ICA asked Brad Rosen, the parent of one of Illinois’ top youth players (Eric Rosen), to describe how his son became involved in chess and the paths available to young players seeking to advance. Brad sent this in on July 19, 2010.

My youngest son’s journey along the chess continuum began in June, 2000 during a family vacation to Nassau, Bahamas when he was seven years old and about to enter second grade. After a bit too much sun, sand, and sea, his 11-year-old brother took him to the resort library where a chess set sat waiting. The older taught the younger how to move the pieces and play the game. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, life would never be the same. Earlier today, my youngest, now a 16-year-old high school junior, just finished competing at the U.S. Junior Closed Championship in St. Louis, the most prestigious youth chess competition in the United States featuring the nation’s top players under the age 20.

Along the way, he’s had various opportunities along what might be described as the chess continuum, each of which allowed him to learn and advance. They included chess clubs, park district and school programs, tournaments, various types of instruction, camps, and chess related travel.

There is no particular sequence of undertakings that will lead to your child’s chess success. There are countless chess opportunities out there and it is the chess parent’s challenge to identify those opportunities that are readily available given your unique circumstances and which are appropriate for your child. A good place to start is the ICA web page at http://il-chess.org/. Also, don’t hesitate to speak with other chess parents you may come across—they tend to be an approachable, friendly and helpful bunch.

Many youngsters are exposed to chess at their school or community park district program. There are some terrific longstanding community chess programs for school children in many places, where children are exposed to the game, provided basic instruction and given the chance to play casual games. Unfortunately, most schools do not have a chess club or program, as was the case at my son’s elementary school when he started out. Early on, though, we discovered a wonderful weekly chess drop-in program at a local library. Sessions began with a lesson, and were followed with informal play with fellow young chess enthusiasts. It was nice to meet others in the chess community from a wider geographic area than just our immediate school district. The library was also a great place to meet friends with similar interests and to swap chess related information.

For children who are particularly enthusiastic about chess, the next step generally involves entering a local tournament. Tournaments can take two basic forms. First, there are local unrated scholastic tournaments. These are typically for beginning or first time tournament players. Extra efforts are usually taken to explain chess tournament protocols and procedures. Next along the way are rated scholastic tournaments. Players in these tournaments are required to join the United States Chess Federation (USCF) for a nominal membership fee. Game results are submitted to USCF and players receive a numerical rating based on their relative performance against other rated players. While some believe that too much emphasis is placed on ratings, they do provide a legitimate means to measure a more serious player’s improvement and success.

Chess tournaments are a wonderful way for a youngster to hone his or her chess skills. In addition to local tournaments, there are state and national competitions. At the state K8 level, there are generally two major state tournaments each year: a fall “All-Grade,” where players compete against other children in the same grade; and the state spring K8 Championship, which is divided into divisions of grades K1, 2-3, 4-5, and 6-8. There are also several national competitions during the year. Attending a national or state scholastic tournament provides scholastic chess players with an opportunity to travel and meet their contemporaries, and are interesting and eye opening experience for both child and parent alike. State and national tournaments are typically well organized and provide positive experiences. At the end of my son’s second grade year we traveled to Portland, Oregon for his first national tournament. I still recall the sense of amazement I felt the very first time I saw over 2000 kids in the large arena, uttering not a word, but moving their pieces and hitting their time clocks.

Aside from scholastic tournaments, many young players also play in open chess events which include players of all ages. Typically, open events are organized so that players will only play other players of the same class, or player strength. While many children play in open tournaments, you should be sure your child has a good grasp of tournament protocols and practice. These tournaments can take many shapes and sizes, and are available both locally and across the country. Playing open tournaments affords a dedicated young player with excellent opportunities to play strong competition and improve his or her skills.

If your child is enthusiastic about chess, instruction may well be in order. Instruction can take many forms. For beginners, local Park Districts are often a great place to start. Chess classes of various types are offered thoughout the state. Over the summer, there are also many local chess day camps, as well as overnight camps, featuring many of the top players in the country as instructors. The ICA Website is a terrific place for resources (see the ICA "Camps and Classes" page) . Private instruction may also be an option worthy of pursuit if your child is particularly motivated to improve his or her game. You may find a strong high school or adult player in your community willing to teach private lessons for reasonable fees (often $20 or $30 per session). At the other end of the continuum, Grandmasters may charge $80 or $100 per session, or even more.

Certainly there are many roads to chess advancement and excellence. Chess is a great game for kids, and there are many ways to plug-in and continue one’s development. Good luck to you and your child as you proceed along your own chess continuum.