Richard James on Junior Chess
The Way Forward
If I had an unlimited supply of money to spend on chess I would set up a national network of junior chess clubs, along with a national chess curriculum with written tests. Teachers would be licensed to teach at different levels and tournaments would be licensed as being suitable for children who have passed the tests at different levels. While I take on board Cor van Wijgerden’s point that there’s a big difference between what children can do in theory (taking a test) and in practice (in their games) most young people are used to the concept of different levels from activities such as Martial Arts so will take to the idea of developing their skills in order to reach the next level. Using this system you can ensure that children will not be put off by entering events for which they are not yet ready, or waste their time by playing in tournaments that are too easy for them.
The course would comprise 3 levels, each with 2 sub-levels. Each sub-level will take about 6 months to complete, longer for younger children. At the end of each sub-level, children will take a written test which they need to pass to move onto the next level. A sample test in written and interactive formats will be available online.
Level 1 (pre-competitive): Beginners’ groups. Could be taught on the curriculum or run as an after-school club (taught by a teacher or parent: knowledge of how children learn is more important than chess knowledge). Small groups (4-12 children) are best. Ideal length for club: 1 hour, possibly shorter for very young children (up to Y2). Junior Chess Clubs could also run groups at this level. Alternatively, parents can be encouraged to teach children at home. Level 1 players should not be playing competitive chess.
On successful completion of the end of level test children will be eligible to join a Level 2 club.
Level 2 club (Grade 0-50): for example a typical primary school club but with qualification required to join. Could also be run as a community club serving several schools within the same area. This would also be the lower section in a Junior Chess Club Session length: 1-2 hours (lunchtime would probably be too short). Typically, a school club will run for an hour and be rather less serious: a junior chess club may run for 2 hours and be more serious, introducing clocks and notation. Children will be encouraged to play low-level competitive chess, for example UKCC, internal school championship, house matches, inter-form matches, matches against other local schools. Teachers should be reasonably knowledgeable about chess (say 75+ ECF) – A Junior Chess Club would be able to provide advice and recommend teachers for clubs at this level, although many schools would be happy to run a club at this level mainly for casual games between friends, in which case they would not need a professional teacher.
On successful completion of the end of level test children will be eligible to join a Level 3 club.
Level 3 club: would usually not be run by schools (possible exceptions such as Twickenham Prep). Junior Chess Clubs would run groups at this level, feeding through from school chess clubs as appropriate. The idea is to prepare children for adult competitive chess. Session length: 2-3 hours. Regular competitive chess is encouraged – internal championships with clocks and notation, participation in higher level junior tournaments (eg London Junior Chess Championships) and lower level open age rapidplay events (eg Minor section of Richmond Rapidplay). Sessions should be run by experienced players (say 125+ ECF strength).
Children who have completed this level successfully will be able to take part in tournaments on a regular basis and will not need a weekly club. However, a junior club should run training days (led by GMs or IMs) for players at this level perhaps once a month on days when there are no major junior tournaments in the area.
I’d like to see as many children as possible completing the first level so that they can experience low-level competitive chess. No doubt the majority will be happy to have learnt a skill and to be able to play reasonable games with their friends, but those who wish to continue will be able to do so, usually through a junior chess club which will prepare them for higher level competitive chess.
That completes the series. Thanks to Richard James for his thought provoking posts. Your comments continue to be welcome.
The earlier episodes of Richard James on Junior Chess are linked below.This For Starters
3. It's Good For Kids. Isn't It
4. That'll Teach Them
5. That'll Teach Them Again
6. Keeping Kids At It
There also a thread on the English Chess Forum
Richard has also posted on Junior Chess here (note added 7 October 2012)