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    Many people think of chess as an individual sport, driven by the individual …

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  • Girls and Chess

    It is hard not to notice the disparity in the numbers of girls versus boys …

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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.




Girls in Chess

July 17th, 2015

Written by Ranae Bartlett

It is hard not to notice the disparity in the numbers of girls versus boys playing chess.

United States Chess Federation President Ruth Haring shared some hard numbers with respect to membership in her August 2014 annual report.

Only 12 percent of the USCF membership is female, and the largest portion of that female membership is in the “under-12” demographic.

If we grow the number of females playing chess, more females will be among the top chess players in the world.


Ignoring the disparity is not an option. The question is what are we going to do about it. As a chess coach, I feel a responsibility to make some effort in growing the number of girls who play chess. 

At Rainbow Elementary in Madison, Alabama, our competition chess teams last year were over 40 percent female. I am proud of that, but I want to see the number of female chess players continue to grow city-wide.

At the 2015 Elementary Chess Championship, Rainbow Elementary won our state’s first national championship in the K-6 U1000 section, and three of our top four players were girls! Growing girls in chess can produce winning results.

National K-6 U1000 Champs!


In honor of our girls who are now an inspiration to so many, and through the support of the Madison City Chess League (MCCL) and a local restaurant, we started our first weekly girls chess night this summer.

I had read about girls chess nights occurring across the country, and was fortunate to be wearing one of my chess shirts while eating at a local restaurant (truly an occupational hazard when one directs a city-wide chess league) when I discussed the possibility of holding such an event with the owner.

He was sold! He even offered to provide the girls in attendance free appetizers.


Our first meeting was a big success, and I saw girls I had never met before who were willing to come play at a girls-only gathering.



There is a social dimension to girls chess night that differs from other events I direct for MCCL. We gather the girls so we can talk and share information about other females who are paving the way in the world of chess.

Girls' Chess Nights


At our meetings, the girls have learned about the first women's world champion in 1927, Vera Menchik; the current U.S. women's champion GM Irina Krush; the youngest-ever female grandmaster, Hou Yifan (achieving GM at 14 years and 6 months); and Susan Polgar, coach for the reigning Division-I collegiate chess champion, Webster University.  

Although we occasionally have special guest instructors, like IM Danny Rensch in July, most of the time girls chess night is an opportunity for our girls to gather, socialize and have fun while playing chess. This less formal event was a great way to encourage girls to come back each week. 

To support this program and others, the MCCL board appointed a girls chess coordinator, Beena Chopade. Beena has twin daughters who play chess at Columbia Elementary in Madison. Beena and I are committed to growing the number of girls playing chess in our area and beyond. We are very excited to connect with others in the southeastern part of the United States and hopefully collaborate on regional events.

Chopade Chess Family 

Beena (standing) with her daughters Neha and Puja.





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