Saturday, November 1, 2008

hola amigos

I know it's been a long time since I rapped at you, but I kinda had a breakdown. No, just kidding, missing my favorite Onion columnist Jim Anchower. (although Smoove B and Herbert Kornfeld are also great.) His columns always included a car problem, some kind of new job that he quits or is fired from, and an ongoing quest to get really high. Or as they put it "He comments on community-affairs, automotive, and employment issues." But I haven't seen him in a while-- maybe phasing out?!

So I haven't posted in a while because my attempts to resuscitate my social life have been reasonably successful. I actually hung out with another real person for eight of the last ten evenings. hurray! I spent today at a kids' tournament. Here are some photos:

Emmanuel, age 7, rated 727, absolutely the most cute-hilarious kid ever. He comes to the IS 318 chess club because his sister Rebecca and brother Joel go to school there. I'm going to make him 1800 by the time he enters 6th grade.

left: Pobo, 1567, and sole winner of the tournament's open section. (His real name is Oghenakpobo, but of course that gets shortened.)
right: D'Andrea, whose rating has gone from 336 to 1204 in the last 2 months.
Rochelle, who you'll remember from the recent NY Times article (reprinted here in the International Herald Tribune), 1779, waiting for her opponent in round 1. She finished with 3/4.

Tony, a new 6th grader


Daniel M.

So I get asked pretty often what benefits I think chess offers kids. Of course there are many: concentration, patience, strategic thinking, etc. But there are three in particular that I'm especially excited by and wish to go on about briefly:
1. Chess teaches the idea that friendships are built around shared interests/activities.

I don't think most of my friendships outside of chess are built around having something in common, or if they are, that something is location or life situation. (meaning I'm friends with two types of non chessplayer: people who have geography in common with me, i.e. live near me, and people who have life situation in common with me, i.e. are 4/5 of: liberal, white, middle-class, well-educated adult women.) But these friendships often end up feeling kinda pointless--they can easily get reduced to gossiping about mutual friends or endlessly discussion of our own lives. So I like the idea that kids, especially girls, get the idea early that it's normal for friendships to be built around an (intellectual*) activity. I like the idea that kids learn to expect their social and intellectual lives should be connected.

2. Chess has value as an intellectual activity that is inherently meaningful to kids.

Last year I taught 8th grade honors English as well as chess, and it killed me that I could never come up with a good answer to the question "Why do we have to do this?" My class asked me pretty frequently. And my math teacher friend was stumped when asked how learning to factor equations would ever actually be useful. Of course, the kids are right and most of what we are teaching isn't relevant to their lives at all.

But in chess, no one ever asks me why you would want to win. Sometimes kids don't want to play, but it's very rare that a kid wants to play and doesn't want to win (and these rare ones are usually so happy-go-lucky that they wouldn't dream of questioning a teacher who ordered them to play a game).

And aside from making my life easier, this fact that chess is inherently motivating means that students who have come to see school and by extension many kinds of thinking as totally irrelevant now suddenly really want to think and to be good at thinking. And this effect is magnified when chess is an inherent part of the kid's social life (as in 1.)

3. Chess has qualities that make it unusually good preparation for original thinking in science/math/ economics/ etc.

To make intellectual discoveries, even just to know in what direction to go, you have to be able to evaluate what's working in your thinking and what's not, to see the big picture as well as to deal with the details, to work both intensely and over an extended period of time, to consistently be enthuasiastic and deal with harsh setbacks. All this in inherent to chess. A few more things chess has going for it, as a training method:

>Students receive immediate and unambiguous feedback about their progress (in the form of wins and losses). It's pretty unusual, I think, to find logical abstraction and unambiguous results together.

>The evaluation process is obviously fair and transparent, so that no one can feel cheated by the rating system (as you might in a dog show, for example).

>To improve, students have to be brutally honest with themselves about what they know and don't know, and what they are good at and not good at.

>Students have access to multiple ways of improving and have to select what's effective :
playing (slow games/ blitz; opponents of their level/ higher rated opponents),
studying (reading books, doing tactics, watching videos, going over opening lines, analysing their games).
>Students get a sense of how incredibly deep expert knowledge in a field can be.

I'm not really going anywhere coherant with these three things, just throwing them out there.

In other news, I'm reading a great book: The Chess Instructor 2009. I'm reviewing it for Chess Life, so I won't say too much, other than it's a fascinating and impressively wide-ranging collection of essays about chess and education.

I'm thinking about volunteering at a prison. I feel like I could teach a series of maybe 6 3-hour chess seminars that could alleviate a whole lot of boredom. I'm also very curious about prisons.

*Obviously, sports teaches this also, but while I'm sure it's nice to go running with a friend, although I personally hate this, who plays team sports as an adult?


Shaun S. said...


Excellent photos...if you have anymore I would love to see them. I never get to "actually" see anything at our crazy events.

Also, I truly believe Emmanuel can make 1800 before 6th grade...but players should truly watch out for D'Andrea. It is funny that his posted rating is so low...I have heard players say wow he is good for 300! Great job with him.....


Elizabeth Vicary said...

Thanks, Shawn! I'll upload more photos to the 318 blog--

Anonymous said...

Good point about learning to build friendships around shared interests. Developmentally speaking, this is an important transition for early adolescents to make. It's one of my objections to K–8 "elementary" schools that they impede this natural transition by denying students a new circle of acquaintances, keeping them stuck with old classmates from whom they should be naturally drifting apart.

Unknown said...

woman love criminals...

joking, anyway I love this blog because it is motivating me to start a chess club going at my school. I think I will start next week probably.

Unknown said...

btw you are an excellent writer did you major in English?

Elizabeth Vicary said...

thank you! I was an English major, yes.

From the patzer said...

I wonder if in America their is a course chess instructor one has to pass before one may say (s)he is a certified chess instructor?

Or may anyone be a chess instructor although one doesn't have the slightest knowlegde on how to do the job?

Secondly, dont underestimate working in a prison. It doesn't take much to light the fire that makes the explosion go off.

chessx said...

Hi i run a primary chess club in England and i agree with your shared interest views.
The children in my chess club gain a new group of friends, many from different age groups.
Also i have a boy from china in the chess club,he's only been in our school 4 weeks,he can't speak english.
But he has made a lot of friends from chess.
Chess has it's own langauge.

Anonymous said...

Shout out to all the real goons adjacent to LaGuardia, hold your heads up. If you do hit up Rikers Island, make sure to ask to see Lloyd "Lick Shots" Vernnon, that's my uncle still putting bodies up on the Crip wall from the inside. I'll disclose an industry secret, Lick Shots had Boston Blitz under extortion. He made Phelps lend him his 1976 Pacer X Coup on the weekends, he didn't want to drive it or anything, he just wanted to watch him walk to get his groceries, he had management under pressure. I remember when they were about to squash it, Matt brought out the X-Box and popped in Madden 04. Phelps picked the Cardinals and chose the home "Red" uniforms, Lloyd pistol whipped him right there on the spot, and continued to beat him 80-0, he went for the two-point conversion every time just to rub it in. Now that he's in the high-security unit I don't know who, or if anyone still has their hands around the throats of the Blitz. On one side of the coin, Matt is eating well, he's reppin' a thick wattle for Thanksgiving, but on the other side, Esserman is eating Apple Yo's out of a cardboard box, so there might be dirt somewhere. Anyhow, you already know what it is, Piro for life, Rollin' 60s, peace.

Anonymous said...

Obviously an Obama supporter.

Anonymous said...


Gurdonark said...

Your breakdown sounds better than mine--I'm reading up on Linux after Microsoft Service Pack 3 knocked my main computer off-line.

I like your "benefits of chess". I was trying to think of what I would add to your list (not that it needs additions):

4. Chess rewards patient effort, and encourages long-term thinking about goals.

5. Chess teaches that choices have consequences, in a setting in which one can make better choices during the next game.

6. Chess provides kids with a hobby they can keep playing the rest of their lives.

7. Chess encourages kids to read for more information, and to be goal-oriented.

bathmate said...

good posting.i like it. thank u. :)-