09 March 2014

What Coaches Learn

Yesterday's Rook Madness youth chess tournament was my eighth during the 2013-2014 school year. It was a learning experience for the players, for the parents, and for the coaches.

Every single youth chess tournament reinforces the lessons that young players are confused about en passant and the touch-move rule. There are always a few cases of scholar's checkmate. Some players outplay their opponents to gain overwhelming force, but cannot close the deal.

White to Move
I have the impression that the number of stalemates declines over the course of the school year. New school programs attract new players and coaches in the fall. After a few games end in stalemate, the October and November chess club lessons hone in on checkmate skills and the stalemates are reduced. Nonetheless, these tragicomedies remain a staple of scholastic chess.

Unlike FIDE rules, where the Arbiter frequently may actively intervene in a game, under USCF rules the Tournament Director waits until he or she is summoned by a player. In youth chess, this element produces extreme examples of non-interference. For example, in one game that I watched yesterday, a player stalemated his opponent. During the confusion looking for a legal move, they forgot whose turn it was and the stalemate was resolved with a check. Several moves later, another stalemate occured and both players understood that to be the result. At that moment they looked for confirmation from me.

In another game, a young girl was having a very difficult time checkmating her opponent. Her two bishops, two rooks, queen, and knight chased the enemy king around the board. She had more firepower than she could handle effectively. One bishop moved to an adjacent diagonal with a rook move, then returned to its proper color square on the next turn. Eventually, she delivered checkmate.

The spectators watching this final game of the round waited for the players to recognize together that Black had checkmated White. White moved her king and pressed the clock. Her opponent pointed out that the square the king had moved to was covered by a bishop and the king was returned to his square. However, the clock was not corrected and the winning player's clock continued to run. Another illegal move was attempted and the king returned. We watched in silence for two minutes as the girls contemplated the position on the board. Finally, I asked them whose turn it was to move. Both agreed that White was on move.

No more moves were attempted and Black's clock continued to run. I consulted with another coach, and we agreed that it seemed White, knowing that she was in checkmate, was hoping that Black would run out of time. Whether she thought that would give her victory or a draw was not clear. The USCF rules note that expired time is trumped by checkmate on the board.

With 21 seconds remaining on White's clock, I intervened. White won the game.

I learned that she does not yet easily recognize checkmate. As her coach, I have an antidote. Several years ago, I created an eight page worksheet consisting of 48 checkmate in one problems, six per page. I printed a copy and gave it to the girl's mother.

Use of Clocks

Several Problems
USCF rules presume that every chess game is timed. However, youth chess tournament organizers face a problem with this presumption. We rarely have enough clocks, which cost four to ten times as much as a standard regulation chess set. In Washington state, scholastic directors have implemented a system of compromises with the official rules.

Generally, if a player brings a clock, it will be used in grades four and above. It will be used if both players wish in grades three and below. In a game/30 event (our usual), a clock will be placed on each of the remaining games after 40 minutes. When we ran the Washington State Elementary Chess Championship with somewhat over one thousand players, 75 clocks were sufficient for the event. We purchased 60 and scrounged the others from the Spokane Chess Club.

Several years ago, every youth tournament was preceded with some phone calls to other area coaches to round up as many clocks as possible. Since our 2009 State event, my tournament bag has contained more than two dozen clocks readily available to any local tournament director who needs them. At my tournaments, players in grades seven and up start the game with a clock. Other players have access to the remainder, subject to the guidelines that both must agree in K-3 and either player may impose the clock's use in the K-6 section.

The image above reveals something that I did not notice yesterday. Two beginning players opted to use a clock from the beginning of the game, but no one made certain that it was set to the correct time. Instead of game/30, they were playing at game/15. Nonetheless, their game was over in less than ten minutes. The clock was an unnecessary apparatus to their play.

That both hands are on the clock indicates another problem. The light is a third and minor problem, while the photo fails to inform whether the clock emitted beeps.

Another game, however, used a clock that was set incorrectly to thirty hours instead of thirty minutes. One of the floor judges noticed the problem during the game and informed the players that their game would end on time should either one reach 29:30.

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