zwischenzug (ZVI-shen-tsoog) — noun

A chess tactic in which a player, instead of playing the expected move, first interpolates another move, changing the situation to the player's advantage (such as gaining material or avoiding what would otherwise be a strong continuation for the opponent).

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pecking Order

We finished the school chess club tournament last week – sort of. I had roughly 13 kids playing each other to figure out the pecking order and establish a chess ladder. It’s late in the year to be doing this, but it finally dawned on me that the reason the kids don’t want to learn chess is that they have no real sense of competition. A chess ladder will establish a ranking, and each child can compete to improve his or her ranking.

However, there are kids with different abilities and patience, which results in different lengths of games. As a result, this tournament was threatening to stretch out for the remainder of the year; something that just wouldn’t do. Our spring break is tied to Easter, so I decided that was a good break point at which to end the tournament. Unfortunately, I had kids who had played as few as five games, and some who had played as many as ten. How should I rank them?

I used a traditional scoring method for the games: 1 point for a win, 0 points for a loss, and a ½ point to each player for a draw or stalemate. From that, I could compute the average number of points per game for each child, effectively normalizing the data to one game. Now I had points/game for everyone, ranging from 0.80 pts/g to 0.0 pts/g. Ranking came pretty easily, as the first three slots were unique numbers.
Lewis Chess Queen (Finlay McWalter)

What did I learn from all of this? I learned three things, two of which are significant:
  • Do this at the beginning of the year to provide motivation for everyone. This will also show where the children fall out in terms of “chess education”.
  • Chess clocks would be a great help. A 10 minute per game limit would allow for two games per player per week (we meet for an hour) with sufficient time for clean-up.
  • Less importantly, it is amazing how many stalemates show up in games at this level! The kids tend to promote pieces to Queens, and then are shy about moving right up against the King and putting the King in check! The result of two Queens and a Rook attacking timidly is very often a stalemate, just because the attacked King has nowhere to go!
 I am getting better as a chess club leader every year. Then again, as long as the kids are having fun and learning, I guess it is all working out! 

It’s Your Move!

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