How to feel good about chess…

by admin on May 18, 2008

… Organize a tournament!

As I’ve mentioned before, I run a chess club for kids at the Aptos Public Library (new link coming soon). Every year in May, as kind of a culmination to the school year, I run a very informal, unrated tournament. Usually I split it into two sections by age; this year we had a section for ages 9 and under (with seven players) and for ages 10 and up (with twelve players).

I owe big thanks to Ruben Sombrano, who brought seven kids up from his class in Watsonville. They all played in the older section and did quite well, winning first and a second-place tie. If they hadn’t come, it would have been a pretty weak turnout.

One reason the number of players was lower than usual, I believe, is that the children’s librarian, Nancy Call, usually phones every player’s parents the week before the tournament to remind them about it. Unfortunately, Nancy is away on a long holiday, and I just didn’t have the time this week to make the phone calls. So four or five players who signed up a long time ago didn’t show up, perhaps because they just forgot about it.

Anyway, that was the only disappointment today. The great thing was to see some of the games the kids played. There’s something about the seriousness of a tournament that makes them pay attention a bit more or something. I saw forks and pins played by kids who don’t usually see forks and pins. I saw some hard-fought theoretical endings. How about king and two bishops versus king? How about king, queen and bishop versus king and queen? We had both of those today. (The first one was drawn by the 50-move rule. The second won was won by the K+Q+B, who figured out a nice way to skewer his opponent’s king and queen.)

One of the great things about this tournament is that it’s absolutely free. The library wouldn’t host it any other way. But we do offer prizes — certificates and medals to the top three in each group, and certificates to every kid who completes all three games. Usually the prizes come from the library’s activities budget, but Nancy has sometimes paid for them out of her own pocket when the library’s budget was too tight.

Of course the tournament is not rated. I am so in awe of people who run academic chess programs that get kids into rated tournaments, and even more in awe of teachers who can get a 10-year-old to play at 1400, 1600, 1800 strength. I’d love to know how they do it! My kids are all probably below 1000 strength. They don’t all know how to keep score, although I’ve tried to work on that a bit this year, so some of them probably can. I think that most of them are not even aware that rated tournaments exist, or understand what a rating is.

Should I be happy with running the one tournament a year and seeing the kids have a good time? Should I aim higher? Should I steer them into rated tournament chess, and if so, how? I’d appreciate your feedback!

Today’s winners were:

Under-10 section:

1. Ian Chiu (3/3); 2-3. Jack Scott, Matthew Founds (2/3); Special Sportsmanship Award — Theo Mickey (2/3)

Theo got the special award because he was in a three-way tie for second with Jack and Matthew. We had a round-robin playoff between the three of them, using a clock and a game in 10 minutes time control. Theo had never used a chess clock before in his life. I felt that he deserved some recognition for coping with a new situation and doing it without complaint. I think he had fun, even though he lost the playoff.

10-and-over section:

1. Alvaro Zamora (2.5/3, won playoff); 2-3. Karen Chan (2.5/3), Oscar Gonzalez (2.5/3).

We ended up with a three-way tie in this section because Karen gave up a stalemate in a round-two game where she was ahead by two queens and a rook, and Alvaro and Oscar, who were the only kids with 2 points in the first 2 rounds, played to a draw in the last round. This was the game that went to K + 2B vs. K. Oscar had the two bishops, but he didn’t know how to win. In the playoff, though, Alvaro beat both of his rivals. I deemed it unnecessary to break the tie between Karen and Oscar.

Alvaro had an interesting day. He plays for a checkmate on f2 or f7 in every opening, and amazingly, both of his first two opponents, as White, allowed it! So he won his first two games in a total of about twelve moves! However, his long endgame struggle against Oscar more than made up for the two short games. Karen has improved a lot; I think that last year she got only half a point in three games, but this year she could easily have gone three-for-three.

And now we return you to so-called more “important” tournaments, such as the U.S. Championship …

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

alvaro April 4, 2009 at 5:03 pm

i have that medal in my garage


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