Recently 14 juniors I coach participated in their first tournament outside of school in a borough schools championship. I run chess clubs at three schools in the Kingston-upon-Thames and I invited those players that were ready to participate in the Championship on 25 January. At stake were individual and school prizes (based on the top four scorers from each school). The tournament had U7, U9, U11, U14 and U18 sections, and players could score 3 points for a win, 2 for a draw and 1 for a loss.
This was a first Kingston Borough Schools Chess Championships, organised by the same organiser of the UK Chess Challenge, Mike Basman. The idea is to encourage chess in schools, both primary and secondary, by providing a competition between local schools.
There were over 50 players, which wasn’t bad I think given this was the first time this event has taken place. There were entrants from schools that have very well established chess clubs, and also schools that have relatively new chess clubs (such as mine that have only been going about a year). It was good to see so many new players, who were excited about playing their first tournament and by the end were keen to do another! I noticed that the U9 section was easily the largest section, while the U11/U14/U18 sections were merged into one and was essentially an U11 section apart from maybe 2-3 players. I think this reflects the sad fact that while chess clubs are popular at primary level, they are not so well represented at secondary level. This tournament gave children in local secondary schools an opportunity to play in a tournament (all the schools were contacted), but clearly supply is only one side of the equation, there also needs to be demand.
What I liked about this tournament format is it enabled players to try their first tournament locally, where they knew some classmates, and where families were welcome. This was reassuring for young players who may feel nervous about going to an event where they don’t know anyone. Feedback from my players suggests that it was very enjoyable event; there were no tears over losses (which I had feared); and it seemed a very friendly and supportive environment for them to test their chess skills against peers.
It was heartening to see these young students have the courage to try and be rewarded for their efforts, with some of them winning rosettes for creditable performances, while for others the reward was the novelty of their first tournament experience and some memorable lessons.