Skyrocketing interest in youth chess over the past few decades can be explained, at least in part, by its unique ability to rivet our attention and simultaneously teach important life skills. Anyone who has watched a scholastic tournament can see the intensity of concentration engendered by this classic battle game. First-time observers typically comment on how quiet the playing room is. More important, the academic literature is now rich with studies showing that chess improves academic performance, strategic thinking, consideration of alternatives, and social skills (see The Value of Chess). It is no wonder that kids continue to flock to the game when given the opportunity, that their parents encourage it, and that chess has been incorporated into many schools’ curricula.

There are many excellent chess programs in Illinois. Most are run by dedicated teachers, parents, coaches and community volunteers. Other programs are run by private service providers, both for-profit and not-for-profit. Some of the state’s most active community-wide programs are profiled in these pages.  At the same time, the chess world in Illinois has been described as islands of largely disconnected programs, and many areas of the state are largely unserved. Our purpose here is to bring together a variety of resources intended to help organizers connect with each other, start new chess programs, and improve those which already exist.

A wealth of information about chess already exists, both in hard copy and online. Our goal was to sort through it, pick out some of the best, and add useful and practical material from our own experience. ICA has assembled an experienced team to guide it through this effort (see ICA Youth Committee).

In “Learning Chess,” we begin with some basics, including how to decide whether a student may be ready for a chess program. We then summarize the research on the value of chess and include links to video clips which show the pride that can result from a successful program. A parent of a top Illinois player then describes both typical starting points and the many paths toward advancement in chess.  We next recommend some of what we consider to be the best teaching material available, including computer-aided curricula, and conclude with information on chess camps and classes.

The centerpiece of our section called “Chess Programs” is our guide to starting (or improving) a scholastic program. We’ve tried in that section to address every step in the process, from initial planning through special activities designed to keep kids interested throughout the year. We then profile a number of the community-wide programs in Illinois, providing website links and contact information.

Most young players love to compete, either in school-versus-school matches or in tournaments. In our “Competition” section, we include with an overview of Illinois’ major scholastic events, which is followed by a detailed guide to tournaments prepared by one of Illinois’ top coaches. Her guide describes the types of tournaments available to Illinois players and the nuts and bolts of how they are run. Our “Competition” section also includes a piece on sportsmanship and etiquette, another containing advice for parents and players, and lists of Illinois’ past youth champions and top current players. The section also includes a link to the listing of scholastic tournaments on our Events page.

We then describe the Warren Junior Program, which provides special opportunities for the state’s top youth players.  We also briefly describe the ICA Fellows Program, in which top high school and college players serve as coaches, mentors and in other ways to help youth programs statewide.

All the content can be downloaded in PDF format. Open any article, then click the Acrobat PDF icon at the upper right corner of the article. A PDF will open in a new window in about a minute. For best results, please use Firefox, Google Chrome, or Safari to browse the site.

We’re at work on two other sections.  In one, we’ll provide lists of clubs throughout the state, along with contact information. (Clubs will have to agree to be listed.) This should foster the kind of networking that many of you have said would be helpful.  In the second, we’ll try to capture the vibrancy of Illinois youth chess by profiling some of the people who make it work, including not only top players, but outstanding coaches, parents, and organizers.

We hope you find this material helpful.  Most of us on ICA’s Youth Committee have started programs and are prepared to help newcomers to Illinois’ chess scene and others with questions.   We are a varied group.  Some of us are chess professionals, but most are parents of chess players, teachers, amateur players interested in promoting the game, or retirees who enjoy working with kids.  Feel free to get in touch with us.  Short bios of our members appear on this site (see ICA Youth Committee), as does contact information for many of us (see “Contact Us”).  If we cannot answer your questions ourselves, we will find someone who can.

Special thanks to the many people who have made significant contributions: Kevin Bachler, Chuck Beach, Jay Dembsky, Betsy Dynako, Louis Fogel, Hector Hernandez, Paul Kash, Colley Kitson, Mike Leali, Herb Lichtman, Brad Rosen, Andi Rosen, Garrett Scott, Joe Splinter, Jennifer Stevens, Maret Thorpe, Leo Vilker, Phil Yontez, Mike Zacate and Pattie Zinski.

                                                        Jerry Neugarten
                                                        Chair, Youth Committee
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