Choose Your Tournaments Wisely

By National Master Evan Rabin 

Parents often get surprised when I tell them I played my first tournament two months after my brother and dad taught me how to move the pieces, back when was in second grade, and went to The Nationals one month after that. Conversely, I teach a private student who took 2 years to convince him to play his first tournament. Almost every week I’d recommend he compete but he kept saying that he did not like competition and was not ready. What does it mean to be ready to play in a tournament? Tournaments range from beginner scholastic tournaments to the esteemed World Championship, where Gukesh D and Ding Lien will compete later this year. With so many options, it can be overwhelming to decided where to play. In New York, the Marshall Chess Club is the only place to regularly play in adult tournaments; on the other hand, on any given Saturday or Sunday, there are usually several different scholastic tournaments kids could play. The events could be found at either Little House of Chess calendar or Lucky Factory site. Find a tournament that fits your interests and goals and get out and play!

In general, there are two types of tournaments- scholastic and adult. Scholastic tournaments are usually open to kids in grades PreK-12th grade. Open tournaments are made up of adults and lots of up and coming youth, who already have some tournament experience. I regret only playing scholastic tournaments for the first 4 years of my chess career, age 7-11. If I could go back in time, I would have played a healthy mix. Many kids get intimated any adults but the truth is adults fear kids even more, as many of them are improving rapidly and severely underrated.

When students and their parents hesitate to sign up for tournaments, I remind them that they will not be ‘thrown to the wolves’. For instance, in our grand prix tournaments, we have four sections- rookie, reserve,5th Annual Premier Chess Grand Prix (2023-2024) Revised PDF challenger and championship. Our rookie section is meant for players of little- to-no formal chess experience; it is unrated, relatively laid back and every kid wins a trophy. Our reserve section is for players rated under 600, our challenger section is for players rated 600-999 and our championship section is for players rated over 1000. As long as your child knows piece movement and more or less, the differences of check, checkmate and stalemate, he’s good to go for the unrated section of our tournaments or other scholastic tournaments.

In New York, there are some local tournaments that consistently hit 100-200+ participants, most notably Hunter, Avenues and Packer. I played many Hunter tournaments, run by our 131st podcast guest Sunil Weeramantary, as a kid, and they were always challenging. It was at those tournaments, where I became friendly with our 268th Podcast Guest Alex Bores, New York Assembly Member, District 73. I recommend these tournaments to students who already have a few tournaments on their belt but they can be overwhelming for kids and their parents alike, if they have never been to one before. There are a lot of people all over the place and directors have little time to assist players and adults, outside of running the show. Contrarily, at our events, we will usually have someone onsite to schmooze with parents and review games with players.

Once students play some local tournaments, they start to consider the state championships and nationals. It is never too early to start playing in these events; both have a lot of class sections for beginners and the Nationals events even have several unrated sections. When I tell non-chess players that I played the nationals in Peoria, Illinois with the Churchill Chess team, three months after learning how to move the pieces they are often shocked that I ‘qualified’ for the event. Learn more about that experience on podcast episodes with Fabio Botarelli and Phil Copulsky. Little do they know that I was playing an under 800 section and the only thing I needed to qualify was convince my incredible dad to pay for the trip.

Since that nationals, I have played consistently, taught off since I was 12, made master when I was 20 and started Premier Chess when I was 27. I suggest players play tournaments at least once a month, or bi-monthly if that is not feasible. Whether it is a small local tournament, a larger one, the state championships or a national event, there is something for everyone. If anyone wants suggestions, be in touch.

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