Sunday, March 8, 2009

Chess Whiz


Ian entered a chess tournament on Saturday. It's been awhile since the last tournament, since his interest in chess has dropped off the map recently - kids change as they grow - and they pick up and drop various interests. For a few years, chess was the thing and he was pretty good at it.

When Ian was around five years old - maybe even four - he asked me how to play chess. I don't know where this came from, since we didn't have a chess board at home. At this point, he doesn't remember where the fascination originally came from either - maybe from a book or something on TV. In any case, that Christmas Santa dropped off a chess set. Chess expert I'm not, but I did remember the basic moves from my childhood. I grew up in the no Internet, no computers, no cable TV, no video game era. We played lots of board games - including chess. I showed Ian how to play and he quickly picked it up.

After a short amount of time, he could beat me if I wasn't really tuned into the game. Ian learned to read at an early age, trips to library now included chess books - which he read and studied. Ian being our first child, we didn't know if it was normal for a kid to read at four years old and study chess books at five. He also was a little geography expert and could find all 50 states on a unmarked map or quickly find almost any country on a globe. Pretty amazing.

Having a July birthday, we waited until Ian was six years old before starting Kindergarten - where we discovered the school chess club. From the club we learned about local chess tournaments for kids, so we checked one out. That was it - Ian dug the whole thing. We had no idea this whole scene even existed. Hundreds of kids playing chess against each other at each event. Everyone plays five games against kids matched together by grade level and ranking.

Each game can last up to one hour (though they rarely do), so it's a long day. It's amazing these young kids are tuned into each game for that amount of time. In between games, they run around playing soccer, basketball, play practice chess games, and act like usual rambunctious kids. The chess season runs from September and pretty much ends with the state championship event in April.

We started hitting chess tournaments regularly and Ian did well, including qualifying for the Washington State Elementary Championship. He continued to improve and his interest continued from Kindergarten through 2nd grade. Lots of tournaments and he qualified for state every year. By this point, he could easily beat me - no problem. I occasionally catch him off guard and win, though that's rare. He beats me 99.9% of the time and I'm actually trying.

Ian did well by just by winging it, we took all this pretty casually. At the level he was playing at, many other kids belonged to a serious chess club and/or had a coach. Most write down every move of their games to study later. I asked Ian if he wanted to record his games. Nope - no thanks. His chess club at school was also more fun oriented with no official coaching and only ran for a few weeks each year. Tournaments are usually held at schools and I could see some schools were more serious about chess then others. Still, Ian's trophy collection grew and he scored some overall wins for his grade. Not too shabby. A big confidence booster and fun for him.

When Ian hit 3rd grade this year, I could tell his interest in chess had almost disappeared. We didn't play chess at home all summer. We did a tournament a few months ago and he took his first real beating - since his ranking is high enough now to play the more serious kids. This further killed the "chess thing" for him. I didn't push it - should all be for fun and a learning experience. I thought maybe the chess phase was over. He did sign up for the school chess club though and enjoyed that. Most of the kids are beginners and he's sort of the little expert and helps some of the other kids learn. I think he gets a kick out of that aspect.

Back to this weekend. Since this tournament was promoted at Ian's school, he elected to sign up and join some of his classmates. At most tournaments, Ian is the only one there from his school - so it was cool to have some other kids attend. We all sat together, talked and played basketball between games. Nice change from Ian being the lone chess wolf representing his school.

Ian wound up doing really well and tied for 1st place in his 3rd grade group. Due to tie breaker rules, he officially came in 2nd place. He was psyched. With this result, he qualifies once again for the state championship in April, this year to be held in Spokane. Overall, his school came in 7th for the team trophy - a nice result.

Today, Ian bugged me a few times to play chess and dragged out his book used to record moves - previously unused. Looks like we'll be making a trip to Spokane next month. Pretty cool really.

Picture posted is from this weekend. For a peek into the chess world for kids, check out the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer. It's worth checking out, even without the chess.

This whole crazy chess deal has been awesome for Ian and introduced the family to something new. Daughter Amy is now playing and attends Ian's chess club, even though she doesn't start school until September. My wife Lori assists to help supervise the kids. I've volunteered at times and designed some shirts for the club. From what I've seen - all of this is a great experience for everyone involved.

Checkmate and out.....

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