By Robbie Coleman

Robbie Coleman is an English teacher at Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney, and has recently set up a chess club at the school with support from CSC. Here he explains how the charity can help and gives some advice for running a successful school chess club.

“Intense” does not do justice to the look of focus on Euan’s face as a he backed Tariq’s king towards the edge of the board, a hard-earned checkmate to follow. His stare might have burned a hole in the board. And although he followed club rules to the letter after victory arrived (shaking hands, thanking his opponent and setting up the pieces) his satisfaction with the win was clear.

I also struggled to hide a smile. Not only was Euan’s win his first in the ladder for three weeks, to achieve it he showed off some skills and knowledge he had been developing since the start of the year. He had won material using a fork and converted the point by checkmating with Queen and King vs. King. For a player introduced to the game in September, this was no mean feat.

Our chess club has now been up and running for two terms. In this blog, I’ll provide a brief overview of three things we’ve found worked when setting up the club, including highlighting the fantastic support we’ve received from Chess in Schools and Communities.

1. Start small

To get the club of the ground, I’d recommend starting small. This will enable you to get the basics in place as you set up the right routines for the club. For us, equipment was the first thing to sort. We had a handful of odd boards and sets from a previous incarnation of the club, but needed some better kit. CSC were hugely helpful in helping us get some sturdy boards and sets, as well as one demonstration board that we use at the start of every session.

Once we had equipment, we set a regular time for the club – after-school on Wednesdays for an hour – and began to advertise the club. We weren’t concerned about getting large numbers of students initially, but were keen to have students from across the school, as we liked the idea of chess club being a place open to all. We also hoped that more experienced players would be able to help beginners after a few weeks.

2. Set up routines

Chess club is clearly a place for students to play chess. But we were aware that for many students in our school chess would be an entirely new game. And that even for those familiar with the game there would be lots of room for improvement. As a result we decided to structure weekly sessions into three main parts:

  • Endgames: Most sessions start with 10-15 minutes on endgames, progressing through King and Queen vs. King, K+R vs. K, K+B+B vs. K, etc. Students practice in pairs, moving through the endgames as they improve. For students completely new to the game, the CSC workbooks were invaluable, as they provided lots of exercises on how each piece moved, before moving onto basic checkmates.
  • Tactics: After endgames, students spend 10-15 minutes on tactical puzzles. Often we focus on a single type of puzzle (e.g. forks, skewers, pins), before building to a mixture over time. The demonstration board has been great in introducing each type of tactic to the whole.
  • Ladder: For the final half of every session, we run a ladder competition. This is students’ opportunity to put into practice what they have learned, and find opponents of a similar current strength.

3. Create healthy competition

As in regular lessons, we’ve found that students respond very well to some gentle competition, be it moving up from 11th to 9th in the ladder, or checkmating in an endgame one move quicker than their partner. While the ladder is running, we often put a site like Knight’s Tour on the interactive whiteboard, and challenge any students without a game to beat the club record. As the club grows, we are increasingly keen to seek out some friendly competition from outside the school, and found our local CSC co-ordinator had some great suggestions from where to find some like-minded schools.