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A Coach's Adventure At The Sinquefield Cup

October 7th, 2015

By Steve Abrahams 

As a young chess player, I looked up to the top players in the world to guide me on my way to success.  I now have the opportunity as a coach and writer to watch, interact, and interview 10 of the top 15 players in the world, representing eight different countries.

This series will cover my adventure before and during the Sinquefield Cup 2015 and offer suggestions to coaches on how you can use such an event to help your students improve even if you can’t travel all the way to the event.


Playing Hall at the Sinquefield Cup

(The playing hall at the Sinquefield Cup)

The 2015 Sinquefield Cup ran from August 22 to September 3 in St. Louis, with prizes totaling over $300,000. As a chess teacher with an integrated chess curriculum, I had the luxury of following along with the Cup during my workday. As the games occurred each day my students and I had the privilege to analyze live along with the likes of GM Yasser Seirawan, WGM Jennifer Shahade, and GM Maurice Ashley.   

The live event and feel of Sinquefield got my students entranced with the tournament and its players.  Just as a football coach might invite his players to watch the Super Bowl and learn from the greats, in chess we have that same ability with “Super-GM” events. Each year there are many such events; however the Sinquefield with an average rating of 2798 was among the strongest of all-time. 

As a coach, player or simply a fan there is so much you can learn from these high level tournaments. Each day during these events I followed Chess.com and many other sites to see what was occurring in the games. I generally try to analyze along and play some “solitaire” chess (made popular by the famous coach Bruce Pandolfini) to emulate the top players, which is incredibly useful for any chess enthusiast. 

Chess engines are great, but they won’t give you the time to think and figure out what is actually going on; they simply tell you the answer. When showing these games in class, I push my students to create candidate moves and analyze each move deeply before offering their opinions.

Live Coverage of Games Online

(Live coverage of the games online)

Students love it when their coaches have a connection to the best players in the world. Most students think their coach is the best player in the world, and teaching them about the top players and the history of chess help those students better understand the game. 

As a student, I remember reading about the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match and being in awe of Bobby Fischer’s talent and celebrity. Now as a coach I try to instill in my students that same feeling for Carlsen, Nakamura, Caruana, and others.

The Author in the World Champion's Chair

(I took a turn sitting in the world champion's chair during the rest day.)

Look forward to part two,  featuring the top players’ thoughts on how you can use a tournament like Sinquefield to improve yourself as a player and your students as a coach.




Chess Is A Team Sport

August 25th, 2015

Written by Ranae Bartlett

Many people think of chess as an individual sport, driven by the individual player’s ability, work ethic, and ambition to succeed. Certainly, individual effort and ability are important, but playing in team chess events introduces an entirely different dynamic.

Do not underestimate the power inherent in playing as a team or the reward felt by teammates who enjoy a very different level of achievement by participating together.

In the 2015 annual report by USCF President Ruth Haring, the observation is made that "kids like team tournaments."  The team dynamic is an important part in retaining chess players.

I have seen team esprit de corps fuel individual success, and that is a winning combination. Playing in teams makes chess fun!

Team chess is my favorite aspect of coaching.

Most team awards in chess tournaments, including national tournaments, are derived from the top three or four individual scores from a section of players. Half the battle is having enough students show up in any given section to compete.

Team Chess

This is no small task -- today kids are pulled in many different directions, and it can be hard for chess to compete with other sports, other academic teams, music and arts events, etc.

When introducing competitive chess to kids, especially young ones, remember that it needs to be fun. Children are social and want to socialize with each other. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard parents relay that the reason their children want to play in chess tournaments that last all day long is to hang out with their friends. That makes me smile.

In our community, chess has become a cool thing to do. I see our elementary chess kids wearing their chess team shirts on Friday night at football games. I see kids bringing their chess sets with them to play at some of the most unlikely places: recess, sporting events, coffee shops, and the YMCA.

I don’t think this would have happened if we did not have strong chess teams competing and building team spirit.

Here are some suggestions on how you can build team spirit in your chess club.

How to build team spirit:

  • Announce team results first in all school and at meetings, before individual results. I also include the names of everyone who competed that day for the team, regardless of who won awards, in the school announcements.
  • Have parties and celebrate success. Chess kids at our elementary school customarily hold a holiday party, end-of-year swim party, and even a back-to-school bash where parents contribute food and goodies. But don’t be surprised when the kids eventually want to get out chess sets and start playing with each other.  Kids who play on a team need time to bond.
  • Assign tournament buddies. When students play in their first tournament, it can be quite intimidating.  I assign every new player an experienced player on our team to be a tournament buddy, who will help go over games during a tournament, offer moral support, and participate in a special practice before the first tournament to help the new student get ready.

Kids and Tournaments


  • Give a team spirit or sportsmanship award after each tournament. Celebrate those who think beyond themselves as individuals during a tournament. It can awarded to someone who is being an exceptional mentor, someone who fights back after a tough loss to help his team, or someone who shows good sportsmanship despite a disappointing individual finish.




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