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Berkshire Junior Chess

Junior chess players' development

Background to this note

This short document attempts to provide parents of young chess players with some pointers and ideas as their children progress through the chess world. It is based on the experience and perspectives of a few BJCA parents who have children who have been playing competitively for up to 10 years, and in some cases at international level. However, the advice and ideas provided are also not prescriptive, and may or may not be right for your child! We have included a number of URLs pointing at not only the Berkshire Junior site (www.bjca.org.uk) but also other resources. Please do take a look at those to get a wider perspective.

Whilst we hope this note is helpful, we also advise any chess parent simply to ask around for ideas and suggestions. Most parents (whether around the Berkshire circuit or beyond) are happy to share their experiences; certainly this is true of the co-authors of this note. Some parents are themselves chess players but the majority are not.

Please do also provide us with your feedback as to areas that are not covered, or not covered well enough in this note; we will aim to update it periodically.

Starting out

For most junior players, especially when they are starting out, the best way for them to develop is generally to play the game as much as possible. In Berkshire we run the regular Saturday Afternoon Events as well as other competitions. Details are provided at www.bjca.org.uk/calendar.php. These are great events for players to get used to tournament play, for example using chess clocks, as well as for meeting other players and parents from around the county. And most Saturday mornings during term time there is a chess club in Maidenhead, see www.bjca.org.uk/local/mhead_club_info.php. Nigel Dennis also sends out via email information and regular updates on BJCA's tournaments and other events to all those players/parents who have registered with the BJCA.

Another good way for young players to develop is to play games using packages on the PC, or playing on the internet. One good PC package for younger players is Lego Chess ( www.lego.com/eng/interactive/product.asp?Title=Chess&Code=PC; for slightly more experienced players a good one is Chessmaster ( http://chessmaster.uk.ubi.com/xi/index.php). One popular (and free!) internet chess site is Chesscube (www.chesscube.com). Please note that this site does include a chat facility so parents should make themselves comfortable with their child's use of the site. There are plenty of other packages and sites.

Depending on an individual player's learning style there are all sorts of books available. One good series for new-ish junior players is that written by Tim Onions (see http://onionschess.atspace.com/tims.htm). Another is by Murray Chandler ( www.amazon.co.uk/Beat-Your-Chess-Gambit-chess/dp/1901983056

And we would always encourage players to learn to record their games, and to do so in relevant tournaments. Not only does this help them slow down when they are playing but more importantly it provides the opportunity to review the games afterwards and to learn from their - and their opponents' - mistakes. Various resources on this exist, for example see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algebraic_chess_notation for an overview.

Finally, it is of course always worth exploring whether your son or daughter's school has a chess club.

More experienced juniors - county representation

Berkshire (in common with many other counties) runs a series of county teams at age groups from under 9 upwards. (Note that in England the chess "year" starts on 1 September 2). This includes a girls-only under 11 team. The teams compete in a range of fixtures, both "friendlies" and various other competitions including national. For the younger age groups we also run various training events through the year.

For the under 9 and under 11 teams we have an annual trial tournament usually in October; whilst this is not the only way that players are selected for the team it is recommended that players interested in those teams do participate in the applicable trial.

At U9 and U11 level the season culminates in the national ESPCA competition. See www.epsca.org.uk/. For the older age groups there are various events including www.cchess.org.uk/NYCA/.

Contact details for Berkshire's county team managers are provided at www.bjca.org.uk/local/directory.php. Please do feel free to get in touch with the applicable age group team manager for advice.

More experienced juniors - "external" events

There are numerous events held each year around the country catering specifically for junior players. Significant numbers of Berkshire juniors compete in these. Some of the biggest events are as follows:

Details of events around the country may be found at the Tournament Calendar page of the English Chess Federation (ECF)'s website www.englishchess.org.uk/?page_id=27. More general information from the ECF on junior chess may be found at www.englishchess.org.uk/?page_id=8

Often the first "non-Berkshire" event that juniors play in is the UK Chess Challenge (www.ukchesschallenge.com). This is reputedly the world's largest chess tournament, and comprises 4 stages spread between January and August. Many schools run first round qualifier events; BJCA also organises some (listed at www.bjca.org.uk/calendar.php) to cater for those players whose schools do not participate. The second stage is called the Megafinal and is run at a county level. The third (Gigafinal) and fourth (Terafinal) stages are run at a national level. In 2010 a Berkshire player won the £2000 overall first prize by winning the Terafinal.

More experienced juniors - England representation

For the top juniors in the country there is the opportunity to represent England in various events. Perhaps confusingly there are (at least!) two different groups organising national teams.

Firstly there is the National Chess Junior Squad - http://ncjs.web.officelive.com/default.aspx.

This runs various age group teams competing both against the other home nations and beyond. The main way players are selected for this is via an annual under 11 trial tournament usually held in early April. Players earn the right to be invited to the trial by achieving so-called "norms" through their performances at other key events - namely the British Championship, London Juniors, South of England, West of England and National Chess Junior Squad Championships (which despite its name is an "open" event). Generally a player needs to score better than 50% at two of these events to qualify for the trial. If a county's U11 board 1 player has not otherwise qualified through obtaining enough "norms", the county may also nominate him/her. Older players may also qualify for the squad simply through gaining sufficient norms at the same events listed above; however there is no trial tournament for those older age groups.

The English Chess Federation also selects junior players for various international events. Berkshire players have regularly represented England at key events such as the European Youth Chess Championships, World Youth Chess Championships and the U16 Chess Olympiad. Qualification processes vary for this over time but are generally published by the ECF's Junior Director via the ECF website.

More experienced juniors - transition to adult events & clubs

Particular as players get older and stronger, they may well benefit from starting to play in events at which adults participate too, and/or for club teams (many of whom are very welcoming of junior players). As far as club teams are concerned, there are many across Berkshire. More details at www.berkshirechess.org.uk/main.php

There are numerous adult events every weekend up and down the country. Many are published on the ECF's Tournament Calendar. One good first taster of this, and one in which many Berkshire juniors play, is the regular Richmond Rapidplay events, see www.surreyrapidchess.org/events.html

Ratings

There are numerous "rating" schemes, including BJCA's very own (www.bjca.org.uk/grades.php), but also the ECF's (www.englishchess.org.uk/?page_id=295) and FIDE's. FIDE is the international governing body of the game. http://ratings.fide.com/

The intention of all of these systems is in essence to provide a benchmark as to players' relative strength. This has a bearing on seedings etc. in tournaments and may be used (as one datapoint) for selection for representative teams.

Players - especially but not just juniors - tend to get overly worried about the impact of games on their rating and/or on the rating of their next opponent. What is more important, particular for players just starting out, is that they focus on the chess in front of them, and on learning more about the game. It is often appropriate to remind players of this!

Coaches

One question that lots of parents ask, especially once their chess-playing child starts to play events beyond those organised by the BJCA, is "should my child be coached". There is no simple answer to this; it depends heavily on the child, their current stage of development; how they learn; etc. It is definitely worth talking to other parents (especially those whose children are a bit older/more experienced) - most will be more than willing to share their perspectives and learnings.

One key consideration is whether your child's level of play and understanding of the game is strong enough to be able to benefit from coaching in the first place. Another is whether simply reading books and participating in the training available through BJCA events, school or other chess clubs is sufficient for your child's current needs.

If one does decide to go down the coaching route, it is also important to ensure there is a good fit between the style/approach of the candidate coach and your child; and indeed how well coach and coachee get on. There are numerous professional coaches out there (one list is at www.ecfcoaching.org.uk) so it is again worth talking to other parents to get recommendations; and it is definitely also worth meeting a few candidate coaches to assess the "fit" before making a decision. And of course the coach who is appropriate for one stage of a player's development may well not be right in a year's time.

There are lots of events and lots of opportunities to play and improve, but the most important thing is that the player enjoys the game!


Jim & Sara Wadsworth (jim@jimwadsworth.com)

Chris Archer-Lock (chris@pafc.net)

Keith & Kate Tunstall (keith@thetuns.freeserve.co.uk)

Mark & Shirley Vandersluis (mark.vandersluis@virgin.net)

March 2011


1 One book that some parents have found reassuring is this one http://www.amazon.co.uk/Survival-Guide-Chess-Parents-Tanya/dp/1857443403 Its author is the mother of one of England's stronger young grandmasters, Gawain Jones. She (with contributions from Gawain) tells the story of his development from a young age. When Gawain started out, she knew nothing of chess either!

2 Note that for international purposes, the chess year starts on 1 January

3 To compete at this, for the younger age groups there is a requirement to qualify at one of a number of prior tournaments. One of these is the annual Berkshire Junior Championships, run by the BJCA and usually held in early November.