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Setting Up A Team At Your Child's School (Part 1)

posted July 14, 2014
Part 1: Setting Up Your Chess Team Written by guest author Robert N. Bernard for Wholesale Chess.

Your daughter or son has an interest in chess and may already play in tournaments, but he or she wants to have other kids in their school play with them on the same team. There's no one to organize this so you, gulp, volunteer to be the chess coach. My experience was similar - my son had played in tournaments for a little over two years, and when he entered a new school for third grade, he wondered whether there would be other kids at the school who even played chess, and wanted to enter tournaments with him. I told him that if he wanted, I could coach a chess team for other kids that might want to play competitively. He jumped at the idea.

Chess Coach vs. Chess Teacher

Being a coach for your child's team may not necessarily mean that you are also giving chess lessons. At my son's school, there are after school chess lessons that are completely separate from the chess team. Not to step on anyone's toes, I contacted the chess teacher well in advance and told him what my plans were in order to get his understanding and support. Indeed, he ended up being a valuable ally at the end of the year.

Chess Equipment

Launching any new program at a school may meet resistance, and it may be difficult to procure any funds for a new endeavor. Therefore, you will likely have to purchase some of the equipment yourself, at least at first. Many schools do not have tournament quality chess sets, but it is imperative for morale (and for practicing with tournament equipment) to get something that looks official. Generally you will want to purchase two sets of plastic chess pieces and vinyl chess boards for every three kids on the chess team. While that may seem like overkill, chess pieces will get lost, misplaced, not put back properly, and having a few extra sets will save you in a chess emergency. You will also want to buy several chess clocks, one for every three kids or so. Finally, buy one demonstration chess board (with pieces) for team activities done as a group.

Recruiting for Your Team

Recruiting for the chess team is no different from recruiting for any other activity - flyers, talking with the teachers, posters, etc. The biggest recruiting tool, however, will be word-of-mouth. Once one child gets talking, he or she will bring other kids along naturally.

Planning Your Meetings

Picking a time and frequency for the team practices is also important. Older kids may view chess in the same vein as other sports, and want to meet four times per week. For elementary school kids, once a week is probably a good thing to start with, and then you may want to change to less frequent as the kids get comfortable and in a rhythm.

The key is to build up some momentum at the beginning, and less than once per week may cause kids to lose interest. As for time of day, after school seems natural, but we opted for an hour before school, as my work schedule wouldn't allow after school. Before school worked out excellently, as the kids who came showed their commitment and dedication (as did their parents) by waking up an hour earlier to get their kids to school.

The First Few Meetings

The first few meetings for the chess team are the key to success. Have a specific plan of what you want to accomplish each meeting. For example, I covered the following topics in this order: (1) sportsmanship (shaking hands, not slamming or grinding pieces, winning and losing graciously), (2) the clock and how it counts down to zero, (3) tournament atmosphere and directors (scoring system, touch move rules, raising your hand for a director if there's a problem), (4) chess notation, saying ""check"" in not necessary, and illegal moves.

After the first or second meeting, you need to get a message to the childrens' parents explaining the purpose of the chess team. I emphasized that this was a team, not instruction, and that tournament chess can be a brutal experience for a child that is not ready for it. Yet, I emphasized that for most kids, the benefits of playing in tournaments (self-reliance, patience, planning, and hopefully fun) outweigh the anxiety that accompany playing in them.

This is Part One of Starting a Chess Team at You Child's School. Part 2: Taking Your Chess Team to the Next Level will be published later.

Robert N. Bernard is the manager of the New Jersey Knockouts of the United States Chess League, where he started three years ago as the Knockouts' blogger. For the USCL, he also compiles an unofficial rating list and weekly power rankings. Frequently, he can be found on the Internet Chess Club, where he has a weird tendency to win a lot of their trivia contests. He is also a member of the United State Chess Federation's Ratings Committee and coaches his son's chess team. He has a very nice plaque from the 1982 US Amateur Team Championship, where he captained the team that won the Under 1400 prize."

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Chess Principles - 64 Tips for Improving

posted July 1, 2014
Ready to Learn Chess? Here's a few quick chess principles to help you get going.
This list was created by Bill Wall. Enjoy the list!
  • 01. Develop your chess pieces quickly.
  • 02. Control the center.
  • 03. Try to put your pieces on squares that give them maximum space.
  • 04. Try to develop your knights towards the center.
  • 05. A knight on the rim is dim.
  • 06. Don't take unnecessary chances.
  • 07. Play aggressive.
  • 08. Calculate forced moves first.
  • 09. Always ask yourself, "Can he put me in check or win a piece?"
  • 10. Have a plan. Every move should have a purpose.
  • 11. Assume your opponent's move is his best move.
  • 12. Ask yourself, "why did he move there?" after each opponent move.
  • 13. Play for the initiative and controlling the chess board.
  • 14. If you must lose a piece, get something for it if you can.
  • 15. When behind, exchange pawns. When ahead, exchange pieces.
  • 16. If you are losing, don't give up fighting. Look for counterplay.
  • 17. Don't play unsound moves unless you are losing badly.
  • 18. Don't sacrifice a piece without good reason.
  • 19. If you are in doubt of an opponent's sacrifice, accept it.
  • 20. Attack with more that just one or two pieces.
  • 21. Do not make careless pawn moves. They cannot move back.
  • 22. Do not block in your bishops.
  • 23. Bishops of opposite colors have the greatest chance of drawing.
  • 24. Try not to move the same piece twice or more times in a row.
  • 25. Exchange pieces if it helps your development.
  • 26. Don't bring your queen out early.
  • 27. Castle soon to protect your king and develop your rook.
  • 28. Develop rooks to open files.
  • 29. Put rooks behind passed pawns.
  • 30. Study rook endgames. They are the most common and most complicated.
  • 31. Don't let your king get caught in the center.
  • 32. Don't castle if it brings your king into greater danger from attack.
  • 33. After castling, keep a good pawn formation around your king.
  • 34. If you only have one bishop, put your pawns on its opposite color.
  • 35. Trade pawns pieces when ahead in material or when under attack.
  • 36. If cramped, free your game by exchanging material.
  • 37. If your opponent is cramped, don't let him get any freeing exchanges.
  • 38. Study openings you are comfortable with.
  • 39. Play over entire games, not just the opening.
  • 40. Blitz chess is helpful in recognizing chess patterns. Play often.
  • 41. Study annotated games and try to guess each move.
  • 42. Stick with just a few openings with White, and a few openings with Black.
  • 43. Record your games and go over them, especially the games you lost.
  • 44. Show your games to higher rated opponents and get feedback from them.
  • 45. Use chess computers and databases to help you study and play more.
  • 46. Everyone blunders. The champions just blunder less often.
  • 47. When it is not your move, look for tactics and combinations.
  • 48. Try to double rooks or double rook and queen on open files.
  • 49. Always ask yourself, ""Does my next move overlook something simple?""
  • 50. Don't make your own plans without the exclusion of the opponent's threats.
  • 51. Watch out for captures by retreat of an opponent's piece.
  • 52. Do not focus on one sector of the board. View the whole board.
  • 53. Write down your move first before making that move if it helps.
  • 54. Try to solve chess puzzles with diagrams from books and magazines.
  • 55. It is less likely that an opponent is prepared for off-beat openings.
  • 56. Recognize transposition of moves from main-line play.
  • 57. Watch your time and avoid time trouble.
  • 58. Bishops are worth more than knights except when they are pinned in.
  • 59. A knight works better with a bishop than another knight.
  • 60. It is usually a good idea to trade down into a pawn up endgame.
  • 61. Have confidence in your game.
  • 62. Play in as many rated events as you can.
  • 63. Try not to look at your opponent's rating until after the game.
  • 64. Always play for a win.

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