Martha's Guide

Is my child ready to play in a chess tournament?

This article, written by Ms. Jenkinson, our former Chess Club director, was intended to answer the question, “Is my child ready to play in a chess tournament?” and other questions related to it.  This article was copied in its entirety from the original chess club website.

I have had a number of parents ask how to know when their child is ready to play in a chess tournament.  There are 2 components to that answer…. 1) do they know enough chess and 2) does the child have enough interest/attention span/emotional maturity to spend an entire day at a tournament.

How much chess do they need to know?

Chess tournaments are designed for players at all levels.  In particular, local tournaments sort players based on ratings (unrated players seeded partially based on age/grade).  So, low-level players will play in a group of similarly rated players.  That way, all children have a chance to do well on any particular day.  That said, they still need to know all the basic rules.  They need to know how the pieces move and capture, the differences between checkmate and stalemate, when it is legal to castle, etc.  All of this is covered in the beginner workbook (Chess Rules for Students) that is available for free through the club.  Completion of the workbook is required prior to the child taking his/her pawn test.  The pawn test is a very basic test of do they know the rules and can they recognize a checkmate when the see one.  While I can not enforce this suggestion, I would strongly recommend that you not enter your child in a chess tournament until they have passed their pawn test.  Passing that test is a good indication that they know enough chess to play in the lowest divisions.

Please remember, learning to play chess is a lot like learning to read….   your child needs to practice at home.  If you have a child in Kindergarten or First Grade and the workbook is above their reading level, you need to read it to them.  We also have software with good drills and other workbooks available.  Please use them.

Interest / attention span / emotional maturity….

If you include registration, a lunch break, and an awards ceremony, a typical 5 round G/30 (meaning each side has up to 30 minutes to complete the game) chess tournament will take 7-8 hours.  For a lot of parents, this is about as much fun as waiting in an airport lobby after all the flights have been canceled due to bad weather and most of the seats are already taken.  But for the kids who really enjoy chess, this is typically a fun day.  They play 5 rounds of chess (there is no elimination), they play with their friends in between rounds, they eat their favorite food (pizza), they have a chance for a trophy….  Life is good.  However, not all children are ready to hang through 5 rounds of chess at the same age. Some 5 year olds are, some 5 year olds aren’t.  Not all children can pick themselves up from a defeat as easily as others. If they fall apart after loosing a couple of games, it could be a really long day for all involved.  You know your child better than we do.  They won’t be left behind if they don’t start playing competitively in Kindergarten or the First Grade.  By the same token, there are some who definitely are ready!  You need to be the judge.

Hope this helps,