Starting a Scholastic Chess Program

Scholastic chess in the United States has grown dramatically in recent years and Ohio scholastic chess has followed suit. Many schools have started or expanded chess programs to provide students with the opportunity to participate in this stimulating activity.

The U.S. Chess Federation (USCF), the not-for-profit governing and promotional body for chess in the United States, now has over 85,000 members, including more than 30,000 scholastic members. And there are many thousands of student chess players across the country who are not USCF members.

The Ohio Scholastic Chess Association (OSCA) promotes and supports scholastic chess in the Buckeye State. Any public or private school in the state may participate.

Starting a Local Chess Program

Why would a school want a chess club for students?

The game of chess helps young people learn to concentrate, think logically, overcome obstacles, spot patterns and categorize information. It helps with the development of problem-solving skills, planning, patience, focus of thought and self-discipline. Chess is a competitive activity but good sportsmanship and fair play are taught as essential elements of the game.

Chess is an individual activity, yet teamwork is an important element. Club members practice together and work on problems together. Everyone has a chance to contribute to the team in tournament play as chess clubs may enter as many players as they wish and various skill-level or age-based sections are generally available.

A scholastic chess club provides a challenge for students while helping build confidence and self-esteem. It offers a combination of educational and social activity. Chess club provides a place to meet, practice, learn, teach and develop friendships. It provides the opportunity for intellectually stimulating activity in a supportive, casual environment. It offers a mentally stimulating alternative to the rigors of scholastic athletics and the inertness of "couch potato" video.

Do I have to be a chess player to start a chess club?

No, you do not need advanced chess skills to organize a club. There are videos and simple instructional booklets that anyone can use to learn the game. You can almost always find a parent, older student or chess player in the community to help the group get started. You will want to read through a rule book and learn the basic elements of the game, but you do not have to be a skilled player yourself. Many clubs benefit from having non-playing organizers to support chess instructors.

Do I have to be a teacher to start a chess club?

No. A chess club may be sponsored by a parent or interested chess player in the community. Frequently a parent and teacher will jointly sponsor a club, because being a teacher might make it easier to gain permission to use school facilities for meetings or tournaments.

It is important to work with school administrators for recognition of chess club as a school function, part of the school’s extracurricular program. While this may take some time, achievement of this goal will benefit both the chess club and the school.

How much time does chess club take?

It depends on how much time you are willing to invest. It could be as little as an hour a week, but it will vary depending on the number of students involved and their ages. Most clubs meet regularly for one to two hours per week. These meetings may be after school, in the evening or on weekends.

How much money is involved in starting a club?

You can start a scholastic chess program for very little money - substantially less than the cost of just one football uniform. All that is required are a few chess sets. If local funding is not available, contact the U.S. Chess Trust for assistance. The U.S. Chess Federation (USCF) makes sets and boards available at a very reasonable cost (about $15 per set) or it may be possible to get them cheaper at a local discount store.

How do I get started?

First, talk with students to see if they are interested. Then contact their parents to determine who will help with club activities. If you are a parent, you may want to approach one of the teachers or librarian to help plan the next steps. Frequently your school’s gifted/talented coordinator may help you get organized, but keep in mind that chess appeals to a broad range of individuals, many of whom may not be in gifted programs. Club recruiting should not be limited to students in a special area or program.

You should discuss your efforts with the school’s administrators and enlist their approval and support. All you really need at this point is permission to send home notes to parents and permission to use the school’s library or a classroom for meetings. Once your club is organized, you can go back to discuss further school support and recognition.

Contact the OSCA and ask for the names of osca members or other chess players in your area who might be willing to help your club. The U.S. Chess Federation has a sponsors kit for individuals interested in developing a scholastic chess program. The USCF’s booklet "A Guide to Scholastic Chess" is a valuable resource for club organization.

Your club may start with only a handful of members but it will grow. Age differences may not be significant as chess ability determines the competition level. It may be preferable, however, to separate older and younger students because of differences in attention spans.

One of the best ways to learn chess is simply to play chess. Most youngsters like to compete and organized scholastic chess tournaments are excellent opportunities for your club members to play and meet other players. Almost every scholastic tournament will have a division for novices or unrated players so your players will be able to play competitively. You may even be able to find a tournament organized specifically for beginners. If not, you may organize one yourself.

Scholastic Chess Competition

Does a club have to compete?

Certainly not. In many clubs some of the players compete and play outside the club and others do not. Many chess tournaments are organized so that both individual and team competition is permitted. You should expect that some of your better players will want to play in tournaments.

What kinds of competition are available for interested players?

There are a significant number of tournaments for scholastic players held each year in all areas of Ohio and additional tournaments are held in surrounding states. Most scholastic tournaments do not limit the number of players you may enter from any single school or club. Competition is usually in multiple divisions by USCF rating group or school grade. You may enter students in any or all of these divisions. Some tournaments have additional sections for novice or "unrated" players.

Are chess tournaments "elimination style?"

One of the nice things about chess tournaments is that everyone who goes is guaranteed to play the entire tournament. Most scholastic tournaments use a "Swiss" style pairing system, matching players with an equal number of wins and losses as they progress from game to game. Most scholastic tournaments are played in a single day and consist of four to six "rounds" or games. Depending on how much time is allotted per game, most tournaments last six to eight hours.

How good do you have to be to go to a tournament?

A player may be ready to participate in one of the novice sections as soon she/he knows the rules of the game and how the pieces move. Playing novice sections in the first few tournaments will provide important playing experience and help build confidence.

What about the rating system for chess players?

Chess ratings are computed and reported by the U.S. Chess Federation based on the results of USCF-sanctioned tournament games. Ratings are simply numbers which indicate the relative strength of chess players. That is, players with similar ratings should be evenly matched. Your rating will go up if you win and, of course, go down if you lose. Defeating more highly rated players makes your rating go up more quickly. USCF rating is one of the elements used in establishing tournament pairings.

How do I find out about tournaments?

Ohio Scholastic Chess has a site on the World Wide Web with current K-12 tournament listings. Contact the publisher of the Ohio Scholastic Chess Calendar to be placed on the Calendar mailing list. You may also contact your Scholastic Chess Committee regional representative for information. Once you attend a tournament or two, other club sponsors will keep you posted about local tournaments and you can schedule informal competitions with other clubs.

For your most highly motivated players, there are other tournaments held at the state and national levels. Better players may also want to compete in adult "open" tournaments that have separate sections based on ratings.

© 2008 Ohio Scholastic Chess Association
WCZone Web Design