Elementary School Chess

Go to Kids FAQ - - Go to Parents FAQ

It's Booming!
Elementary school chess is growing in popularity state-wide. Seattle area tournaments last Winter and Spring filled up weeks in advance, and the State Elementary Championship pulls over 1000 kids each year -- and to get there, you have to qualify first by posting a winning record in a qualifier!

Here in Northwest Washington, we have around four qualifying tournaments a year -- and we could use a few more! We welcome the growth of organizers, and hope that elementary school kids have plenty of opportunities to dive into the chess waters each school year. (Stay tuned to the Calendar for event details.)

Chess Club at your Elementary School
Many local teachers recognize the academic benefits of chess and have incorporated it into classroom free time. After-school elementary chess clubs have also proven to be a popular way to foster thinking skills, social fun and a love of the sport.

Want to start an after-school chess club at your elementary? Go for it! All it takes is a parent or two with vision, as administrators usually are very supportive. Don't be intimidated, or think that you need to be a chessmaster yourself! Go to Starting a Scholastic Chess Club, put together by a humorous teacher in Illinois. Chock full of good info. You might proceed to see some chess club ideas Mr. Mauro at Larrabee Elementary (Bellingham) used to get his elementary club going a few years back. Finally, one parent wrote A Scholastic Chess Club Start-up Do-it-yourself Kit for Dummies.

Excerpt from New Mexico Chess:
"I would consider being a chess club coach or sponsor, but I don't play chess."
This is the most common misconception among parents. You do not have to know anything about chess to spawn/maintain a very successful chess club! All that is required is a commitment and a little enthusiasm. You'll need to know the rules of chess, but they are surprisingly simple and can be learned in less than one hour. If you provide a venue and a supervised/positive environment, then the kids will take care of the rest. They can teach themselves and each other, simply playing the games (and even better if some of them can learn at home or on computer). I started volunteering/coaching with essentially no chess experience; I've learned with the kids and there are still at least 4 players in the club who are better than I am (and many players have progressed to be the best players in the state without what would be considered a real coach).

Elementary School Chess - FAQ for Kids

I don't know how to play chess. Is it hard?
Easy to learn, hard to master. Now's a great time to learn! Have a friend show you! Or
watch a video! And then print out the rules if you like. Only three things you need to know to play: 1.The starting position. 2.How the six different pieces move. 3.How the game ends. (Get the King!)
Try it out, practice the moves against a computer.

I've never played in a tournament. I'm nervous! What do I do?
Have fun and enjoy the competition! You might have your parents read Your First Time at a Scholastic Chess Tournament. Then you'll both know a bit more about what to expect.

I'm not a good chessplayer. Should I play?
Sure! Come jam with the rest of us patzers. We're all learning, and you don't have to be a Grandmaster to have fun at chess. Besides, ratings together with the Swiss pairings system will match you with opponents of equal ability. And just think of how much better you'll be after a day or evening of tournament chess.

Do I have to write down the moves?
It depends on the event. Yes, if it's a Monday evening event. Not required for most Saturday elementary tournaments, but it's still a good idea. To learn how, have a teacher or friend show you, or go here. One of the best ways to improve is to review your games after a tournament. (Besides being able to show your friends the awesome move you made that clinched the game.) Also, learning chess notation opens you to the whole wide world of chess literature. So, bring a pen or pencil!

If I haven't taken my hands off of the chess piece yet, can I change my mind?
In a rated tournament, if you even touch a chess piece, you must move it! And if you touch an opponent's piece, you must capture it! So sit on your hands until you know what you want to do. If a piece needs to be centered or adjusted, you may do so by first saying "I adjust".

Will we use chess clocks? How do they work?
We'll use clocks in the Monday evening events. For elementary school Saturday events, we often don't, though if a game is real slow we'll place a clock on that game. Chess clocks are a great invention. They keep slow players from slowing and losing players from stalling. Here's how it works: After your move, you hit the button nearest you on the chess clock. Your timer stops, and your opponent's timer begins. In most elementary tournaments each player will get 30 minutes, thus ensuring that no game goes over an hour. If a player uses up all 30 minutes, it's a loss just like checkmate.

Elementary School Chess - FAQ for Parents

Pardon me while I borrow from some other excellent chess web pages.

From New Mexico Chess: Scholastic Chess FAQ
From Chess Parent Resource: Chess Parent 101
From Clatskanie CC, Oregon: How do tournaments work?

Regarding Starting a Chess Club:
From Rockford, IL:
Starting a Scholastic Chess Club - Where to start?
From CheezWhizz: Taking Chess to the Children -- One Dad's Story
From OSCO: Starting A Chess Club - How A Parent Who Barely Played Chess Did It

Is this tourney an Elementary State Qualifier tournament? Tell me about State.
The largest chess tournament in the state every year is not the Washington Open, the Seafair Open or the State High School Team Championships, it's the State Elementary Championships. It attracts over 1000 young players each year. And consider this: to attend, players have to first qualify by posting a winning record in a qualifying tournament. !

To qualify for Elementary State, a Washington student "in grades 1-6 must score at least 3/5 in a WSRS-rated Scholastic Chess Tournament in Washington State with at least six players and three or more schools participating per section. Players in Grade K need to score 2/5 in a divison which includes K-2 players." (WSECC)

What are good books to use with kids?
Everyone has their favorites. Heisman, OSCO, Chess4Life, Georgia Chess, all have lists of recommended books for young players. It depends on age and level of interest. Here's my short list:

  • For a pre-schooler, Checkmate at Chess City by Piers Harper is a big, fun picture book that uses mazes to teach how the pieces move. (Search BookFinder or ABE books online to find one.)
  • Any of a number of good introductory books that teach the rules, i.e. Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess. And once you know the rules...
  • Attacking Chess by Josh Waitzkin, subject of the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer.
  • Complete Idiot's Guide to Chess, 3rd Edition by Patrick Wolff.

    And software: Learn to Play Chess with Fritz and Chesster 2 is great for K-5.

    And try this scholastic chess learning app for smartphones: Coach Jay's Chess Academy.

    Tell me more! More! Is there another good FAQ for parents out there?
    Well, since you asked... NM Dan Heisman has three full web pages answering parents' questions! He calls his FAQ A Typical Dialogue between Coach Heisman and a New Chess Parent. Check it out!

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