.

What I’m finding is that Solitaire Chess is proving to be an excellent way to help these bright kids learn how to think something through before diving in. My gifted students are often so capable at challenges that they can typically dive in and figure it out as they go. But the nature of Solitaire Chess requires some pondering first in order to achieve a successful outcome. I don’t know that there’s a more fun way to help our brightest students learn to look before they leap!

A couple tips if you’re thinking of using Solitaire Chess with your students or children. I have a few students who don’t have as good a handle on chess as the other kids do, and they were the ones who liked the game the least. Unless one is well-versed in how the pieces move, it’s easy to make moves that one doesn’t realize aren’t actually legal. These few kids didn’t seem to grasp the fun and the “pondering” lesson like all the other kids did. Obviously the game could be used as a fun way to help the kids learn the chess moves, but after trying this with my students I’d say you might want to do that in a one-on-one or VERY small group setting where you can keep a closer eye on nearly all of the moves those learners are making. With the app, this isn’t a problem because the app won’t allow illegal moves. Additionally, if you hold your finger on a piece during the game, the app shows all the possible moves that that piece could make. So if you have the luxury of being at a school where all the kids have access to iPads, then this concern is addressed in the features of the app.

This little movie shows one of my 5th graders solving an Intermediate level puzzle:
P1090735.MOV (When I tested viewing the movie, it worked to right click and open it in a new tab.)

If you’d like to test Solitaire Chess for yourself, you can play an online demo and try to solve one puzzle at each level. Also, the online demo is nearly identical to how it works in the app if you’re interested in seeing what the app would be like.

My students wanted to share some of their insights with you. Here is feedback from some of my 2nd - 12th graders:

“It hurts and works your brain, but it’s very fun and challenging. I liked that some puzzles took longer than other to solve. I love it!” Strange Wolf

“Amazing! The new one-person game!” The Great Monkey Tamer

“This game takes an incredible amount of thought and it keeps me interested.” Hestona

“I believe that this game is very well-developed. You have to understand how to play chess well. I am looking forward to the iOS application.” Umbra (Umbra and Hestona are currently creating their own app!)

“A very fun and interesting game. It really makes you think about the outcome and figure it out in your head before you go ‘hands-on.’” Rose

“Very hard but great fun. It makes me think very hard but that is good! I think it should be used in school because it is a change from the schoolwork and still works the brain.” George

“It’s fun and hard and I’m focusing a lot! It is a good challenge.” Panda-Man

“It exercises your brain to concentrate more.” Princess Penelope

“This is hard, but you have to use persistence. It makes your head burn in a good way.” Dorothy

“My brain is falling out my ears... WARNING! Not for anyone without serious persistence!” Jelly

“It makes you say, ‘Dang it!’” Conrad

“I like Solitaire Chess because it really makes you think about all the possibilities for the moves.” Neil

“This game is awesome! You definitely ponder! If you know chess, you need Solitaire Chess!” MGM

“One word: WHOA!” A.D.D.

“Brain Buster! I can’t beat level 14. Five stars!” Gavin

“This game is nothing like any other game I’ve ever played. It’s like swimming in the ocean; if you jump right in you’ll get eaten by a shark, but if you wait and think about how to avoid the shark you’re alive!” Marie

“I LOVE this game. It’s chess upgraded! It makes me look beyond what’s in front of me! This game takes patience and skill.” Queen of Books

“It’s a fun, hard-thinking game that makes you think before you act.” JoJoelite

“Very tricky and creative. I learned that you need to think ahead almost every move in Solitaire Chess.” Spy X the Second

“Challenging, fun, mind-bending, and excellent!” Sapphire

“It seems easy but it really makes you think! I enjoy how it gives you an unexpected challenge!” Goldilocks

When I first unpacked the hands-on version from their boxes, I was a little disappointed in the case that holds everything. The slot that holds the cards was really tight in some cases and I had to pound the cards out. They are also held into the slot by a little clip that tends to get in the way when you’re taking the cards out. I found that removing the clip (and replacing it when packing up) made a big difference. I was concerned that these issues would create problems for the kids, but I explained my proposed solution to them and they were all able to manage it just fine that way.

I’m not sure why they chose brown as the base color. I maybe would’ve gone with a blue that matched the squares and pieces. But none of the kids cared! I was just aesthetically curious about that point.

I run a puzzle library where I check out certain items to the kids so they can take them home to work on. I’ve had many kids begging me to borrow Solitaire Chess! Now that all the groups have tried it - and spent a good amount of time pondering! - I will be checking them out to the kids. It’s a hot enough item that I anticipate needing to create a waiting list :o)

Here are a couple more pictures of pondering kids:

You might also enjoy this funny and explanatory video:

Happy pondering!!! :o)

The opinions expressed in Unwrapping the Gifted are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.