The problems with junior chess

National developments, strategies and ideas.
Jonathan Rogers
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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by Jonathan Rogers » Sun Nov 29, 2009 10:15 am

This thread seems to have died a premature death. One question, from a relative outsider, is: why has not Mike Basman's schools tournament not seemed to much help the situation regarding encouraging very young juniors to play? (Or perhaps it has and otherwise things would be even much worse?)

The Junior 4NCL also deserves some mention, a little (but not much) further up the scale, for juniors who are not beginners but rather around 120-150. They too get to play chess in proper surroundings, at proper time limits and with coaching available. This development - for which Claire deserves much praise for pushing through at a very early stage on becoming Chair of the 4NCL Board - has much potential. You can see live games from their first weekend here

http://rs6.blueapricot.com/junior4ncl/r ... es/tfd.htm

I find the games quite interesting. There is certainly some raw talent here, at least. E.g, I thought that one Aidan McGiff played an excellent first round game - until he offered a draw in a winning position! Perhaps he was unsettled by his opponent starting to complicate the game? But OK, he seems to be talented and events like this will give him the chance to show his ability and to learn how to convert it in competitive conditions.

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Carl Hibbard
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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by Carl Hibbard » Sun Nov 29, 2009 10:30 am

Jonathan Rogers wrote:The Junior 4NCL also deserves some mention, a little (but not much) further up the scale, for juniors who are not beginners but rather around 120-150. They too get to play chess in proper surroundings, at proper time limits and with coaching available. This development - for which Claire deserves much praise for pushing through at a very early stage on becoming Chair of the 4NCL Board - has much potential. You can see live games from their first weekend here

http://rs6.blueapricot.com/junior4ncl/r ... es/tfd.htm
The live games for this one could have been advertised a little better I think :?
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Richard James
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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by Richard James » Sun Nov 29, 2009 12:02 pm

Jonathan Rogers wrote:This thread seems to have died a premature death. One question, from a relative outsider, is: why has not Mike Basman's schools tournament not seemed to much help the situation regarding encouraging very young juniors to play? (Or perhaps it has and otherwise things would be even much worse?)
Jonathan

Everything you thought you knew about primary schools chess is wrong.

My belief (based on 15 years in school chess clubs) is that it is precisely BECAUSE of the UK Chess Challenge and the whole philosophy behind it that the junior chess situation in this country is so dire.

Yes, of course there are many other reasons as well. Yes, SOME children who now play at a very high level, including at least one of those mentioned by Leonard earlier in this thread, started their competitive chess in the UKCC. Yes, thousands of children every year get a lot of pleasure from taking part in it. Yes, up to a point the whole thing is wonderful and you cannot help but admire all those who put so much work into ensuring its success.

In July CHESS published an interview with Mike Basman, conducted by Sean Marsh. Mike said: "I was teaching chess in schools and I found that I couldn't keep the pupils; they didn't want to be taught. And I wasn't a teacher so I made up some tournaments with a few little prizes, badges and spots, and my classes became much more popular."

In the Netherlands, for example, chess for young children is based on structured teaching and skill development which is something we really don't do here, and, given the format of after-school clubs, at present can't do. This is what Cor van Wijgerden. co-author of the Steps method which has been used very successfully in the Netherlands for many years, said to me earlier in the year:

"I don’t want to teach 70000 children to learn to play chess, as Mike Basman apparently does (or I must have 7000 trainers available) and lose almost all of them (although ……. the turnover of the first step will rise!)

I want to teach 1000 children and I would like that at least 100 will have a fantastic hobby for the rest of their life. I know that I must raise their playing strength to a certain level otherwise they will quit. So the start must be perfect. Skill developing from the beginning (playing games as in the first 6 lessons of step 1). Not starting with whole games because chess is too difficult."

But what we do here (I know because I've done it) is teach kids the moves very quickly, or assume they've learnt them at home, and then put them straight into the UKCC. It really doesn't work, so I gave up running after-school chess clubs. While this policy gives young children some short-term pleasure, in the long term the appeal of the baubles and trinkets they receive as prizes fades and they give up the game. I've been saying for years to anyone who will listen that, if I were Prime Minister (or possibly ECF President?) the first thing I woud do would be to abolish Primary School chess clubs. When I put this to one of my colleagues he replied "Yes, Richard, I'm sure you're right, but it's my livelihood".

There's a lot more to it than this: I will post again later.

Jonathan Rogers
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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by Jonathan Rogers » Sun Nov 29, 2009 12:51 pm

Richard,

Please do post more, I'd be interested. For the record, I did not mean to assume that UKCC had necessarily helped junior chess; it was meant as a genuine question and I am not altogether surprised by your answer thus far.

I really know nothing about coaching young juniors but I am sure it is right to teach them the moves and rules in stages. At least, that's how I learnt, at six or seven. First the pawns, then the knights, bishops and rooks, with various exercises in between. Could a rook take four pawns? and so on, all before I got to queens and kings, castling and checkmate.

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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by Alex Holowczak » Sun Nov 29, 2009 12:55 pm

I don't see the UK Chess Challenge as a way to teach people chess. I see it as a motivational tool for people to want to learn how to play chess. If it pulls people in, then there are people (hopefully) ready and waiting to be taught.

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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by Richard James » Sun Nov 29, 2009 1:01 pm

Jonathan

Yes, that's exactly what I'm working on at the moment, both online at chessKIDS academy and in hard copy through a book which is scheduled for publication next Autumn.

A couple of months ago I met a 7-year-old boy whose grandfather told me had been playing since he was 4. It turned out that he didn't know how the knight moved, and that he had problems with attention, focus and behaviour which meant that he was unsuitable for chess lessons anyway.

For comparison: Magnus Carlsen tried chess at 5, found it was too hard and returned to the game at 8 - and we alll know what happened then. Levon Aronian tried chess at 5, found it was too hard and returned to the game at 9. He later became World U-12 Champion.

So the ECF (and Holloid Plastics) should not assume that throwing free chess sets at any school who asks for them will have any effect at all on the number of children taking a lifelong interest in the game.

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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by Richard James » Sun Nov 29, 2009 1:05 pm

Alex Holowczak wrote:I don't see the UK Chess Challenge as a way to teach people chess. I see it as a motivational tool for people to want to learn how to play chess. If it pulls people in, then there are people (hopefully) ready and waiting to be taught.
Yes, but we're not teaching them the right way. We should be teaching them perhaps for a year before they start playing competitively, not two weeks. The other thing that happens is that their parents teach them at home so that they can join their school chess club, but the parents themselves don't teach them correctly.

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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by Steve Rooney » Sun Nov 29, 2009 2:38 pm

Richard, I am not convinced about your extreme view on primary school chess and the UK Chess Challenge. Given the state of participation in chess, I simply don't think that you can dismiss an event which gets more than 70,000 children involved each year.

Having said that I do agree with your overall idea about older children are more receptive to the complex ideas involved in playing chess to a reasonable strength, and secondary school age chess should be a priority. Some physical sports have different versions for younger players - tag rugby, soft cricket/tennis - as a way of building skills before launching into the full game, similar to the Dutch 'step' system perhaps.

What is evident from this thread and other discussions is that there is a distinct lack of coaching advice and materials which have general acceptance and credibility. And there is not really a proper system of accreditation for coaches. I may be wrong but the ECF accredited coach system does not involve attendance at any coaching event, it is by application and reference from others. Whilst it might be nice to have ECF accreditation which could give some confidence to parents, I think it would mean a great deal more if it were achieved as a result of taking part in a nationally recognised coaching event. They exist for arbiters, why not coaches?

In terms of coaching materials, is there not a case for a standardised approach, or at the very least an ECF kitemark for published coaching materials?

William Metcalfe
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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by William Metcalfe » Sun Nov 29, 2009 5:00 pm

We have a fairly promising junior who is aged 10 this is what we are doing with him if anybody has any other ideas i would like to hear them.
When he comes down to the club he might play the odd game off skittles but then 1 off the stronger players will sit with him and show him general principles of a opening or end game principles.

We have lots of internal club competitions so he has entered those so he gets to play v adults regularaly the players he is playing are obv not the strongers players in the club but he is getting serious competative games.

We also have a local league these games are not ECF graded but he is playing the whole season for this team as it will teach him about team dynamics in chess ect.

He played his first adult tournament yesterday it was a 5 round quickplay torny he won 2 drew 2 lost 1 and had a great time.

I think we are doing things the right way he is getting coaching.playing competative games.And more importantly having fun and enjoying himself.

I was talking with his father yesterday his school work,confidance,social skills have all improved since he came to the club 6 months ago and for me that is more important than the chess side of this.
I am speaking here for myself and not the NCCU which i am now president of

Neill Cooper
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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by Neill Cooper » Sun Nov 29, 2009 7:50 pm

I think sometimes we try too hard.
Children will keep on playing chess if they enjoy it.
And they enjoy it if they win games.
That, I think, is the basis of the success of UKCC and many other junior activities.

When running a junior club I found that trying to do more than 5 minutes training in the hour put the children off. What they wanted to do was play chess, particularly if it was in a competition where they could win things. This is obviously an over simplification and some children are not like that.

I have been astounded at how popular my secondary school chess club has become since introducing a chess ladder. Every lunchtime 40 to 50 of them turn up to play, mainly year 7 and 8 but some from older year groups, including quite a few sixth formers, and year 10s doing 'improving chess' for their DoE bronze award. The large numbers has allowed me to run five 6-board school chess teams this year (we had a 24 board match on Friday). The little training I do is on Friday when we I run 'chess squad' at lunchtime and we look at problems on the interactive white board. [Those who want more training arrange for it outside school.)

Secondary school leagues have unfortunately almost died, apart from here in Surrey where 15 schools take part, with a total of 32 teams (each of 6 players). It does require a significant time commitment of about 4 hours from an adult (normally a teacher) on a Friday evening, and unlike when I was young, the ability to drive a minibus. The vast majority of teams are from selective schools, either state grammar schools or independent schools.

Something not mentioned yet in this thread is how inter-county U18/U14 chess has almost died in much of the country, apart from the annual NYCA and ECF events. I think the SCCU U14/U140 tournament may be the only place where inter-county junior matches between two teams take place in an organised way. Most Union U18 Jamborees get only 2 or 3 entries, if they occur. Some counties solve the problem by playing juniors in county matches, which is great for those who are good enough for at least the U100 and can cope with a 4 hour game.

Getting secondary aged students playing inter-club chess can, as Kevin stated, lead to rapid improvement and also means they are more likely to play chess later in life. I know that it was also crucial for myself and friends at school. But finding a suitable club is not easy. So I entered teams from what had been a junior club in two local leagues. One advantage of this is being part of a team of people they have been playing chess with for many years.

There are obviously other activities that encourage juniors to play chess (junior and adult tournaments, 4NCL, now junior 4NCL) but I think for the vast majority of juniors it is getting them playing chess, not coaching them, that is important.

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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by Kevin Thurlow » Mon Nov 30, 2009 8:41 am

"I really know nothing about coaching young juniors but I am sure it is right to teach them the moves and rules in stages. At least, that's how I learnt, at six or seven. First the pawns, then the knights, bishops and rooks, with various exercises in between. Could a rook take four pawns? and so on, all before I got to queens and kings, castling and checkmate."

Yes - quite right. I learned to play when I was 3 - my father was playing through a game in a book and I asked what he was doing and then I said "show me". He did as described above, except he started with the knight - he later said it is the most interesting piece and the most difficult. After the initial "how it moves", you can put the knight in the middle of the board, then the edge and then the corner, and put pawns on the squares it can move to - and you learn about piece activity. After moves of pieces, there were checkmates, forks, skewers, discovered attacks, (double checks were particularly exciting), Q v 8P, R v 8P etc, (to teach relative strengths of pieces,), etc. When we eventually reached the start position, (some months later), I knew I wanted to get the opposing king, so it is then fairly obvious that you move central pawns to get the pieces out. My father also taught the general principle, knights before bishops, castle, centralise rooks, dominate the centre etc. It's nice to see that at one stage I was better than Carlsen and Aronian...

I think this is the best teaching method - obviously it helped that my father was a fairly good player himself, and a good communicator.

If you try to teach people from the start position, it is way too complicated, and they don't know why you need to move central pawns first. (Of course after a while you realise you don't have to go 1.e4 or 1.d4 first - but it is like school chemistry teaching, you are given a simplistic model of indivisible atoms at first, then later learn that it isn't true!)

I still see young players move a knight two squares up and one across, instead of going in a straight line. I have been arbiting some young junior events, and am really shocked that these are supposed to be the best players in their age group in the region, and games are going 1.h4 a5, 2.h5, or after 20 moves and 5 minutes, both sides have the kingside at home, and don't have a queenside at all, apart from a lone knight that has survived. I also notice some cannot win with Q+R vs King, just play hundreds of queen checks, never move the king and then lose the rook ..... (In fairness in one such game, when they agreed the draw both players smiled and went away happily chatting to each other, so at least they enjoyed it. But should they be playing competitively if they can't win games like that...?)
I haven't found a book which gives detail of how to win with queen against king, normally the position one move from mate is given. I can't be bothered to write the book myself, so perhaps Richard will take that position back a dozen moves?
"Kevin was the arbiter and was very patient. " Nick Grey

Ola Winfridsson
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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by Ola Winfridsson » Mon Nov 30, 2009 10:14 am

I don't there think there's a problem with chess in schools (on the contrary, it should probably be encouraged), but I think the major problem is in the transition from schools chess to club chess, as a number of posters here have indicated.

In another thread Paul McKeown (if I remember correctly) pointed out that most children just enjoy pushing the bits around the board and are not too bothered about making progress. This is a pointer to the issue of quality vs quantity. While Basman's UKCC certainly is commendable, the value of it must be questioned if the overwhelming majority of those involved quickly drop out of chess altogether. The point I'm trying to make is that schools chess is part of a much greater infrastructure that we leave behind as we grow older (quite simply because we leave school) which means that retention is much more difficult. Perhaps shouldn't be the aim either, since it's clearly targeted at a mass market.

Club chess provides a much more normal path into chess (with players of all ages and so on), and facilitates more structured coaching since groups tend to be much smaller and more manageable.

William Metcalfe
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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by William Metcalfe » Mon Nov 30, 2009 12:21 pm

I did ask if we were doing the right things with our junior but so far nobody has replied.The reason i am asking is we are not used to having juniors not ones as young as this anyway so we have ni previous experiance to fall back on.So any help or advice from people here experianced in the field would be most appreciated.
I am speaking here for myself and not the NCCU which i am now president of

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David Shepherd
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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by David Shepherd » Mon Nov 30, 2009 12:51 pm

William, have you considered setting up a junior section of the club?, at age 10 it would be good if he had other juniors to play with as well as adults. You can also find details of junior competitions in your area and encourage him to enter those.

As a whole what you are doing sounds fine to me, but also look at at tactics with him forks, skewers,pins - opening and closing files etc and maybe also set up some positions and try and get him to checkmate/attack (not necessarily a 3 move checkmate type position but just one where he can attack by for example a bishop sacrifice on h7).

There is a useful A4 size book with tactic type puzzles in Winning Chess Strategy for Kids by Jeoff Coakley which is quite good for teaching with, depending on the level.

NB I am not a coach (although I have helped out a junior club) so the above is just my own opinion.

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David Shepherd
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Re: The problems with junior chess

Post by David Shepherd » Mon Nov 30, 2009 12:57 pm

Other interesting things I found with beginners was to get them to play the opening but just by moving their own pieces (the other colour not moving) - it just lets you give them some idea of the order in which moves should be played and the general squares the pieces will often go to (not really applicable to your 10 year old probably as he will have gone past this stage).

I also sometimes set up the board with two sets of white (or black) pieces - this is good for concentration as you have to remember which are you pieces and I found it good fun.

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