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Schoolhouse Rook: Summer Camp Fun!

Grandmaster Varuzhan Akobian
Grandmaster Varuzhan Akobian shared his knowledge with students at the first 2014 Summer Chess Camp.

Ah, summer! It’s finally here. The kids have been waiting all semester for this long break from school and homework. For them, this vacation represents a break from the everyday routine of the academic year. That means extra fun and games, a chance to hang out with friends, meet new people, learn new skills and find entertaining activities.

Who needs structure? I’ve got vacation, right Mom and Dad?

Well, unless Mom and Dad don’t have to work during the summer, it’s next-to impossible to find all these activities and friends in your own living room. Not to mention the question of supervision and intellectual development. To break the hum-drum and monotony of a summer without inspiration, some structure and daily activity may be exactly the right recipe. CCSCSL summer camps to the rescue!

At the Chess Club and Scholastic Center, our summer programs blend educational programs with puzzles, games, and tournaments, offering chess in a refreshing variety of types and activities. Because parents look for summer camps that mesh their children’s interests with their developmental needs, chess offers a perfect mix of fun games with personal goal-setting. Yes they could be home relaxing, unwinding, watching their favorite TV shows, playing video games, and having nothing but fun. But what will they be learning? Will they be adequately prepared and in mental shape for the next year of school? Who will they spend time with and what new friends will they make?

At the CCSCSL students make personal connections with world class Grandmaster chess players and teachers, the best of the best. With Grandmaster instruction, guidance and structured analysis, the kids will learn more about the game than ever in a short week that they won’t want to end. Trust me, my stepdaughter made this abundantly clear.

Grandmaster Varuzhan Akobian teachesThis June, we welcomed Grandmaster Yury Shulman of Chicago and resident Grandmaster Varuzhan Akobian to share their secrets with us. Both Var and Yury are veterans of several U.S. Championships. They have competed against the strongest players in the country and they have proven themselves to be phenomenal thinkers and planners. This would be an exciting and revealing camp!

Our first camp opened up on Monday 6/9 and ran through Fri 6/13. We divided the 43 kids into two groups, each of which would be taught daily by both Grandmasters. Each day both groups rotated through the classrooms of GM Shulman and GM Akobian, each group meeting one GM in the morning and the other in the afternoon. While on the first day some new nothing of how the pieces moved, they received instruction in movement, space, king safety, piece activity, coordination and time management. Through personal lessons and skill development training, the Grandmasters exhibited metered patience and inspired students to have fun while encouraging incremental progress. By the end of the week, not only did everyone understand some of the most important strategic elements of the game of chess, but they also had developed a passion for playing the game, moving the pieces, finding patterns and making plans!

Each day, it was obvious that because the kids received instruction from both Grandmasters, they learned faster than usual and they thrived. Moving from classroom to classroom and task to task, students were exposed to even more ideas and methods, whether through simple checkmate puzzles, discussion of positional considerations and thought process, hands-on blitz games or bughouse games, team puzzle challenges, or simply game play and post-game analysis.   

Many students improved on the board, showed diligence in their assignments and projects, and reaped the rewards by winning prizes in the daily and weekly competitions. Max, Hans, Axel, Divya, Gabby, Dylan, Charlie, and Daniel were among many contributors to a very entertaining and successful week of chess. Everyone had a smile on their face, everyone played, and everyone learned. I cannot ask for more out of our campers and am so pleased with everything they accomplished.  I thank in particular the talented instructors who guided them and worked with them every step of the way.

It was wonderful to have two of the strongest players and teachers in the United States here in Saint Louis to enlighten us about the game of chess. As they teach the strategies of this complex game, they are also teaching us to control our own minds and emotions. They emphasize how our priorities and feelings impact the decisions we make. Var and Yury helped our students learn to hone their own thinking process, how to tune out distractions and irrelevant information and focus on logical, sequential evaluation. By applying their teachings, we find the specific means to achieve our goals not just on the chessboard but in every important decision that confronts us.