I am typing the content of this post in the sky with Rilyn on my lap. If he is flying for the first time, outside of his comfort zone, why do you not get out there and play? When I was 7 years old, I ventured with the Churchill Hawks to Peoria, Illinois for the Elementary School Nationals, two months after I learned how to move the pieces. Now, as a 31- year-old CEO, I am travelling to Memphis, Tennessee, to coach the Grace Church High School team at the 2022 High School Nationals. It is great to see the event taking place after two years of cancellations. Over-the board chess is back. Regarding nationals, one should consider how a student does not need to be a master to compete, mindset is everything, and one should have fun and meet friends.
I often tell friends, clients, and prospects how I played the nationals in my first year of learning chess and they all get shocked, not realizing that I did not qualify for the event. The truth is that anyone can spend money and go. Five of our students this year are playing in the unrated section, which has 220+ students registered. This number may be abnormally high, given that many students have not played any over-the-board chess the last few years. However, it does go to show that students do not necessarily need to be a masters to be compete; if they are somewhat serious about chess, knows all the rules and some fundamental strategy, it makes sense for them to travel to nationals.
The highest rated player in each section often does not win the tournament. It is difficult to be the ‘punching bag’, where underdogs are trying to beat you and you need to keep your cool. In a guest lecture at Manhattan Jewish Experience last night, Rabbi Leibtag shared how it is important to recall how the Jews got out of Egypt both daily and yearly on Passover to allow us to rise up from our challenges and learn from then.
In 2005, I had one of the worst tournaments at the World Open U-2000 section. I was recently an expert and had dropped below 2000. After winning my first game, I was paired against Robert Guevera, who came to the board with under 5-minutes remaning. Had I kept my cool and played decent moves, I would have won fairly easily; however, I was moving too quickly, to make him run out of time, and ended up blundering my queen. He ended up checkmating me with 2 seconds on the clock. I let a domino effect happen and after several losses and a few draws, I had 2.5 points out of 8 rounds and withdrew from the event. While it is certainly important to do some preparation beforehand, to win a tournament like the World Open or Nationals, one should take it easy, relax and keep one’s cool.
When I interviewed Philadelphia Chess Society Founder Jason Bui, he stressed how one of the biggest benefits of going to tournaments like the nationals is to have fun. I do not remember many classes from elementary school, but I have lots of fond memories about travelling to nationals. Many years later, I am good friends with many teammates and am currently running a tournament series with Shernaz Kennedy, Director of Churchill School Program. Our next tournament is at Grace Church School on April 24. In 2008, I travelled with Shernaz’ son John, Juan Sena and a few others to Atlanta for the High School Nationals for a last hurrah as a Dwight School senior.
A national chess event is something is every chess player should do once. While ‘the nationals’ specifically refers to K-12 events, there are national tournaments for everyone, ranging from the Elementary Nationals to the U.S Open, an annual swiss tournament, which draws players of all ages and skill levels, to the U.S Senior Open. Many are intimidated to play in small over-the board tournaments, furthermore national events. To the contrary, if one realizes how a student does not need to be a master to compete, mindset is everything, and one should have fun and meet friends, he will not regret travelling to one and seeing how it goes.