The Art of Balance:  High School and Chess

This week, I’m going to take a small detour to discuss something I think many of you have either already experienced or will experience in the future.  Specifically, I will be discussing the concept because I am currently experiencing it – junior year of high school and how it affects chess.

Junior year, or 11th grade, is arguably the hardest and most stressful year of high school.  In freshman and sophomore year, the workload is relatively light – most students aren’t at the point of multiple college-level courses yet, and classes are easier in difficulty in general.  Also, students have “chiller” classes like P.E.

Most of this changes when a student hits junior year.  Firstly, classes become somewhat harder, but the main point is that students take more of these college-level classes.  Thus, homework and studying take longer.  Additionally, in junior year, students have to take standardized tests like the SAT and the ACT in order to prepare for college.  These tests take weeks or even months of preparation, and for many students, the weekends are the only viable time to study for them.  Lastly, students have to start thinking about college, especially what schools they want to apply to, how they are going to manage applications, and maybe even what they will write their essays on.  While one might predict that senior year would be more difficult than any year past, from what I have heard, the answer is both yes and no.  Sure, the difficulty of classes may still increase.  However, by the end of first quarter or about ¾ of the way through the first semester, college applications are done, and from that point, students usually do not need to put as much effort into classes as they did earlier – put in just enough to maintain the grades earned last year, and the student will be fine.  Thus, in short, junior year in high school is very involved and time-consuming, at least more so than any year experienced thus far.

For chess players, this prospect can possibly be daunting.  I’ll use myself as a case study since I am currently in the middle of this junior year.  Up until last year, I would play in every tournament that came around and would just work on homework in between rounds or before/after the tournament.  And, almost every time, I would be able to finish it all while still being able to play in the entire tournament.  Very rarely did I have to take a last round bye or, worst case, skip a tournament due to workload.  Even then, that was only during sophomore year.  I find the situation very different this year.

Last year, I was aware that there would have to be more time put into school this year.  Yet, I still naively believed that I would have time to do everything that school required and play in chess tournaments at the same time.  Oh, was I wrong!  Since the school year started in late August of 2017, I have only played in three actual tournaments, and one of them was the K-12 Nationals down in Florida.  I’ve found that I have had to skip many tournaments either due to school work alone or having to study for the SAT/ACT.  Even now, the USATE is happening this weekend in New Jersey, which I’m skipping; next weekend is another open tournament that I will likely be skipping; and, I’m not even sure if I’ll be able to play in the VA State Championships because it is the weekend before the SAT in March, and this is a tournament that I have attended every year since I started playing chess in 2010.

This brings me to my point about what someone can do once they reach junior year in order to balance school and chess as much as possible.  Although I have only played in three actual tournaments since the year started, I have still been able to play at least a game or two a month through the DC Chess League and NVA Chess League, both of which have matches once a month.  Playing in these leagues has allowed me to at least keep somewhat in touch with the game in the middle of everything else that is going on.  So, upon reaching junior year, if a chess player is able to play in leagues or even clubs that have single-day events, then it could be extremely beneficial.  One day or one night could be dedicated to chess, and the rest of the weekend could be used for doing homework and studying for standardized tests.  In this way, a respected amount of time can be allocated to each area.

As for the future, I took the ACT this February, and hopefully, after the SAT in March, I will be done with standardized testing.  At that point, I hope I can go back to playing in tournaments on a more normal basis.  But, until then, I hope that my experience and thoughts regarding balancing junior year in high school and chess will help those who have yet to experience it.  Thanks for reading, and, as always, I’ll see you next time!

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