Archive for the ‘Parent’s Guide to Chess’ Category

Basic Chess Strategy

January 12, 2020

Question: What are some common chess strategies?

Answer: Below is a list of chess strategies known as Reuben Fine’s “Thirty Rules of Chess”. Chess is a complicated game and there will always be exceptions to any rule. However, it is a good exercise to understand why each item below is generally recognized as good chess strategy and to employ these rules in your own games.


  1. OPEN with a CENTER PAWN.
  2. DEVELOP with threats.
  3. KNIGHTS before BISHOPS.
  4. DON’T move the same piece twice.
  5. Make as FEW PAWN MOVES as possible in the opening.
  6. DON’T bring out your QUEEN too early.
  7. CASTLE as soon as possible, preferably on the KING SIDE.
  9. Try to maintain at least ONE PAWN in the center.
  10. DON’T SACRIFICE without a clear and adequate reason.

For a sacrificed pawn you must:
 DEFLECT the enemy QUEEN,
 BUILD UP a strong attack.


  1. Have all your moves fit into definite plans.
    Rules of Planing:

a) A plan MUST be suggested by SOME FEATURE IN THE POSITION.
b) A plan
c) A plan

Evaluating a Position:


  1. When you are material AHEAD, EXCHANGEas many pieces as possible, especially QUEENS.
  2. AVOID serious pawn WEAKNESSES.
  3. In CRAMPED POSITIONS free yourself by EXCHANGING.
  4. DON’T bring your KING out with your OPPONENT’S QUEEN on the board.
  6. If your opponent has ONE or MOREpieces EXPOSED, look for a COMBINATION.
  7. IN SUPERIOR POSITIONS, to ATTACKthe ENEMY KING, you must OPEN a file (or less often a diagonal) for your HEAVY PIECES (QUEEN and ROOKS).


  1. To win WITHOUT PAWNS, you must be at least a ROOK or TWO MINOR PIECESahead (two knight excepted).
  2. The KING must be ACTIVE in the ENDING.
  4. The EASIEST endings to win are PURE PAWNendings.
  5. If you are ONLY ONE PAWN ahead, EXCHANGE PIECES, not pawns.
  6. DON’T place your PAWNS on the SAME COLOR SQUARES as your BISHOP.
  7. BISHOPS are BETTER than KNIGHTS in all but BLOCKED pawn positions.
  8. It is usually worth GIVING UP A PAWN to get a ROOK ON THE SEVENTH RANK.


A Plan for Adding New Chess Openings

December 13, 2019

Question: How do I manage my desire to learn multiple chess openings (I play 1 e4 and suddenly I want to learn the Catalan from a book I bought)?

Answer: Perhaps restrict yourself to playing online blitz games with your e4 repertoire on days that start with S and T and attempt to play the Catalan on the others. There is no harm in experimenting

Changes to US Chess Federation Junior High Nationals

November 21, 2019

Announcement from the United States Chess Federation regarding changes to the structure of the Junior High Nationals:

In June 2019, the Scholastic Council formed a subcommittee of the Scholastic Committee to examine the current structure of the Junior High Nationals. This nine-person subcommittee from across the country examined data from the last four years and discussed the impact of any proposed changes, including projections of both section and grade restructuring. Their extensive report recommended a two-step process: (1) Immediate move to one K-9 Championship section and adding new class sections; and (2) Effective no earlier than 2022, the intent to transition Junior High Nationals to K-8. 

Key findings:

1. New class sections are immediately needed that will increase opportunities for all eligible players rated under 1700 and encourage the growth of chess at Junior High Nationals at every level. Meanwhile, the new championship section can be more competitive and ideal for all the top players and teams in the country. This restructuring would be consistent with previous section changes to the National High School in 2015 and National Elementary in 2016, which added new class sections to reflect the increased competition at all levels of the game.

2. Restructuring into one K-9 Championship section is more appropriate given that the event did not have a significant number of 9th graders and the current size of Junior High Nationals. Keeping the two championship sections with the addition of a higher class section would result in sections that would be too small.

3. An immediate change to one K-8 Championship section, thereby making Junior High Nationals K-8, would not be fair to the current field of participants without proper notice. 

4. Since the Junior High Nationals were first created, more middle and junior high schools around the country have transitioned to going up to only 8 th grade.

Based on the recommendation of the subcommittee and further discussion at the 2019 U.S. Open, the first step of restructuring the event as outlined below was recommended by the Scholastic Council and approved by the Executive Board and is effective for the 2020 Junior High Nationals: 

K9 Championship

K9 U1700

K9 U1400

K9 U1100

K9 U900

K9 U700


The second step toward transitioning Junior High Nationals to K-8 sections is actively being discussed and is intended to be effective no earlier than 2022 Junior High Nationals. The subcommittee will remain active during this transition.

If anyone wants further information on the process or would like to provide feedback, please reach out to the chair of the Sections subcommittee, Daniel Rohde, at , who will circulate any feedback to the subcommittee and the Scholastic Council.

Chess Chat: Q&A with Karen Thurm Safran, Author of Parenting—Let’s Make a Game of It

May 25, 2019

Many people know you as the powerful marketing force behind some amazing companies and products. Authoring a parenting book seems to be an interesting career pivot for you. What motivated you to become an author?

Thanks for including me on your blog… and for the compliment. Wow, we’ve known each other for nearly twenty years since my son started chess in elementary school. Time sure flies by quickly! 

Writing a book is definitely a career shift from managing marketing teams, working in a fast-paced high-tech environment, and driving revenue for companies. While it seems like a random career move, I decided to fulfill a childhood dream of writing a book and combine it with my love of parenting. 

Welcome, Parenting—Let’s Make a Game of It, an entertaining book showing playful ways to stop struggling with your child and start having more fun. Now kids will listen and cooperate-willingly! I’m excited because already it’s been a #1 New Release in 7 Amazon categories.

How is your book different from other parenting book?

While I love reading parenting books, my book is very different. First, Parenting—Let’s Make a Game of It entertains as well as inspires. The “how to” lessons are shown through entertaining, light-hearted stories. People say that reading my book is like sitting with a friend over coffee. Second, many parenting books focus on babies, toddlers, or teens. I focus primarily on elementary school-age kids (as well as toddlers). There aren’t many books for this demographic. Lastly, parents don’t have time. My gosh, there’s barely enough time in the day to tackle parts of the formidable To-Do list, nevermind read a book. So, I organized my book into short, easy to read chapters that stand-alone. Now whenever parents have a spare moment, they can easily flip to a chapter on a specific parenting challenge. My goal is to have these fictional, whimsical stories spark the reader’s own playfulness. It’s very touching hearing how stories inspire people’s own creativity for handling frustrating parenting situations.

Why did you choose to write a parenting book and specifically, Parenting—Let’s Make a Game of It? 

Parenting is incredibly rewarding, but it’s also stressful. Even the best kids fuss, don’t listen, and misbehave. With the never-ending power struggles, parenting can be overwhelming. My parents had a trick. They embraced a “can do!” spirit, used their imagination, and created games to turn around frustrating moments. It was like magic! Goodbye nagging and yelling. Life became more enjoyable for our entire family.

When I became a mom, I experienced first-hand the benefits of this playful attitude and positive parenting style. I wrote Parenting—Let’s Make a Game of It to help other families because this playful approach helped me as a stressed-out single parent. By creating games to deal with frustrating moments, you make parenting more fun, you empower your children, and you spend quality time connecting with your family.

This playful approach is in contrast to that stereotypically serious Silicon Valley parenting style. What are the greatest advantages of making a game out of parenting for families that live in such a competitive environment?

I know, parenting playfully seems counterintuitive, especially when your kids aren’t cooperating and you’re about to scream. Being playful is the last thing you want to do! Luckily, being playful doesn’t have to be hard, You can adopt a fun attitude in less than a minute as shown in my blog, “How to be a Fun Mom (Like Mary Poppins Not “Monster Mom”). I also wrote a blog outlining 46 Tips on How To Be a Playful, Positive Parent. While it may seem like another task to conquer, being positive and playful reduces your stress… and YOUR child’s stress. You’ll spend more quality time connecting with your family, which makes parenting more fun and empowers your child.

Whether or not you live in a competitive area like Silicon Valley, adopting this playful approach has many benefits.

  • Entertains kids when they’re bored and misbehaving.
  • Calms children when they’re upset and melting down.
  • Gets kids to help around the house with chores.
  • Teaches real-life skills like organizing school work, writing papers, and project planning to meet deadlines.

Being a Chess Mom/Dad presents unique challenges for parenting. Could you describe some of these challenges and how you handled them?

The biggest challenge was making time to attend chess tournaments. These are so important and part of the chess experience, so I made sure that my son participated in as many as possible. We even flew to several national events. If you’re going to encourage your child to play chess, realize from the get-go that this is a time commitment. However, there’s plenty of “down” time during each chess round. I recommend bringing work to keep you busy. Most importantly, have a positive, supportive attitude and consider this as time to sit and catch up on whatever.

I learned at the first national tournament, that we were there for one reason: chess. During the first break, I dragged us to the local aquarium and had plans to squeeze in fun activities throughout the weekend. Woo-hoo, we’d get to explore a new city! I quickly realized that competing is exhausting, so my ten-year old son needed to simply rest in the hotel room. These national chess tournament trips are now highlights because they provided special, connecting opportunities that also empowered my son.

How did your son choose and benefit from chess?

While visiting a relative’s house, our cousin taught my five-year-old son some basic chess. Boom! That was the catalyst. This passion continued and grew since the elementary school offered chess (which is where we met Chris!). At seven, he participated in his first tournament, second tournament, and so forth, all the way through high school. Now in his early twenties, he continues playing chess online.

Chess is VERY beneficial! It teaches patience, emphasizes discipline, develops problem-solving skills, trains a logical mind, improves memory, builds confidence, and provides a life-long hobby. I’m impressed how my son can focus and tune out any noise. He’s also great at math, was a stats major, and is now an actuary. Chess gave him an opportunity to be a leader when he started a chess club in high school. But the most important benefit is that chess provided countless hours of fun!

Finally, how can all the chess parents who read this blog obtain a copy of your book? 

They can visit my “Parenting—Let’s Make a Game of It” website and also visit Amazon directly.

Thanks for all of your wonderful work inspiring students in chess! And thanks for interviewing me for your Chess Chat blog.

Chris Torres Offers Online Chess Lessons

April 23, 2019

and would love to help your child play better chess now!

Reasons to try an Online Lesson with Chris:

1.  Follow up to in-person chess lessons to check on your child’s understanding.

2.  Live too far away to come often for private instruction.

3.  Preparing for a major tournament with a coach who has taught numerous national champions!

4.  Very cost effective. For $40 per online lesson, you can have your child learn chess from one of California’s most sought after chess coaches.

How it Works

1. Chris Torres harnesses the power of and Wyzant to create the ultimate 21st century chess classroom.

2. After each lesson, Chris Torres will provide you with customized feedback and a study plan to take your child’s game to the next level!

3. All of Chris’ students are welcome to play slow paced (1 move per day) games with him during the week at no extra charge.

Sign up today


Or by emailing Chris Torres (

Fremont Summer Chess Camp: “The real secret is in enthusiasm.”

June 23, 2015

I consistently share my expertise with other chess coaches in order to better the chess environment for all the scholastic chess players in California. In 2014, I shared the secret behind the success of the Fremont Summer Chess Camp. Sometimes in chess and in life, the truth is very obvious.

Fremont Summer Chess Camp: Week 1

The first week of the Torres Chess and Music Academy’s Fremont Summer Camp was a smashing success. One parent even asked me why our camp was so much better than the other chess classes in the Bay Area. I answered, “The real secret is in enthusiasm. It is the magic we use to transform challenges into accomplishments.”


Students learn more when they are having fun.




TCAMA Director of Instruction, James Paquette, teaches his students the secrets to Paul Morphy's success.




Tans Hylkema taught our youngest campers how to play chess and notate their moves.




Students at the Fremont Summer Chess Camp were constantly challenged.




Joe Lonsdale has been doing this for nearly thirty years!




Francisco Anchondo teaches his students how to turn chess advantages into stunning combinations.




Our campers learn first hand why International Master Emory Tate is a chess teacher of the highest quality.




After just one week, our youngest players understand the most important endgame positions.




Every game played at our camp is turned into a custom lesson for the children who played it.




All of our hard work pays off during the next school year.

reblogged from:

Sign up for the 2015 Fremont Summer Chess Camp 

Susan Polgar Foundation’s National Open for Girls and Boys: FAQ

February 24, 2015


There’s a tangible buzz in the air all around Silicon Valley because the Susan Polgar Foundation’s National Open for Girls and Boys is on the horizon. Facebook walls and Twitter news feeds have begun to highlight the coming event and of course the hundreds of talented youngsters who will be competing. Even my five minute coffee breaks aren’t immune from the last minute concerns of the young chess parents entering their child in the SPFNO for the first time. It is for these parents that I dedicate this post in which I will share my answers to the most frequently asked questions about the 2015 Susan Polgar National Open for Girls and Boys. Check back often as this page may grow!
Q: Where and when will the Susan Polgar Foundation’s National Open for Girls and Boys take place?

A: The SPFNO will take place at the San Mateo Event Center on February 28 through March 1. The address is 1346 Saratoga Drive, San Mateo, CA 94403

Q: Can I sign my children up online?

A: Of Course! Just follow the instructions on our webpage

Q: Is my child ready for the Susan Polgar Foundation’s National Open for Girls and Boys?

A: Whether your child has just learned how to move the pieces or is a seasoned tournament pro, the 2015 SPFNO has you covered. In addition to the two day championship event, we also are offering a one day non-rated tournament for new chess players. Every child in attendance will also have access to free instruction from the excellent chess instructors from the Torres Chess and Music Academy. We guarantee that the 2015 Susan Polgar Foundation’s National Open for Girls and Boys will be a quality learning experience for all who are in attendance.

Q: If my child loses his/her first game is he/she eliminated from the tournament.

A: Losing will not eliminate your child from the SPFNO. The tournament structure we will be using is commonly referred to as a Swiss Style. In a Swiss Style tournament all participants are allowed to play in every round and are paired based on their current score with another player with the same score.

Q: Does my child need to bring a chessboard from home?

A: No, all boards and chess sets will be provided by the tournament organizers. However, it is advised that your child bring his/her own chess clock if they own one.

Bring your own chess clock if you have one.

Bring your own chess clock if you have one.


Q: Are parents allowed to watch their child’s tournament games?

A: At the start of every round, parents will be permitted into the tournament hall to help their child find his/her proper seat but then will need to return to the designated waiting areas in order to ensure fair play.

Q: What is a USCF ID number and rating?

A: A United States Chess Federation identification number is required in order to play in the rated main event. All games played in this section will be submitted to the USCF for rating purposes. A USCF rating is a number that reflects the skill level of a player based on his/her past performance in rated chess play. If your child does not have a USCF Membership they may purchase one for $17 at the tournament or online at

Q: I see that there is also a Simul, Blitz Tournament and Puzzle Solving Competition. Can you briefly explain how these side events work?

A: Sure thing!

On February 27th, Susan Polgar will be facing 30 children simultaneously at the Bay Area Chess Center in Milpitas, California. 25 of the children have already reserved a spot in the simul and five more will be randomly chosen from any other children in attendance who are signed up for the SPFNO but didn’t get a reservation in the simul. Anyone is welcome to come and watch Susan Polgar play her games and meet her after she finishes.

Blitz is chess lingo for speed chess. The SPFNO’s Blitz Chess Tournament is scheduled for 5:45PM on Saturday, February 28th at the San Mateo Event Center. All participants will be placed in one section and play five games each with 5 minutes on each side of the chess clock. After all five rounds, trophies will be awarded to the top ten players with the highest total score.

Solving chess puzzles is an important part of every chess players studying routine. At the Susan Polgar Foundation’s National Open for Girls and Boys solving chess puzzles is an event unto itself. Any child signed up for the puzzle solving competition will be given a limited amount of time to solve chess problems of varying difficulty levels. Trophies will be awarded to the top ten performers as well as the top under 1600 and top under 1000.

Q: What time should I arrive?

A: I advise chess players to arrive a half hour before the tournament starts and double check their name and section placement. Since round one starts at 9:00am on February 28, I recommend showing up to the tournament hall at 8:30am.

Q: Do I need to bring food?

A: You can but the Event Center also has a great restaurant with affordable priced kid friendly food.

The San Mateo Event Center has a great selection of food on site!

The San Mateo Event Center has a great selection of food on site!


Q: I need a hotel. Where can I stay?

A: The Sofitel San Francisco Bay is a modern luxury resort located next to the Event Center. Susan Polgar, the entire tournament staff and many of the participants will be staying at the Sofitel San Francisco Bay If you decide to stay at the Sofitel San Francisco Bay be sure to ask for our special chess rate for a price that’s almost too good to believe!


the Sofitel San Francisco Bay will offer chess families the beautifully appointed accommodations of a French luxury hotel at a “chess rate” that is unbelievably affordable.

the Sofitel San Francisco Bay will offer chess families the beautifully appointed accommodations of a French luxury hotel at a “chess rate” that is unbelievably affordable.


Q: When will it be done?

A: The award ceremony for the unrated sections starts at 6:45 on Saturday, February 28th and will be over around 7:30. For the rated section in the Main Event, the award ceremony also begins at 6:45 but on Sunday, March 1st. I imagine that all the awards will be distributed by 8:00pm.

Q: My child is not getting a trophy. Do I need to wait for the award ceremony?

A: I have ordered custom medals for all participants in the main event who do not qualify for a trophy. The medals have the State of California cut into them as well as the official SPFNO logo.

Q: Can my child participate in the Unrated Section if they already have a USCF rating.

A: No, any rated players who are accidentally signed up for the unrated section will be automatically moved into the appropriate Main Event category.

Q: The San Mateo Event Center is really large. Where will the tournament be exactly and where should I park.

A: the tournament will take place in the Fiesta Hall at the San Mateo Event Center. You should park in the East Parking Lot by gate 7. We are in the Fiesta Hall. See the diagram below


Q: Are there midday lunch breaks?

A: Of course, anytime that your child is not involved in a tournament game he/she may enjoy a snack or meal. I would recommend eating lunch around 11:30am.

Q: If we can’t attend both days can we just enter the simul or blitz and what requirements are there for participation?

A: I highly recommend treating the simul, blitz and puzzle solving competitions as added bonuses. However, any child who knows how to play chess may enter the side events regardless of if they are participating in the main event.

Q: What time does tournament play end each day… What restaurants can you recommend for dinner?

A: On both Saturday and Sunday the main tournament rounds will be concluded before 4:45 pm. If your child is playing in a side event, I recommend taking advantage of the restraint on site at the San Mateo Event Center. If not, there are numerous restaurants in the area.

Q: What activities are available on site or nearby for families to enjoy?

A: During the SPFNO, we will be providing free chess instruction, musical performances and demonstrations from the designer of Coach Jay’s Chess Academy. After the event, your family will have access to all the great entertainment the San Francisco Bay Area has to offer on any given weekend!

Q: Must parents remain on site while their children compete?

A: I always recommend that at least one parent stay on site to support their child. However, if your child has an adult (such as a chess coach or parent of a friend) who is willing to watch your child, you may make arrangements for them to do so. Please make sure your child knows who is supposed to be watching them and when you will return.

Q: What advice should I give my child before they play at the SPFNO?

A: Most important is to take their time. Next every time it is their turn they should analyze all checks, captures and threats. Also, if they have a question about the legality their opponents move they should pause their clock and raise their hand to signal a tournament director. Finally, once they agree to a result of a game it is over, regardless if it was truly checkmate or not. So again, remind your child to take their time.

Q: How do I know who my child is supposed to play?

A: Before each round we will post pairings that are alphabetical by name as well as pairings listed by tournament rank. In addition, we will post tournament standings for each section regularly during the event.

Q: Is this tournament played with the touch move rule?

A: Of course! The SPFNO is played following all of the rules of chess according to the United States Chess Federation rule book. If your child touches a piece that he/she does not intend to move he/she needs to announce, “adjust” immediately before placing his/her hand on the piece.

Q: In the description of the tournament, I saw “In all sections the top 3 teams win trophies.” Is the team the school used at the time of registration for USCF or can it also be a club where the kid is getting chess coaching from?

A: The team trophies are for the school chess teams. To play for a school chess team, a child must attend that school for his/her overall education.

Q: I registered my son for the 2015 Susan Polgar Foundation’s National Open Championship for Girls and Boys. I haven’t received a registration confirmation. How can I check to see that he is registered in the appropriate events and age categories?

A: Simple! Just go to and check the lists of preregistered players. If you notice anything wrong, please send corrections to

Q: What’s the best way of getting updates during the tournament without slowing down the tournament directors?

A: Follow us on twitter or on Facebook We will be posting updates and pairings with the hashtag #SPFNO.


Preparing for the Susan Polgar Foundation’s Nationwide Open for Girls and Boys: Part 2

January 19, 2015
Susan Polgar Foundation's Logo

Susan Polgar Foundation’s Logo

As your child gets more excited about playing in the Susan Polgar Foundation’s Nationwide Open for Girls and Boys you are likely wondering what you, as a parent, can do during the next forty days to maximize your child’s chances of playing well. Perhaps the most important aspect of preparing for a major chess championship is to first play in a quality practice tournament. 
Calchess President Tom Langland(left) with MSJE head coach Joes Lonsdale and the k-5 State Championship Team from MSJE.

Calchess President Tom Langland(left) with MSJE head coach Joes Lonsdale and the k-5 State Championship Team from MSJE.

While there are many worthwhile scholastic tournaments listed by the United States Chess Federation and Calchess, perhaps none is more ideal than the upcoming Tracy Chess tournament on January 30th. I say this because not only will your child get to use his/her acquired chess knowledge in a practice run for the Susan Polgar Foundations Nationwide Open for Girls and Boys but at the next Tracy Chess event your child can also meet the tournament organizer (Chris Torres) and Chief Tournament Director (Tom Langland) for the SPFNO. For only ten dollars, the next Tracy Chess tournament is an incredible opportunity for your child to get comfortable playing in a tournament setting while receiving some additional instruction from the gentlemen who will be on the floor at the Susan Polgar Foundation’s Nationwide Open for Girls and Boys.
January's Tracy Chess Tournament

January’s Tracy Chess Tournament

For more information on Tracy Chess be sure to check out
Poster for the Susan Polgar Foundation's Nationwide Open for Girls and Boys.

Poster for the Susan Polgar Foundation’s Nationwide Open for Girls and Boys.

Without a doubt, no-one exemplifies using chess as a key to success in life better than the former world chess champion, GM Susan Polgar.

Without a doubt, no-one exemplifies using chess as a key to success in life better than the former world chess champion, GM Susan Polgar.

For more information on Susan Polgar, hop over to

What are the Advantages/Disadvantages of Castling in Chess?

October 26, 2014

My answer as posted on Quora here:

Castling is the only time in chess when a player is allowed to move two of his/her own pieces simultaneously. The rearrangement that occurs when a player castles is beneficial because the king usually finds increased safety away from the dangerous center files while the rook boosts its attacking potential by moving out of the corner. Some common reasons to avoid castling include:
1) If castling will expose your king to greater danger.
2) If your opponent’s most threatening pieces (especially the queen) have already left the board.
3) If your rook is supporting an important advance of a flank pawn.
4) If you have powerful tactics available immediately and castling will cost you the initiative.


An Interview with Chess Coach Jay Stallings

October 17, 2014

Below is my interview with the incredibly popular chess coach, Jay Stallings. Coach Jay runs the California Youth Chess League which is one of the best run scholastic chess organizations on the west coast. In addition, Jay Stallings just released Coach Jay Chess Academy for the iPhone, iPad and Android Devices.


Can you describe Coach Jay’s Chess Academy in one sentence for us?

Coach Jay’s Chess Academy teaches you through 150+ mini-lessons and 1250+ fun and increasingly challenging puzzles not basics of chess, but the five key disciplines to being a well-rounded chess player: Checkmate, Defense, Endgame, Strategy and Tactics!

You and I have both been coaching chess for a long time. How has teaching kids chess changed over the last ten years? How do you see Coach Jay Chess Academy as continuing tat change?

I started coaching in 1994 on a demo board that I made from sheet metal, plywood, and a green Marks-A-Lot with demo board pieces that were figurine notation blown up, cut out and laminated with magnets glued to the back! Since then, as my demo board has been replaced by a laptop projector using Fritz, my students have utilized books, software, web-based programs, and now apps to supplement my lessons.

Almost every day, I talked to parents and they often asked me what chess apps I would recommend, and I began to realize that mobile devices were in almost every kid’s home these days. They’re often seen as toys, but they can also be a teaching tool!

Over the years, I have accumulated a chess book collection that has a retail value of perhaps $20,000. I’d wager that one day, chess players will have access to far more content for maybe $50, total? Seems like a steal to me! Obviously, I still read and recommend many books, but I think books, videos and software are all tools. I’m just particularly fond of apps at the moment—they’re much easier to carry around in my pocket!
Why did you initially decide to become a chess coach?

At the end of 1993, the movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer” came out. At the time, I was selling computer printers to Latin America and enjoying coaching soccer. My wife, Michel, realized that parents were going to be looking for chess classes after seeing that movie. She was right! A small add in the local paper yielded 35 students and only the 1994 Northridge earthquake slowed us down a little.

Interestingly, one of my first student’s, Kyle Sellers, was the one who encouraged me to create Coach Jay’s Chess Academy and worked with me to make it happen. I never could have imagined in 1994 that I’d not just watch my students grow up, but build lifelong relationships with students and their parents that would last over two decades!

What are your three biggest accomplishments in the field of youth chess?

Founding and running a non-profit organization that has taught chess to over 35,000 youths; being a member of USCF’s Scholastic Council where I can help change the attitude and policies for scholastic chess in the U.S.; and cramming two decades of coaching experience and curriculum into one $5 app and getting to hear from kids all over the world about how much they’ve enjoyed learning chess!
As a chess dad, why should I have my daughter train with your app rather than some of the others on the market?
My app was designed by a chess coach with the typical scholastic player in mind. Over the course of several years, I tried just about every app out in order to make recommendations to parents and I saw a giant hole in the marketplace. There were apps that taught you the rules and moves and then let you go and there were apps that were targeted at serious chess players, but not much in the middle.

Chess has a profoundly positive impact on kids and it’s a shame that so many never make it over the hump, so to speak, between knowing how to play and understanding how to play. It’s a subtle difference, but I’ve seen so many kids who know the rules of the board, but had absolutely no idea of what to do next! You could put five queens on the board against a lone king and the game would only end with an accidental checkmate or stalemate! I want to see more kids get over the hump, so to speak, and stick with chess. Their lives will be better for it.

Also, if you don’t mind, I’d like to share a word of warning to parents who might be looking for the right chess app. There are several good ones out there, not just mine, but keep in mind that most apps out there are designed by an app developer who wants easy money and they have created hundreds or thousands of fake email addresses so they can post false reviews. Often they are just a way to serve ads or sell micro transactions. I’d really encourage parents to take a look at the apps before they give them to their kids—I’ve seen some very kid un-friendly ads on some of these apps as well as constant hooks to try to get the users to keep putting in more money, a dollar here a dollar there…


Coach Jay’s Chess Academy takes young players from zero chess knowledge to a tournament ready strength of around 1000. It’s not just Checkmate and Tactics puzzles, though kids do love those! Rather, it’s those two, PLUS Endgame, Strategy, and Defense. If kids want to get to the next checkmate and tactics puzzles, they’re going to have to learn something about the rest of the chess disciplines as well! It’s the only app that includes all five indispensable disciplines and I think we roll it out in a way that really helps kids “get” it!
What are some weekly training routines a parent might ask of their child in regards to Coach Jay’s Chess Academy?

First, if you are the parent of a young player (Under 7 or 8), I advise sitting with your child in 20-30 minute stints and going through the app. For older students who know how to read well enough, the parent can ask them to earn 400-500 stars each week. After 4 weeks, they could revise it to 300 stars since the puzzles get a little tougher. In either case (with or without a parent) the Lessons should not be ignored, especially since the student only needs about 1 minute to get through them and they give you the concept and puzzle instructions that will then save you a lot of time over the next 8-16 puzzles.

Of course, they should also be playing games. Preferably notating them and showing them to their coach. That will always be the Number 1 way to improve in chess!
So far, what has been most popular aspect of Coach Jay’s Chess Academy with children?
Even though they might not be able to articulate it, the younger students love the gradual progression – getting dozens of answers correct as they slowly but certainly work their way towards more instructive and challenging puzzles. Older students enjoy the Post Puzzle Text – funny comments by Yours Truly, plus tournament advice, protocol, sportsmanship, chess history and fun facts.

In general, what is your advice to chess instructors on making training fun for kids?
Read a ton of chess history yourself and spend time every day (at least once a week) keeping up with what’s trending in the chess world. Kids can tell if you love your subject or not. When I find amazing games, I work to bring the excitement to my students as well. Additionally, I have introduced a ton of outside products into our programs – Think Like a King, Chess Magnet School,, Solitaire Chess (app and board game), 4-Way Chess, Magi Chess, Chess Legends Playing Cards, and much, much more!

Also, the more you teach with kids, the better you become at it. It sounds simple, but entertaining and educating kids is a skill that must be developed. For the past 20 years, I’ve watched the responses to the lessons I give, listened to their comments and refined my curriculum accordingly. I still use some of my early lessons, but they probably look much different now. Also, hopefully, my jokes have gotten better!
Do you envision that Coach Jay’s Chess Academy will be updated regularly? What are some future updates you are planning?
In these first few months, our updates have been to fix bugs and modify the design of the app to make it more intuitive and user-friendly. Next year, we plan to introduce new content and also an app that utilizes the engine for practice games. Maybe one day, there will be a story mode. We created an entire script, but had to scrap it when we found out how much it would cost to develop!

I have literally thousands of lessons sitting around waiting to make their way into the app! It’s a lot of work to modify it and work it into the app, but I’m having a blast revisiting some of my, and the kid’s, favorite lessons and I’m having too much fun to stop yet!

Even before Coach Jay’s Chess Academy, I remember seeing you promoting a chess product that used Karate Belts to mark achievements in chess. When did you first start incorporating martial arts rankings in your chess training? How did you come up with the idea of awarding belts in the first place?

I had originally envisioned my checkmate packets to be Pawn, Knight, Bishop, Rook, Queen, and King, but the martial arts colors offered more levels and, at the time, we had another testing system that used those names. The Pawn Test had 10 tests to see if the players were ready for tournament play. It actually worked very well. This all happened in 1995, almost 20 years ago. The idea came to me when a student came to class bragging about earning his Yellow Belt. A chess dad who was also a martial arts dad, told me the order – White, Yellow, Purple, Orange, Green (POG), then Blue, Brown, and Black. So far, our Checkmate Belts only go up to Blue. But that’s hundreds of chess problems, and the difficulty increment is much steeper than in the app, since they have me in the room with them to help them when they get stuck!


It’s funny, but kids love metaphors. There are no actual belts in chess and Coach Jay’s Chess Academy doesn’t award any actual degrees, but they’re both systems that make sense to kids! It’s the same reason we award stars for completing puzzles. Not because they mean anything, but kids understand, largely from Angry Birds who actually stole it generations worth of from elementary teachers, that stars are rewards for a job well done!

Who knows, maybe there will come a day when I need to actually need to start handing out physical black belts along with a Coach Jay’s Chess Academy degree suitable for framing. If it helped kids fall in love with chess and enjoy expanding their minds, it would be well worth it!

Thank you so much for taking the time to interview me. As a fellow chess coach, I know how much passion goes into what you do. It’s not an easy job, but it’s a rewarding one and I have a great deal of respect for your work!


For additional information on this chess app, please see My Review of Coach Jay’s Chess Academy.

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