If your child joins a baseball or soccer team, even if you don’t play either sport, you’ve likely seen the gist of how it goes on TV throughout your life, even if just in passing. But, you may have zero idea on what to expect for chess. I’m going to answer some of the most common questions we get in this article:
How long will this take? The older your children are, the longer it will take. Younger children tend to play very impulsively and with haste while older children use their time more and compete at a higher level. But, here are some end-time estimates for our Saturday events broken down by grade:
As your kids get older, you can add about 1 additional hour every year or two. But, these are not hard and fast times. Just estimates based on my experience.
Is it an elimination tournament? This is a very common question. Any events we run are not elimination. All players can play all rounds whether they win, lose, or draw each game.
When do rounds begin and end? It depends on the players. Each player receives the same amount of time as their opponent. So, if both sides receive 30 minutes, then the game can last 1 hour maximum. But, the players are not obligated to use up all of their time, either. So, a game that can last a maximum of 1 hour could also last 4 minutes.
Who will my child be playing against? There are different sections at our tournaments. Those sections are
K1 = Kindergarten through 1st Grade K3 = Kindergarten through 3rd Grade K5 = Kindergarten through 5th Grade K8 = Kindergarten through 8th Grade K12 = Kindergarten through 12th Grade
It might seem odd to see Kindergarten listed in all sections. The reason is because of a term we have called “Playing Up.” Playing Up means you choose to enter a higher section than you normally would enter. This happens when talented players surpass their peers and decide they need tougher competition. So, they play up.
But, you cannot “Play Down.” For example, an 8th grader cannot play in the K3 section but would be allowed to play in the K8 or K12 sections. I often tell parents “You can go forward in time, but not back.”
Do you have team awards and individual awards? Yes.
To be on a chess team, you must have at least 2 players from your school in the same section. Team scores are determined by taking the top 4 scores each round per team. You get 1 point per win, 0.5 for a draw, and 0 for a loss. For example, if your team has 6 players and all 6 of them win, then your team score for that round is 4 points, not 6. Likewise, if those same 6 players scored 2 wins, 1 draw, and 3 losses, then the team score would be 2.5 points.
Individual awards are much simpler: you get 1 point for winning, 0.5 for drawing, and 0 for losing. The higher the score you achieve, the more likely you get a top place trophy.
How do the match ups (Pairings) work? If there are 10 players in a tournament, we will line them up based on their national ranking (rating). So, the top player, which is also the highest rated player, will be seeded #1 and the lowest would be seeded #10.
With this format, in round 1 we would see
#1 vs #6 #2 vs #7 #3 vs #8 #4 vs #9 #5 vs #10
To be a little more precise, who gets the white pieces goes first; therefore, it matters who goes first. So, who gets white and black is randomly determined, by computer software, who gets white and black on the top board. Then, it alternates from there. So, if it was determined #1 gets black in round 1, then here is what the pairings would actually look like:
#6 vs #1 #2 vs #7 #8 vs #3 #4 vs #9 #10 vs #5
After each round we tally up who won, drew, and lost. We take all the people who won and do the same pairing format with the winners. We take all the people who lost and pair them together. Then, we do the same with players who drew.
There is a lot more to it than that; however, this is a simple explanation.
Do you have to write down your moves (ie: Take Notation)? Many kids dislike writing down their moves. We highly encourage all players to notate their games. We encourage it so much re provide notation sheets to everyone. We try to provide pens/pencils to everyone but it is always good to have your own pen/pencil in case our supplies run out.
We have also designed a special notation sheet that makes notation super easy and fun. Here is a sample:
All you have to do with these notation sheets is circle the piece that is moving and the letter and number for the square it moved to. Kids generally like it.
For any parents or new-to-chess kids, here is a quick and simple method for learning how the pieces move in chess. However, before you go into it, let me explain a few quick things:
Learning chess on an actual board is best.
Learning all the pieces and their movements in 1 day is a tall order for most kids, especially younger ones.
The goal of chess is to achieve a checkmate; however, that goal is unimportant when learning piece movements. Focus on capturing pieces.
The provided link above will route you to another part of our website: the Self Guided Lessons page. Over time, this page will be populated with more and more self guided lessons. It is free, educational, and can help kids practice their skills.
IMPORTANT NOTE The self-guided lessons have some important drop-down menus to select different chapters of the lessons. If you skip those, you will be missing out on a lot of learning! 🙂
If you cannot find good moves, you won’t win. If you find a good move but you don’t understand it, you still won’t win. Every chess skill you’ll ever develop is about finding good moves and playing them. In Parental Expectations Management in Chess, I discussed two kinds of skills that need to be developed: technique and behavior based skills:
The outcome of developing your technique means you will pick higher quality moves more efficiently.
Developing behavior based skills helps you establish routines which put your mind in the right place for both playing and learning.
To develop proper techniques, you must first understand the 5 general areas of chess knowledge plus the basics. The diagram makes a puzzle because these terms are all interrelated. While there are no set definitions for any of the these categories, I will do my best to briefly explain them in Layman’s terms:
Tactics The outcome of a tactic is one player generally gains an advantage or nullifies an opponent’s advantage by making a proper sequence of moves overlooked by the opponent.
Strategy The guiding plan for where you put your pieces, when to put them there, and why is how a chosen strategy operates.
Opening The beginning of a chess game which “ends” when all of your pieces have gotten to useful squares that support a chosen strategy.
Middlegame The middle part of a game where planning and many tactics occur.
Endgame The end of the game which occurs when most pieces have been captured and few remain.
While these 5 categories (plus Basics) are separated, they seamlessly flow together. For example, there are elements in the opening (beginning) of a chess game that are present in the endgame:
Diagram 1 shows a late-opening position. Diagram 2 shows an endgame position. The outlined squares demonstrate how an opening could connect to an endgame position. The same is true for all other categories: tactics and strategy occur in every phase of the game; there are elements of the endgame and middlegame in the opening (all other combinations apply, too).
The following non-comprehensive list of techniques are labeled to show you the general category of knowledge into which they fall, including the basics of how to play. I caution you: the list below is grouped by category and is not intended to represent a sequential list:
List of Critical Chess Techniques for Beginners
BASICS – Piece movements
BASICS – Chess Notation (spoken, not written)
BASICS – Notation (written)
BASICS – Capturing / How to capture
BASICS – Special Chess Moves
BASICS – Check, Checkmate, Stalemate
TACTICS – Counting Exchanges
TACTICS – Basic Checkmate Patterns
TACTICS – Basic tactics names and patterns
TACTICS – Finding undefended pieces
STRATEGY / TACTICS – Relative piece value and its purpose
STRATEGY / TACTICS – Types of Attack
STRATEGY – Types of Defense
OPENING / TACTICS – Opening Traps (and how not to fall for them)
OPENINGS – Opening Principles
OPENING / MIDDLEGAME – Creating basic plans
ENDGAME – Piece combinations that can and cannot checkmate
ENDGAME – Basic Endgame Techniques
ALL – How to organize a basic attack
ALL – Learn how to defend against basic attacks
This list gives an idea of what techniques are good for newer players to learn. This list can also serve as a basic checklist to help parents keep track of what your kids do and do not know. But, you cannot just learn a bunch of techniques without paying attention to developing positive chess behaviors.
List of Critical Positive Behaviors There are two types of behaviors that should be learned:
If your behaviors are not in lock step, your technique will wane. If you don’t sleep, you will make poor moves. If you don’t practice skills, then your technique will be off. If you don’t learn how to notate, you won’t learn from your mistakes. Behavior development is critical to improvement.
Chess Centered Behaviors give you routines to follow as you play and learn. These routines aim at practicing specific things regularly to sharpen your skills.
Non-chess behaviors specifically put you in the right state of mind to play and learn chess. Non-chess behaviors extend past the purview of chess.
For example, if you are mean to people who beat you in chess, then you will never be able to ask them to go over the game to help you find your mistakes. Non-chess behaviors are about making it easier to handle losing, ask for help, and build a growth mentality.
In Parental Expectations Management in Chess, I presented 10 critical behaviors that are good for parents to reinforce. I will add 10 more behaviors to that list and label each item “Chess” and “Non-Chess.” Once again, this is not a comprehensive list but a sample to help you understand the point:
Chess – Solve chess puzzles to build pattern recognition.
Chess – Find tactics in chess games you lost and create puzzles out of them.
Chess –Learn how to play with a chess clock.
Chess – Memorize the number and letter for each square on the chessboard.
Chess – Learn chess by reading about it.
Chess – Occasionally replay through old games.
Chess – Win, lose, or draw, ask your opponent to go over the game.
Chess – Look at the games of better players (even if they are confusing).
Chess – Solve chess worksheets.
Chess – Learn basic tournament rules (if you wish to go to tournaments).
Non-Chess – When you lose, practice not getting upset.
Non-Chess – Try to find the good stuff you did in games you lost.
Non-Chess – Try to find the bad stuff you did in games you won.
Non-Chess – Go to bed on time 3 nights in a row before a tournament.
Non-Chess – When you lose, tell your opponent they played a good game.
Non-Chess – Notate all your games (write down each move).
Non-Chess – Avoid heavy meals during a tournament.
Non-Chess – After a tournament, take a day or two off from chess.
Non-Chess – Get your chess set out and clean it once a week.
Non-Chess – Always set up your pieces before putting your set away.
These, and others, chess behaviors are aimed at getting someone to practice skills they know or are learning. The behavior of regularly seeking practice will ensure chess success. The non-chess behaviors are more about emotional development and maintaining cognitive clarity. For example, if you eat a big meal before a chess game, you’ll be tired when you play as you digest your food.
Let’s begin by considering the Player Progression Pyramid below:
The lessons from the Player Progression Pyramid are helpful:
The better you get, the fewer peers you have.
Improvement is an uphill battle.
Improvement is like a complex maze where you sometimes backtrack.
Progress is a narrow path through which one person passes at a time.
There is more than one path through the maze.
Only 1 person can be on top.
Your parental expectations must be tempered by the above Player Progress Pyramid. Your parental expectations should be limited within the chess goals you develop with your child. So, what exactly are good chess goals?
Good Chess Goals are Technique Based
Learn how to prevent the 4-move checkmate
Stop bringing your queen out early in games.
Don’t give away pieces for free.
Show up on time to each game.
Notate all your games (that means write down the moves to the game).
Go over your games with a coach / friend.
Don’t block in your bishops with pawns.
Try to solve 10 chess puzzles in 1 day.
Play and meet 10 people from 10 different schools.
Learn a new way to checkmate with the King and Queen versus a lone King.
These are excellent goals because they encourage either developing new techniques or honing known techniques. They all lead to progression regardless of your aptitude. You can achieve all of these goals even if you lose many games.
Another set of excellent goals are behavior based. Essentially, anything that encourages growth based behaviors is going to improve yourself as a player. Here is a list of behavior based goals:
Go to bed on time 3 nights in a row before a tournament.
When you lose, tell your opponent they played a good game.
Win, lose, or draw, ask your opponent if they want to go over the game?
Notate all of your games (write down each move to the game).
Avoid heavy meals during a tournament and drink water.
Occasionally replay through old games to see your improvement.
After a tournament, take a day or two off from chess.
Learn about chess by reading.
Get your chess set out and clean it.
Set up your pieces before putting your set away to account for all pieces.
Behavior based goals are excellent for a different reason: they establish positive routines that reinforce your skill-based goals. In tandem, these two styles of goal setting are a powerful combination. But, let’s look at some examples of some skill based and behavior based goals:
Common but Bad Chess Goals are Outcome Based
Win a trophy
Win your games
Grow your rating / national ranking
Win the tournament
Checkmate Siddarth next time
Those goals are bad because they have nothing to do with developing technique or cultivating positive behaviors and are only concerned with outcomes. In order to achieve these desirable outcomes, you need technique, routines, and good behaviors. You can always be proud of the progress put toward technique development when you fail to win a trophy, game, or tournament, fail to grow your rating, or lose to Siddarth again. If you establish good behaviors and routines, then bouncing back from a lost opportunity becomes much easier to do.
As a parent, focus your encouragement away from outcome-driven development and toward technique and positive behavior based development. If your child develops the proper techniques and behaviors, the outcomes will occur. In chess, internal motivation is primary and external motivation is secondary. The “Common but Bad Chess Goals” are examples of external motivation, which is powerful but hollow without internal motivation.
It should be noted there is a time and place for each goal in the “Common but Bad Chess Goals” list. However, the timing to apply those goals comes after your child, or any chess player, has built up enough internal motivation that losing and making mistakes won’t push them down emotionally. Here is an encouraging meme from Savielly Tartakover, a leading chess grandmaster and chess journalist from the 20s and 30s:
Tartakover is completely correct that mistakes have underlying truth. It is the timing that makes them wrong in most cases. For example, investing money in a company today might lose money for some currently-relevant reason. But, investing in that same company 2 months from now might be an extremely lucrative decision.
Therefore, expect your child to lose, make mistakes, and struggle. Celebrate success of technique and positive behavior based goal achievement and not just winning. If you keep your celebrations of success to technique and behavior based accomplishments while avoiding outcome based results as goals, your child will flourish in chess.
Next week, we will release “Critical Chess Skill Lists” as a sort of part 2 this this article.