“A child is not a vessel to be filled, but a lamp to be lit”. – Hebrew Proverb

I am puzzled by this wonderful proverb. As a parent, I know I should give more freedoms to the kids. “Leave the kids alone!” Is it the right  approach to parenting?

No. I don’t think so. If we just leave the lamp alone, it may never be lit. So the parents should generate a good condition to let lamp to be lit whenever the lamp wants to be lit. The problem is how the parent should do in order to generate this condition, when will the lamp want to be lit, what kind of patience the parents should have. Do you have some suggestions on it?

As for chess, I think daily excise will help to generate this condition, such as half an hour’s puzzles excise. What else, could you please name one?

When will the lamp want to be lit? No one knows, I would like the kids having a good time, the job of parents is to “Wait!” Do you agree?


Wait Wait Chess Parents and Players! – A National Scholastic Tournament (National Youth Action 2009)

Last weekend, Abe and I went to the national Youth Action 2009 in Oak Brook, IL. About 500 kids competed there, since it is not uncommon to have both parents accompanying one kid, I think maybe more than 1000 people were in the hotel for that event.

The picture below shows the playing hall before the first round of the tournament. Since the players occupied most of the room, there is no much space left.   Parents were asked to leave the playing hall before the games. So I could not take a neat picture showing only the players and the tournament directors.

Chess playing hall-before 1st round

Chess playing hall-before 1st round

Some parents waited in the skittles room (shown below)

Skittle room-1st day

Skittle room-1st day

And some parents waited at the door of the playing hall (shown below)

parents-waitting-at door

parents-waiting-at door

The parents are constantly on the move, some parents were reading and analyzing the player standing sheet.

Parents-at-players standing board

Parents-at-players standing board

Sometime when paring sheet was supposed to be posted but had not, parents seemed quite impatient.

Parents-waitting-pairing sheet

Parents-waiting-pairing sheet

Parents were waiting and chatting for two whole days, the players had to wait too. It seemed they are ready for the following round, right?

Chess players waiting to get startted

Chess players waiting to get started

A parent gave a good luck wish to the player. Is it a big support? You bet.

Parents to kids-Good luck

Parents to kids-Good luck

During the lunch break, some kids played outside of the hotel,  nice weather!

some kids playing outside

some kids playing outside

When all nine rounds were over, it was the best time for kids to play with friends while waiting the Awards Ceremony.

Kids-play-no more rounds-wait 4 awards ceremony

Kids-play-no more rounds-wait 4 awards ceremony

Finally, the separation wall was moving, the award ceremony was here.  “Let’s go.”

Wall moving-awards ceremony is next

Wall moving-awards ceremony is next

You see, this National Youth Action is fun and would you please join us?

By the way, Abe did not perform well in this tournament  but hopefully he enjoyed the time and learned something(such as always to slow down) :)

Let’s have a final look at the playing hall, is it nice? See you next time.

Chess playing hall of National Youth Action 2009

Chess playing hall of National Youth Action 2009


Step by step instructions on having your kids start playing in rated chess scholastic tournaments in the US Part II

On the day (days) before the game
1) Have all chess equipments you have ready, such as sharpen the pencils, if you have bought chess digital clocks, learn how to use it and set it to the time control advised on website for the game. But if you do not have chess clocks, not a big deal, maybe your opponent has one; in addition, scholastic chess tournaments we went do not require one.
2) Remember to bring some cash with you, you need buy lunch for you and your kids, and you may need to pay for the registration fee at the door if you did not register in advance.
Some tournaments have some food for sale on site, some do not. Then you have to find a fast food chain nearby.
3) Bring a magazine, book to kill time when you wait in skittles room.
4) Check online, know where is the tournament and where is nearest restaurant for lunch, plan your trip for the next day accordingly.
5) Bring long sleeved cloths for your kids, some playing hall (especially the one located in basement) is too cold.

On the morning of the game
Prepare breakfast for kids. Maybe you do not need to prepare a special one, but do not let kids skip the breakfast. It is a long day, kids need enough energy supply.

Do you need to bring you kids’ games with you, such as DS?
I think it depends. Between the rounds, kids need to kill time, and they also need to take a rest and keep fresh for the next round. If they have nothing to do, they will feel bored. On the other hand, if they kept the energy and concentration on games all the time during the break, they may not have enough gas left in the tank for the next round.
Therefore, my suggestion is:
1) If you know beforehand that several friends of the kids will go to the same tournament. Running around the corridors, lobby or skittles rooms with friends should be a nice activity for them, you do not need to bring game machines with you (remind your kids to be quiet).
2) Otherwise, you may bring the kids’ favorite games with him. But make sure, a) the kids should not play games all the time between the rounds, take some rest by walking around, going to bathrooms or taking some deep breaths, b) the chess tournament should be a good opportunity for your kids to make some new friends to play around.

Not much, it will be a long day, have a good sleep the night before. The purpose is having fun not winning all the games. You will become stronger and better by losing games. But be patient.

Good luck to all of you.


Step by step instructions on having your kids start playing in rated chess scholastic tournaments in the US Part I

Disclaimer and Introduction

This writing is based on the experience of a parent of a scholastic chess player and is not an expert’s extensive list. When my son just start playing in rated scholastic tournament last year, we got many help tips from the chess parents and organizers. I appreciate all the helps we received and want to make some contribution toward the chess community. I wrote this post to help readers, especially the future chess parents, to jump onto this exciting train, chess for kids to reach excellence in future. Please leave your comments if you think I missed anything or made any mistakes.

The biggest hurdle for parents is to think your kids are not good enough to attend the tournaments. In fact, quite the opposite, if you hope you kids becoming better in chess, attend the tournaments. No matter what are the levels of you kids, there is a good possibility that there are kids of both higher and lower levels. Attending the tournament is just the start of the long chess journey. Don’t wait but enjoy it.

But what is a rated tournament? Rating is a measure of how strong the player is at the tournament. This rating, done by USCF (United State Chess Federation) for each USCF member is considered an official measurement in the US, it is updated by USCF after each rated tournament, if you just start playing tournaments, you will get a provisional rating for the first 20 games. So playing in rated tournaments will give you such ratings, it is believed that such ratings, over the long run, are pretty accurate to measure the player’s strength.


1) Join the USCF (United State Chess Federation) at here, pay for your kids, get the member ID. At the time of this writing (11/09), the Premium Scholastic Membership costs $23 a year. If you want to register for multiple kids and/or adults in one family, you may want to consider the family membership.

2) Check local tournaments at here, or a better method is to check your state chess association’s website for more updated lists. For example, in Illinois, you may check here.

Get all details of the tournament your kids would attend. Some important information includes date, location, rounds time, sections, time control, payment method (online or at the door, of course, at the door usually costs more) and the contact information of the organizer (just in case you have questions to ask).

Some tournaments or sections of the tournaments are not rated, playing those tournaments will not get a rating from USCF, select a different one if you want to get an official rating after the tournament (within several days after the tournament, you would normally be able to know this new rating by checking here).

3) Register the tournament. For online registering, select the right rated section and input the USCF member, if you have questions e.g. which section is right, write an email to the organizer. If you want to register at the door (may or may not be allowed for the tournament of your choice), normally you need to email the organizer the name, USCF member ID of the player and your phone number to pre-register the event.

You and your kids are now ready to go to the tournaments, tell your kids “try your best and good luck”.


Andre Agassi: I did not choose tennis when I was young

Today, I heard an interesting interview of Andre Agassi on NPR (the website is here). Andre was a very famous tennis star. In fact, he was widely considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time. On the show, he said he did not choose tennis when he was young but his father pushed him.

Apparently he was so successful despite he did not like tennis to begin with. If it is true instead of a propaganda for his new autobiography, what kind of lessen could we learn as parents? Did you have ever heard complain like “I hate this” or “I hate that” when we ask the kids to practice something? Should the parents allow the kids to give up whatever it is, even the kids could be very successful or one of greatest in future? How do you think?

Please click here to listen the 2nd part of the interview (where Andre Agassi said he hated tennis), for some reason, the 1st part (where Andre Agassi said he did not choose tennis when he was young but his father pushed him) did not show up on the NPR website.


Abe and me, the journey started

About three years ago, once I was roaming in the local library, I found the library would have a class named something like “Chess for Beginners”. So I brought Abe to the class; several kids showed up, along with their parents. The class was very basic, covering how to set the board and how to move each chess piece, it was enough for us, though, as I thought we knew nothing about chess. I remember the first question asked by the instructor something like “Why do you want to play chess?”. The answer was asked to be written on a piece of paper by each player, I thought it was not a bad idea as students would not be embarrassed by their answers. Abe wrote “I want to be a chess master.” I was impressed, I thought to myself “Abe does not know nothing about chess, at least he knows a term.” I knew nothing what is a chess master then.

Around the time of the class, Abe’s mom downloaded some  rules about chess from the internet. I also read some of the printouts, so I stared to learn how to play chess. I borrowed a couple of chess books for kids from the library, Abe sometimes READ the books himself. I am impressed again, since even I would not want to spend time on the books full of symbols and diagrams.

Anyway, except several games mainly in the library for next year, Abe spent almost no time on chess. WAIT, there was one chess tournament he attended, organized by the school district, he got his first trophy although he only got 2.5 points out of 5 ( I guessed some kids apparently did not know how to move chess pieces). he was the first place for 1st grade. In the summer followed, he attended one week’s chess camp run by the park district, he had a fun time. But the chess camp was only for camp’s sake, the camp was very close to our home. We registered Abe for camps all summer, would not miss that one with only minute’s walking distance. I knew Abe’s knowledge of rules was better than me. Sometime, he would ask me or mommy to play with him, I needed frequently to ask them about the rules, such as “what is en passant?”

When Abe was in 2nd grade, he went to the same chess tournament, hoping to get another trophy. Before the tournament, we played several games with some even results (Maybe I recalled wrong.) But this time he did not get any. He said to mommy, “Daddy’s chess is not good enough.”…Oops!?… Both my wife and I thought we should let him having better instructions and practicing with stronger opponents.

Last fall, Abe started to play in a local chess club (for kids), that was about one and half an hours’ playing/instructions per week. At winter break, he started playing in the USCF rated scholastic tournaments. Although I could win once in a while, I do not think he asked me to play with him anymore after his first couple of such tournaments, maybe I was not strong enough…”Why bother…”

I borrowed the first two chess books from the library for my self: “chess for Dummies” by James Eade and “A Parent’s Guide to chess” by Dan Heisman. After his first rated tournament, one of his friends came to our home, I heard two sentences by Abe about me, one was “Even my Dad can beat you”, another was “My Dad is reading Chess for Dummies”. Not sure they were scoffs or showoffs.

The journey started, I felt not bad.


Let’s talk about Josh Waitzkin

Recently I reread a very good article about Josh Waitzkin from Betsy’s blog “Chess Parents and Kids”(It is pity that Betsy left her blog at November, 2008. We would like to see her back).

Many of you know  Josh was being featured in the movie “Searching for Bobby Fisher”, he was a chess prodigy and won many scholastic national champions. But he left competitive chess before he became an adult, he went on becoming a world champion in Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands Competition. According to article, his passion is for education now.

The following exception in the article, said by Josh “I think a lot of well-intentioned parents and teachers are destroying their kids. It is not that they have bad intentions. They just don’t know what the questions are. They don’t know what the important things are to focus on. That’s what I have been thinking about.” It surprised me, compelled me to think: Maybe I did the same mistakes he mentioned? Did I push too hard? Did I gave not enough freedom to the kids? I do not know. But I do know I love my children and want them to be successful, but love alone maybe not enough.

As parents or teachers, should we think about the Josh’s words?  no matter it is for chess or for what else you want your kids to learn.

Please leave you thoughts on it.


Abe’s first novel when he was seven years old

The following is Abe’s first novel when he was seven. Abe wrote it during the Christmas, just for fun.

The Mystery of the Missing People
By Abe
December 29, 2007 Saturday

Once there were four kids named Kevin, Sophie, Henry and Eddie. They went camping with their dad. They brought food, drinks, and their tent and sleeping bags. Once they got there it was dark so their father made a fire. It was ten O’clock so they went to sleep.

In the morning their dad was gone! So Henry made breakfast because he was twenty-two and the oldest. Henry made eggs and toast. They went out to find their dad but couldn’t. By now it was dinnertime. Henry made chicken and they drank coke. Then they went to sleep at ten O’clock again.

That night something or someone took Henry!

When morning came the other kids noticed that Henry and their father were gone! So Kevin made breakfast. He was the second oldest. So Kevin made toast. Then they went to search in the woods. When they were going to come back they got lost. They tried to find their way back but they found three really angry bears. So the kids tried to run away but the bears chased them. The kids finally lost the bears and it was lunch time. They ate Hamburgers and drank code. When they were eating they were thinking a plan to free Henry and their father. Their plan was to distract the bad thing and someone will sneak around the bad thing and free Henry and their father.

The three kids went to search in the woods again but on a different path and met a ghost! Eddie and Sophie got away but Kevin didn’t. There were only Eddie and Sophie. Now Eddie and Sophie knew who the bad guy was. It was almost lunch time. Sophie was the third oldest. She was twelve and loved to cook. Sophie made chicken and they drank sprite. After lunch they went to get fire wood. When they got enough it was dinner time. So they made a fire and Sophie made chicken and they drank sprite again.

The kids went to search for the ghost and they found the ghost in a dark cave! Eddie said to the ghost, “Let Henry, Kevin and my father go!!!” The ghost did not let Henry, Kevin and their father go. Sophie was trying to sneak past the ghost and she did. She saw Henry and Kevin. But where was their father? They took off the ghost’s mask it was their father playing a trick. They hugged and went back home.

It was really a dream.


Acknowledgement: The author thanks his mom for helping him typing the story.