Why Tournament Matters

Have you traded stock with paper money before?

Most of the time, this is an exercise used in High School or College finance classes, and it’s an opportunity for the students to learn about financial literacy.

I’ve done that.

When I traded stock with paper money, I did not check the daily ups and downs of stock trend for months.

During a good market (2009, right after the 2008 crash), when I returned to check results nonchalantly six months later, paper money have risen over 20%. I wish I could turn the time back and put in some real money instead.

Now fast forward to the first time I put $100 of real money into the stock market. The market had ups and downs as usual, however, this time my psychology changed completely.

I was checking stock tickers over 10 times a day on my phone, and everytime there’s a $1-2 of movement in price, I wondered whether I made the right decision to buy and when should I sell.

What does this story has anything to do with chess tournaments?

The title of this post tells you.

Playing in rated chess tournament versus casual games is like trading stock with real versus paper money.

The difference is in a player’s psychology.  To truly improve in chess, you have to go thru the trials of tribulation in facing tough times from tournament games.

Whenever I talk to parents of new students, we discuss how to improve in chess (topic for another time) and when should a student start playing in tournaments.

My recommendation: once basic chess skills are developed and the student has played 1-2 unrated tournament to get a feel of the environment, it’s time to get into the action of rated games.

Sometimes I hear parents say I want my child to work more at home and be ready to play in tournaments where we know s/he will have a good showing.

I politely disagree.

Chess tournaments are not like school tests.

School teachers often give students study guide after study guide.  If the student is well versed in all the practice questions, s/he is ready for the test and getting an A or 100 is no problem.

In chess tournaments, doesn’t matter how prepared you’re, you may face any of the following circumstances

-Other player’s strength; Stronger than their rating indicates

It’s often hard to gauge exactly how strong is your opponent. They can come from a different country or state, or they took time out from chess and only came back recently.

-You’re own emotional response to meaningful games

The way you feel in a casual game is not the same as a meaningful game. The stock analogy earlier in the article covers this point. The oh-no moments will be much more painful than a skittle room’s game.

-Tournament Surroundings

There are tensions in the tournament room. In any given moment, the room is quiet, you can hear chess pieces move but nothing more. The nerves and the tension become less intimidating for the more experienced players.

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You can only get better in tournament chess by experiencing more.

And remember, you’ll never be 100% ready.

Treat chess tournaments as job interview instead of school test, there is no guarantee, but the best practice to improve your odds of success is to experience more and learn from these experiences.

Chess Programs: How to Learn Actively

As chess gets popular in the United States, the opportunity to participate in chess camps or school programs also have increased.

Parents and coaches can us the information from this post to encourage students to actively learn in chess.

Chess programs can be grouped by age or, more commonly, chess levels. Here are three common chess levels:

1. True beginner:  learning the rules for the first time
2. Play-at-home level: knows the rules; ready to learn basic tactics and strategies
3. Tournament-play level: competed in tournaments; has been working on chess study; wants to increase chess rating.

Regardless of a student’s chess level, the following five points should be the focus to get the most out of a chess chess program.

 Asking Questions
• Playing Games
• Trying New Ideas
• Teaching Others
• Making Friends

Asking questions

Schools are moving toward more instruction and less interaction. Chess programs should not follow this pattern. Instead, questions during a lecture will bring ideas both for the students and the instructor.

It helps to encourage students to answer instructor’s questions without being afraid of being wrong. Questions can be general ones, like questions about chess world champions, chess history, etc.  Or they can be knowledge-based, such as how to checkmate with two bishops.

Playing games

Like many other activities, chess is a numbers game. Grandmasters generally play many more games than a beginner. Chess programs is an opportunity to play multiple games in a day.

A beginner should learn to not be afraid to play against stronger players. This is the chance to train and ask questions. At the same time, playing against less-experienced players is a chance for your child to teach what they know.

Either way, they can use the camp to increase their chess experiences.

Trying new ideas

In my lessons, I ask students to try out ideas at home (online), then learn from these experiences and apply them in tournaments.

Camp or school clubs are the best time to test ideas. If they want to learn a new opening, they can try it during these programs. Then they can ask questions about it.

Not only is this a low-stake environment (results don’t matter as much as in tournaments), but they can also immediately ask for feedback.

Teaching others

                                    If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

–Albert Einstein

Encourage a child to teach what they know. We live in an era where knowledge has become more of a commodity, and information can be easily found on the internet.

Not only are they helping others to learn new ideas, they’ll also clarify their own thoughts in the idea. For example, once they have learned how to checkmate with two bishops, showing others the process will only help them to understand it better.

Making new friends

This may be the most important of all. Going to chess camp or club will give a child the opportunity to make new friends with other chess players.

After all, chess is a game that shows off the competitive spirit on the board, and friendships off the board.

When a child  interacts with other kids and works with them to solve problems, it will help them work during the camp, and more importantly, form a friendship for their chess careers to come.

Whether your kids are just picking up the game or are ready for tournament play, I hope this post will help you and them to gain the most from any chess programs.