27 June 2014

The Camp Workbook

This morning concluded my seventh summer chess camp for elementary age chess players. The first camp was in June 2008 and drew only youth from Deer Park School District, where the camp was part of a very active summer enrichment program. With permission of the summer coordinators, I began recruiting students from outside the district in 2009. The second year, the three hour block was split: 1:45 for the advanced camp and 1:15 for the beginning camp. This time seemed too short for strong youth players, but about right for beginners.

In 2012, I moved the camp to a private school where I was now coaching.* At the new school, I restored the three hour block and extended the camp from four days to five. Although I do not run a beginners camp, a few beginning players join each year. I make accommodations for them with some separate activities. Sometimes I produce a separate workbook for the beginners.

A distinctive element of my camp is the camp workbook. I do not know how common this element is among others who run camps for young players. I am certain that I am not unique. Even so, my changing themes year after year put me outside the norm.

My workbooks generally include annotated games, other related games presented without comments, tactics problems and a short glossary of tactical motifs, essential pawn positions. Some workbooks have more endgame positions, some less. Some elements of the workbooks are carried over from previous years.

My first two camps used the same workbook, except for the date on the cover. In 2010, my camp theme was "Attacking with Anderssen." The 56 page workbook contained several Anderssen games that I annotated for young players (see the link for an example). Also, the tactics problems stemmed from Anderssen's games. I reworked some of these annotations for this year's camp.

In all my camps, awards at the end of the week are based on accumulated camp points. Youth earn camp points for good behavior, solving chess problems, recording their games in the camp tournament, answering questions during presentations, and so on. The winner of the camp tournament does not always accumulate the most points, although that win is also worth some points.

In 2011, I produced my shortest camp workbook (41 pages), but edited it carefully. The focus was Vasily Smyslov's search for truth. I also found tactics puzzles from Smyslov's play. A section from that workbook on rook endings was imported into this summer's workbook, too, but was not included in the camp curriculum. The workbooks always contain more materials than we have time for in camp. Ambitious students go home with study material that will carry them through the summer.

The 2012 camp and workbook profiled a different chess player each day: Jozsef Szen, Paul Morphy, Mikhail Tal, Alexander Chernin, and Yasser Seirawan. This year's workbook recycled some of my materials on Morphy, which are built on the solid work of Valeri Beim, Paul Morphy: A Modern Perspective (2005).

In 2013, I omitted the endings from the workbook, although pawn wars remained part of the week's activities. This ambitious workbook of 59 pages was almost all new material. It had a long section on Gioachino Greco that was built on my work converting all the games and fragments from William Lewis, Gioachino and the Game of Chess (1819) into ChessBase format. Unfortunately, I failed to back-up this database and my hard drive crashed a month after camp. The material included in the workbook is all that remains. There was a shorter section on François-André Danican Philidor, which was also based on work with an old English text.

Most of the materials in this year's workbook were revisions of materials from previous years. However, I added a wholly new section: teacher vs. student. For many years, I have notated games played with young chess players during their chess club practice. I annotated two of these games for the workbook to highlight common errors made by young novice players. A camp theme was learning from errors.
Mistakes are part of chess. It is often said that the winner of a game was not the player who made no mistakes. Rather, the winner made the second to the last mistake. 
Good chess players learn from their own errors. After the game, they analyze with their opponent and often with a stronger player or coach. They seek to understand where they might have improved their play. Even wins are subjected to critical analysis. 
Better chess players learn from mistakes made by other players. The best chess players invest a lot of time studying other players’ games. They look for patterns that will be useful in their own games. They practice finding the critical errors and seeking better moves. They look for new ideas.
Stripes, "Dragon Chess Camp 2014: Basic Training for Chess Success" (7).
After presentation of one of these games, students worked together to identify the errors in a batch of other student vs. teacher games. Among their tasks was to try to discern which player was the teacher.

I also added checkmate in one problems to the start of the tactics problems at the back of the workbook. These proved helpful to the beginning students while also building confidence for the stronger players. At 87 pages. it was my longest workbook so far.

*I continue to coach the teams in Deer Park, as well. I started coaching chess in Deer Park as a parent volunteer, becoming a paid coach when we moved out of the district.


  1. Which tools do you use for cresting The workbooks?

    1. By cresting, do you mean the covers? I use cardstock (roughly four times the weight of normal printer paper). I create the whole document cover included in a word processing program--usually MS Word, but Apache Open Office Writer a couple of times. I have used several programs for creating diagrams, most recently ChessBase 11. This year's cover was a Microsoft Template that allowed me to replace its stock image with one of its own. I have the ring binding put on by Staples, and have used Kinko's/FedEx in the past.

  2. Thank you! The Spelling thingy is inventing Swedish Words. I was also interesting in suitable tools for creating a smallish chess book.