Tournaments: Are They For me and my Child(ren)?

One of the real benefits of most chess clubs and tournaments is the opportunity to play against other children from other schools and clubs; making new friends, and learning more about how to improve your play and building team and school spirit in the process. The fact that you can also win awards in the process is no small benefit for most players as well.

A question of importance to most parents is “whether the competitive nature of chess is in the interests of their child’s growth and self-image.” As a coach and a tournament player for over 45 years I have a bias in this matter. I feel that tournament play is beneficial when the following circumstances are met.

1. The child knows all the basic rules of chess – how the pieces move,

2. The player can explain what check and checkmate are and can find a “one-move checkmate,”

3. The player knows basic chess notation – although may not yet be able to keep and accurate notation sheet,

4. Above all the student’s ego needs to able to handle losing games in a public setting. Let’s face it, a new player is likely to lose at least some games!

What to Expect at a Chess Tournament

Most chess tournaments that scholastic player compete in have four of five games with No Eliminations. If you lose two or three games you still get to play the remaining games and your scores still benefit your team. Chess sets and boards are supplied although clocks are not.

The events do have some costs. All players must be or become members of the U.S. Chess Federation ($16 per year for elementary students) and entry fees (usually in the $25 range). The USCF fee covers the cost of nationally rating the events and an online magazine (also available in hard copy). The entry fee covers the site, trophies, medals and sundry costs.

Clocks are used to make sure that the games do not go overly long. In most events each player gets about 40 minutes to make all of their moves – thus a game can go (although rarely does) up one hour and 20 minutes. All games start at the same time. When a player finishes a game they are free to play chess and other games, read or just relax until the time comes for their next game. Some local events have small concessions where you can get snacks or even order lunches.

Parents and coaches are generally NOT allowed in the playing rooms. This helps keep noise to a minimum and reduces incidences of alleged interference in games. The playing hall is supervised by strong players and US Chess Federation Certified Tournament Directors. After the players are done with a game they leave the room and able to meet with family, coaches and team mates.

I make a point (as do many coaches) of attending almost all of the tournaments we recommend as well as other various tournaments. This allows me to act as an advocate for our players as well as to review games and assist our players morally and in game preparation.

Immediately following the finish of last game awards (team and individual) are handed out. As a rule check in is at about 8:00am (optional if you register in advance) with play starting about 8:30-9:00am. As a rule the event is done and everybody heads home between 4:00pm and 5:00pm.

It is recommended that a parent be there with the child but depending on their comfort zone and age it is not unusual to have another parent supervise other children. If needed, contact me to see what arrangements can be made.


One of the most confusing items on many tournament fliers involves something called a “Bye.” Some times there is an odd number of players. That player will receive a bye, which is the same thing as a win. Usually the TD (tournament director) will find the player a game with some player for a game that is not part of the tournament so that they will have a game to play.

Another kind of bye involves situations where a player is unable to attend one or two of the games for any reason (church function, sports game, music recitals, birthday parties….whatever. In that case the parent may request a ½ point bye where the player is excused from the event for one or two games and get ½ point for each missed game – thus helping their team and some cases keeping them eligible for individual awards.

One of the things I have found over the years is that those students who compete in the tournaments definitely improve at a much faster rate than those who don’t. It is also a status factor within the club. Having said that no one should be pressured to play in the tournaments – it’s a choice each player and family has to make on their own.

Parents who have questions should contact me at


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