Saturday, March 24, 2007

CPS Championship: the Sequel

Or maybe “remake” is more like it.

Whichever term you prefer, the Chicago Public Schools has taken the unusual step of scheduling a second championship chess tournament for this year, after the first one collapsed into chaos and several schools walked out in the middle of the meet.

The new tournament will take place on Saturday, April 14, at Bogan High School, 3939 West 79th Street. CPS has promised that this event will be better organized than the first one, and to make sure they’ve engaged professional tournament directors from Renaissance Knights of Northbrook.

Meanwhile, a tournament that was being planned by a coalition of chess coaches for later in April, in response to the fiasco at the first CPS tournament, has been cancelled in light of the new announcement.

The April 14 meet will be open to all Chicago public school students in grades K-8, and unlike previous CPS tournaments individual trophies will be handed out in addition to the usual team awards. A total of 54 trophies will be up for grabs, in fact, more than at any public-school tournament Ray has attended.

While we’ve had some unpleasant experiences at CPS tournaments in the past, I’m confident this one will be better, and I think Ray should attend. We have one of the most competitive teams in town, especially in grades K-4, and I think our kids should have a chance to win their share of all that hardware. And since in this tournament every grade will be a division in itself, with trophies for first-, second-, and third-place finishers, teams will be spread thin and the more Ray kids who play the better our chances of winning team trophies.

Tournament details are here. I hope you’ll consider sending your child to the event. Please let me know if you’d like to attend, and if you have any thoughts for general discussion, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below.

Photo: Ray School champions at CPS tournament, 2006

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Funny Pet Tricks

This has nothing to do with chess, except that the dog in this video belongs to Chessdad64. And it's funny. Dogs do play chess, of course. Some of them even study tactics to improve their games.

Sunday, March 18, 2007!

Lamarr Wilson is back.

Technically, of course, he never left. But if you’re one of those people for whom chess is the center of the universe, anyone who’s off doing anything else might just as well be living in Siberia. For Lamarr, the former chess coach at Joplin Elementary School and webmaster of a popular but now-defunct site about Chicago chess, personal exile from the game has, for the past year or so, centered on his educational-technology business Wilson EduTech, Inc. and a wide-ranging blog where he covers everything from the Internet to basketball to small ethical scandals that escape the notice of the mainstream media.

Educational technology is a fascinating and growing field. It’s an excellent place to build a career, meet interesting people, make contacts, and, of course, pay the bills.

There’s just one thing wrong: it’s not chess.

This fact seemed to hit home for Lamarr a few weeks ago, for after months of inscrutable messages to friends about his future in the Royal Game, he suddenly told them one day that he was starting a new site for scholastic chess in Chicago. He put his head down, pulled a couple of all-nighters, and two days later – voila! was born. And just in time for the March 3 tournament at Ray, where he took more than a hundred photos.

The new site is a lot like his old site, only different. It’s richer in several ways—it has a blog of its own—and has the potential to be richer still as the local chess community, hungry for a place to give and get information, flocks to the site and jumps in.

Chess4Chicago didn’t come along a minute too soon. Though the site is barely two weeks old it’s already hard to imagine how we ever got along without it. Lamarr’s coverage of the Ray tournament, the Illinois state championship in Bloomington last weekend, and the disastrous CPS championship and its aftermath have been invaluable, and they’ve attracted kudos from top chess blogs across the country. He's a good guy, a major asset to Chicago chess, and, best of all, a stalwart F.O.R.—that’s Friend of Ray.

Welcome back, Lamarr.
Endgame: There’s something wrong in Lamarr’s photo. Can you tell what it is? There’s a Ray School Chess Club t-shirt in it for the first person who posts the right answer in the comments section of this message. Offer expires 12:00 midnight, Tuesday, March 20, Chicago time. (Hat tip: local scholastic chess star Kevin Velazquez)

Saturday, March 17, 2007

CPS Chess Fiasco in Chicago Tribune

Alternative City Championship April 21 at Burbank

The dustup over last week’s chaotic Chicago Public Schools chess championship tournament has made it to the front page of today’s Chicago Tribune:

At kids' chess tourney, chaos calls checkmate

Reporter Stephanie Banchero tells the story well; in my judgment she gets it exactly right. The April 21 alternative championship tournament she mentions in the article will take place at Burbank Elementary School, and we will be there. Please save the date. I’m confident this will be an enjoyable, well-run event that Ray kids will like.

Also, see Lamarr Wilson’s blog report on the Tribune article. More on all of this to come. Please stay tuned.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Star Wars vs. Lord of the Rings

It's the ultimate guy's chess video. Good and Evil join forces to combat . . . Good and Evil. Confused? Watch the video and all will be clear. (Hat tip: my son Michael)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A Chess Mom Speaks Out

[Note: This is from Ray School chess mom Teresa Parker, whose son Phillip played at the Illinois K-8 championship this past weekend.]

I wanted to extend my congratulations to the Ray team and all of you for surviving the chaotic environment last Saturday at the CPS City Chess Tournament. We saw the blog at the end of Saturday, and we were horrified by the CPS debacle. Initially, we debated whether to participate in the CPS, because our son Phillip likes to play with his team. But as you know, we decided to go to the Illinois State K-8 tournament in Bloomington/Normal because Phillip was going to receive a special award as a Warren Chess Scholar. My sadness upon hearing that CPS so completely failed those 200+ kids and coaches that showed up hoping to compete and display their prowess has grown to anger.

You have my support as a parent to help in whatever way possible to get this to a media forum. This situation is very disturbing and is grossly in need of a change.

I am so angry that the CPS tournament director/coordinator [Mr. Larson] should undermine the good work of the hundreds of Chicago area kids and coaches who like and love the game of chess. Further, that it should have been so destroyed organizationally that half the teams left after the second round. I'm sure it demoralized the kids and put a sour taste in their mouths. Something must be done about this situation before Mr. Larson destroys the Chess program.

How can Mr. Larson and Mr. Davis have such little regard for the children? They are the ones that suffer in this scenario. It's not about politics, power plays, intimidation or arrogance. Mr. Larson's priorities are misdirected. He [Mr. Larson] deliberately hurt those children and the budding minds that are learning a distinctively intellectual scholastic pursuit.

Many children are learning to play, not just for the sport, but because it is improving their minds, their reasoning, not to mention their confidence. This is so critical to those chess programs that have volunteer coaches, parents that meet a couple of times a week with the children, before or after school, no matter what. This is especially poignant to those children in under-served neighborhoods, ones filled with crime and poverty, who find they can excel in at least one area - chess. These chess tournaments also help children from all neighborhoods/socio-economic backgrounds to compete on an even playing level - their minds. They learn about different people and develop friendships that might not otherwise occur.

The chess tournaments in Chicago produced by the YCFC have admirably served those critical-need neighborhoods and give those kids an intellectual outlet and a reprieve from the violence of their lives. How dare Mr. Larson deprive those kids the opportunity to shine and become proud of themselves, and their teammates' accomplishments?!

YCFC [Youth Chess Foundation of Chicago] should sponsor an alternative CPS tournament and send in the result to the CPS Board of Directors, and Mr. Davis. Certainly, YCFC knows how to run an organized event. I am certain the coaches, parents and school principals would also support it. Mr. Larson's level of competency for running an event of this scale is surely outdated and inexperienced. He has shown himself only capable of running the Tuley tournaments, which usually garner under 50 persons. The torch needs to be passed onto other person(s) in touch with the latest software and USCF regulation practices. The children deserve nothing less.

Finally, does Mr. Larson or Mr. Davis think the children don't know when a tournament is poorly run? They play in enough well-run tournaments that they can see for themselves what an incompetent job he has done and is stupefyingly continuing to do. Shame on Mr. Larson, Mr. Davis and the CPS Board of Directors for ignoring the needs CPS chess program. The Chicago program is growing and could continue to flourish if it weren't for Mr. Larson.

Bless those wonderful children that are playing chess in spite of these obstacles. May they continue to love the game.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Meltdown at CPS Chess Meet

Ray kids finish strong, but chaos & walkouts undemine results

The Ray School team played excellent chess at Saturday’s Chicago Public Schools championship, but their efforts were overshadowed by the larger chaos that prevailed at the event, as the badly run tournament prompted many of the participating schools to walk out after the second game.

Problems began even before the first round, when tournament directors announced a strange format for the competition that made no sense to kids or coaches. The officials were unable to clearly explain the system, which, given the shortage of tournament supervisors on hand, would require the kids to keep their own scores and decide their own opponent pairings. This is not the way scholastic chess tournaments normally work.

The frustration this elicited in players and coaches, many of whom had endured poorly organized CPS tournaments in the past, reached a head when one chess coach climbed onto the auditorium stage and delivered a stirring peroration denouncing the way the tournament was being run and calling it an insult to the CPS chess community, which he said deserved, “a well-run and well-organized championship tournament.”

Shortly thereafter a large number of schools left, including some of the city’s top programs: Burbank, Gale, Disney, Jordan, Clinton, and others. The tournament continued in the afternoon with about half of the original players, and as a formal matter Ray finished well, with second-place finishes in both the K-2 and K-4 sections. Yet it’s hard to say what these achievements mean given that many of the city’s top schools forfeited when they left the meet.

The Ray kids maintained their dignity and composure in a difficult situation. They also played well. Leading the way was the sister-and-brother team of Karen and Allen Dai, who both posted perfect 4.0/4.0 scores – four victories in four games. Right behind them was fourth-grader James Liu, who turned in a 3.0/4.0. Other kids who contributed to Ray’s high finish were Michael Averill-Panelas, William Burke, Andy Margulis, Nikolaj Reiser, Jared Clark, and Gonzalo Higuero.

Given the upheavals I am reluctant even to report the official results, but since they may not appear online anywhere else, here they are:

1st place – Bell
2nd place – Ray

1st place – Bell
2nd place – Ray

1st place - Beasley
2nd place - Cook

1st place - Edgebrook
2nd place - Sutherland

There is now talk among coaches of an alternative championship tournament to be run by one of the regular sponsoring organizations in the area, a move that would be aimed at producing a smothly run championship event for the Chicago public schools. I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile, for excellent play and grace under pressure, congratulations to Team Ray.

Counterpoint: As anarchy reigned at the the CPS tournament, Ray third-grader Phillip Parker-Turner had the good fortune to be far away, at the K-8 Illinois state championship in Blommington-Normal. In that event, which I’m told went much better, Phillip finished an impressive 19th in the k-3 division, out of 184 of the most serious players in the Land of Lincoln. Congratulations, Phillip.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

We're in the Herald

A hat tip to Mike Cardinale for being first to spot this photo in The Hyde Park Herald from last Saturday's tournament. And Mike lives in Rogers Park. Go figure.
To see this in context and read the caption go here. Thanks to Herald photographer Marc Monaghan for coming to the tournament and taking such a nice picture and to Editor Brian Wellner for publishing it.

And congratulations to Jonas Huffer and Gonzalo Higuero for being such great subjects.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Ray Shines as Host of Citywide Tournament

It was one of the liveliest Saturdays Ray has seen in years, as kids from almost twenty schools in Chicago and the suburbs matched wits yesterday in the first citywide chess tournament the school has ever hosted.

The event, put on by the Youth Chess Foundation of Chicago in cooperation with the Ray School Chess Club, drew about 115 K-8 students from all over the area and produced one of the most exciting competitions in which Ray kids have taken part.

Ray was represented by 25 students, the largest number ever to play in a tournament. And they played superbly, five of them winning trophies. Leading the way was fourth-grader Karen Dai, with a first-place finish in the highly competitive intermediate division. Sonam Ford also won a trophy for his sixth-place showing in that category, and Phillip Parker-Turner finished third playing for the first time in the foundation’s blistering advanced division. In the beginner category, fourth graders Andy Margulis (5th) and Nikolaj Reiser (6th) won trophies for their top-ten showings.

Competition for the team trophy was intense and went right down to the wire, Disney Magnet School prevailing by a hair over Ancona and Ray.

The beginner division was won by Devonald Manney of North Kenwood/Oakland Charter School. Chenliang Luo of Edgebrook Elementary was the tournament’s overall champion, taking first place in the advanced division.

Several Ray kids played in their first tournament, including Tavaris Sadler, Kevin Di, Gonzalo Higuero, William Burke, Jonas Hufer, and Tavian Cervantez. They all scored points with victories or draws. A few chess club veterans also returned to tournament competition for the first time in awhile: Zach Hayes, Nikolaj Reiser, Hope Scrutchions, and Eric Yuen. The chess club home page has a complete list of the Ray students who attended.

Some of the biggest stars of the day, however, were Ray parents, who showed up in droves as they so often do to roll up their sleeves and make the event a success. I won’t even try to name all of them here for fear of forgetting someone, but I have to single out Julie Vassilatos, who, with the help of a small army of chess moms and dads (you know who you are), did a magnificent job on the event's most difficult task: organizing the food and drinks.

For running an excellent tournament as they always do, thanks go to the Youth Chess Foundation of Chicago, including Mike Cardinale, Saadiq Sajjaad, Val Halliday, and their legions of highly efficient volunteers.

A million thanks for all these outstanding pictures go to Lamarr Wilson of the new and exciting site, about which we will have more to say very soon. To see all of Lamarr’s photos from the tournament, including shots of Ray kids getting their trophies, go here. Oh, yes, and he’s already blogged about the tournament.

And last but by no means least, in an item unrelated to the tournament, thanks to chess dad Peter Margulis for a generous donation to the chess club.