When you have been playing and looking into chess for some time, sooner or later the day arrives when you would like to meet “real opponents” and see how you measure up in a tournament with other players.
That first tournament is a decisive moment in a child’s chess career. It can bring it to an end because of disappointment and frustration, or it can bring about fresh motivation and powerfully increase the interest in chess! You never know in advance what will happen but you can and must prepare yourself and your child as well as you can by correct training and gathering as much information as possible.
In the following sections of this article we shall discuss what you can do to prepare for that first tournament.
NB: It is advisable not to start tournament play too early, especially with very young children! Both for the sake of the child and that of other tournament participants and organizers, children should not be allowed to play in a tournament until they have the necessary maturity.
This includes amongst other things the ability to remain seated quietly at the board for quite a length of time, to be able to note down a game and to have certain minimum playing strength, which can be judged by whether or not they have a basic knowledge of how to open a game.
How Chess Tournaments Work
Knockout (ΚΟ) tournaments are rarely found in chess. Ι do not know of a single one in children’s chess. Small tournaments at club level are usually all play all (each player plays all the others, up to 10 participants) or divided into preliminary and final rounds. When there are more participants, things are usually run according to the so-called Swiss System.
A Chess tournament works simple. A fixed number of rounds is played (e.g. 5 or 7), and at each round people are matched against others who have scored the same number of points.
Let us take an example of a tournament with 100 participants:
Participants are listed according to their ratings (those without ratings are added to the end of the list in alphabetical order). Then the 50 strongest play against the 50 weakest (the two halves of the draw having been established) according the method 1-51, 52-2,3-53, 54-4 etc. This is how it is arranged that strong and weak players soon manage to have games against opponents of similar strength.
In the first round, 50 games are played. Supposing there are 48 decisive games and 2 draws. Now the 48 winners are paired together, the 4 who drew play amongst each other and the 48 losers are matched against each other.
At the end of round 2 there are now different groups with 2, 1½ , 1, ½ and 0 points. Each player is then once again paired against another from the same group in the next round. Of course things do not always work out exactly and then players are moved (“floated”) into the group above or below. No player may play the same opponent twice, and as far as possible changes colour with every round.
But, for example, if someone had to have two Blacks in a row, in the next round s/he automatically gets a White. Thus after, for example, 7 rounds we can be reasonably sure of having a tournament winner. The idea is simple, carrying it out more difficult and therefore often done by computer software.
The logic behind computerized draws (not really a draw, since the pairings are settled by an algorithm) sometimes escapes human understanding. But you should trust the tournament director and accept the pairings as they are. The idea held by many people that the computer has “made a mistake” in a pairing is obviously wrong. Either the whole draw is obviously wrong or it is correct. Unlike humans, computers do not do things by halves.
Related Post: 7 Must Know Tournament Rules In Chess
Tournament chess clock
Unlike games played at home, games in the chess club are usually, and in tournaments always, played with a chess clock and a specified thinking time. Α chess clock actually consists of two clocks, which are started and stopped in their turn by pressing on a button. At the start of the game, Black presses his button and White’s time begins. When White has made a move, he presses the clock; his side stops and his opponent’s starts. In today’s chess, we see mostly digital clocks being used like the image above.
Training at home with a chess clock means of course getting a chess clock. Υοu can buy chess clocks or sets in large stores and specialty games shops (perhaps mixed up with pool tables, roulette wheels, cards and fancy chess sets). But as a rule this is twice as expensive as buying from a chess dealer.
One of my favorite digital chess clocks I like to use is the DGT North American. It’s a robust, well made and solid chess clock. You can can get it at lower price at the Chess House dealer when compared to Amazon. Click here to to check it out.
Analogue Chess Clock
For Analogue Chess Clocks, the little star-shaped bit between 9 and 10 o’clock is a device which moves whenever that particular clock is working. For a digital clock
The extra little hand just before 12 o’clock is known as the flag. In the final minutes of the game, it is raised by the minute hand and as soon as the full hour is over, it falls. This how we judge whether the thinking time has been respected or whether the player has gone over the time allowed.
Two important rule for playing with clocks are:
1. The playing hand works the clock!
This means that you must press the clock with the hand you have used to make your move! Many children move with one hand and work the clock almost at the same time with the other, which is not quite right. But if your child’s opponent behaves like this then you, the parent, should not complain, because it does not give the opponent any great advantage and he is not intentionally being unfair.
2. Whoever oversteps the time limit loses the game
Nο matter how much ahead she is! Only if the opponent does not have enough material left to force mate is the game declared a draw after the time limit has been overstepped. Thus a player with only a king and a knight cannot mate (therefore a draw), but if mate is perhaps unlikely over the board but theoretically possible the game is lost on time.
For example, this could happen with a pawn endgame which would have been a draw in a few moves, or Κing, Βishop, Knight against Κing, Βishop, Knight. Sometimes it comes down to a question of fair play and sportsmanship and sometimes the rules can be interpreted by the arbiter.
Each player is allowed a specific time in which he must make a set number of moves. In blitz and rapid tournament the thinking time allowed must suffice for the whole game.
By blitz games we mean those games in which the players only have a few minutes thinking time for the whole game. Generally speaking, 5 minute blitz is the norm. Each player has 5 minutes thinking time to make all the moves, up until checkmate or resignation. This means a move must be made approx. every 5 seconds on average.
In blitz, weaker players often receive a time advantage. Either the stronger player has less than 5 minutes (e.g. 2 minutes against 5 minutes) or especially where children are concerned. The weaker player gets more time (e.g. 10 minutes against 5 minutes).
Young people particularly like a form of handicap blitz. Both start with 5 minutes. In the second game, the winner of the first has a minute less (4 against 5). It often comes down to finals with 1 minute against 1 minute or 1 against 2. But Ι would absolutely not recommend these very short and hectic games for child beginners.
Rapid games are those with thinking times of approx. 15 – 60 minutes per player per game. 15, 20 or 30 are the most usual thinking times. Rapid chess tournaments are played over one day or a weekend, which means a lot less work than open tournaments and championships, which can last for 4 to 9 days. Rapid games are very instructive and useful for beginners. In a short space of time, they get to know a lot of different openings, playing styles and critical situations.
Since there are usually 7 to 9 rounds in a rapid tournament, it is not too great a tragedy if one or two games are lost quickly. It is not obligatory to note down rapid games, but it is a good idea to note down at least the start of the game, so that you can later play over the game and work out any mistakes in the opening. An illegal move counts as an immediate loss in blitz chess, whereas in tournament games an illegal move is taken back, even if not noticed at the time.
In rapid games, generally speaking the illegal move is taken back, but no account is taken of earlier and then unnoticed illegal moves. The touch-move rule is however always in force. It is quite possible that in different tournaments different rules or exceptions to the rules are applied.
Serious Adult Games
Serious adult tournament games are normally played at a rate of 40 moves in 2 hours each. This means that the first 40 moves in the game could last up to 4 hours. After move 40, there is extra thinking time, e.g. 30 or 60 minutes per player for the whole of the remainder of the game, which can thus last for 5 or 6 hours. If you do not make the required number of moves in the time allotted, you have lost.
The hectic phase just before the end leading to the time control is often called a “time scramble“.
5 – 6 hours playing time would of course be too much for a child and children’s tournaments use much shorter thinking times, such as, e.g. at national level for Under 10s age group, possibly 90 minutes for 40 moves + 30 minutes for the rest of the game, a maximum playing time of 4 hours.
Club and other events usually have even shorter times. It should always be remembered that the average game is much shorter than the maximum possible playing time. Even with regulations, children usually play very quickly and often need less than 20 minutes for the whole game. So you need not fear they will be worn out by over long games.
Some tournaments are played within a single day (mostly at weekends or holidays) and others last several days. At the start you should chose a one-day or a weekend event. There thinking times for juniors’ games are often between 15 and 30 minutes per player per game and so a game lasts a maximum of 30-60 minutes.
Related Post: Time control for chess tournament
Behaviour and sportsmanship
In tournament form, chess is a sport and thus subject to the rules of sporting behaviour and fairness. That starts with formalities. Like every sport, chess has its own ritual:
- At the start of every game, without exception, you greet your opponent with a handshake.
- When you lose, you congratulate your opponent with a handshake. Not to do so is extremely bad manners and a sign of bad behaviour, which makes a terrible impression on anyone seeing it.
- You do not speak to your opponent when it is his/her move(especially not if s/he is obviously thinking).
- You do not disturb your opponent by talking with a third party close to the board, by eating or drinking (food and drink do not belong close to a chessboard and if in the early stages of a game you are hungry or thirsty, you can eat or drink elsewhere where it does not disturb others). This is not taken quite so seriously where children are concerned and it probably disturbs them less. But on health grounds it is probably not advisable for children to stuff themselves with sweets while playing chess. It is more sensible to give them a few sweets spread out over the day or for the purpose of consolation or reward, or better still fresh fruit or chewing gum to calm the nerves. This is better than trying to keep nervousness at bay by constantly nibbling at something!
- You do not offer a draw to your opponent several times in a row.If he would like a draw later on after your first offer, it is up to him to suggest it. It is off-putting if a player offers a draw every move; and one result might be that the annoyed opponent, who might perhaps have been considering a draw, now fights on to the bitter end! And also the person doing the annoying can be disqualified!
- Ιf your opponent does note down the moves when short of time(this is not compulsory in the final 5 minutes before the time control, but should be done if at all possible), then immediately after the 40th move you let him see your own scoresheet so that he can complete his own (the rules require this in any case, but it is good form to hand over your scoresheet to your opponent immediately after the time control and without him having to ask).
As already said, things are not taken so seriously in children’s chess and do not have the same importance as in adult chess. But, right from the start, you should accustom your child to the rules of sportsmanship and of course be an example yourself. This includes showing respect to your opponent. How can a child respect an opponent of whom you say: “He is useless. You can beat that loser with one hand tied behind your back!”
How to find a tournament near you
It can be a real problem finding information about chess tournaments for children. If you are a member of achess club or by chance know such a member, you can perhaps come by such information. However, smaller clubs without a youth section are often not as well informed as all that.
If you are having to look for yourself, the first point of contact is the internet, but not all tournaments are advertised on it and it is not so easy to come up with the correct search words. You will certainly find a whole host of open tournaments, which are almost without exception unsuitable for young children and beginners. These tournaments can last several days (usually 4 or 9) and the players are almost always too strong (at least when measured by the standards of children or beginners).
You can perhaps find information on the homepage of your national or regional federation on page 204, or perhaps local leagues and clubs. Most local and regional tournaments are advertised there. Should you find nothing, then try e-mailing your federation, league, etc. If you live near a border of some sort or between two large cities, you should look into what is happening in the federation next door, on the other side of the national, county or regional border.
Their junior chess co-ordinator is usually the correct contact and can perhaps also give you tips on which is the correct club for you to choose for your child. Unfortunately many clubs are not very media orientated or the local press is not very interested in chess, so that there are few or no reports on chess in the local papers.
Sometimes, however, a chess columnist in a local paper may have some information to help you out at least a contact address to pass on. In every country there are chess magazines which appear (usually monthly) and which can be bought in newsagents and bookshops. They normally carry a comprehensive tournament calendar with short descriptions of all sorts of tournaments at home and abroad and often extensive reports in such events.
Of course it is a question of luck whether there are any tournaments (above all tournaments for children) close to where you live. But there should be something within a couple of hours driving. Perhaps the chess tournament can form part of a family outing?
If you have found the correct tournament you can enter your child. Some tournaments allow you to simply turn up and play at short notice, but that can also cause problems if too many turn up at the last moment -there might be no room, no sets or clocks left and anyone who arrives then is doomed to be a spectator!
Make things easier for the tournament organizers by confirming the entry by letter or e-mail; this means they can plan more accurately (tables, chairs, chess equipment, scoresheets, certificates, prizes and possibly even drinks and snacks … Α lot of work goes into organising a tournament!).
You can only take part in official championships (local, regional) if you are a member of a chess club or federation. For higher level championships, you sometimes have to pre-qualify or give proof of a certain playing level (see “ratings”). But in Open tournaments, shortened to Opens, anyone can take part, no matter how weak or strong they are.
(But sometimes these tournaments are divided into sections limited to players below a certain strength. You and your child need not worry about that for the moment. And finally, some of these Opens also have sections for children.)
Related: How Chess Ratings Work
Entry Fees For Chess Tournament
In almost all cases there is an entry fee for the tournament. It does not usually cost much for children’s and beginners’ tournaments. Some tournaments allow you to pay this in cash on the day, for others you can/must send in your fee in advance. If this is possible, you should do it since it avoids standing in a long queue at the start.
Usually playing equipment is provided by the organizers, which is very practical for the players but not the case everywhere in the world. In the USA you can recognize chess players on their way to a tournament, since they are carrying the official equipment bag of the US – Chess Federation, containing a rolled-up chessboard, the pieces and a clock! Click here to find out all the equipment you will need to host a tournament.
Each tournament normally produces a leaflet, containing all important information: venue and timetable, contact address, thinking time, entry fees, prizes (not quite so important in our case, but they can whet our appetite for later!), places to stay (above all for longer tournaments), sometimes other information, about for example where to eat. When tournaments take place in smaller towns, you should find out about this in advance, since often there are fewer places at weekends which may throw you back on whatever the organizers have provided in the way of sustenance.
Things can be difficult if you have special dietary needs (e.g. if you are vegetarian). Decide whether you would be better taking along a picnic basket or buying something on the way to the tournament. Most weekend tournaments begin at 10 o’clock in the morning, and in many cases there is also a round on the Friday evening.
Preparations Before The Tournament – The great day has arrived!
Now the great day has arrived and the family (at least those who are enthusiastic about chess) is off on an adventure. It makes sense to pack everything calmly the night before and check that all important stuff is on board. Above all the tournament brochure with the address of the premises should be in a safe place, or better still in the car already. If the tournament is far away from home, then a Google maps report is certainly helpful.
Leave in a good time and think about possible traffic jams and the unexpected. You can also be delayed by narrow city centre streets and parking problems. Even on a Sunday morning, since other parents are driving to the tournament too – as well as just looking for the tournament venue! But it is also not worth arriving there an hour before the start, because unfortunately not all chess tournaments start on time and delays of 30-60 minutes are not uncommon. However, don’t count on that!
Venues can be all sorts of rooms: school rooms or halls, community centres, hotel rooms, canteens…
There will be long rows of chessboards and clocks set out. Somewhere you will see a place set up for registration (usually already surrounded by a throng of people).Sometimes there are computers there, for receiving information about the players and which will later be used to determine the pairings. Many organizers prefer to do that in the peace and quiet of a side room and at the registration desk there are only lists and a payment point.
Because, even if you have entered and paid your fees, you must sign in. Τhis is known as registration.
It serves to determine that all the players are actually present, because if at short notice you did not turn up, then your child would be out of the draw and his/her opponent would receive a walkover, which of course is not what such tournaments are about. So you and your child both go – so that s/he gets used to this – to the registration desk; you give the name (or better, the child does this!) and state that you have paid your entry fee, or if you have not then please have the correct money ready. This will make things quick and simple.
Now you have a little time left. The best thing to do is to get an idea of the building’s layout. First and most important:
- Where are the toilets?
- Where can you get something to eat or drink?
- Where are the other rooms (analysis room)
- Where you can go after the game?
Knowing these things is reassuring for the child and a good diversion. In the meantime, the room becomes fuller and fuller and more and more people press round the entry desk or sit around in the room, usually playing blitz chess. Look around a bit or take a little walk outside for a breather.
At some point there will be an announcement that things are starting, a list of participants and lists of the pairings for round 1 will be pinned up and immediately surrounded by a throng of players. Sometimes for the first round the players’ names are called out and they are shown to their seat. After some hectic moments and some searching for the correct board (as a rule there are numbers on the tables) everyone is finally seated at his/her place.
The Starting Of The Chess Tournament!
Usually there are a couple of introductory speeches, but then the tournament director takes over and announces something like: “Play may now start” or “Please start White’s clock“.
The players all shake hands and immediately start the clocks. Then a number of moves are made in quick succession. For a few minutes there is the noise of the clocks being stopped and started and the sound of pieces hitting the boards. It sounds more like a table tennis tournament than chess. But gradually the excitement of the first moves dies down and things become quieter.
If it is a rapid tournament, the first games are often over after a few minutes. This may be due to errors or blunders, but also draws. In many tournaments each board receives a slip of paper to record the result: it is filled in and signed by the players. The winner takes the slip to the tournament arbiter or to a box for such slips. If it is a draw, this is White’s job. In other tournaments you go up and tell the tournament arbiter. If no result is handed in, the arbiter can score the game as 0:0. So in the joy of victory, do not forget to hand in your result!
Analyzing Your Games After A Chess Match
After the game the players often analyse, in other words, they discuss what might have happened if the other side had played this or that move. This is instructive and interesting. Weaker players especially should be happy if their opponent analyses with them and explains a few things, even if they are still getting over their defeat.Analysis often happens in the tournament room (actually not allowed) or in a side room, where you can talk normally. But unfortunately it soon gets noisy in the analysis room, especially if people are playing exciting blitz chess all the time.
What to do when your child is beaten or when s/he wins
One peculiarity of the Swiss system is that at the start it pairs the strongest players against the weakest. So for the first two rounds beginners can become discouraged since their opponents are simply much too strong for them. So the chance that your child will very quickly lose is frighteningly high. So you should stay nearby, in order to console and encourage after a frustrating defeat.
Even Bobby Fischer, the famous American World Champion and for a long time the strongest player in the world, lost his first organized chess game within a few minutes (it was a simultaneous exhibition – a master playing against umpteen weaker players – but the 7 year old had thought he was better than that) and Bobby ran out of the hall in tears – the first setback in a magnificent career!
In simultaneous exhibitions a strong player / chess master plays against a lot of weaker players (usually approx. 20 – 40). The players sit on the outside of a series of tables set up in a U formation. The master is in the inside.
He goes from board (ο board, makes a move and when he arrives back at a board (after completing his round) the player must make the reply. Clocks are generally not used and writing down the moves is voluntary, but common. Of course there is some showmanship involved and the main reason is to allow a lot of amateurs to meet a prominent chess master.
But since the master is working under a considerable handicap and can only spend seconds on each move, the chances for a surprise win by one of the amateurs are quite high. It also represents a chance for young players to draw attention to themselves and the start of many a chess career: e.g. at the age of 14, Mikhail Botvinnik, who would later become World Champion several times, defeated the then World Champion Jose Raul Capablanca in a simultaneous display.
Even many adults who have been playing for years react badly to defeat, especially if it has been quick and crushing. So you cannot blame a child for shedding a few tears after a defeat. In such cases, tell your child that the defeat was not a bad one and that
it was to be expected. Remind him or her of the way the Swiss system works: how you get the strongest opponents first. Remind him or her that the others have been playing chess for much longer, that they are perhaps older and, in any case, they have much more experience. After a little while, the first pangs of grief should fade away.
Look through the game together and work out what could have been done better or why the defeat occurred.
It is very important that children always know that parents or trainers are there for them, even if they have played ever so badly or have fallen far short of expectations. Parents and trainers should share with the child the joy of victory, but also the misery of defeat; but above all they should always be 110% behind the child!
Naturally this is not an excuse for continually weak performances, lack of discipline or poor attitudes in training. In such cases solutions and agreements need to be sought together, even if it means saying things like: “If you don’t want to train regularly, then there is no point in going to the tournament”
Sometimes parents who are over keen to see their child do well find it difficult to adopt the correct attitude at such points. But sometimes everything goes well. Your child has a surprising win or holds out for a long time. This gives you all the more pleasure. But it is important not to set the bar of expectation too high. It is a long tournament and lots can happen. In the rounds which follow, in any case, opponents will be more cautious!
Tournament Leaderboard – How It Works
After the end of the round and a break, new pairings are pinned up and it all starts again, though things ννίll go a bit smoother since things have settled down. After two or three rounds, in addition to the results and pairings sheets, a new table may be pinned up. At first glance this looks a bit complicated. According to their place on the leader board (at the start usually shared by various players) we have: Name, First name, Club and the following headings: Games played, Number won, drawn or lost, total points.
Then there may be something called the Buchholz score. This is a second way of scoring (after the points win) which can be used to decide between players on the same final score. It is made up from the score of points made by all those you have played against. It is used as a “tie-break” deciding which player has performed better. At the start the Buchholz score is naturally the highest when you lose: e.g. if the score is 012 points it could be 2 Buchholz points, because both your opponents have won.
For the foreseeable future the Buchholz score or other such systems will have no real importance for you. Later you can use them to see if someone in, for example, the middle spot in a tournament did well at the start and fell back or rather caught up towards the end. In the latter case it may have been a weaker performance.
At the start your goal must be to get real points, all the rest is of no importance. To give you an idea of what to expect, let’s have a look at an example of a tournament leader board for a fictitious tournament taking place in a fictional village in England.
In the table a rating in bold type is an Εlο rating. W/D/L means Wins/Draws/Losses. Different type of tables are possible, since the tournament director can set it out in different ways or use different computer programmes to produce it
Example of a chess tournament leaderboard:
|Junior Open Ambridge 2021|
|Leader board standings after round 8|
As a rule after some rounds (i.e. in a rapid chess tournament) there is a longer lunch break. For beginners, who generally play much too quickly and lose much too quickly also, there are many long pauses during a tournament. It makes sense to bring along cards or board games or reading material (for the parents) to fill out the pauses and waiting time.
Perhaps you will also get to know other parents and children and can maybe do something together. It makes absolutely no sense to bring along school books and jotters. There is hardly any child in the world who could concentrate on schoolwork during the excitement of a tournament, especially since s/he would always be being snatched away from it. This is also true for tournaments that last more than one day. From the departure for the tournament till the return home, the children (and usually the parents too!) are in a different world, which leaves little space for anything else.
So be realistic and leave all that excess baggage at home!
Should there be no time left for homework, perhaps the tournament went on longer than planned on a Sunday, write a friendly note to the teacher. The experience of a first ever chess tournament is after all more important in a child’s life than a little homework, and according to all experience in the matter, it will certainly not lead to the child not being able to become a teacher later in life or missing out on the Nobel Prize!
You must always bear in mind that especially for younger children, an event like a chess tournament in a strange environment is a great and exciting step. We hard-boiled adults can all too easily forget that! It explains the nerves and the apparently inexplicable number of mistakes made by the young people. You must expect your child to play some 30-50% worse in a tournament than in a home environment. So you should consider the first tournament results from a critical distance. Many a winner is only a bit more solid or mature than others of his/her own age.
Many children who know success early on later disappear into the crowd while others surge forward. Αlexei Shirov, an absolutely world class player, learned the rules as a child, completely forgot them, then learned them again and rapidly turned into a very powerful player. So early experiences do not enable us to predict the future and should be looked on indulgently.
Prize Giving – The final event at the tournament!
At last the tournament is over and at the prize-giving ceremony they hand out prizes, cups, certificates, etc.
It can take 30-60 minutes from the end of play until the ceremony. This is not caused by the organizers being slow workers – quite the opposite, most of the time they are working at feverish speed – but because it is only the final games which decide all the placings and prizes. Any Buchholz scores which decide between those on equal points have to be completed when all the games are “in the bag”. Then prize winners for the different categories have to be worked out, certificates written, lists printed and everything checked through carefully once more. Questions from participants or parents have to be answered, sometimes the press is there wanting facts for an article… Believe me, there is a reason why tournament organizers and directors are often completely exhausted at the end of a tournament!
In children’s tournaments there is often a small prize for everybody and also often a certificate with details of place and points. There are usually cups for, say, the first three, the best girl or possibly the best in each age grouping if several groupings are playing in the same section (e.g. U8 and U10).
In many tournaments all the participants are called up one after another according to their place in the table to receive their prize and certificate. (Personally Ι do not consider this a good idea. What child enjoys being called last of all to receive a certificate for 111th place?)
It is usually good for a child when you wait for the prize-giving. It is part of the tournament and of the whole experience. But if the tournament did not work out all that well or the child is very tired, (and you are perhaps faced with a long journey home and getting up early on Monday morning), then leave after the last round. But if you do so, you should take your leave from the tournament organizer or director, thanking him/her for the work and explaining that you must leave because the journey is long or because your child is very tired.
Even if you have had problems and did not agree with all that happened, you should always respect the fact that all this work is done voluntarily and without payment by chess lovers. It is easy to criticize, but a whole lot harder to do it better yourself! Unfortunately many chess players do not accept this and they sometimes have strange, unrealistic or even insolent remarks to make. (As an organizer there is a tale or two Ι could tell!)
Of course the journey home is a good opportunity to talk over what has happened, to celebrate or to commiserate and of course to make plans for the future 🙂
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