I have just finished attending three National Championship Scholastic Chess Events. One thing I’m generally pretty good at is thinking to myself “if I wasn’t a chess player and wasn’t already immersed in this community, what would I think about things?”
Here’s what I’d think:
“What kind of insane person decided that a child in 3rd grade should be playing chess from 9:00 AM until 11:00PM?”
I know that as American chess players most of us are obsessed with making the game as slow as possible and squeezing in as many hours of chess as possible in a given day. It fits in with our culture of fetishizing those who work 10-12 hour days. But you know what?
THESE ARE CHILDREN!
I don’t care what values you have or how important you think having two hours on the clock is. The moment you tell me that an extremely young child should have to stay up until 11 PM in order to play chess, I stop listening to you as a rational person.
Jason Wang, the #2 ranked 9 year old in the nation, rated 2120, has a bedtime of around 8pm. Of course Jason is one of the most talented kids in the country. Now we are asking him to stay up 3 hours past his bedtime? This is complete lunacy. His father agreed and therefore Jason took a half point bye in Round 5.
How much sleep should children get? From the age of 7-12, ten to twelve hours of sleep is recommended. This is made completely unrealistic with the schedule we currently have in place.
The father of Maximillian Lu, the #2 ranked 10 year old in the nation at 2180 USCF, asked me “why do they use these time controls? It’s too much chess in one day”. On day 3 Max played multiple consecutive four hour games. Needless to say he was completely exhausted for round 5. After the tournament Max’s father wrote me an email to point out that “Max played 22 hours of chess over 7 games”.
The parents of Nate Shuman, the #3 ranked 9 year old in the country at 2050 USCF, were very passionate about how cruel the time control is. Nate’s mother gathered opinions from other top players who agreed and presented them at the Scholastic Meeting. GM Max Dlugy and GM Alex Lenderman were some of the most vocal opponents. Max said “absolutely no professional player would play under these conditions, why are we forcing children to do so?”
I’m telling you about the personal opinions of most of the parents of the top 9-10 year old players in the country. But I shouldn’t have to. Because any person who has common sense should realize that you shouldn’t ask anyone, much less a child, to play chess from 9AM until 11PM.
At the National Junior High Championship one player took a draw in Round 5. I asked why in a post game interview and he said “I’m just so exhausted, I can barely think”. This is a chess tournament, not a contest to see who can stay up the longest and focus without proper sleep.
If you asked Magnus Carlsen to play in a tournament like this, he’d look at you like you were crazy, and then laugh you out of the room. We can’t keep doing this to children.
There has to be a limit to what you force people, especially children, to endure in order to preserve this mythical “quality of chess” obsession. To ensure that kids feel like they got enough bang for their buck in the National Championships, it’s required to have seven games over three days. So since reducing the event to six rounds isn’t an option, this simply means we MUST speed up the time control. Here is my proposal for the time control and the games on Saturday.
The time control would be 90 minutes to start with a 5 second delay.
The schedule would be:
9 AM – Round 3
1 PM – Round 4
6 PM – Round 5
I added an extra hour break in between Rounds 4+5 because that is when kids will be most exhausted and this way they can be assured a decent dinner break and maybe even a short nap. Note that in general I would always try to ensure a full two hours rest in between rounds, but I think an exception probably should be made for one round on Saturday to ensure that kids expect to finish their games no later than 9:15 PM.
I admit that this schedule is still likely to be the most demanding schedule in the nation of any serious tournament and I would never dream of using it for any tournament I organized, but let’s use the baby steps method to end this madness.
The good news? When this topic was brought up at the Scholastic Meeting, it was met with unanimous support. The bad news? There is some overly complex and strange process needed to make the most obvious common sense change one could imagine.
Stop making children play chess until 11 PM! This is not rocket science. We are trying to promote something that’s good for children, not look like out of touch, one dimensional weirdos.