24 November, 2007

THE AUSTRALIAN 24/11/07: Schools make the move to chess. By Justine Ferrari

NO longer the secret, dusty passion of nerdy types that live in the school library, chess is now the fastest growing sport in the nation's schools.

Even members of the footy team play chess these days.

The national school chess competition has grown exponentially over the past five years, by 40 to 50 per cent every year, with some competitors as young as five.

Other schools are taking chess out of the lunch hour and integrating it into their maths classes for the strategic thinking and problem-solving skills the game fosters.

Brighton Grammar School in Melbourne prides itself on being a chess school, and is currently leading the national competition with players like nine-year-old Isaac Ng.

Chess has been part of the school for about 15 years and sets are provided to encourage the students to play it at lunchtime or after school, including an outdoor set with large pieces.

Director of community education John Phillips said chess had shed its nerdy image at the school, with boys of all interests playing it, including the sporting types.

"Partly that's due to the success the school has had in chess competitions in the past few years," Mr Phillips said.

In the Castlemaine area in central Victoria, a program integrating chess into maths lessons for Year 6 students has been running for the past two years and is taught in about 12 local primary schools and Castlemaine Secondary College. Co-creator Steve Carroll said it was teaching students a way of thinking mathematically and confidence to approach tricky problems rather than actual mathematical knowledge.

"Many of the teachers have been surprised because they assumed the kids who were smart would be good at chess but the kids excelling in chess are different to the ones excelling in maths.

"It's creating success for low-achieving kids and having a profound effect on their attitudes to school and maths," Mr Carroll said.

The National Interschool Chess Championships, to be held next month, are organised by Chess Kids, a company that markets recreational and educational chess programs to school.

It was started about 10 years ago by chess enthusiast David Cordover, who said school chess had exploded in the past four or five years, which he attributed to the greater value placed on intelligence in the community.

"People see all these internet billionaires and think being a computer geek isn't so bad after all," he said.

"People know that we're in a knowledge economy and kids have to do well at school."

14 November, 2007

My Brilliant Brain- National Geographic Documentary

My Brilliant Brain is a 3-part series examining the concept of genius- and putting forward the notion that genius is created through perserverence and hard work.

The first episode, screened in Australia last Friday on Pay TV, traced the story of Grandmaster Susan Polgar, who was bought up by her psychologist father as an experiment to prove that, if trained properly, a female can be as competitve on the chess board as any male. In the 1970's this was radical thinking as no female could get close to the top 600 male players in the world.

Some of Susans better party tricks include playing an opponent over the phone- and beating them- without being able to see a chess board. Or, sitting outside a cafe, truck drives past in peak hour traffic with a chess board painted on the side. She gets a three second glance, then places 32 pieces in exactly the same configuration on a chess board in front of her!

Computer animation explains how Polgars brain is different from mine or Sam Grumonts, by using the face recognition part to identify millions of chess combinations.

If you want to watch the 46 minute doco on-line, click here.

09 November, 2007

The 'J' Factor

Mark Johansson has ‘gone the extra yard’ this year with chess coaching on the junior campus of Castlemaine Secondary College. And the tournament results have been rewarding.

Twice a week, for the whole year, Johansson’s voice booms over the lunchtime announcements: : “CHESSSSSSS……. IS……ONNNNNN….….IN …..LAWWWSON….. HAAAALL!” where the ‘true believers’ refine their skills in a relaxed and informal environment. But, on the tournament circuit it’s a different story.

On August 16 a team competed at Bendigo where they won their age division and finished third overall behind Red Cliffs Secondary College seniors and Bendigo Senior Secondary College.

The troupe ventured over to Ballarat in early September, where they won not only their age group (junior secondary) but won the open secondary division also. Out of 50 students the team monopolised individual placings earning 14 of the top 20 spots.

In the September holidays, Mark and Harry took 6 students to the Victorian Youth Masters. The best finisher was Shay Keillor-Reed, coming third in his age category.

Hungry for match practice, Johansson organised a tournament at CSC Junior Campus where players ventured over from Maryborough. Again, Johansson’s team won their category.

Having now qualified 10 players for the State Finals they finishied a creditable ninth in Victoria. Shay Keillor-Reed finished 16th and Max Nanchman finished 20th out of the state’s elite 110 players.

Johansson was upbeat: “These guys were great- they are only in yr 7 but were competing against yr 8’s and 9’s. The next few years should see our school perform really well.”

As recognition to our cluster’s commitment to promoting chess, the junior campus has been given a ‘wild-card entry’ into the National Interschool Championships to be held in Melbourne in December.

Overall Mark, a great years work!

05 November, 2007

Sam Grumont interviews Ross Allengame

It's stalwarts like Ross Allengame who make Chess-Squared successful. Here, the Castlemaine Primary School teacher talks to Sam Grumont about his recent success in our cluster tournament and the benefits of chess in his classroom.

Sam: what is your reaction to your kids winning the chess tournament?

Ross: I was very, very pleased with the way they performed. I was a bit worried about round 5 as they all had one defeat by then but they managed wins in the next two rounds.

Sam: are they all grade 4 students?

Ross: the majority are grade 4 with 4 grade 5 kids and two grade 6 kids. Oscar Black won the boys champion, he’s a quiet achiever, and he only started playing chess this year. He plays his father at home and me at lunchtimes quite often, taking notes and participated in chess seminars during last holidays.

Sam: what do you attribute the success and enthusiasm of the kids in playing chess?

Ross: probably how you set the room up and what you are really trying to achieve with the game of chess. Are you trying to achieve a passive sort of game or are you really making it a game of war where there is a bit of competition to see who can actually win? If so who is going to win on points, going to win on time, and who’s going to be king of the heap?

Sam: Can you tell us a little about the tables and the round robin competition?

Ross: That has provided a focus for everyone to come back after ten weeks to see where they are up to, making sure they are here on a Thursday to make sure they don’t go down in points and also giving those people who are really good that keen eyes like who’s coming up to beat them and working out tactics for who to play to get more points in the game.

Sam: some kids have surprised you this year?

Ross: I’ve got a lot of troubled children in my room. They’ve had a lot of behaviour problems, a lot of issues at home, a lot of personal issues, but chess has been a way of keeping them concentrated over a period of time. They’ve actually concentrated more with chess and pass that back into the classroom with their ordinary work, keeping things a lot quieter, concentrating and not annoying other kids in the room.

Sam: Finally what pieces of advice do you have for someone setting up chess for the first time?

Ross: keep it simple. I’d probably do something similar to my dungeons to warlords system for teaching chess and then I’d probably go into a competition scenario where there is a round robin or a day chess competition. You don’t need a lot of knowledge with chess, I can play only a little above kids chess but a little bit of extra help with expertise as we have with the chess tutors, can be very handy. It’s a learning curve for you as a teacher.