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!

Making a chess cake!

The Hunter Elementary School chess club in Raleigh made this fun chess cake to celebrate another great year! Here’s how you can make one, too:

One of the chess club parents ordered the cake itself from the Whole Foods Market bakery. She emailed the bakery a photo of one of the club’s chessboards so that the bakery could create a realistic chess board out of icing. The cake was delicious and reasonably priced.

After researching several options including ordering pre-made chocolate chess pieces from Etsy, the parent decided to buy molds to make the chess pieces herself. She selected MoldFun 3D chess piece silicone molds from Amazon.

She bought 10 ounces each of Ghirardelli dark and white chocolate melting wafers for the molds from Target.

The chocolate chess pieces looked great and were delicious!

She waited to place the pieces on the cake at school so there was no risk of them falling over in transit. 

We did have a second, traditionally-decorated cake for students who have allergies or dietary restrictions. Next year, we can buy vegan chocolate to make vegan chess pieces, too.

One final recommendation if you have a large chess club is to use the sharpest knife possible to cut the cake. This makes it easier to cut a large number of pieces.

Have fun making a chess cake for your club!

Replacing broken chess pieces

If your chess club plays in a room like a school cafeteria that has a hard floor, then, over time, you may have several broken pieces to replace. You could always buy an entire new set of pieces from a chess supplier like WholesaleChess.com or  US Chess Federation Sales, but kings and rooks seem to be more fragile than other pieces, so you probably need to replace more of them.

I recommend ChessHouse.com for replacement pieces, because they sell individual solid plastic pieces at reasonable prices and with good service. They give you a bulk discount if you buy 100 of any combination of pieces, have coupons that give you an additional $5 off orders of $25 or more, and offer free shipping if your order is large enough.

For more information, please see “Buying chess sets and equipment.”

Please leave a comment if you have found other good suppliers of replacement pieces.

Grants to Give ChessKid to Every Student in 100 NC Schools

We are partnering with ChessKid.com* to give 100 schools in North Carolina free ChessKid Gold accounts for all their students in the 2023-2024 school year.

Since we have 100 counties in NC, our goal is to have a school in each county receive one of these grants. This will help tens of thousands of children learn how to play chess and bring the benefits of chess clubs to every corner of our state.

For more information and to apply for one of these grants, please read this ChessKid article. The application deadline is June 30, 2023 or until 100 schools are selected.

* ChessKid.com is the scholastic extension of Chess.com – the #1 online chess site. ChessKid is dedicated to being a safe place for kids to learn and play chess. ChessKid introduces kids at an early age to the game of chess, teaching them how to play while having fun. It is an educational tool that teachers can use in their classrooms to help students develop critical thinking skills.

More Chess Resources for Educators

In the fall of 2022, US Chess launched a new Chess in Education committee and program to provide resources to teachers, schools, districts, and state boards of education so they can leverage chess as an educational tool.

I was invited to join this committee, and one of our first steps was to compile and publish a list of Grants and Awards for Chess Educators and a list of free Resources for Chess Educators on the US Chess website. Please review these resources and give me your feedback.

We held one webinar in November and plan to have monthly webinars beginning in January. Please review the schedule of upcoming events and register for those that interest you. We will record each of these and share them in the Chess in Education YouTube playlist.

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! 

Continuing to Serve At-Risk Youth with US Chess

We absolutely agree with US Chess that “chess is transformative for children by improving their focus, aiding in decision making, and teaching that choices have consequences — lifelong skills that can be immediately applied in the classroom,” so we are excited that they are continuing their Outreach Program for At-Risk Youth.

At the Indermaur Chess Foundation, we partner with NC schools to offer these and other benefits of chess to all students, especially those at risk, through our Game Changer Program. We provide each school accepted into our program with 5 chess sets, Chess Step instructional materials, ChessKid.com subscriptions, and online support.

When US Chess announced their outreach program in 2021, we applied on behalf of Wiley Magnet Elementary School and helped them start their chess club. Now in their second year, Wiley’s club used the free memberships provided by US Chess to enter a team in their first US Chess-rated tournament. You can tell from the photos they shared in their PTA newsletter that they had fun and gained good experience!

US Chess recently opened their 2022-2023 Outreach Program for At-Risk Youth supporting affiliates who offer chess at Title I schools, providing each school with 16 free youth memberships and 8 additional chess sets.  We’re excited to announce that we applied and were accepted into the new program on behalf of Vance County Middle School and Graham High School!

“We are so appreciative of all you have done, and we look forward to working with the Indermaur Chess Foundation to expose our students to this awesome game/experience. Our chess club will meet three days a week after school, and we plan to incorporate it into our AVID college readiness program,” explained Dwaynna Ramsay-Morgan, Vance County Middle School teacher and chess club leader.

“You’ll be happy to know that student interest is high, and the club is very lively. I’ve been reading the book that you sent with the sets to become a better trainer myself. I very much look forward to the opportunity to send students to tournaments,” said Nikola Filajdic, Graham High School teacher and chess club leader.

If you’re interested in starting a chess club at your NC school, consider applying to our Game Changer Program! Let us know if you’re a Title I school so we can also apply for the US Chess program on your behalf.

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!

Getting back to the boards: school chess resumes

After what was a necessary but often challenging COVID hiatus, many chess clubs have now graduated from meeting online to meeting in person, and the kids couldn’t be happier! Even though online chess clubs have served us well for the past 2 1/2 years (thank goodness for them!), it’s now a safer time to gather with our friends and classmates for some face-to-face fun.

We’ve heard from the organizers of several clubs about the renewed energy fueling their meetings – a feeling exemplified by this drawing by a Wiley Elementary chess club kindergartener. We hope you can tap into that kind of spark in your club, too!

If you’d like to start a chess club at your NC school, apply for our Game Changer Program today!

61 Chess Clubs across 32 NC Counties

Happy National Chess Day!

As a chess nonprofit, National Chess Day seems like a good time to reflect on our plans and progress. When we launched in the summer of 2019, we set a goal of helping NC schools and community organizations start 100 chess clubs and, so far, through our Game Changer Program, we have helped them establish 61 chess clubs across 32 NC counties. Thank you for your support and for telling interested schools and libraries about us!

During the pandemic, we helped several of these clubs continue to meet online. In our most recent year, 317 students completed 2,109 lessons, played 21,965 games, and attempted 41,698 puzzles through the ChessKid accounts we provided. We also organized 49 ChessKid and 24 US Chess-rated tournaments for these clubs. We applied and were accepted for a US Chess Federation program for Title I schools to provide additional resources to help a Wake county school start a chess program.

If you would like to start a chess club at your NC school, library, or community organization, please apply for one of our grants. This year we will continue to provide chess sets, instructor guides and workbooks, and ChessKid accounts to help organizations establish chess clubs in NC.

We will organize weekly ChessKid tournaments and other events to enable students from these clubs to play each other.

Someone recently donated a 25-inch giant chess set which we plan to use at events with our clubs.

We have also received donations of gently used chess books which we will provide to NC libraries with chess clubs.

Thank you, again, for your support!