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 - Questions Kids Have

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 the Whatcom Chess FAQ or Tournaments - How They Work. 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. 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 learn 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?
For elementary school Saturday events, we often don't use clocks, 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.

Whatcom County Scholastic Chess FAQ

Information for Parents
Club Formation
Tournament Play Rules of Chess

Information for Parents

Why should I introduce my kids to chess?
Chess provides a unique combination of mental development, social enrichment and fun. Mental development is provided by promoting critical thinking, abstract problem solving, forward thinking, internal visualization, etc. Social enrichment is provided by teaching kids to pause and think before they act, that losing is a part of life and it can be learned from, and that your decisions/actions have direct consequences (kids are forced to accept the responsibility for their actions because there are no refs, bad bounces, sore knees, sun in their eyes, etc. that affect the outcome - although kids can always come up with clever excuses, and in some cases, e.g. stomach ache, there are valid ones). Of course fun is what makes it all work so well for young kids, as they love games and competition. There are
several studies verifying the benefits of chess for youth.
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What's the best way to get my child interested in chess?
Kids 1) love to play games and 2) get attention from their parents. If you offer to play chess with your kid, odds are extremely good they will say yes. I've found that leaving a chess board out in an active area of the house will prompt either me or my kids to ask for a game. You can watch Brooklyn Castle on Netflix. And a chess adventure game like Fritz & Chesster 2 is also a fine way to get a young child interested.
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How much will chess cost me?
One of the beauties of chess (like soccer) is how inexpensive the equipment is. A standard scholastic set (solid plastic) costs under $10. Your costs will be determined by how active your child is. Each Saturday tournament will cost between $10 and $25 (early registration discounts are often available). Then there are the travel costs to tournaments, just as with any other youth activity. Carpooling is obviously great if you can arrange it. You might also decide to spend money for software or premium online services. And investing in a chess clock can add a whole new dimension of fun.
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What are rated and unrated players?
Rated players are players that have previously played in a NW or US rated tournament. Most Saturday tournaments in Whatcom County are NW rated, as are the Hot Summer Chess and NWL Pre-Season tourneys. A rating is a rough estimate of playing strength, similar to golf or bowling handicaps. They also facilitate the pairing of tournaments.
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How do ratings work?
Ratings are a numerical metric of how a player performs relative to other players. It's been refined over many decades. Online you can find discussions of the NW rating system and even USCF's actual algorithm. The computation is a function of how many points you receive at a tournament (win=1, draw=0.5, loss=0) and the average rating of the kids you played. If you win half of your games against players of similar ratings then your rating will be unchanged. If you come into a tournament unrated and win half of your games, your rating will be equal to the average rating of your opponents.

Once your rating is established, for a given tournament the ratings algorithm produces an expected number of points that you should achieve based on the ratings of the kids you played. If you exceed that expectation your rating goes up, and if you fall short of that expectation your rating goes down. Depending on your competition, you could win only 1 of 5 games and have your rating go up or vice-versa. A player 400 pts better than another should win about 90% of the time, a player 800 pts better than another should win about 99% of the time.

Early in a kid's chess career, their ratings can fluctuate wildly (so don't get overly excited or depressed), but after several tournaments they become better established and are a fairly good measure of a kid's progress. Adult ratings go from 0 to 3000 (theoretically), and the average adult tournament chessplayer is rated 1500. The world champion, Magnus Carlsen of Norway, is rated around 2850.
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How can I find my child's rating?
Northwest ratings can be found at Chess Ratings NorthWest. Ratings are updated usually within a week after an event. Besides individual ratings, they have Tournament Reports pages, a School Report tool where you can see all rated players from a school, and the Top Ten In Each Grade list. To see a cool graph and analysis of your NW rating progress, visit MyRating, which also has a Top Ten function.
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Where is the best place for my kids to play chess online?
There are several options. Good options include Chess.com (for kids 13 and older) and ChessKid.com (for kids 12 and younger). Both Chess.com and ChessKid.com allow kids to play chess for free. "Online" or "slow" chess allows players to move over the course of days (in the past referred to as correspondence chess, where people would mail moves back and forth to each other). "Live chess" is real time, like a real tournament game, with time controls used for both players. Both options have their pros and cons. Online chess gives kids an opportunity to think as long as they want about a move, and even use an "analyze" tool that lets them move pieces around and explore options. Live chess is better experience for playing in tournaments, although it requires a reliable internet connection. With any online option, always be aware of any chatting features or other ways that information can be transmitted. ChessKid.com is the safest in this regard. Teach your kids not to disclose their name, address, age, etc.
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What is the best online site for my kids to learn and improve?
Actually playing chess is a vital component to improving. Again, ChessKid.com and Chess.com are good options for playing. In addition to playing they also have top tier training components, such as tactics puzzles, videos, articles and lessons. Each site has a free option, and a paid option with increased access.
Perhaps you judge that your child would do well in a "classroom" setting with a structured curriculum, using ordered lesson plans that cover chess in a less freestyle, exploratory way. Good options here include ZoomChess for pre-readers or early readers (instruction is given verbally), and for readers, Chess Magnet School, Chessity, Chess Mentor, Learning Chess or Chesscademy.
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What is the best computer software for my kids to learn chess?
Learn to Play Chess With Fritz and Chesster is a popular series. The first teaches the game, the second and third teach basic strategy and tactics. For middle and high schoolers, any recent Chessmaster program is a good investment, chock full of great lessons by various authors using various styles. Some coaches appreciate Majestic Chess, an adventure game where chess puzzles must be solved to advance the plot.

Elliott's Chess School is an excellent series of instructional DVDs, and you can "try before you buy", since they are available in the Whatcom County Library System. Fun fact: Elliott Neff, founder of Chess4Life in Seattle and the featured instructor, is originally from Lynden!
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What are the best chess apps for my kids to learn chess?
Here's a few good ones to get you started: Coach Jay's Chess Academy, Judit Polgar's Chess Playground, ChessKid.com, Dinosaur Chess, Solitaire Chess, and Chess Wizard.
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Where can I get a scholastic chess set, and clock?
You are referring to the solid plastic pieces and vinyl roll-up boards used at local tournaments and at most scholastic chess clubs. You'll find them online, i.e. at Chess House and Wholesale Chess. The heavier the better. Consider investing in a good bag as well. For clocks, see the Chess Clock Buying Guide.
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What are blitz and bughouse?
Blitz is usually a chess game where both players get five minutes on their clock with no delay. Rules can vary, but one of the most important to know is that in most blitz tournaments an illegal move, such as leaving your king in check, automatically loses the game (provided the opponent calls it before he/she makes their own move). Usually, the game is played by clock move instead of touch move, so a move is not complete until you hit your clock. Blitz or speed chess can be played with any time setting less than 30 minutes.

Bughouse is a popular chess variation where two players play blitz as a team. When you take one of your opponent's pieces, you hand it to your partner. Your partner then has the option to place the piece in any open square on his board instead of making a standard move. The game is over when checkmate (or the taking of the king due to an illegal move) occurs on either board.
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Is kindergarten too early to learn chess?
No, even pre-K children can learn chess, especially if it's a fun, low-stress activity they can do with their parents, siblings or peers, at a leisurely pace, one piece at a time. Many Saturday tournaments feature a Kindergarten-1st grade division. Kindergarten players who post a winning record in a Saturday tourney are qualified to enter the Washington State Elementary Championships, which typically attracts around 80 players in the Kindergarten division.
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Tournament Play

Do I have to bring a chess set and a clock to a scholastic tournament?
It is always a good idea to bring a chess set to a tournament. Some tournaments provide boards for the players, but even then it is useful for side/fun games (skittles) or for going over an earlier game with a coach/parent or friend. If you have a chess clock you should bring it to the tournament. Children should learn how to use a chess clock as it is part of the game. In Whatcom County Saturday tournaments, typically they're optional in the elementary sections and required in the middle and high school sections.

Chess clocks typically run in the $35-$100 range. Chess clocks may be obtained online (see Chess Clock Buying Guide). Different tournaments have different policies regarding the use of clocks. Get clarity before the tournament starts at the players meeting. There are two basic kinds of chess clocks: analog and digital. Digital clocks have more flexibility and ways to set them for delays, etc and are preferred. They are generally a little more expensive than the simpler, analog clocks. Warning: Chess clocks may break when they are dropped. They are also easily misplaced or forgotten. Put your name on your clock.

For games that run long without a clock, the Tournament Director will generally put clocks on games with approximately 20 minutes remaining to assure that rounds finish on time (each player gets 10 minutes). The TD should ask both players if they know how the clock works, and give an explanation, if necessary. Clocks must remain running at all times, except when a Tournament Director is called by either player to resolve a dispute.
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Why is it important to pre-register for a tournament?
Tournament organizers are almost always volunteers. It is tremendously helpful to them to know how many people to expect at the tournament and also not to have a rush at the door on the day of the tournament. Thus most Whatcom County Saturday tournaments do not even accept entries on the day of the tournament. Others have a monetary penalty for signing up late. Please do the tournament organizers a favor and register early. Note that even if you pre-register, you still must check in at the tourney site before the stated time, or you will not get to play in the first round.
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What are tie breaks? How do they work?
When awarding trophies it is often necessary that a tiebreak system be used to distinguish the winners. Tiebreak systems use various methods to determine the strength of each player's opponents. The tougher your opposition throughout the tournament, the better your tiebreak points. If the primary tiebreak system (Modified Median) leaves players tied, a second system (Solkoff) is employed, and sometimes (rarely) a third system (Cumulative) is needed. Here's an explanation of the various tiebreak methods.
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How do pairings work?
Virtually all chess tournaments are paired using the Swiss System. The rules that govern this system are too numerous and complex to address here, however, they are covered in detail in the U.S. Chess Federation's Official Rules of Chess book.

Here are the basics for the Swiss Pairing System. Before the first round, each player is placed on the pairing sheet based on his or her rating. Players are listed from the highest rated to the lowest rated. Unrated players are placed below the lowest rated. To start the first round, the group is split in half and the top half plays the bottom half. For example, if 20 players are entered in a section of a tournament, the highest ranked player plays the 11th ranked player in round 1, the second-highest ranked player plays the 12th highest, etc. If there are an odd number of players, then the lowest rated player receives a bye.

Players are awarded one point for a win, forced bye or forfeit; a half point for a draw or requested bye; and zero points for a loss. Each subsequent round, each score-group (players with the same score) has the top half paired against the bottom half. For example, if 6 players have 2 points after the second round, the first in the group plays the fourth in the group, 2nd versus 5th and 3rd versus 6th. If two players have 1.5 points, they play each other (unless they have already played or another exclusion). Players with 1 point play each other, etc. Unfortunately, this is not as easy as it appears. There are many exceptions that confuse pairings. There are rules that attempt to correct pairings so that players play an even (or almost even) number of times as black as they do as white. The pairings program attempts to avoid pairings between members of the same school. Some exclusion rules are more powerful than others, the strongest being if the two players have already played.

As a result of this system, the games get more even as the tournament goes on, so there tend to be more draws in later rounds and more intense competition as well. This is because both opponents have the same score (or close to it) in each round and those that are doing well play others that are also doing well. The converse is also true.
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What does G/45 or G/30 mean?
This is the time control that is used in the tournament, or the amount of time a player has to complete all of their moves. In Whatcom County, most tournaments games don't start with clocks until middle school. There are several types of time controls. For Scholastics, sudden death time controls are the most common. G/45 means that each player gets 45 minutes to complete his or her moves. Chess clocks maintain two times, one for each player. When a player finishes their move, they "hit the clock", which stops their clock and starts their opponents clock. Children should be counseled to ask if they have questions before the match starts. In general, most beginners have plenty of time for their games and the clock should not be an issue. Many times beginners think they have to rush because of the clock. The best advice a parent can give to a beginner is to take their time and not worry about the clock.
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What is a 5-second delay?
A 5-second delay means that a player's clock does not start to count down until after 5 seconds have passed. Most digital clocks have this feature, which is nice because if a player is clearly winning, he/she has a chance to complete the game even if very low on time. Scholastic tournaments prefer the use of digital clocks set for a 5 second delay. Usually, the TD will request that if you are starting a game using delay, that you take five minutes off of each players clock, because for a typical long game the delay will add about 5 minutes of playing time. Thus a G/30 time control means that a 5-second delay clock would start with 25 minutes for each player.
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How long do tournaments last?
Tournament lengths vary. A typical elementary Saturday tournament in Whatcom County allows one hour per round and fifteen minutes between rounds. Some tournaments try to move the rounds along shortly after the previous round finishes (which is very beneficial when younger kids are involved). So parents, enjoy a day with your child, and bring a hobby or a good book. Don't leave the tournament site for any extended period of time without checking with the tournament director, for if a round ends early, the next round may start early, and you may forfeit the game or have to play it with a time disadvantage. Finally, you should leave time for the awards ceremony, which usually starts ten minutes after the last round is completed, and should take about twenty minutes or so.
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Is it okay to register (move-up) my kid to a harder section, or higher grade section?
Most tournaments allow kids to play in sections above where there grade or rating would dictate. Some parents and coaches think that playing against harder competition will make their kid improve faster, but in general the best way to improve is play someone of a similar skill level. Plus it is also important for kids to learn how to focus and consistently beat lower rated opponents. For scholastic players, winning games is the best motivator for playing chess, and playing up in a harder section might make them lose confidence and interest. Winning games will provide positive reinforcement that their practice has indeed paid off. "Playing up" does make sense if your child is very high rated for their age. If you want your child to get experience against harder players, you can travel to the many Vancouver BC or Seattle tournaments for both youth and adults.
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What is the most important thing I can tell my child going into their first tournament?
1) Take your time. 2) Raise your hand if you have a question of any kind, and keep your hand up until you are seen -- the Tournament Directors are there to help and will assist in getting problems resolved. 3) Make sure you agree with your opponent about the result of the game before you shake hands to end the game. 4) Have fun.
Skill wise, students should know how to checkmate with the Queen when they're way ahead in material, and know how to defend against Scholar's Mate, the four move checkmate trap.
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What is a half-point or full-point bye?
When there are an odd number of players in a division, there will be one player in each round who won't get a game. This player will get a full-point bye (as if they had won their game) for that game. If a player knows in advance that they cannot participate in a round, they may request a 1/2-point bye for those games that they will not be able to attend. Final round byes must be requested before the semi-final round starts. Byes and forfeits do not affect ratings.
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What is keeping score or taking notation?
Keeping score (notation) is the recording of every move in a chess game - both yours and your opponents. The most common form of score keeping is algebraic notation, which is relatively simple. The pieces are designated by a single letter: K for king, Q for queen, R for rook, B for bishop and N for knight (if no symbol is given then the move was made by a pawn). The positions on the board are designated by files (columns) from 'a' to 'h', and ranks (rows) from 1 to 8. There are other styles of notation also. There are several reasons why taking notation is a good idea. First, some chess rules are not enforceable without a valid scoresheet. Examples are the three move repetition rule and the 50 move rule. Another good reason for younger kids to keep score is that it can slow them down and cause them to think more about their moves. Perhaps the best reason for keeping score is so that the child can go over the game after the tournament and learn from it.
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Does my child have to take notation?
For scholastic tournaments, the tournament director decides the score keeping requirements. Typically in Whatcom County, middle school sections require notation and elementary school sectinos do not. At recent USCF national tournaments, score keeping has been required for grades 4 and above. For all ages, if there are less than 5 minutes left in the round on either player's clock, then both players are no longer required to keep score.
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As a parent, what should I expect when I bring my child to a chess tournament?
As a parent, you can expect a lot of spare time on your hands. You might bring reading material and be prepared to keep your child fed. You are responsible for the child when they are outside the playing area. It's important that kids (and adults!) are quiet when near the playing area. For beginning chess players, the children will be in the playing area a shorter time than the more experienced players, as they tend to move faster. As they gain experience, their games will be longer and there will be more reading time for you as a parent. See also Clatskanie Chess Club's Tournaments - How They Work.
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Why does my child have to wait at the board if the other child does not show up?
Standard chess rules allow players to show up late. In an elementary section with no clocks, typically a game will be declared a forfeit win if the opponent does not show up in ten minutes. If there is an extra "Bye" player, that player might replace the missing player. In a clocked section, the missing player's clock will be started, so when they arrive they will be playing with a time handicap.
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How do I read a pairing chart?
The pairings chart shows who is to play whom for each round. A new one is posted before the round begins and the players need to look to determine two things from the pairing chart. They need to see what board number they are playing on and which color they will be, black or white.
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How do I read a standings or wall chart?
A wall chart or standings report shows each player's current score in the tournament. It will list the player's opponents in each round - designated by the number listed to the left of their name the chart. The chart often shows the color the player had. Don't confuse the "W" for White as a win. Results might be listed in the form of cumulative score, summing up the 1=win, 0=loss, 0.5=draw/bye from each successive round, so how a player did in a specific round is determined by subtracting the previous rounds score.
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Should I get an even number of rounds as white and as black?
The pairings software attempts to give players an equal number of games with the white and black pieces. In a typical five round tournament, players should finish the tournament having had one color three times, and the other color two times. This is not always possible, for example, when all undefeated players are due the same color. The software also attempts to avoid giving players the same color three times in a row, although this is not high in the software's hierarchy of priorities.
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What is a State Qualifier tournament?
Most elementary level Saturday tournaments in Whatcom County are State Qualifers. 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. To attend, players have to first qualify by posting a winning record (usually three points) 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)
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Rules of Chess

What is the touch move - touch take rule?
"Touch Move" means if you touch a piece when it is your turn to move, that piece must be moved if you can do so legally. "Touch Take" means if you touch an opponent's piece when it is your turn to move, the opponent's piece must be captured if you can do so legally. Touch Move does not apply if you accidentally brush a piece with your sleeve, for example. If you want to adjust a piece, you may do so on your turn only by first saying "I adjust" or "J'adoube". If you accidentally release a piece on an unintended but legal square, you must leave it on that square.
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What is the threefold repetition rule?
If the same board position occurs three times, then a game can be claimed as a draw by either player (but does not have to be). Normally, a score sheet is needed to make this claim, unless both opponents agree on the result or a TD verifies the claim. Note that the position must be identical over the entire board - some kids often interpret the rule only based on their own pieces. Also, the three positions do not have to be consecutive - the rule applies if the same position arises three times at any time over the course of the game.
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What is the 50 move rule?
If fifty moves are made by each side without the advance of a pawn or the capture of a piece, then a game can be claimed as a draw. Normally, a score sheet is needed to make this claim, unless both opponents agree on the result or a TD verifies the clam. A player can call a TD over to count moves if one is available.
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What are the rules for castling?
Castling consists of moving the king two squares towards a rook on the player's first rank, then moving the rook onto the square over which the king crossed. Castling can only be done if 1) the king has never moved, 2) the rook involved has never moved, 3) the squares between the king and the rook involved are not occupied, and 4) the king is not in check nor does it cross over or end on a square in which it would be in check.
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What is en passant?
En passant is a special capture made immediately after a player moves a pawn two squares forward from its starting position, and an opposing pawn could have captured it if it had moved only one square forward. The resulting position is the same as if the pawn had only moved one square forward and the opposing pawn had captured normally. The en passant capture must be done on the very next turn, or the right to do so is lost.
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Why does my opponent say "I adjust"?
Players are required to say "I adjust" before they adjust the placement of a piece on the board, otherwise the action could be interpreted under the touch move rule and they'd be forced to move the piece. Players sometimes adjust their pieces if a piece is not reasonably centered on a square. The proper time to adjust is on your own move, not your opponent's. Some people say j'adoube, the internationally accepted term, which is French for "I adjust".
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Club Formation

I want my child to play chess, but there is no chess club at my school or nearby.
The best answer is -- start your own club! It's not as hard as you'd think, you don't have to know how to play, and it is very rewarding. Get the kids together and they will practically teach themselves. Also, your child can learn with you at home and/or online. And, if they attend the Saturday tournaments in Whatcom County, it's likely that they will develop some chess friends among their peers at these tournaments.
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I'm convinced of the benefits chess has to offer, what's the best way to volunteer?
There are many ways to help create and maintain a healthy scholastic chess program in our community. Best is to be a chess club organizer in your child's school. If you are fortunate enough to already have a scholastic chess club, you can volunteer as a parent helper during chess club or tournaments. Even if you unable to get a scholastic club going yourself, it is worthwhile to mention to your kid's teachers, principal and other parents that you wish there was a chess club at your school. Enough requests might encourage someone else to organize a club.
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What do I need to do to start a chess club?
All that is needed to start a chess club is a venue with tables/chairs and some chess sets. Good scholastic club chess sets (solid pieces/board/bag) cost under 10 dollars. If cost is an issue, you can approach your PTA for funds, or borrow sets on club day from a neighboring school. A school principal should be glad to reserve you space on a weekly time slot if you ask. The school should help you advertise the club in the school with flier printing and newsletter publicity. An optimal time to have chess club is right after school (any weekday) -- this will get the most attendance. This may be problematic for you and other potential volunteers, so if you need to have chess club at another time, any time is infinitely better than no chess club at all. For more encouragement and ideas, see the links below.
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Should our chess club host a chess tournament?
You would be providing a wanted and beneficial service for area kids and your group, as the demand is present, it's a fundraiser, and there is a shortage of open scholastic chess tournaments in Whatcom County. You would need to secure the venue, order awards, and assemble a team of volunteers for registration, concessions and floor judging. Email Randy Kaech for help picking a date and further questions.
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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 start and maintain a very successful chess club! All that is required is a commitment and a little enthusiasm. It's helpful 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 by simply playing chess 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 four 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." (NM Chess)
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Regarding Starting a Chess Club:
From UT Dallas: Do I Really Want To Start A Scholastic Chess Club?
From CheezWhizz: Taking Chess to the Children -- One Dad's Story
From Rockford, IL: Starting a Scholastic Chess Club - Where to start?

For further reading:
Studies linking scholastic chess with increased math-verbal aptitudes - Benefits of Chess for Youth
FAQ from Pennsylvania -- Dan Heisman's Parent FAQ
Clatskanie Chess Club -- Tournaments - How They Work

Many thanks to NM Chess for FAQ content and suggestions.

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