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World Chess Championship and Kids

April 10, 2019

In November of 2018, Fabiano Caruana challenged Magnus Carlsen for the World Chess Championship. He was the first US-born player to play in a World Championship match since Bobby Fischer triumphed over Boris Spassky in Reykjavik in 1972 and the first US player to play for the title since Gata Kamsky in 2009. Though Fabiano didn’t win, we remain excited about the prospect of another American World Champion, and there is no reason that kids can’t get excited, too!

Learn about the World Champions!

The reigning World Champion is Magnus Carlsen of Norway, who is 28 years old. The American challenger, Fabiano Caruana, is currently 26 years old. However, both Magnus and Fabiano began playing chess as children, and it took them both a lot of hard work and dedication to get where they are today.

With respect to Magnus, kids can learn how he became the youngest chess grandmaster in the world, at that time. The movie Magnus documents his early life and, eventually, his rise to the world championship and how he bested Viswanathan Anand. More advanced players can even study his extraordinary endgame skills in-depth!

Fabiano Caruana is also the subject of Alexander Kalinin’s book Fabiano Caruana. Because he is still a young challenger, there are not as many works about him, but I would definitely expect more titles in the future!

You can learn a lot from the games of the World Championship!

The World Championship has given us many instructive games that students can learn from, both recently and in the past. Players familiar with all the past world champions will be able to find instructive games from those players:

  • Wilhelm Steinitz
  • Emmanuel Lasker
  • Jose Raul Capablanca
  • Alexander Alekhine
  • Mikhail Botvinnik
  • Vasily Smyslov
  • Mikhail Tal
  • Tigran Petrosian
  • Boris Spassky
  • Bobby Fischer
  • Anatoly Karpov
  • Garry Kasparov
  • Vladimir Kramnik
  • Viswanathan Anand

The Big Book of World Chess Championships includes games from 46 of these fights for the world title. Other World Chamiponship matches have gotten thorough treatment from authors: Tal Botvinnik 1960 by Tal is a timeless classic, Carlsen vs. Karjakin shows all the games from Carlsen’s most recent defense of his title.

In the end, it is a good idea to look at world champions and try to pick a hero! Someone to look up to. It is also a good idea not necessarily to limit yourself to world champions only. There are many good players who have biographies written about them – go forth and explore the possibilities and you will improve along the way.

Chess Parenting: Being good at chess has nothing to do with it

April 9, 2019

Most chess parents know very little about chess. Their kids quickly surpass them leaving the parents to wonder “How can I help?” Simple… provide chess opportunities!

Grandpa might give your child a chess book, maybe a tournament is just around the corner, or perhaps a chess club is starting at school – many chess opportunities will pop up and it is your job to determine which ones are worthwhile. One thing that can be a guiding principle for you is that a variety of experiences is important. Trying out tournaments, going through a book, doing a couple of private lessons are some examples.

However, no matter what you’re doing to support your child in chess, they will need certain types of chess equipment along the way. Specifically, a chess set. The House of Staunton offers a variety of chess sets. While you can buy a chess board, chess pieces, and a bag to store it all in separately, you’ll save the most money when buying a combo:

COMBO26 comes with pieces and a board.

DYO-BSC-COMBO comes with pieces, board, and bag.

There are also School & Club Sets.

And you can design you own combo!

A brand new player only needs a board, pieces, and a bag. If your kids enjoy chess, they may become more serious about going to tournaments, in which case they will then need a chess clock and scorebook.

As you will almost certainly need to buy chess equipment at some point, please call us. Our job is to ensure you get exactly what you need so that you do not waste money

Buying chess equipment can be tough because there are so many choices of pieces, bags, and books. If you ever need any help, feel free to call us at 1-256-858-8070. By calling us, we can ensure you get the right equipment for your needs and specific situation!

When is Resigning a Game ok?

April 9, 2019

“Quitters never win, and winners never quit” is always true in chess. However, from a parent’s perspective, what expectations should you have of your kids? Let’s explore it. Compare the two statements made by kids at a recent chess tournament:

“I quit because he was winning.”
“I quit because in 3 moves he was going to checkmate me with his rook and knight – I was helpless.”

In the first statement, it is clear the kid in question just felt they were losing and quit. Were they losing? Who knows… but it isn’t a very engaged answer. The second answer is more thorough and demonstrates the resignation occurred with much more reasoning behind it. The second student still might not have wanted to resign, but their answer shows a bit more control in the situation.

So, what are some reasonable expectations parents should have surrounding this issue? If you pay $50 for a 5-round chess tournament and your child resigns, is it reasonable to feel you threw away $10? Let’s look at the following expectations to answer that question.

What did they learn?
Having your child explain what they learned about their game is important. The best way to learn is by going through games

How long did the game last?
As a parent, especially those parents who aren’t chess players, it can be difficult to know what goes on in your kid’s games. However, one thing you can do is look at how quickly the game finished. If your child is finishing games very quickly, odds are they are not taking enough time to think. If they are taking a long time, win or lose, then they are putting in effort. WARNING: Don’t assume this means fast games are always bad and slow games are always good. Just look for a trend – if their games always end quickly, then they need to slow down.

How do they feel when they lose?
It is easy to understand happiness when winning but what should you feel when you lose? Disappointment is acceptable and normal. Getting angry or crying is not acceptable. It is always good if they feel a want to improve. Phrases like “Next time I will…” or “I could have done better in the opening” demonstrate they want to improve. Encourage improvement and discourage intense emotions that capture your child inside of a bad mood.

So, what’s the verdict?
Here are a few reasonable outlooks:

  1. The famous chess saying is “No one ever won a game by resigning.” This is true. If you hold on you might find a sneaky opportunity to get a draw or pull off an unexpected win.
  2. If they can articulate why they were going to lose and are learning from their games, it is fine. Resigning saves time and shows your opponent you know they can defeat you in the given situation.
  3. Resign only if you could beat yourself with their pieces. If you have no clue how they could win, don’t resign.

How to Learn from the Best

April 9, 2019

There are two ways to guarantee improvement in your chess play. The first is to review and analyze your own games, learning from your own mistakes. The second is to review the games of strong masters, so that you can try to play like “the best.” There are several reasons to study the games of the old masters, and they aren’t just a history lesson!

Master games contain lessons in the opening, middlegame, and ending.

Other than 25-move blowouts against the N.N., or “No Name” as many games are labeled when they lose to masters, most games between strong players are going to demonstrate concrete ideas about all phases of the chess game. In the opening, though the game may not demonstrate current theory, we can often learn why certain moves are or are not played in an opening. In the middlegame, we can see both successful and unsuccessful plans and maneuvers. In the ending, we can see high-quality technical play that even the world’s best rely on to this day. Some of our favorite players are Mikhail Tal, Johannes Zukertort, and Boris Spassky.

We stand on the shoulders of giants.

Modern chess success requires an understanding of what we already know about chess, and the best way to learn what is already known is to go straight to the source. While there are numerous books available that compile knowledge on various openings, middlegame plans, or technical endings, those books draw from the very same history of master games that is available to you directly. By trying to understand why strong masters played the moves that they did, you are exercising the same type of analysis that you use when you are playing a game.

What is old is new again.

Often, seemingly shocking moves can be found in the games of past masters, simply being overlooked for decades until being brought back into fashion by the modern greats. For example, the Berlin Defense to the Ruy Lopez (which is an “opening”) was played by strong masters as early as the late 19th and early 20th Century but was not fully explored as a modern main-line opening until Vladimir Kramnik brought it into vogue in his World Championship match against Kasparov in 2000. The games of the past masters offer opportunities to find ideas and plans that have not yet been fully explored, which can lead us to find new plans and ideas that improve upon past play.

Find a chess hero.

By learning from the games of the old masters, we can try to play like them and become strong players, ourselves. In fact, if one master’s play speaks to you in a certain opening, it is certainly a good idea to review as many games as you can find from that player. You might pick up on new opening ideas and middlegame plan that suit your style of play. From the tactical genius of Morphy or Blackburne, the positional squeezing of Botvinnik or Petrosian, or the sheer domination of Fischer or Kasparov, everyone can find a chess hero that suits their style of play. You can check out this search to see the games collections of many of these famous players.

Becoming a Tournament Director

April 9, 2019

One of the best ways for chess parents to become involved in chess is to become a tournament director, or TD. As you are probably aware, a TD is a USChess-sanctioned official who runs rated chess competitions. If you are sick and tired of being bored, sitting around, and waiting while your child finishes their round, you can get involved and become a TD!

  1. Be a USChess member.

First, in order to become a TD, you must be a member of the U.S. Chess Federation in good standing. If your membership is expired, you will not be able to become a TD. Join USChess or renew your membership at http://www.uschess.org

  1. Know the Rules.

Next, you will need to know the rules of chess, as set forth by the US Chess Federation. Those rules are contained in the U.S. Chess Federation’s Official Rules of Chess, 6th Edition. We highly recommend that new TDs spend some time with the rulebook before they try to run their first tournament. You don’t need to memorize everything in the book cover-to-cover, but you do need to have read it. Additionally, familiarity with some of the trickier rules of chess, as well as the Swiss-pairing system, can only help a TD do a better job.

  1. Become a Club TD

Once you are a USChess member and have familiarized yourself with the rules of chess, you are ready to become a tournament director. The first level of TD is called a Club TD. The Club TD license is good for three years. To become a Club TD, all you need is to be a USChess member and to submit a signed statement stating that you have read, have access to, and will abide by the rules contained in the USCF’s Official Rules of Chess.

That form is available here.

Note: If you are already a Club TD and need to renew, you will have to pass an objective test of moderate difficulty to re-certify as a tournament director.

  1. Plan a tournament!

Now that you are an active USChess member, know the rules of chess, and are certified as a Club TD, you are ready to run an event. The House of Staunton has many products that can make running a chess tournament much easier on a director. Click here to see our full array of tournament director supplies.

We highly recommend that tournament directors use Swiss-pairing software such as WinTD (Windows), WinTD (Mac), or SwissSys (Windows) to help pair their tournaments.

Other useful items include score sheets, pairing cards, and wall charts, which are all available together in the TD Refill.

Getting involved in Scholastic Chess

April 9, 2019

Maybe your child just learned to play chess and wants to find new opponents and places to play. While there are a lot of opportunities to play chess across the county, it can be difficult to find a game if you do not know where to look. Another way to get involved is to help your state affiliate or even USChess!

Find Clubs!

A chess club can be a great place to find players at your skill level to play with for fun and improvement. Some clubs are at schools, churches, libraries, and there are even dedicated club facilities in some cities. We recommend that you start by looking at the USChess Federation’s list of clubs in your state.

Another way to find local chess clubs is to do an internet search for “chess club” and include where you live. This can be a good way to find clubs that do not actively play rated chess or are otherwise not affiliated with the USChess Federation.

If you are still having trouble finding a club, you can start one at a local school, library, church, or other location. USCF Sales offers many products that can help a club get off of the ground: Chess Club Starter Kits, demonstration boards, and plastic chess sets are available at a great discount. You can also buy Starter Kit packages that include a rulebook, selected instructional books for scholastic players, or chess clocks.

Find Tournaments!

If your child is looking for challenging games where he or she can win trophies, prizes, or even college scholarships, scholastic tournament chess might be a great fit for you. As with clubs, there are numerous events across the country – you could probably play every weekend if you wanted to! The US Chess Federation hosts several National events each year. They also publish a list of events held by other organizers across the country. This is a great resource for finding tournaments. Other options for information include finding the website for your state-level affiliate or local chess club.

You can also become a tournament director and run your own events! We offer a full range of tournament director supplies that can help you run a smooth event.

Find your State Affiliate!

The official US Chess affiliate for each state can be a great resource for getting involved in scholastic chess. While most states have a single affiliate for the entire state, some states are divided by geography.

Chess Notation Handout

April 8, 2019

Taking chess notation occurs when a player writes down his or her moves using the coordinates alongside the chess board. In the diagram above, you can see the X in the middle of the board. This X is marking the “e4” square. The arrows show you why that square is e4 because that square lines up with the e-file and the 4th rank. There are many ways to notate chess moves and each style has its own name and symbols. This handout will teach the simplest version of notation.

Coordinate Notation (Often called Long Notation)

The benefits of using this style of notation is that it can be taught and learned within 30 seconds to a minute making it the simplest notation system. However, it does have a major downside for any seriously competitive player: it gives you the least in-game information about the moves.

The way to notate using coordinate notation is simply by

  1. writing the name of the square the piece is on,
  2. then you put a dash or hyphen,
  3. then write the name of the square the piece moved to.

In the diagram above, the rook is on the e4 square and wants to move to the b4 square. This move would be written as e4 – b4. If it decided to move from the b4 square to the b8 square, the move would be written as b4 – b8. That is pretty much it for coordinate notation.

In the diagram above, there are eight Xs placed on various squares on the chess board. On a sheet of paper, try to notate the Xs as quickly as possible. You can even drop 8 pennies on the board and notate the squares they landed on for more practice. One thing to understand is you can do this on an actual chess board too, even if it doesn’t have letters and numbers on it once you get good enough. Practicing this simple skill is helpful and is guaranteed to improve you as a player.

Where do I write down my moves?

The picture below is a sample notation sheet. You can obtain these sheets from many different online sources. A simple search for “Chess Notation Sheet” or “Chess Notation Pad” will bring it up.

When notating, you always write down who is playing the white pieces and who is playing the black pieces. Often on many notation sheets there will be additional information you can fill out such as the date, name of the tournament, your opponent’s rating, etc… But the most important information is who is playing whom.

When writing notation, it is extremely important to understand that you must write down every move of the game which includes all your moves and all your opponent’s moves. Failing to write down both player’s moves would indicate you have missed the entire point of notation. There are very few things any chess coach can guarantee a player. However, one thing that can be guaranteed is that you will improve by going over your games and you can only do this through notation.

In the picture, you can see that white has played 1.e2-e4 and black has played 1…c8-c6. Notice how both white and black have their own 1st move. A lot of players make the mistake of writing white’s move on the first line and then black’s move on the second line. Do not do that!

You will also notice in the short paragraph above that when I wrote “1…c8-c6” that I used three dots. The reason for this is whenever you are reading chess literature sometimes the author wants to make a comment about a move. After that comment, if it is black’s move, the three dots are used between the move number and the played move to indicate it is black’s turn. If it is white’s turn, then only one dot is used.

Exercise

Find someone with whom you can play a chess game and notate your first game. Take your time and make sure you get all the moves written down. It will be frustrating at first and you will be distracted from the game; however, if you can notate 10 games you will have no issues from that point forward. Good luck!

Algebraic Notation

All serious chess players use algebraic notation as they become more competitive in tournaments. The reason is that it gives you more in-game information.

The picture below demonstrates all the notation symbols to take notation using the Algebraic style. Notice that the Knight and King both begin with the letter “K” and therefore for “Knight” they use the letter “N” instead.

Notation Examples

Like Coordinate Notation, we still use the coordinate grid to label squares. The difference is in how we write the moves down. The following list contains all the symbols in the chart above at least once to demonstrate how to notate using algebraic notation. Both sets of notation below are the same exact moves but are notated using different styles:

Algebraic Notation

1.e4 2.Nf3 3.Bc4 4.0-0 5.Re1 6.Kh1 7.Qxf3 8.Bxf7 9.Be6+ 10.Qxf8+ 11.Nc3 12.Bxd7+ 13.Qxd8+ 14.Qxc8#

c5 Nc6 Qc7 d6 Bg4 Bxf3 0-0-0 h5 Rd7 Nd8 Qc6 Kb8 Qc8

Coordinate Notation

1.e2-e4 2.g1-f3 3.f1-c4 4.e1-g1 5.f1-e1 6.g1-h1 7.d1-f3 8.c4-f7 9.f7-e6 10.f3-f8 11.b1-c3 12.e6-d7 13.f8-d8 14.d8-c6

c7-c5 b8-c6 d8-c7 d7-d6 c8-g4 g4-f3 e8-c8 h7-h5 d8-d7 c6-d8 c7-c6 c8-b8 c6-c8 Checkmate

One thing that regularly happens when using Algebraic Notation is when two pieces can move to the same square you have to denote which one moved. For example, if a rook on a1 and a rook on f1 can both move to the c1-square, you would either write Rac1 or Rfc1 denoting which rook specifically moved. The same is true for a rook on c8 and a rook on c1: you would write R8c5 or R1c5 indicating which rook moved. The same is true when two knights can move to the same square. For example, if knights are on f3 and b1, then Nbd2 or Nfd2 could be written!

Types of Chess Books

April 8, 2019

There are different types of chess books out there and I am going to explain the various kinds to you. If you are looking to buy some chess books, this will give you a good way to understand what to look for on your hunt. I will also share common search terms for these books as well.

Opening, Middlegame, and Endgame Books

I feel confident stating that these three are the most common types of chess books out there. That claim is especially true for openings books. These books cover the three phases of a chess game. Each phase has its own principles and nuances that they do tend to be separate topics (though, they are all inherently connected). Openings books cover the myriad of ways to begin a game. Middlegame books tend to cover strategies that can be implemented when tactics are not present. Finally, Endgame books cover the final phase of the game teaching you how to take a winning (or drawing) position to its expected conclusion.

Chess History

This category includes both biographical books about specific chess players. Generally, you can identify them because the book title will include the name of the subject such as Pal Benko or Viktor Korchnoi. Books also might include subtitles that say “My Life and Games” or something close to that such as The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal. These books tend to give you an idea about following a player’s career and getting to know that player.

This category also includes games collections, tournament books, and of course specific history type books. Games collections tend to be compilations of a player’s career games all in one book. They are not necessarily written by the person who played the games and a game’s collection isn’t specifically the games of one person either. They can be games the author feels are very good, memorable, important, or fun.

Tournament books used to be more popular. Essentially, financial compensation would be given to top players for reviewing every game of a high-level tournament. This was a way for players, especially top players who failed to win a prize, to gain a little money for their efforts. Other times, an author takes an interest in a specific tournament and collects all the games from that event and publishes a book. Some examples are Carlsen vs. Karjakin, San Remo 1930 International Chess Tournament, or Fischer-Spassky. These books generally contain commentary on the games while games collections do not specifically offer commentary in every book.

Tactics and Strategy Books

While tactics can involve strategy and strategy can involved tactics, these two concepts are generally written about separately. For example, if a favorable tactic exists in the position, you should not waste time with lengthy plans but go ahead and execute the favorable tactic. However, if no tactics are present in a position, then you must determine your long-term plan, and its intermediary goals, since you cannot currently win with a tactical shot.

Tactics books tend to help the reader identify tactical themes. Themes such as pins, forks, skewers, X-rays, windmills, double attack, discovered attacks, discovered check, double check, and several more. In tactics books, once you learn a theme, you are instructed to solve lots of tactics with that theme. Once you understand the themes, you solve lots of tactics with that theme so you may begin to build your pattern recognition skills. So, a couple of tactics books are The Magic of Chess Tactics, Fundamental Chess Tactics, and Tactics Time. For pattern recognition improvement, there is Improve Your Pattern Recognition and Train Your Pattern Recognition. It is also common that tactics books are filed under “Puzzle Books.”

Strategy books are much wordier. They tend to look at different ideas and show games or positions that contain those ideas so you can see them in action. Strategy books will help improve your ability to plan and set goals during a game. Here are some examples of strategy books that you could find helpful: Pachman’s Modern Chess Strategy, Winning Chess Maneuvers, and Doubled Pawns. Each of these books teaches you about a specific strategy. However, strategies are not specifically limited to pieces and positions. They can also be more about abstract topics such as Your Opponent is Overrated, Draw!, and Saving Lost Positions.

Beginner Books, Teaching Books, and Instructional Books

These kinds of books are geared towards getting people involved with chess in one way or another. Either a person is interested to become involved themselves or perhaps you are teaching a group of kids hoping to see if any take up the game. Regardless, there is a wide variety of books with this topic.

Chess for Beginner books are a great way for newer players to begin their foundation of chess knowledge. These books generally offer simple terms and ideas to get you going. In some ways, they can be the bedrock from which more questions arise. While these books are generally for beginners, chess coaches and instructors may find them useful as well. They can give a sense of what newer players might need to learn when first starting out. Susan Polgar’s Learn Chess the Right Way series helps beginners and gives them lots of puzzles and concepts to consider. Your First Move is also a good beginner’s book as well as Chess for Children Activity Book.

Teaching books very specifically give you resources for running class rooms while beginner chess books do not specifically do that. Instructional books are also quite similar. Here are some examples: Teaching Books and Instructional Books. Teaching books are specifically designed for teaching one on one or groups of kids. Instructional books typically are going to be more advanced versions of beginner books. They often have a more serious tone as well. Beginner books often feature kid friendly cartoons and pictures but instructional books take things to the next level. Plus, it could be annoying being a new chess playing adult who is forced to read kid books. If you compare Beginner Chess Tactics for Kids and Crucial Chess Skills for the Club Player you can see how the first book is kid friendly while the second, even though it has a cartoon drawing on the front, seems to be a bit more serious to attract a non-scholastic audience. Instructional books can also be very serious like with the book Thinking Inside the Box.

Ups and Downs of Chess

April 8, 2019

Whenever you play chess, you must learn how to cope with the ups and downs of chess. As a chess instructor, I regularly tell people “I am in the business of teaching people how to lose constructively.” Like anything, chess can be full of obstacles. Interestingly, the obstacles in chess are almost always you.

I am on a losing streak, what do I do?

This common question is asked by many who struggle to improve. One of my favorite quotes on this topic comes from National Master Dan Heisman “You have to be willing to take your lumps!” He is quite right. If you cannot stand losing, then you’re going to have a hard time improving. Dan’s book The Improving Chess Thinker is all about analyzing how players at different levels speak about different positions. Through this process, Dan shows us the types of mistakes lower level players make when compared to higher level players.

So, what do you do when you are on a losing streak? First, identify why you are on a losing streak.

How do I identify my issue?

Take some time off actually playing chess and learn for a little while. I can say that most of the time when I am on a losing streak, it is related to tactics. If you don’t regularly go over high-level games or solve tactics, then your tactical vision can wane a bit. I find at lower levels of chess this is often the reason people get stuck on losing streaks. Therefore, books like Improve Your Chess Tactics can be very helpful. I often look for chess books with “Improve” in the title that speak to improving a specific skill. For example, books like Improve Your Endgame Play or Improve Your Opening Play will give practical advice to you on specific key skills. Neither will suddenly make you a brilliant chess virtuoso; however, they will help you identify and work on your own errors. These kinds of books are fantastic if you have identified a clear area for improvement in your game.

However, books like Test, Evaluate, and Improve Your Chess or A Guide to Chess Improvement are also helpful but don’t specifically focus on one skill set. These are more for assessing problems which have their own independent value. Books with a more generalized approach have the advantage of being able to cover a wide variety of issues, and often they help you test to see if you have issues in those areas. From there, it is a good idea to seek out resources to help you with specifically identified skills.

I am on a Winning Streak! Woohoo!!

Well, good for you! As any good player knows that if a winning streak goes too long, then odds are you need to seek out stronger competition. However, winning streaks when you are an equivalent or lesser rating than your peers typically mean you are making a breakthrough and improving. During these times, it is a good idea to understand how you have improved. For example, if you improved because of hard work and you identified a weakness that you worked on, then when your losing streak ends you’ll need to do this again. If your winning streak is because you changed an opening you play, then be sure to understand your opponents will likely keep pace with you at the next event.

Winning streaks are always uplifting but understanding why your winning streak is happening is helpful to putting your efforts into context. Sometimes, you didn’t do anything extra at all but find yourself winning games. That is ok! However, just because you didn’t actively do anything doesn’t mean you didn’t improve. Grandmaster Gregory Kaidanov says, “The best way to improve in chess is to play as often as possible.” In a lecture he gave in Kentucky some years ago, he specifically said players learn much more from playing game after game than they do from any other process. I am inclined to agree with him.

But wait a second… you just said to get out of a losing streak I should take a break but Kaidanov says playing more games is better? Which is it!?

Well, both are true. It depends on your situation. Here are a few examples that make use of both ideas from my own life.

When on a losing streak, I had just come off a break due to college and hadn’t played in a while. So, my opponents could see the rust fall off me as I moved each piece. I felt that, in this situation, taking a further break really wouldn’t make much sense. I decided to take Dan Heisman’s advice and take my beatings and come out of them stronger in the end.

Another example was that I had lost many games across two tournaments and let some lower ranked players beat me as well. How did I fix it? I created an account on Lichess.com and, being a new player but a master level player, all fell before me! I don’t advocate for making numerous accounts on the same chess website; however, being ‘new’ for a little while and winning a few games raised my spirits and it pulled me out of my slump.

Currently, I haven’t played much chess in the last 2 years (despite having purchased a Life Membership to the US Chess federation not too long ago). But, I regularly go over GM games, read chess books, and study chess for fun. So, while I am on a break, I do not feel rusty right now. Sometimes just enjoying chess as a hobby, instead of a pursuit, helps you advance.

Getting Involved in Chess

April 8, 2019

One of the greatest things about chess is there are so many ways to get involved. Here are some ways people regularly take up chess as a lifelong hobby:

  1. They want to grow their rating through tournament play
  2. They appreciate chess books for reading
  3. Some people like to collect chess books but rarely read them
  4. Many find teaching chess to be a lot of fun
  5. Collecting higher end chess sets is quite common
  6. Becoming a tournament director to help at local events
  7. Becoming a US Chess federation state delegate to help shape the US Chess Rules Book
  8. Running for state level office within their state’s US Chess affiliate
  9. A parent whose child became interested in chess
  10. Chess journalism

For me personally, I equally enjoy numbers 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, and 10. Most people who are involved in chess do so at many different levels. A good friend of mine, John Warth, runs the Chess Club of Southern Indiana. He takes photographs of all the club members that turn out quite well, shares them on social media, and has a very positive attitude about chess overall. Running this club, and collecting chess books and luxury chess sets, are his way of engaging in chess on a meaningful level.

Growing your Rating

The best way to grow your rating is to identify weaknesses in your play. You can hire a coach, read chess books, obtain chess software, or simply go over your own games. Regardless of the path you choose, and specific resources for improvement are suggested in various articles throughout this blog, growing your rating is a lifelong pursuit. You will have ups and downs but, in the end, your mind will stay sharp, you will make many friends, and you’ll form long lasting memories.

Reading Books vs. Collecting Books

There is a big debate that comes up from time to time on the Chess Book Collector’s Facebook Page. Essentially, there are people who likes to collect many books (thousands even) about chess and there are people who read chess books cover to cover. While I fall into the camp of readers, many people gain a lot of gratification from simply owning books, especially hard to find books, and peruse them from time to time. In any case, the reason I love chess books is because they are so full of chess lore. Neat stories about why player made one move over another or how a no body gets introduced to chess and then one day became world champion. The stories are endless and show how hard, but worthwhile, chess can be.

Chess Teaching

Teaching can be a lot of fun, especially when teaching kids. Nearly every chess coach has treasured stories from their days as a chess coach. One story I often share with people is that my name is John Anthony Ryan Velez but I go by “Ryan.” So, for 2 years, if I wore jeans to class I would introduce myself to the kids as “Ryan.” But, if I wore dress pants then I would insist I was Ryan’s brother “John.” The kids would always try to get me to give it away but I would just get my driver’s license out and prove it to them. If I were John, then I’d show them the license says John. But, if I were Ryan, I’d show them the signature in fact says “Ryan.” In the end, they all knew I was fibbing, but it made the teaching so much fun and it was a long term running joke with them. Even today, some of those students still see me out in the world and inquire.

Luxury Chess Sets

Many of my friends collect luxury chess sets and they enjoy setting them up and exploring chess games the old masters played years and years ago. While I cannot entirely explain why, wooden chess sets, especially very nice ones, make you feel more connected to chess history than other types of chess sets. I find them highly appropriate when studying chess by book. Some of my favorite sets include the Dubrovnik sets, the old Drueke Sets, and Green Leather Casket box for my pieces. However, there are all kinds of wooden sets, different designs and colors of boards, and boxes of many different styles. The pricing on these types of sets, boards, and boxes, varies tremendously giving a large variety of selection. I know with several of my friends, we prefer to get boards that have a different look that the pieces so that the pieces stand out better which is especially important if you intend to use these sets for playing (as opposed to just for yourself).

Becoming a Tournament Director

A lot of people become tournament directors because they are parents. Parents who TD events often do so to help perpetuate local events so their kids can play chess in meaningful competitions. While it is indeed a bit of work, it is a lot of fun. To become a tournament director, you must obtain a copy of the US Chess Rules Book. The lowest level of tournament director only requires you to have access to a copy of the book; however, I highly recommend reading it.

There are also two extremely fun books that supplement to the US Chess Rules Book which are My Opponent is Eating a Doughnut and Just Law. Just Law will teach you how to be a more effective tournament director on how to answer frequently asked questions at tournaments. My Opponent is Eating a Doughnut will teach you about how absurd circumstances can arise during tournaments, usually comical, and what happened in those situations.

Chess Congress and State Affiliates

If you want to get involved at political levels, every state has its own state affiliate and those affiliates appoint delegates who serve in what I jokingly call “Chess Congress.” While the politics of chess can give people some headaches, they are important to making rules, keeping chess relevant, and are a great way to help improve chess. I have been the Kentucky Chess Association’s VP, Webmaster, and currently Scholastic coordinator. It is a lot of work but tons of fun.

Being a Chess Parent

The most common way to unwittingly become sucked into the wonderful world of chess is to become a parent whose kids, eventually, finds their way into a chess club. If you have gotten this far, you know this blog is all about helping you be the best chess parent you can be. My column in American Chess Magazine is also specifically geared toward helping parents understand the world of chess.

Chess Journalism

While this is more niche, it is true that if there are people who like to read about chess then there are people who like to write about chess. There are chess blogs, articles on various chess websites, the US Chess magazine called Chess Life and Chess Life for Kids, and New in Chess. Chess Life also has a podcast called Cover Stories with Chess Life. If you want to get involved with chess writing, I recommend starting on Facebook then extending into a blog. You never know where your talents will end up after that!

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