Chess in China

Chess in China: Meet Serena!

Half a year ago she was unable to move the chess pieces and had no knowledge of the game.

chess in china, Chess in ChinaSerena joined my chess class and despite missing tons of lessons due to conflicts with her school’s schedule (primary school in China places the same workload on children as does a university in the west!), she has shown enormous talent for the game. The Chinese chess is also known as Xiangqi which is a strategy board game for two players.


For example, right after a lesson on castling/king safety (and still being a complete beginner), she played a thematic Bxh3 sacrifice as black and summed up her reasoning as follows:

“If he takes, his king isn’t safe”

Wow. Such an impressive intuitive feel really helps us to see why China has girls like Hou Yifan dominating the women’s field these days.

chess in china 2

Imagine what could become of a talent like this if nurtured.

Today she plays the opening smartly – Developing her pieces logically, getting her king to safety, controlling open lines and placing knights on central outposts where possible.

She attacks  the king in the middlegame and isn’t materialistic (none of my students are! haha), and knows how to checkmate the king.

Who knows what the future holds but at the moment we are working on the following:

  • Board awareness training
  • Piece activity/attacking motifs
  • Basic endings
  • Tactics, tactics, tactics!

These are the things I actually focus on 90% of the time with new kids in order to develop the “muscle memory” to be able to just play good moves intuitively.

I basically ignore completely positional stuff like pawn structure because these things can all be taught later in the “refinement” phase of their learning.



Serena’s mother (whose English name is Belinda) is a successful businesswomen here in China and owns the main school I cooperate with here.

Over the course of a few years working together we have developed a pretty good friendship, and so when I (noticing Serena’s obvious intelligence) suggested around half a year ago that Serena give chess a try, Belinda happily talked her into it.

At the moment we are celebrating Chinese New Year here and so have a couple of weeks holiday, and today I invited Serena and Belinda to my place to hang out.

I’ve made a video for you guys to meet my talented student and be the first to meet a future star.

We tried to speak English as much as possible for you but there is still the odd Chinese thrown in there (you’ll get to hear some of my terrible Mandarin!) when I forgot myself and got excited.

You’ll also get to see a different Brendan from the usual “no B.S” and serious Brendan you might see in my other videos and articles.

When I work with kids I allow myself to be silly, have fun and be slightly immature.

Teaching chess to kids is something which I’d do for free If I didn’t need to earn a living and so in this video you’ll see an expression of my passion and what makes me truly happy!

So without further ado, allow me to introduce…

Serena Zhou – Future Women’s World Chess Champion! (haha In our dreams! 🙂 )

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Chess Coach, Computer Chess Nut, Copywriter, Language Learner, Philosopher and Nice Guy Living in China.
  • Aram Grigoryan says:

    You are wonderful! Very talanted young player with her incredible teacher…
    Here in armenia chess became mandatory subject so kids are learning it at school now… And after your very kind words i just thought of you making a full course of chess in KhanAcademy…haha

    • Brendan J. Norman says:

      Thanks for the nice words Aram.

      I can remember when I was teaching chess in Australia (before I came to China), the news came to the chess community that chess had been added to the chess curriculum in Armenia. Most people were very happy for you guys. I wish chess could become a part of education in every country.

      I’m not familiar with Khan Academy, what is it?

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