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! See the Seattle P-I article Chess is Booming, Boosting Young Minds.

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.



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 read (and then print out) the rules
here. 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!)

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 Considerations Before Competing, an article by a Whatcom County mom published in Neighborhood-Kids.com. Then you'll 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 Neighborhood-kids.com:
---
Should my child play in a tournament?
--- Is there a scholastic chess "season" in Washington State?
>From Clatskanie Chess Club in Oregon:
--- How do tournaments work?
>From Duif's Place:
--- What's a fair way to play against a child?
--- Is five years old too young to learn chess?
>From Randy:
--- How does chess playing benefit my child?
>From Dr. Chess:
--- What are chess ratings? Are they important to student players?

Regarding Starting a Chess Club:
>From The Seattle P-I:
---
How are other area schools employing chess to benefit their students?
>From Rockford, IL:
--- Starting a Scholastic Chess Club - Where to start?
>From Oklahoma Scholastic Chess:
--- Starting A Chess Club At School, How A Parent Who Barely Played Chess Did It
(A Scholastic Chess Club Start-up Do-it-yourself Kit for Dummies)

>From CheezWhizz:
--- Taking Chess to the Children -- One Dad's Story

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 32 players per section, and three or more schools participating. Players in Grade K need to score 2/5 in a divison which includes K-2 players."

What are good books to use with kids?
Everyone has their favorites. Duif's Place, Heisman, USCF, Sloan, Snyder, Dr. Chess, 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.
  • Chess for Tomorrow's Champions and all books by J.N. Walker. The last two are probably best for 4th grade or above.
    And software: Learn to Play Chess with Fritz and Chesster for K-5, Chess Mates for K-4, Maurice Ashley Teaches Chess for 2nd-8th grades, and Chessmaster 6000 (or 7, or 8, or 9, or 10th edition) for 6th-12th grades.

    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! Also useful is A Chess Tournament Primer for Parents by the U.S. Chess Center.



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