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On Chess: Summer chess camp

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 28, 2011 - Summer has begun, and that means it's duck season ... or is it rabbit season? Wait, it's actually chess camp season!

That's right - it's time for summer camps, and in the chess world that means chess camp. Almost all professional and semi-professional chess players are teaching at least one camp this summer; and if you are contemplating chess camp for your child, it's good to know that all chess camps are not created equal. Camps are tailored to meet the needs of many different types of players.

Some chess camps are for strong junior players who have already attained master level and want to improve their game with instruction by Grandmasters. For the most part though, chess camps are for children age 5 to 10 who are beginners and want to learn basic strategies. Many of the teachers in these camps are average tournament players who are good at teaching some neat and useful tricks to kids who soak up chess ideas like little strategy sponges.

This week I am teaching a chess camp at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis. The 15 campers under my tutelage will certainly learn lots of tricks they can use to amaze (and defeat) their friends, as well as get lots of experience playing in a tournament setting with chess timers, notation sheets and prizes to boot.

My technique is simple: Mix teaching with fun. I spend a lot of time demonstrating checkmates, pins, forks, skewers and other tricky ideas kids enjoy. But since many of the 6 to 8 year olds have attention spans that crave activity over listening, I try not to be too "instructive." I make sure that their days are action packed by having the kids play speed chess (each side gets five minutes for the whole game) and bughouse (two-on-two chess).

Mine is by no means the only camp - the Chess Club holds lots of chess camps throughout the summer. One is an invitational camp for St. Louis' top junior players, and one is another open camp for kids of any strength, which runs July 18-22 and will be taught by special guest Grandmaster Alejandro Ramirez.

Learning is important at the camp, and any novice player can take away some important lessons from these camps. For example:

  • Castle every game
  • Piece coordination (battery) is key to checkmating your opponent
  • Learn to use the chess clock and notation sheet to prepare for tournament play
  • Enjoy yourself by playing many different people, not the same person each time
  • Chess is cool!

Chess camp is a great way for kids to meet new friends, learn new things, and of course find a whole new type of summer fun. Visit www.saintlouischessclub.org/camps for more details on chess summer camps.

Ben Finegold is grandmaster in residence at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, which provides this column.

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