Elementary and Middle School Chess Club Tips

Would you like to start a chess club at your child’s elementary or middle school?

Many NC elementary and middle schools have started chess clubs with the help of our Game Changer program. Here are are some ideas from these clubs to help you start your own school chess club:

  • Have simple, fun goals: One club’s goals are to have fun, learn, and play lots of chess! Winning is intentionally not one of their goals, but as they pursue these three goals their children do win plenty of games and trophies.
  • Meet regularly: Most clubs meet weekly or every other week after school. Some meet before school, during lunch, or during a special “club period” (when all clubs meet).
  • Be inclusive: Most clubs are open to all ages and all ability levels. They invite beginners to join at the start of the year, so a parent or teacher and a few older students can teach them the basics. Students who already know how to play can join at any time during the year.
  • Play lots of chess! Every meeting children spend most of the time playing chess. Even children learning how to play can play mini-games with only a few pieces. Group the children by ability rather than age/grade so that their games are more fun and challenging and so that they learn more from them. Some clubs record the results of their games, so they can see if anyone is winning most of their games and needs to move up to a more challenging group. Try to avoid moving students down. Have a parent supervise each group of about 16 children. These parents do not need to know how to play chess.
  • Keep lessons brief and fun: Most clubs teach 10-15 minute lessons to their experienced players, so their students still have plenty of time to practice what they learn by playing chess. Many clubs have high school students teach; some use teachers, parents, or grandparents. Some clubs have middle school students teach with an adult helping to supervise the children. Most clubs use lessons from ChessKid or from the Chess Steps guide and workbook we provide.
  • Get PTA support: If your club is sponsored by the PTA, you can get some funding but more importantly a lot of support with volunteers, meeting space, publicity, etc.
  • Keep expenses low: Many clubs collect a small activity fee or ask for donations to buy more chess sets and eventually a few chess clocks. Most make their activity fee optional, for example collecting a $30 activity fee from those who are able to pay. While some families are not able to pay others contribute more. Most clubs deposit their funds with their PTA.
  • Save with US Chess membership vouchers: Some clubs buy every student one year US Chess memberships by buying discounted group membership vouchers.
  • Use ChessKid: Most clubs use the Basic ChessKid accounts that we provide with our Game Changer program. Some clubs buy discounted ChessKid Gold subscriptions through our program for all of their students, and some make them available to families who would like to buy them. Kids really enjoy ChessKid, and the ones who use it improve a lot.
  • Buy chess sets and supplies online: There are several good online chess suppliers.
  • Wear school or chess club t-shirts to tournaments: Most clubs wear school t-shirts or chess club t-shirts when they go to a tournament especially team tournaments. It is really helpful to have kids (and some parents) wearing the same shirt at large tournaments. Consider using the same t-shirt design for several years so families don’t have to buy new ones each year.
  • Share photos and congratulations: Some clubs share photos and congratulations using Twitter or Instagram. Others use a private Facebook group.
  • Use keychain chess pieces as prizes: A few clubs use colorful keychain chess pieces to reward effort, courage, and teamwork. For example, students can earn keychain pieces by teaching someone else how to play, playing in their first tournament, or doing 250 puzzles on ChessKid. Kids get really excited about these!
  • Give every child a chance to play in tournaments: Most clubs hold their own tournaments. Some use their club budget to pay the tournament fee at a local event for students whose families can’t afford it.
  • Publicize your success! All clubs share their tournament awards in school announcements and PTA emails and display their team trophies in the school trophy case. One club has a local trophy shop engrave every team member’s name on their team trophies.
  • Share your success with the local news: Cape Hatteras and Watauga school clubs had stories in their local newspapers. Wiley Elementary was on TV.
  • Consider using name tags for students to help parent volunteers learn their names. This is especially helpful for large chess clubs.
  • Watch an inspiring chess movie together: One club went as a group to see Queen of Katwe in a theater.
  • Invite a strong player for a simultaneous exhibition with some of your students. You could invite a strong player from the middle or high school where your students will go.
  • Organize a tournament at the end of the year: You could run a club tournament with all of your students in one section. If your club is larger, you could have separate sections for each grade.
  • Celebrate your success with an end of year party! Hand out trophies or certificates to the winners of your club tournament, recognize your graduating students, and enjoy some snacks. Hunter Elementary made a fun chess cake.

For more information, please see “Start an elementary school chess club.

Please add a comment with your suggestions or questions.

Good luck with your club!

How to look up your US Chess rating

Congratulations on joining US Chess! Once you or your child plays in a US Chess rated tournament, you will earn an official US chess rating.

I will explain how to look up your US Chess member ID number and your rating using 2022 US Women’s Chess Champion, Jennifer Yu as an example.

On uschess.org, hover over “Ratings” and then click on “Player/Ratings Look-up”. Then enter your name in the search field. For our example, I entered “Jennifer Yu” and received this result which includes the member ID numbers for each member whose name matched my search criteria:

If you have a common name, you could narrow the search by selecting your state first or by including your middle name (if you provided that in your US Chess profile).

Then click on your line in the results list to display your USCF summary page. Clicking on the Jennifer Yu from Virginia will display this page:

The summary page shows a player’s current monthly supplement ratings for each of the six types of US Chess ratings (Regular, Quick, Blitz, Online Regular, Online Quick, and Online Blitz). These are the same ratings as are shown on the search result above.

These official supplement ratings are only updated once a month on the 3rd Wednesday of each month and become official on the 1st day of the next month.

To see your most recent rating, click on the “Tnmt. Hst” or Tournament History tab. This will display all the tournaments you have played in with the most recent tournament at the top. For each event, it will show your rating before and after the event, so your current rating is the one after your most recent event.

If one of your recent event has a double asterisk (**) beside it, that means that it has not yet been rerated into chronological order, so your rating from this event is subject to change.

If you click on one of the events in your tournament history, you can see the rating report for that event. Please see my earlier article, “Reading a US Chess Rating Report,” to learn how to interpret this reports.

For more information on this, please see US Chess’ Frequently Asked Questions: Member Services Area.”

Congratulations on earning an official US Chess rating!

If you have any questions about looking up your rating, please ask by submitting a comment below.

Inspiring Chess Movies

Inspirational chess movies are a great way to motivate your students for big upcoming chess events like the Triangle, NC, and National Championships!

Your young chess enthusiast may enjoy watching one of these inspiring chess movies about children that are all based on true stories: Searching for Bobby FischerKnights of the South BronxBrooklyn Castle, and Queen of Katwe. The first three movies also show state and national championship tournaments which would help prepare your child for the NC Championship. I have included links to the Wikipedia descriptions of each of the movies. Reviews and trailers are available online, so you can decide which might be best for your child.

A fun fact about Searching for Bobby Fischer is that Josh Waitzkin, the child prodigy in the movie, played Mike Klein (who many children know as FunMasterMike on ChessKid) in the tournament featured at the end of the movie.

The inspiring film, Her Move Next, shows how New York’s PS 33 Chelsea Prep elementary school empowers girls through competitive chess. It is a free, short film (about 18 minutes long). I highly recommend it!

Queen to Play, a French movie (with English subtitles), would also be good for older children (especially girls) or adults who would like a foreign language film.

Magnus, a Norwegian documentary (in Norwegian and English), chronicles Magnus Carlsen’s childhood as he becomes a grandmaster at 13 and world champion at 22.

Recommended by a chess club family, The Chess Players, an Indian movie in Hindi and Urdu (with English subtitles), would be good for older children or adults interested in Indian history.

Supporting the 2023 NC K-12 Championship

We are excited to help sponsor the 2023 NC K-12 Championship! As of February 4, 570 students are registered including 71 first-time tournament players.

We will provide ChessKid Gold subscriptions to the top 5 winners and the top 3 females in all five elementary school sections (K-1, K-2, K-3, K-4, and K-5) – a total of 40 Gold subscriptions. We are also providing scholarships so more students can participate and have reserved a team room where schools we support can relax between rounds.

Our Aditya Nicholas Dias Memorial Fund is helping to fund the stipends for the K-12, K-8, and K-5 Champions to travel to the 2023 Denker, Barber, and Rockefeller National Tournaments in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Aditya Nicholas Dias (September 8, 2004 to December 16, 2022) was an avid and very talented chess player who started playing chess at the young age of 5 years. He participated in many local, state, and national tournaments, winning several of them. Aditya also enjoyed teaching friends and classmates how to play chess. To honor his passion for chess, his family has established this memorial fund to support scholastic chess in North Carolina.

Chess Tournament FAQ

If your child or your chess club is playing in their first tournament, especially if it is a large one like the Triangle Championship or the NC K-12 Championship, then you may have some questions. Here are answers to the ones I have heard asked most frequently:

What should my child do the night and morning before the tournament?

Children should eat a good dinner and get a very good night’s sleep. Avoid scary movies, arguments, and negative conversations the night and morning before the competition. Please postpone sleepovers until after the event. Being well-rested will help children play with more concentration and focus. They will also have more energy in the later rounds. Solving puzzles on ChessKid or reviewing chess topics they have already learned is okay but trying to learn new material in the hours before a tournament is generally not helpful.

What should we bring to the tournament?

  • Have your child wear their school or club t-shirt, because it will be fun for them and will make it easier for you to see them. 
  • notation book, pencils (if your child knows how to take notation)
  • chess clock (if you have one, write your name on it and bring a spare battery. Set it for the tournament time control ahead of time)
  • sweater or sweatshirt (in case it gets cold in the tournament room)
  • portable chair (if your child is in K-1, you may want to sit outside of the K-1 tournament room)
  • snacks, drinks
  • any medication your child may need
  • chess set, book, game, or tablet and charger (in case your child finishes a round earlier, write your name on the chess board and bag)
  • phone or camera (share photos afterwards with your club, PTA, etc.)

When and where should we arrive?

Try to arrive early so you have time to meet with your team and help your child find their board for the first round. If you are registering onsite, try to arrive even earlier. If you have registered and paid in advance, then large tournaments typically do not require you to sign-in while small ones might (please check this in advance).

Confirm in advance if your team will meet in a team room or the “skittles room.”

The NC K-12 Championship usually allows teams to rent team rooms. For the February 10-12, 2023 event in the Raleigh Convention Center, the Indermaur Chess Foundation has reserved rooms 302a and 302b for the schools we support.

Other events like the Triangle Championship have a “skittles room” or waiting area. For the January 15, 2023 event, this will be rooms 301a and 301b in the Raleigh Convention Center.

Who from our school is registered? Can another parent watch my child if I cannot stay the whole time?

Large events usually provide lists of players who are already registered, so you can arrange carpools, child supervision, etc. Here are links to the registration lists for the 2023 Triangle Championship and the 2023 NC K-12 Championship.

Can I still register my child? Can parents play, too?

Most events allow late and even on-site registration (although usually at a higher fee than if you had registered early). Some events like the Triangle Championship have Adult or Family sections.

Where can I find my child’s US Chess membership number?

You can search for it at https://new.uschess.org/player-search

How will I know who my child will play and where they should sit?

The tournament director will post new “pairings” on a physical bulletin board before each round. Many events now also post these online. The pairings are typically in alphabetical order by last name. Find your child’s name, what color they will be playing, and on what board they will be playing. Tips: take a photo of your child’s pairing and, once they are seated, make sure your child is seated across from the correct opponent, as the other child might be at the wrong board.

How are pairings generated? 

Large chess tournaments use “Swiss System” pairing. Players are initially ranked and grouped by their ratings. Swiss pairings split each group into two halves and pair the top of the first half with the top of the second half. For example, if, after two rounds, there are 16 players with 2.0 scores, #1 will play #9, #2 will play #10, etc. If there are 4 players with 1.5 scores, #1 will play #3, and #2 will play #4. This process repeats to cover all groups of players. This Wikipedia article that explains this in more detail including exceptions and special situations like accelerated pairing. 

Why does my child have to play such a highly rated player?

The pairings for the first round or two in big tournaments typically have the largest disparity in ratings. After that the games are much more evenly matched. Most children will get to play some opponents who are rated higher than they are. They may also play some who are rated lower or are un-rated. Please encourage your child to focus on their game – not their opponent’s rating. If they play someone un-rated or with a low rating, the opponent could be a strong player who is new to tournament play. They should not let their guard down but instead focus on playing their best. When children play higher-rated opponents, they should stay focused, play thoughtfully, and look for any mistakes their opponent may make (as their opponent may let their guard down).

How many rounds will my child play? Could they get eliminated?

Every child gets to play every round. No one is eliminated. That is one of the advantages of Swiss System pairing.

What should I do if my child needs to miss a game?

Please request a bye for the round that your child will miss. You can do this via the tournament website. If you request this in advance, your child will receive 0.5 points for that round. It also prevents another student from being paired with your child that round and sitting at the board waiting for your child. 

How are tournaments scored? 

Players earn 1 point for a win, 0.5 points for a draw, and 0 points for a loss. In big tournaments, your child will need to walk with their opponent to a scorer’s table and report their score together. Your child’s tournament score is the total of the points they earned from each of their games. Team scores are usually the total of the top 4 individual scores.

How are ties broken?

Ties are broken using formulas based on your opponents’ success in the tournament. For example, if you are tied with someone for first place and your opponents did better than theirs in the tournament, then you would receive the first place trophy. There is also a good Wikipedia article describing these tie break calculations.

How many trophies and medals are awarded?

Large tournaments like the Triangle and NC Championships typically present over 100 awards for all ability levels. Students will be able to win individual and team awards. 

What can my child do to prepare? 

I included tips in my previous article, “Benefits of Playing in a Team Tournament.” ChessKid also has several articles that explain what to expect:

Here are some specific preparation tips:

  • Play in some school or local tournaments
  • Solve ChessKid puzzles to practice tactics
  • Review your games and those of potential opponents. Ask yourself questions like, “Why did I do this? What was their plan?” and try to answer them. Try to remember what you were thinking during the game. You can also replay your ChessKid games by clicking “Play,” selecting “Game History,” clicking on the result for a specific game, and then clicking on the magnifying glass icon to step through that game. 
  • Defending against Scholar’s Mate: Please encourage your child to watch these videos to learn how to defend against Scholar’s Mate before the Triangle Championship. Many young players try this trap in tournaments, so it it good to know how to defend against it.

Please let me know via a comment if you have any other questions, and I will update this article.

Enjoy your tournament! 

Benefits of Playing in a Team Tournament

Please encourage your school chess program to enter a team tournament!

Team events like these in North Carolina are excellent first tournaments for several reasons:

First and foremost, students play with their friends, which is really fun!

Competing as a group relieves pressure that some students may feel, because if they lose some – or even all – of their games, they can still encourage their teammates and contribute to their team’s success.

They can wear school t-shirts, sit together, and enjoy snacks as a group between rounds to help build school spirit!

Team events are usually generous with team trophies, so schools have a good chance of winning something, especially if they have multiple teams. 

Team events are a great way for coaches and organizers to promote their chess club! They can announce the team’s success at school and in the PTA newsletter, display their team trophies at school, and submit photos of the event to the yearbook.

Parents and teachers can also network with their peers from other schools and get ideas for improving their programs.

Now that I have convinced you to enter your club in a team event, here are some great ChessKid articles to help you prepare your students and their parents:

Have fun!

Reading a US Chess Rating Report

Congratulations for playing in a US Chess rated tournament or for encouraging your child to play in one!

If you asked to get notified when your rating is updated in your US Chess membership profile, then you will receive an email with a link to your tournament’s rating report.

If you played in one of our rated tournaments, then you can also access your event’s rating report from this list: http://www.uschess.org/msa/AffDtlTnmtHst.php?H6041494

I will use this example from the 2021 US Championship to explain how to read your rating report:

Before your name, you will see your pairing number for the event. In this example, Fabiano Caruana has pairing number 1, and Wesley So has pairing number 2.

Under your name you will find your US Chess member ID, the type of rating (R=regular, Q=quick, B=blitz, OR=online regular, OQ=online quick, OB=online blitz), and your rating before the event followed by your rating after the event. In our example, Caruana’s regular rating changed from 2871 to 2861.

The next column will show the total number of points that you earned in the event. You will get 1.0 point for a win, 0.5 points for a draw, and 0 points for a loss. In our example, Caruana, So, and Sevian tied for first with 6.5 points.

If you do well in a tournament, you may earn a norm. If you do, then the information below the “Total Pts” score shows the highest norm you earned in this event. For more information on norms, see The USCF Title System.

The columns after the “Total Pts” column will list your result for each round in the tournament (W=win, D=draw, L=loss, X=forfeit win, F=forfeit loss, U=unpaired), the pairing number of your opponent, and whether you played the W=white or B=black pieces. In our example, in round 4 Caruana got a draw with So while playing Black.

For more information about US Chess ratings and rating reports, please see:

Congratulations, again, on playing in a rated tournament!

Now that your child knows their new rating, please help them analyze their games using the ChessKid Analysis Board.

If you have any questions about reading your rating report, please ask by submitting a comment below.

Motivating Students with National Events

Twenty-six NC players, including many students, competed in the 121st US Open during the summer of 2021 in Cherry Hill, NJ. Everyone in this event played in a single section, so they had a good chance of playing a FIDE Master, an International Master, or even a Grandmaster. If one of your students does get to play in an event like this, please ask their parents to take photos to share with your club.

Getting to play in an event like this or a national scholastic championship would clearly be an exciting experience for any student, but, even if they cannot attend one of these events in person, you can still use them to teach and motivate your students.

First, you can follow the events using articles on uschess.org or other chess websites. You can also find players for your students to follow and root for. For example, this page, www.uschess.org/tournaments/2021/usopen/?page=ADVANCE lists the players registered for the US Open by section and by state.

Then you can review games from the top players as part of your chess club lessons. You can leverage expert analysis to help you prepare for these lessons. For example, this US Chess article describes the US Open event and summarizes some of the top games: https://new.uschess.org/news/three-schedules-one-task You can also prepare by watching live streams or recorded video analysis of top games using sites like: https://www.twitch.tv/uschess

It will be exciting to see your students cheer for and learn from top players!

Getting the most from your new US Chess account

Set up your US Chess account

Once you or your child have joined US Chess, you will want to set up your account to get the most out of your membership. Then you can get emailed as soon as your child’s rating is updated and score major “chess parent points” after every tournament!

Click on “Member Site Login” which is to the right of the big blue “DONATE” button at the top of the uschess.org home page.

Create your US Chess website login

On your first visit, you will need to set up a new login and password.

US Chess does not require you to have a unique email address on file to become a member and get an ID number, but to use their new membership system you will need to have a unique email address associated with your membership. 

Parents registering multiple children will need to use a unique email address for each child.

If you are certain your email address is attached to your ID number, click the “Reset Your Password” button, and enter the email address associated with your member record on the form that appears.  You will receive an automated email with a one-time link that will allow you to set up a new login and password.  Once your new login is confirmed, you may return to the above screen and log in.  

If you know your email address is NOT attached to your ID number, or you are not sure whether it is, click the “create a new website login” link, and complete the form you see there.  The form will attach the email address you specify, and set up your new login.  You will receive an automated email with a one-time link for setting up a new password.  Please note, this form is intended for members who do not have an email address already associated with their ID number.  

US Chess strongly recommends choosing a login that is NOT your email address.  Users do not have the ability to change their logins, and if your email address changes, you will avoid confusion if you follow this recommendation.

When you successfully log in to the new system, you will see your user dashboard.

Update your US Chess profile

From your dashboard, click on “Manage My Profile” to add or update your address. At a minimum, enter your “State/Province,” as that will help Tournament Directors find your information (especially if you have a common name). It will also qualify you to play in special events like your state championship.

To get notified by email when your rating or your child’s rating is updated, select “Ratings” under “Communication Settings“. Then you will get an email (at the email address in your child’s profile) as soon as their tournament has been rated. The email will have their old and new ratings and a link to the tournament rating report. You will often receive this email several minutes before the new ratings are posted on the uschess.org website, so you could score extra “chess parent points”!

In the “Tournament Announcements (TLAs)” section, you can sign up to be notified of upcoming tournaments in your area.

If you would like to play online rated games on US Chess’ online partner sites like ChessKid.com, Chess.com, or lichess.org, then you can link your US Chess Member ID with your user account on those sites in the “Online Chess Partners” section.

Accessing US Chess publications

Once you have set up your child’s account, they can access Chess Life Kids magazine by logging in to uschess.org and going to: https://new.uschess.org/chess-life-kids-magazine-issues. This link is also on the bottom of the US Chess home page. Then they can read issues online in the digital viewer or download them as PDF files.

You can also access Chess Life magazine in the same way at https://new.uschess.org/chess-life-magazine-issues.

For more information about the new US Chess Information Technology (IT) systems, please refer to these US Chess blog posts:

Scholastic tournaments on school holidays

Holidays and breaks from school are a great time to hold scholastic tournaments since so many students are available. 34 students and 3 parents had fun playing in our Game Changer tournament today at the Triangle Chess Center while Wake, Durham, and Orange County schools were out.

You can give even more students a chance to play by holding a tournament at school on the afternoon of an early release day or on a teacher workday. For example, we had 122 students play in a tournament on an early release day before winter break in 2017. These events are convenient for parents, too.

Consider holding one at your school!