I was suppose to write this post last Friday, but Lauren let me off the hook since I was all hopped up on Allergy Medicine. Friday was “Chess Day” at Lincoln Lutheran. For about 13 years I’ve been teaching the 7th graders to play chess.
When I first started I would teach them in math class before Christmas break. It gave us something different to do and they weren’t much good for math anyway during that last week. Then one year there was a day when we needed something to do with 7th graders. I don’t remember just what day it was. It might have been the somewhat misnamed “All School Test Day” or “Class Retreat Day” or maybe something else. Anyway, we went from having a weeks worth of chess in math class to one solid day of chess.
We do it in three parts. First we watch the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer. It’s a great movie. I’ve seen it 15 times. We show it in the gym with the screens we use for chapel, but for this day I put the two screens together for one 323 inch screen (roughly 27 feet diagonally). I’m pretty sure that I’ve been in theaters with smaller screens. I connect the two screens with a 6 foot screen that has been cut into thirds and sewn together, so there’s no annoying gap in the middle.
After the movie I take them through the various pieces: we do pawns first then they play a game with just pawns. Second are knights. We do a little knight’s tour kind of game where they pick up pieces of paper off the board as they land on squares and those count as points. While they are playing these mini games they are paired off by how much they already know about chess, so the ones that know more are teaching the ones who know less.
They know at this point that there is going to be a tournament at the end and that there will be two divisions in the tournament. The kids who already know chess know that it’s their job to get their partner ready for the beginners tournament, not to beat them at the mini games.
Then we break for lunch. Instead of letting them sit with the kids they normally sit with for lunch, I give out raffle tickets at the end of the line and they sit at the table that has the same number as the last number of their ticket. On the table are conversation starter questions. They ask each other the questions, because they have to be able to tell me an answer if their number is called to win the raffle. We do about 10 raffle prizes and the kids are really excited the first few times when they have the first 6 numbers correct. Then they realize that everyone has the first 10 numbers correct. Some of the kids seems surprised that by the fourth prize some of the students know the first 6 numbers before I read them. They are the same students who are amazed that I can always turn to right where the winner is sitting.
After lunch we do Rooks, Bishops and the Queen all at once (we play a full game without check or checkmate). Then we talk about the King and check and checkmate and other fun King type stuff.
After that comes the tournament. It’s an odd tournament. You can play anyone you want and play any number of games. You’re never eliminated. You just come up to your station (beginner or advanced) after the game and say who won and who lost. Then you go find someone else to play with. The results are like College Football Bowl rankings. You go up more if you defeat better players and go down less if you lose to better players.
I post the current results every half hour or so and at the end we go back into the gym and announce the top 5 players from both divisions. They get to choose from assorted chess and sugar related prizes. Then everything gets put away and I collapse in an exhausted heap.