Monday, March 26, 2007

From Mikhail Korenman

Two Mikhails: Gorbechav and Korenman
at the Chess for Peace Festival organized by Korenman.
Photo courtesy of Susan Polgar Chess Blog. Used with permission.

Some people think that most people drop out of chess between the ages of 18 – 35. Wrong! The large drop starts at the age 11!


More sport activities are available. More regular school assignments take up more time. Finally, there are just more other interests are available for kids at this age

This is a big concern to me as a member of the USCF Scholastic Council. We can’t control the outside influences that draws people away from chess but there is something we can and should help with - the quality of the chess programs at elementary/secondary school levels.

There is a great army of chess volunteers, parents, community members who are helping kids to get first knowledge of chess. They introduce scholastic chess tournaments for thousands of kids.

There are a couple problems I can see.

First, among this army of volunteers, parents, community members, etc. there are very few who can take kids from step one (beginning level) to step two (intermediate level).

Second, something should be done to minimize number of kids with USCF rating below 500. In a state of IL out of 3500 scholastic members last fall only 82 (!!!) have a rating more than 1200. At the same time, more than a 1,000 kids had USCF rating below 500, 400, 300, even 200. Will we see these kids back as USCF members next year? Not likely. This is a difficult topic for discussion. To run tournaments cost a lot of financial resources. Trophies and medals are not cheap. To add more sections to the local scholastic events will cost more money to purchase more trophies, medals, etc.

Help is on the way. With support from the American Foundation for Chess (AF4C), The Susan Polgar Foundation (SPF), and The Kasparov Foundation (KF), a curriculum has just recently become available. The USCF should promote all of those professionally (!) developed materials and help AF4C, SPF, KF and all other potential organizations and groups that provide chess curriculum. We should send a message to ALL schools that the materials are available and the USCF as a national lead organization supports them. Hopefully, recently signed agreements between USCF and AF4C, SPF, and KF will help to send the right message to the right people and as quickly as possible.

In addition, the USCF Chess Coach Certification Program is ready to be implemented nationwide. Again, the message about the program should be sent to as many schools as possible throughout the country to encourage coaches to go at least through the first step of the certification. Right now you have to have a certificate to coach football or basketball or any other sports at schools. But anybody (!) can be a chess coach. The USCF role is to help (!) those who are having a problem to go through the first step and provide help and support with necessary materials so coaches will be more prepared to teach kids.

More needs to be done. We need to work with local organizers more. I would encourage local organizers to try (even knowing that it is really hard) to raise outside funds for the trophies. Some businesses will more likely sponsor a set of trophies than just give cash to buy them. Add additional sections (such as K-5 U800) would help to keep more kids happy with some winning points. Again, this is a difficult topic but something can be done to change the situation. I am sure that there are some programs that run tournaments with such formats. Keeping more kids for a longer period of time active with chess is a need and a goal.

Summary: Progress is being made but more needs to be done.
The author is the organizor of the Chess for Peace Program, a member of the USCF Scholastic Committee, and a current candidate for the Executive Board of the USCF.