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On Chess: An introduction to tournament chess

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 21, 2011 - Each month, the Chess Club holds an unrated beginner tournament for people who have never played in a rated chess event. These monthly tournaments offer a great introduction to the fun of tournament chess and help people learn some of the basic rules of tournament play.

Most tournaments are rated, meaning they require a membership to the United States Chess Federation as a requisite for participation. Once a player joins the USCF and begins playing tournaments, he will receive a rating that indicates his strength based on the ratings of his opponents and his results. Our beginner tournaments, however, require no USCF membership and are designed to encourage players to experience the benefits of tournament chess.

The beginner tournament features two sections, one for kids (usually under age 14) and one for adults. This month our tournament was held Dec. 18, and the kids' section had a whopping 42 entrants! That is our largest ever, which is surprising since we were wondering if we would get a small turnout due to the holiday season. The adult section, which usually gets eight or nine players, also was slightly bigger than usual with 12 participants.

This format is a great way to prepare any player for his or her first rated tournament and teaches important aspects of tournament play. The beginner tournament helps players learn to play with a chess clock, report results to the tournament director and wait for the next round pairings. Understanding the pairing system is an important aspect of tournament play, as most people don't know what to expect at their first competition.

The director (more appropriately, the director's computer) pairs people up and determines the color (white or black) for both players. After all the games are finished, people are paired again with a new opponent, based on their score and colors. For example, if you win your first two games, you will likely play someone else who also won their first two games.

Players also learn an important rule called "touch move." In tournament play, a player must move the piece that he touches first. This means if a player grabs his bishop to make a move, but then wants to move a different piece, he is required to move the bishop he touched first. This rule stresses the importance of carefully considering all of the outcomes and repercussions before you make your move on the board.

The Chess Club staff gives prizes to all participants who finish the event and awards special prizes to the winners. The staff also holds classes for kids at 1 p.m. each Sunday before the event, so they can learn proper tournament etiquette and rules. It's easy to see the difference between two kids playing a tournament game versus a casual game. During tournaments, the usually boisterous children are very quiet and focused, using the chess clock and carefully considering their next move.

Our next tournament for beginners is Jan. 29. Come down to the chess club and play in your first event. Chess is fun, and unrated tournaments are a great way to spend the holidays!{jcomments on}

To reach Ben Finegold, the GM in residence at the St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center, contact Beacon features and commentary editor Donna Korando.

Ben Finegold, Grandmaster special to the Beacon

Ben Finegold
Grandmaster Ben Finegold learned the rules of chess at age 5 and was dubbed “The 40-year-old GM” after receiving the title in 2009. In between, Finegold was a U.S. Junior champion in 1989, a recipient of the prestigious Samford Chess Fellowship in 1993 and a competitor in nine U.S. Championships. He is a popular scholastic coach and commentator for elite events.

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