Reminiscences of a "Chess Dad"
Reminiscences of a “Chess Dad”
Seeing the proud parents in the Olympics audience this past week made me start thinking of my days as a “Chess Dad.” It takes a lot of dedication, love and commitment to make a champion, from both the parent and the child.
My son, Jay, was an enthusiastic kindergartener. Everything was new and exciting. A small and not very athletic child, Jay was excited about trying Flag Football. I was amazed at his spunk but he was no “jock.” By first grade, school seemed to have lost some of its luster.
I started looking for something better to fire up his brain than Saturday morning cartoons, playing Battleship and Risk, and building with our Giant Blocks. As an educator, my studies about children told me to consider math, music and chess. He was already getting math and, unfortunately, music is not my thing.
A nice wooden chess set always sat on our coffee table in the living room. I didn’t really play much anymore, but it looked good! I told my wife that I thought Jay was too young for chess. But, she was a teacher, too; so, she asked him if he would like to learn. He thought that was a great idea. He turned out to be one of those remarkable children who “got it” quickly. One game was enough for her; Jay won immediately. Later that day she said, “Your son has something to show you.” He was ready to play me in chess.
THE BEGINNING OF COMPETITIVE PLAY
I hadn’t played in a long time. Jay didn’t come close to winning, but I was amazed at what he knew and how he could “see” the board. I asked him if he would like to learn more and play in tournaments. I had never been to one and didn’t know where they were, but I thought it should be easy to find other children playing chess in a big city like Atlanta. Unfortunately, this was 1973, long before the Internet was even dreamed of and finding chess activities and tournaments was not an easy task.
I did find a 3-Round Quick Swiss planned for a Saturday at Georgia Tech—comprised of all adults, at least in the bottom section where Jay and I played. In the end, Gary King won our section 3-0; I tied for 2nd with 2-1, losing only to Gary; and, Jay lost all 3, including a loss to Gary. I asked Gary to evaluate how we did. He said Jay was his toughest opponent. Well, not a bad start.
Jay told me he wanted to become a top player. I told him that would require training—at least an hour a day, 7 days a week. He gave an enthusiastic “yes” and I look for more places to play. Luckily, we lived near Emory University where there was a Saturday chess club headed up by Mike Decker, a former State Champion and expert retired from chess and several other local clubs. We tried them all, but Mike Decker’s Emory Dorm Room was our favorite. Mike was an amazing player and became Jay’s major trainer.
Since there were not many local tournaments, we did several out of state tournaments. Jay scored his first points, a draw, in an Adult Tournament in Greenville, SC. But, I looked further because there was some scholastic chess, mainly High School, in other cities across the U.S. The Christmas holidays were coming and there seemed to be not only a lot of chess in NYC, but a lot of Scholastic Chess.
Traveling to chess meets became more important and we started a team at Jay’s Elementary school, competing in the High, Middle and Elementary National Championships. His school also competed at the State Level in the State Elementary and High School Championships. At about 9, he attended a chess camp on the University of Michigan Campus headed by GM Lombardy. Jay was one of the “Collins Kids” and played as part of the U.S. Team against the Iceland Team.
For 5 years, from age 7 until about 11, Jay and I didn’t miss a day of doing at least an hour of chess; at tournament time we did even more. At 11, Jay had a great tournament locally and his rating went over 2000.
That was a long time ago. Jay no longer plays chess competitively, but his love of the game and his dedication to study and competition has served him well in his chosen career. He is now a successful entrepreneur in the field of Game Design. He teaches classes at the University of Washington to help others begin to create ever-more advanced game play. And, he analyzes chess puzzles and problems for his Dad.