On the last Monday in June, my brother and I woke up, and made our way over to Teaneck for the first week of the International Chess Academy’s summer camp. We walked in the door, and were immediately greeted by the smiling face of Sergey, the head coach. As we began to set up for the beginning lessons, we watched the students enter in ones and twos. Finally, all the students had arrived, many of whom we knew well from previous classes, but there were plenty of new faces as well. When everyone had come in, received their camp tee-shirt, and gotten situated, the first day of what was to be a very successful summer had begun.
The first, and arguably the most important success was that every camper had fun. The enjoyment experienced by the students can be contributed to a few things. This first of which is the structure of the camp. The camp features three main activities: chess lessons, sports activities, and the chess tournament. The students stay entertained due to the variety these activities offer, as well as improve their chess game. A lot of credit has to be given to the coaches. Each coach was able to keep the attention of the students by providing them with an educational but entertaining lesson. During the sports activities, the coaches were able to provide a variety of games for the students to participate in, so no student ever felt left out, and everyone was able to enjoy themselves. The atmosphere of the camp played a big part in everyone’s fun as well. The camp allowed the students to compete against each other, without any unhealthy pressure to win being placed on anyone. The students quickly learned not to be disappointed over a loss, but rather to view it as a learning experience, and to improve by recognizing what mistakes they made in the game.
Another success of the camp was the improvement the campers showed in their chess games. By the end of each of the weeks, the campers were blundering less often, and finding relatively complicated checkmates in their games. Early one week, Sergey notified the other coaches that there had been a lot of games the previous day that had ended with the four move checkmate (also known as the scholar’s mate, children’s mate, etc.). He wanted to make sure that each of the coaches would instruct their students on the proper ways to respond to this favorite opening of many of the campers. That day, during the tournament games, only one game ended in this way. As Sergey put it, “We defeated the children’s mate.”
Having been at the camp for the past six years, both as a student and as a coach, I have been able to observe the progress of some of the regulars. One of the really great things about chess is that it is relatively easy to track improvement. This summer I was able to see that some students had reached a much higher level of play than that which I had observed in their games of previous summers. The twins Hillel and Yehuda, two young boys whom I had coached a few summers back, have been moving up to more advanced groups each summer. This summer I was able to watch some of their games in progress, and was happy to see some truly advanced ideas coming to fruition in their games. Genry, another regular student at both the camp and the school, has reached a new level of play. Besides successfully solving each chess problem that was assigned to him, his hard work and concentration paid off in his games as well, defeating opponents who, until recently, had been more advanced than he.
This summer also saw the arrival of some youngsters with a great deal of potential. Five year olds Douglas, Ryan, and Ella impressed all the coaches by how well they paid attention during the lessons, and how their studies paid off when they won games against some strong opponents. Starting chess at an early age will help not only with their chess games, but with their analytical abilities and their overall thinking methodologies.
And so with another summer has come and gone. One of the most interesting things for me after each summer is to track the progress of the students. Some of the campers are serious about chess, and begin competing in tournaments and attending the chess school regularly. I enjoy stopping in at the chess school to see how students are progressing, and I am always pleased. At both the camp and at the school, the students truly learn a great deal, and they always prove it in either their games, or their tournament successes.