My son started playing chess last year at school. They had very good club, led by a chess master. He learned a great deal and had enough confidence to go to a tournament that spring. I don’t know what I expected from a chess tournament, but I was completely blown away by the experience. This is a culture all its own. In general, it seems entire families are involved in the game. And it is highly competitive. The kids are precocious and the parents are largely of the tiger-variety. That particular tournament went on for hours. It was pretty unorganized. My ipad lost its charge halfway through. I was forced to make small talk for an excruciating amount of time. Anyone who knows me well knows that any amount of small talk is excruciating for me. I was beside myself with happiness when Jake did not win any certificates or medals and we were able to get out of there before the awards ceremony.
He joined the chess club at his middle school, but ended up dropping it because it’s run by a parent and is really just a free-for-all. He said he didn’t really learn anything and that none of the kids really took it seriously. We went to New York in December and happened upon the Village Chess Shop in Greenwich Village. It’s a fabulous little shop that’s been there for over 40 years. It’s open 24 hours a day and you pay a per hour fee to play. I imagine it functions much like a mission, whether anyone involved really thinks of it that way, especially at 2:00am. They told us about the US Chess Center in DC and suggested we look at classes there.
The US Chess Center is fabulous. Their primary mission is to teach chess to children, especially those in the inner city, as a means of improving their academic and social skills. The Saturday classes draw kids from all over the DC Metro area and they hold tournaments as well. The first tournament that we attended here was well organized, but still insane as far as some of the parents are concerned. They don’t allow parents in the room at all and we are not allowed to lurk and look in the windows during play. Apparently, sometimes parents will try to give their kids cues — and yes, that’s cheating. The last thing Jake would want me doing is trying to help him in chess. I don’t even know which direction a rook can move. I have seen parents throw fits over whether or not their child is going to play another child with a lower rating. I have seen parents get asked to leave because they don’t follow the rules. I once witnessed a little boy — who could not have been more than 9 years old — get berated by his mother because he lost. She told his that this was not how he was going to get a chess scholarship and made him call his father to explain the move that he made that lost him the game.
Yes, chess scholarship. They have them.
So parents don’t just ruin baseball and football games. They aren’t just crazy on “Dance Moms”. Some parents are just crazy. I’ve decided that there must be something missing in their lives to have so much invested in how well their children perform in competition. (Maybe it’s the same thing that is making 50 Shades of Grey end up in the #1 spot on the best-sellers list…) Don’t get me wrong…I don’t think there’s anything wrong with encouraging your child and cheering them on and being proud of them when they win. But, to place the kind of pressure that I see some kids endure is doing them a disservice, I think. I always tell Jake that you can learn more from losing than winning.
So, here I am — at another chess tournament. I’m a total fish out of water. But, I’ve learned to bring my ipad charger. Today, I brought two so that I could loan it to a newbie (it’s already spoken for). I brought snacks and drinks and I have plenty of work to catch up on. I ended up putting it all in a rolling suitcase because I took Metro in today. I’ve also spent enough time sitting on the floor to know that a folding camp chair is a good idea as well. At the last minute, I wore my Life is Good that says “Smile”. It’s a reminder to myself that this is just a game as well as a not so subtle message to others who get too worked up about this stuff. Unfortunately, the people who should get the message are not the ones who do.
I want to point out that not *all* chess parents are like what I’ve described. They are the ones who have laughed at my shirt. They also are the ones I loan my ipad charger and folding chair to.