Mig 
Greengard's ChessNinja.com

Pawns Get Jiggy

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Sourcing is thin, but this report says that Will Smith - known to my generation as the Fresh Prince and not the Men In Black guy - will star in the Disney film adaptation of the Salome Thomas-EL book/story "I Choose to Stay." (Since he was speaking in the town in Oregon where the paper is based, I imagine he's the source.) It was mentioned here last year.

Smith often makes the "celebrities who play chess" lists that are regurgitated on a regular basis. Thomas-EL is on the AF4C board and his book is an interesting and important one. Here's the official site. Positive education and chess images on the screen and in the hands of one of the most popular stars in the world can hardly be anything other than a great thing.

[Update: Salome Thomas-EL comments below after a long thread I haven't been following while taking a few days off.]

84 Comments

"Celebrities who play chess" = Knows how the "horsie" moves. :)

My feelings exactly. Apparently Smith is better than all that, but you hear this all the time and then find out they don't know en passant. Or the immortal Boris Becker Attack (now rehabilitated!).

Well, Smith could potentially be quite good. He did turn down acceptance at MIT for an engineering degree to pursuit his acting/rapping career.

There's this beautiful episode of "The West Wing" where the president makes everyone play chess against him and they keep making fun of the Grand Master title (Grand Jester, Supreme Leader etc...).
Chess is chess and everything else is everything else. Alas.

Great blog btw.

Sorry to put this here, but I just saw a brilliant commercial for Grunding TVís that had chess as the essential, key element in it. If anybody has it, Mig, you should post it on your web site.

Sorry Mig. Feel free to delete this but it does have a chess scene.

http://www.roofinex.com/weak.html

Peace...

How does turning down an offer to attend MIT serve as evidence that a person may be a good chess player? True, there are strong chess players at some of the top institutions in the country (Samson Benen at Princeton, Matthew Hoekstra and Lev Milman at Duke), but the heavy majority of people who play chess at these schools, just like the majority of people who play in general, are not good at all. I have no doubt that Will Smith is an intelligent man, and acceptance to MIT may serve as evidence of that. However, it takes more than intelligence to be a good player, and one need not be a genius to reach master strength.

Hotep,

Maliq

Peace...

How does turning down an offer to attend MIT serve as evidence that a person may be a good chess player? True, there are strong chess players at some of the top institutions in the country (Samson Benen at Princeton, Matthew Hoekstra and Lev Milman at Duke), but the heavy majority of people who play chess at these schools, just like the majority of people who play in general, are not good at all. I have no doubt that Will Smith is an intelligent man, and acceptance to MIT may serve as evidence of that. However, it takes more than intelligence to be a good player, and one need not be a genius to reach master strength.

Hotep,

Maliq

Thanks for posting this Mig.

I'm glad to hear that Disney are finally going to shoot. They were scheduling the shooting, but it didn't happen in 2004 and Thomas-EL didn't know who the principle actor was going to be... I had heard other names, but Will Smith may do well.

http://www.thechessdrum.net/newsbriefs/2004/NB_Vaux.html

Will Smith has had at least THREE lessons from Masters, so he's probably a decent player. He had lessons from Robert Snyder, Marvin Dandridge and Maurice Ashley. I'm sure he knows en passant! (smile)

http://www.thechessdrum.net/newsbriefs/2001/NB_Dandridge.html

http://www.chessforjuniors.com/smith_cage.shtml

In Maurice Ashley's new book, Smith wrote the foreword and talked about how his wife Jada Pinkett sought Ashley out for a lesson on Valentine's Day. "It takes a special wife and an insane husband to play chess on Valentine's Day," quipped Smith.

http://www.thechessdrum.net/MAshleybook.html

I'm trying to picture Smith in this role and it will be different for him. I'll give any updates that I'm sure to hear soon.

Being smart can certainly help with learning to be a better player, but you still need to work at chess and spend time to become a strong player. The most brilliant person is not a GM after learning how the pieces move.

The late Ray Charles was one of the "better" celebrities who played chess, but he was only 1600 at best.

Perhaps it will help to remember that, as those who play tournament chess, we tend to lose sight of just what "being good" means.

A 1400 player (an average tournament player) can beat most people, just as a club pro can beat most golfers. The club pro isn't playing on the PGA tour, but he's a LOT better than almost everyone who meets him.

A 1600 player is usually in the top 1/3 of adult tournament players (and the top 1/5 of all tournament players). He or she can not only beat almost all amateur players, they can by definition beat most tournament players.

http://www.uschess.org/ratings/ratedist.html

A celebrity with a 900 rating would still be "a good player." They just wouldn't be a top level tournament player, but that's a very different thing.

It has been said that chess is one of those fields where the higher you go, the worse you get. Which is to say, the higher you go, the more you understand the gap between yourself and the very highest level.

I'm not in favor of title proliferation. And I definitely believe masters and above deserve great respect.

But the PGA keeps its fans in part because it respects them, and it acknowledges the fact that a club pro is a very good player indeed, even if he's not in the tournament elite.

A person who knows enough to want a lesson for themselves (rather than their children) is probably a much better player than most people they will ever meet. There's no reason to be cynical about their skills simply because they wouldn't get invited to the US Championship.

Respectfully,
Duif

Mr. Smith's media rep informs me that he prefers to be referred to as "the artist formerly known as Fresh Prince." He has, however, considered changing his name to a mysterious symbol, "=+", believed to be pronounced "Blackisbetter."

Ah good, the old 'celebrities who play chess' debate. I've contributed a fair few names to Bill Wall's list and all of those have been more than just 'knowing how the horsie moves'. I know it would be more than just a bit naff but I think networks are really missing a trick by not doing Pro Celebrity Chess.

Incidentally, the awful Jamie Cullum has a chess reference in new his song. Doesn't touch 'White Rabbit' or 'Cue Fanfare' in terms of songs with chess in...

Smith wasn't HORRIBLE. He knew how to play but was tactically weak.

The late Ray Charles was one of the "better" celebrities who played chess, but he was only 1600 at best.

I believe 1600 is great for a blind man. Please remember this is a movie and Will Smiths games will probably be carefully choreographed.

Staying on Duif's golf theme (and the celebrities who play chess)...

...Why isn't there some sort of Pro-Am equivalent in chess?
Something along the lines of The Bob Hope Celebrity Pro-Am. Where celebs are paired off with PGA Tour pros.
I don't think it's a good ideal to have the celebs go head to head the pros (aka Woody Harrelson vs. Kasparov) but pair each celeb with a pro and have celebs play only other celebs and pros play each other. Whatever team has the most cumulative points is the winner. etc.
You could call something like the Humphrey Bogart Memorial.

Peace...

Please remember both that Will Smith is going to be executing choreographed moves and also that he is not playing the part of a dominant tournament player, but rather of a noble and outstanding coach and mentor. As such, his chess skill is not what is important; his proficiency at portraying a great leader is. It does help that he is familiar with the game and has independent interest in it, as this makes for a more genuine performance, but nobody is asking him to find mate in six with a queen sac in order to make this movie worth seeing.

Hotep,

Maliq

Frankly, I found EL's book to be pretty awful. I researched scholastic chess in Philadelphia for a class last year, talking with Steve Shutt and Dan Heisman. While giving my presentation on the final day of class, in walks Salome Thomas-EL, out of the blue, introduces himself and hands out brochures for his book and website. He had seen the Morphy Opera House game up on the projector as he was walking by. Anyway, I read I Choose to Stay afterwards, which was ghostwritten very sloppily, and didn't find it to be so inspirational.

I found it offputting that he calls himself leader of the 8 time (maybe it's 7, I forget) National Champions Mighty Bishops... but he was only the coach for 1 of those years. The other 7 times were over a decade before him. That's a bit of misleading self-promotion. Also, his kids won the under-1000 section, not the open section, which of course Masterman won.

Also, he's no longer the principal at Reynolds, and hasn't been since the 2003-2004 school year. I think it's also strange that he hasn't changed that info on his website in the last 15 months.

I did get a lot out of his book, but it really left me feeling not so inspired and a little bit uneasy about him. Ironically, I'm hopefully starting up a chess club at a K-8 school in SW Philly in the next few weeks. The administration is very excited about a chess club because of EL's book.

Ducksredux,

His book was pretty AWFUL? Interesting. Sounds as if you were influenced prior to reading the book. You say it's awful, then you say you got a lot out of it. Which is it?

Of course, we will get different things out of books we read. You may not find this book inspiring and that's OK. His book has inspired a lot of people, but of course for a tournament player, it will not bring the same excitement... especially since Salome is not known on the tournament circuit. In fact his book is less about chess than it is about THE STORY. You may not realize how hard it is to do what he did.

There are some issues with the book... certainly. While this type of story is not new, the title is compelling and the message is quite powerful. At least it is to me... as an university educator. I suppose once you start the K-8 program and win the under-1000 title at supernationals, you'll be more inspired by the magnitude of what he did. Not easy.

About Vaux... here's a piece I did a while ago.

http://www.thechessdrum.net/historicmoments/HM_mayjun03.html

Ducksredux,

When did he call himself the coach of the former championship teams? I've never known him to make that claim and I don't remember it in the book. Did you hear him say this?

I was impressed by the whole concept until I heard about the under-1000 thing. Now I think it just vanity, hype, PR, fundraising strategy, and general 'everyone is a winner even in chess even if you are sub 1000'.

The top site on a google search comes up with the breathless boasting below:

http://www.timesx2.com/vaux/history.htm

The Roberts Vaux Middle School Chess Team, also known as The Mighty Bishops, is the best youth Chess Team in America. The Vaux Chess Team has won eight consecutive city and state championships! Vaux Chess team has won eight national championships (seven consecutive)!! The Mighty Bishops need your financial support to continue their success. Read on and contribute!

The Mighty Bishops are based in Philadelphia at The Roberts Vaux Middle School, 24th & Master Streets. The team is the U.S. Super National Champion of 1997. The Mighty Bishops are a co-ed team that features top female and male Chess Players in the United States today.

Even the Senate got conned, although there is a subtle reference to 'their sections':

Mr. SANTORUM. Mr. President, I would like to take a few moments of Senate business to congratulate a group of middle school students from Philadelphia. On April 29, the Roberts Vaux Middle School Chess Team won first place in their K-8 division at the National Scholastic Chess Championship in Knoxville, TN. Competing against 4,300 students from almost every State in the Union, team members also earned individual awards for the third and sixth best players in the Nation, as well as for the top sixth and eighth graders in their sections. Additionally, Vaux's Salome Thomas-El won a coach's award.
Collectively known as the Mighty Bishops, or the `Bad Bishops,' Demetrius Carroll, Charles Mabine, Earl Jenkins, Anthony Harper, Anwar Smith, Denise Pickard, Latoria Spann, Alisca Shropshire, Tanisha Edwards, Tyeisha Falligan, Donzell White, Thomas Allen, and Ralph Johnson have worked hard for this victory. For instance, the Mighty Bishops practiced at least 5 days per week for 3 hours each day. They used a library of chess books and some computer programs to learn strategies for all aspects of the game. More importantly, they sharpened their problem solving, critical thinking, and decisionmaking skills--skills that will help them not only in competition, but also in life.

Prior to winning the national championship, the team secured significant victories at other competitions. This past January, the Mighty Bishops received first place individual and fourth place team trophies at the Greater New York Junior High Chess Championship. At the U.S. Amateur Team Championship in Parsippany, NJ, Vaux received the top record of any middle school. I would also note that the Mighty Bishops placed second at the Pennsylvania State Championships.

Mr. President, I am proud of these students. These bright young people are a credit to themselves, their school, their families, and their community. I ask my colleagues to join me in congratulating the Mighty Bishops and in extending the Senate's best wishes for continued success.

Fisher,

Yes... that website is poorly conceived and executed. However, is the point of this thread to critique and pinpoint the marketing shortcomings of Vaux and/or Salome Thomas-El? I don't understand how we go from celebrating a story of triumph (and Will Smith's chess) to picking out all sorts of issues that have little to do with what Thomas-El's story is about. Have you read the book? If so, let's discuss it.

Although I don't agree with the spirit of what was written about the 1997 team, winning under-1000 is no less significant that any other class since you are playing within your own level. It's about relative skill sets. Why trivialize success by saying, "Oh that was only 1st under-1000 out of 50 or 60 teams." It's a ridiculous argument.

Winning a championship section is more significant than winning under-1000. Becoming a GM is more significant than becoming an FM. Winning an Olympic Gold in 100 meters is more significant than winning the Philadelphia High School championship.

What other American sport allows itself to cover up the spirit of competitive excellence in this syrup of self-adulation?

Training 3 hours a day 5 days a week and entering under-1000? That's like entering a ringer in the pony race.
Get up to over-1000 strength and then lack the spirit to fight with the over-1000 players, so you are sure to pick up lots of trophies?

Chess is good for the kids, but let's not pretend they are national chess champions.

Daaim, I'm sure you're right, and maybe I'm overstating this. What I got out of the book is that it's possible to teach in the inner city if you really dedicate yourself to teaching. So that's what I mean when I said I got a lot out of it. It changed my mind about Philadelphia at a pretty crucial time in my life. But the writing itself and the way the book is organized and the way it ends on such a dour note I found pretty dreadful.
He certainly didn't take credit for the former 7 wins, but he does call himself coach of the eight-time national chess champions, which I think is misleading. Can't locate it with only a minute or two before I leave, but Google turns up quite a bit of stuff on it. It's weird.

I know this is not the best place for it. But, does anyone know about Jude Acers? I know he is listed as alive. (And he should be!lol) Just how is he doing.

Peace...

How many people who are criticising Vaux have ever tried to market a scholastic chess team? Do sponsors want to hear "The kids like playing afterschool on Tuesday?" No, they want their names associated with winners, and so the teams are marketted as winners. When I was a scholastic player, such sections did not exist; there was U1300 and open, and the one time I played U1300 I was embarassed to let people know what section I was playing. However, as a scholastic coach, I realize that it is quite an accomplishment to have students learn the moves of the game and win one of these sections in the same year. Those who are unfamiliar with what it means to coach a scholastic team may not feel the same way, but note that scholastic chess is not all about creating Grandmasters. I was as proud when Medina Parrilla was 6-0 in the U900 section at SuperNationals II in 2001 as I was when she finished second at this year's nationals, even though she was in a higher section, because her effort level never waned. Understand the difference between scholastic chess and top-level chess before you criticise. It seems that many of you are missing the point, and also that some of you choose to ignore the fact that Salome's book was about choosing not to leave students he had committed himself to, NOT about creating IMs and such.

Hotep,

Maliq

Ducksredux,

If you can show me the statement in the book, that would be great. Reporters get stuff wrong all the time when they report on chess.

Some parts of the book are dreadful, but it's the reality of obstacles that he faced. When "Fu" Briggs was shot on the corner in a senseless death, it struck a sad chord, but that boy had accomplished something in chess. That may be the only thing in his obituary... member of a championship-level team. You may remember that the book ended with testimonies and what Vaux players were doing after the championship year. Some good stories.


fisher,

You seem to be missing a big point. They are national champions, but at their level. As I said, and I agree with DucksRedux, it's wrong to give the impression that this is the overall title, but the championship they won is still significant.

If you disagree with the marketing, that's one thing, but don't say that under-1000 is not significant. That's why we have classes and categories in sports. For example, Alexander Lenderman won the world under-16 championship. That is significant without comparing it to under-18. Yes... the level may be higher in under-18, but that's not the point.

We're not talking about which championship is harder to attain or more prestigious. Each of those championships are significant, relatively speaking. You are playing people at your own level.

Another point you are missing is that the practice regiment is a testament to the will of Vaux players and all other teams had the opportunity to do the same thing. There are no ringers in these sections unless we have some unrated immigrant Masters playing on these teams.

In terms of syrupy adulation... American sports is rife with it. Have you noticed that American sports use "World Champions" for national leagues? That never occurred to you?

You fixation on which title is important is misplaced... save that for the World Championship. Concentrate on the STORY... it would still be a great story if Vaux had won nothing.

Does anyone remember a 1987 PBS WonderWorks film, "The Mighty Pawns" (available on VHS from amazon.com): it's based on the Vaux story. California master Hal Bogner did a good consulting job on it, making sure the chess was realistic and interesting, and he even had a cameo appearance.

I was genuinely impressed when I first heard the story maybe a couple of years ago. I thought bright kids had worked hard and got to 2000 level or so, and beaten the yuppie magnet schools at their own game. And I had no reason to doubt they could do it.

I was genuinely saddened to hear about the under 1000 business. Of course its marketing, but its not intellectually honest, and chess players should be rigorously objective.

I'm sure I am missing something, but my point is being missed too. Champion 'at a level' is a new concept to me, but a good one. I will enter the Olympic 100 meters for middle aged men who never made it in under 20 seconds before. I'll train a lot and win by doing it in 18 seconds. Sure I'll beat Jean Paul Touze.

Did the Vaux players go on to higher sections? Try themselves in top sections? I hope so, win or lose, otherwise they never learned anything.

About the book, I ordered it from Amazon, whether I agree with the chess line or not, I think it should be good story.

Yes, why would we as chessplayers want an inspirational film to be made that features a teacher who uses chess as a way to better his students abilities and their self-esteem? Particularly when said film is set to star an A-list Hollywood celebrity? No, no, no - don't want that. Much better to shun any publicity or popularity such an inspirational film might provide to chess. Excuse me now while I play with my rigorous objectivity...

Yes, why would we as chessplayers want an inspirational film to be made that features a teacher who uses chess as a way to better his students abilities and their self-esteem? Particularly when said film is set to star an A-list Hollywood celebrity? No, no, no - don't want that. Much better to shun any publicity or popularity such an inspirational film might provide to chess. Excuse me now while I play with my rigorous objectivity...

...or the post button, it would appear. :)

Peace...

Fisher, again, you miss the point entirely. You are swimming in the Atlantic Ocean in search of San Diego. Unless you have been in the library of a public school with some of these kids at 7am teaching them how to win R+P vs. R, as I have done, then don't criticize kids for their efforts and what those efforts have yielded. Regardless of which section a team is competing in, seven rounds over the course of three days is a lot for many scholastic players to make it through, let alone making it through with first place in hand. You trivialize it because they were not competing in the top sections, but unless there was some claim that they were the best team in the land, then your criticism makes no sense. It takes a hell of a lot to get kids to 1000 rated level, and if you think not, then answer for me how teams trained by masters, IMs, and even GMs compete in the same sections.

On a related note, let me share a story from my own teaching career. In 2003, a team I coached finished in 3rd place in the U750 section at Junior High School Nationals. A story was run on us in the local paper, and in reading that story, I found many an inaccuracy, to say the least. One player won the top unrated player class prize, and the newspaper represented it as him "having beaten everyone in his rating class", apparently unaware of the distinction. Is this the fault of me or the school? Did we present such a thing as fact? Indeed, we were as surprised to see it as anyone else, and we even joked about how things get out of hand when people want to sell papers. There is no reason to attack Salome for what was written, especially since you have NO evidence that he contributed anything to the story whatsoever. Just chill out, man! Respect the guy for what he did, which was to dedicate his time to the kids and to the program, and stop trying to take shots at him.

On a final note, until recently, I lived in Bronx, New York. Of course, the local papers, in introducing the Hall-of-Fame manager of the most storied baseball team in the world, noted "manager of the 26-time World Series Champion New York Yankees, Joe Torre". The team did, in fact, win 26 titles. Did Torre do so? Unless the man specifically says that he coached this team to 8 titles, then please educate me on how he is misrepresenting his role within the program.

Hotep,

Maliq

Peace...

Fisher, again, you miss the point entirely. You are swimming in the Atlantic Ocean in search of San Diego. Unless you have been in the library of a public school with some of these kids at 7am teaching them how to win R+P vs. R, as I have done, then don't criticize kids for their efforts and what those efforts have yielded. Regardless of which section a team is competing in, seven rounds over the course of three days is a lot for many scholastic players to make it through, let alone making it through with first place in hand. You trivialize it because they were not competing in the top sections, but unless there was some claim that they were the best team in the land, then your criticism makes no sense. It takes a hell of a lot to get kids to 1000 rated level, and if you think not, then answer for me how teams trained by masters, IMs, and even GMs compete in the same sections.

On a related note, let me share a story from my own teaching career. In 2003, a team I coached finished in 3rd place in the U750 section at Junior High School Nationals. A story was run on us in the local paper, and in reading that story, I found many an inaccuracy, to say the least. One player won the top unrated player class prize, and the newspaper represented it as him "having beaten everyone in his rating class", apparently unaware of the distinction. Is this the fault of me or the school? Did we present such a thing as fact? Indeed, we were as surprised to see it as anyone else, and we even joked about how things get out of hand when people want to sell papers. There is no reason to attack Salome for what was written, especially since you have NO evidence that he contributed anything to the story whatsoever. Just chill out, man! Respect the guy for what he did, which was to dedicate his time to the kids and to the program, and stop trying to take shots at him.

On a final note, until recently, I lived in Bronx, New York. Of course, the local papers, in introducing the Hall-of-Fame manager of the most storied baseball team in the world, noted "manager of the 26-time World Series Champion New York Yankees, Joe Torre". The team did, in fact, win 26 titles. Did Torre do so? Unless the man specifically says that he coached this team to 8 titles, then please educate me on how he is misrepresenting his role within the program.

Hotep,

Maliq

Very well-stated Maliq! Hard to follow.

fisher,

Say what you want to say, but no one on this blog can trivialize the sacrifice of Salome Thomas-EL and the good that he did for the youth in Philly. Both Maliq (from the Bronx) and me (from Chicago's southside) understand the value of this inspiration. You may not. I had a sit-down with Thomas-EL in Philly and he had one of the former Vaux students with him. You could tell the impact he played in the young man's life.

http://www.thechessdrum.net/newsbriefs/2003/NB_Vaux5.html

On the book... some of the players did beat MUCH higher-rated players. There is a story about Demetrius Carroll beating an expert... 1000+ points higher-rated. Have you ever beat a player 1000 points higher? That's why you should read (or re-read) the book to get the details.

On winning... if one is disabled, they can compete in the Paralympics event at 100 metres and win a gold medal... BUT only if they train hard and make the sacrifices to be the best AT THAT LEVEL. It doesn't matter if you can't beat Justin Gatlin, the world-class sprinter. You are still a champion within your realm and abilities. Again... winning is only the sidebar of the story.

Daaim and Maliq,
thanks much for your input. I've thought about this a lot more today and decided that my unease with EL's character and the way he markets himself stems from the way Cecil Murphey writes rather than from EL's accomplishments. A great story told badly. (The mention of the "eight-time national championship" thing, by the way, is in his own promotional brochure http://www.ichoosetostay.com/NewBrochureEl.pdf and on his About Me page http://www.ichoosetostay.com/html/about_salome_thomas-el.html

After meeting him, I was really hoping that his book would be much more inspirational than his story, but I didn't find it so. But I think Disney will do a much better job than Murphey with the story, since they are masters at using every device invented in the last 100 years of cinema to build towards an emotional crescendo.

I wish also that the book had focused more on the impact on these kids lives, rather than on how amazing their accomplishment was.

You're right that it is a tremendous accomplishment to win an under-1000 national, and it's wrong to belittle that. If my (future) club wins the under-whatever anythings I'll probably repeatedly soil myself with explosive joy.

Correction...

Demetrius Carroll beat a player 1071 points higher, but it was in another team tournament, not the SuperNationals. However, there were some huge "upsets" as I recall.

On page 215, the book reads...

"Masterman had competed in a different division-the K-8 open division. They also had a team in the high school division. They won the championship in the K-8 open and high school division, while we won the K-8 championship in the under 1000 division. Each section fielded about 100 schools, the largest chess tournament in world history. They called it 'SuperNationals'."

Again... the book makes it clear when read in proper context. There IS a mistake on the website, but I do not believe he was intentionally pretentious. Someone merely got the wording wrong. Despite my dislike for Maliq's Yankees and Knicks (smile), I do like Maliq's analogy with Joe Torre... the "coach of the 26-time Major League Champions, the New York Yankees."

Peace...

C'mon, Daaim, envy is a terrible thing! The Yankees are the greatest. It is okay to concede this, same as I had to concede that those Chicago BS's, er, I mean Bulls, were the best team of their era.

Hotep,

Maliq

It's quite common in scholastic sports for there to be multiple classes at the "national championships."

Karate, for example, has Beginner, Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced sections--and then goes further and divides each by year. So you can win the Boys' 10-year-old Novice Class at the National Championships.

http://www.aaukarate.org/sports/Karate/2005_National_Results.pdf

AAU Track (I suppose I should say that the AAU is the largest athletics organization in the country) has even more subdivisions at its national championships. You could be the national champion for 100 meter track in the Primary, Bantam, Sub-Midget, Midget, Youth, Intermediate, or Young class.

http://www.aauathletics.org/pages/records/nat-club-champ-boys.htm

Even college football has Division I, II, and II, so you can be the Division III National Champions, although these events are not held at the same time.

So up through college, I think the United States has a long tradition of recognizing "national champions" in multiple categories. Of course, the most prestigious is the overall title, but the others do get respect as well.

Where things get different is at the adult level. There divisions are generally reserved for amateur sports, where it's recognized that people have different amounts of time to put in. Tennis, for example, does offer citywide championships in many areas in Division III, Division II, Division I etc, as well as dividing participants into 5 year age groups. But those are all amateur level activities.

So to answer the question of do other sports do this, I think the answer is clearly yes when it comes to anything high school level and below, and a modified yes even for college level participation.

For adults, section championships are usually limited to amateurs, but they are often used there.

So I don't think there's anything particularly unusual about scholastic chess in this regard. The same schools probably have similar division goals for their other team activities.

Respectfully,
Duif

Well, this is a little comparing USC's dominance when they actually have little to offer players other than a shot at a national title to UMBC's Pan Am titles. I'm pretty sure UMBC had a $150,000 payroll whereas stanford probably had a $0 payroll, but they may have covered some traveling expenses, surely nobody on stanford's team was getting an appearance fee. If the yankees truly had something special there, they would have at least one title in the last 4 years during which they had the highest total salary every year, now that's pure moneyball in action.

That sub-bantam stuff is an age class, not a strength class, is it not? Age class is clearly legit, the best Under-16 boy in the world for example, as in Alex Lenderman.

Where there are classes, it is a class champion not a national champion.

The USCF chess Supernationals 2005 are quite clear:

Prize Winners K-12 Championship K-12 Under 1500 K-12 Under 1200 K-12 Under 900 K-12 unrated K-9 Championship K-8 Championship K-8 Under 1250 K-8 Under 1000 K-8 Under 750 K-9 Unrated K-6 Championship K-5 Championship K-3 Championship K-1 Championship K-6 Under 1000 K-5 Under 900 K-3 Under 800 K-6 Unrated K-12 Blitz K-8 Blitz K-6 Blitz K-12 Bughouse K-6 Bughouse Parents & Friends - Rated Parents & Friends - Unrated

There are Championship classes - national champions, and there are class winners. There is no "Parents & Friends - Unrated National Champion".

The CHESS performance of the Vaux kids is very poor, after 5 years tournament play the better boys were getting to 1300 or so. They are not national champions in chess, and their chess achievement is very mediocre.

I think there is no reason they should not be competing strongly in open sections, if they were not held back by the vanity of winning trophies at novice level after intensive training.

I think it is despicable for Daaim to introduce this logic:

"On winning... if one is disabled, they can compete in the Paralympics event at 100 metres and win a gold medal... BUT only if they train hard and make the sacrifices to be the best AT THAT LEVEL. It doesn't matter if you can't beat Justin Gatlin, the world-class sprinter. You are still a champion within your realm and abilities. "

There is NO LIMIT to the Vaux kids if they pushed to be the BEST IN THE NATION. They are not disabled and have no limits to their 'realm'.

What's next

National Chess Champion (under 1000)
Perfect SAT (for under 1000)
Deans Honor List (for top 10% of C students)
Best Surgeon in New York (among those whose hands shake).

Give me a break. The kids deserve an honest go at being the best they be in everything, and sure that is more than 1000 elo points.

Will Smith never had an offer of admission from MIT:
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.07/smith.html

Well, I don't disagree with your article, but clearly something got miscomunicated into a jeopardy question.

Peace...

Fisher, it is quite clear to me that you have either no experience whatsoever with teaching chess or that you have some illusion about what went on during the period of your involvement. No, students are NOT only winning these sections because they are being held back in some vain attempt to get glory. Time is not the determining factor in how advanced a student can get. I was 1400 when I entered high school, and I played all open sections while receiving master training.

I don't want to be rude, but it is clear that you do not know what you are talking about, so you need to keep it quiet already. You don't determine what a national champion is; this is indisputably the winner of a section at Nationals. You don't determine what constitutes acceptable progress for a student; whatever maximum effort yields is acceptable progress by default.

On a final note, your comparisons are completely ridiculous. Surely, one who argues as vehemently as you do must be able to come up with better examples. To compare going 7-0 in a section of one's peers to scoring below 1000 on the SAT is absurd, because the SAT is not graded on a curve. One is competing against every other student who is taking that test, and the one who achieves the top score reigns supreme in some way. If you were complaining about an open tournament in which a class-prize winner was declared a National Champion, then your argument would make sense, but it does not in present form.

Hotep,

Maliq

You missed the point of the analogy. The point was that there are competitions with different classes based on skill and specific parameters. Even though you are not amongst the elite overall, you can still compete amongst those who have the same or similar ablilities. If you win you are a champion at THAT level. Your success at that level is independent of what happens to the top section because you are not competing in that section. Understand? So for you to compare a under-1000 team with a top section team makes no sense.

Those players in the under-1000 are ONLY "handicapped" in that they may not have gotten the exposure or the training of a top-tier team who may have had a solid program, specialized coaching, travel expenses, an abundance of resources and assistance. I know for a fact that Vaux had scarce resources and relied heavily on un-paid volunteers, donations, city support and Thomas-EL's dedication to pay for expenses. Vaux BARELY scraped up enough money to make the 1997 SuperNationals. There were lots of obstacles (and handicaps), but you haven't read the book so you may not know the story.

You're trying to make the point that Vaux is a poor team because they are rated under-1000, but that is not the issue here. We're looking at performance against the 50-100 LIKE teams in their section... where they were the champions.

Question: Do you play in tournament chess? What is your rating?

My last comment was of course directed to "fisher."

Daaim,

They surely are champions among the 50-100 or whatever under-1000 teams. They are great kids and that they use chess to focus and get to college and a good life is a shining example to many.

My rating is about 2000. No, I have never beaten anyone 1000 points higher than me. If I did it would be his (or her) mistake, not my skill.

I know enough about youth chess in several countries to expect a lot better of bright 14 year boys than to accept an under-1000 place.

My main point - a class winner is not a National champion. In the supernationals, there are Championship sections, where the winner is National Champion. There are class sections where the winner is - a section winner.

The peaceful Malik telling me to keep it quiet already isn't going to change this simple fact.

What appears to be the Robert Vaux Middle School website (http://www.timesx2.com/vaux/index.htm) starts off with this line:

"The best Middle School Chess Team in America is the Vaux Chess Team".

In terms of chess strength, that's plainly not and never was true. Using it as a line to attract funding is dubious.

To be a national champion in anything you need the talent, and the work, and the privilege, and the money. Hopefully a big sponsor will come in and challenge kids like these to do whatever it takes to really be the best.

Peace...

Fisher, you are on a crusade of some sort which cannot succeed. They are not "class prize" winners. If you win a section at Nationals, you are National Champion for that section. This is quite simple. Otherwise, the section wouldn't exist. All of the schools recognize these winners as National Champions. USCF recognizes these winners as National Champions. Your protest, therefore, is empty. You do not have a leg to stand on. This is not a matter of changing your opinion; rather, it is a matter of simply establishing that, for all of your passion, you are indisputably as wrong as two left shoes. It is not even a question to be debated. What may be debated is the value of having these sections, but once the section exists, the winner is National Champion for that section, plain and simple.

Also, you claim to know a lot about youth chess in several countries, but I sincerely doubt that this is the case. (You apparently don't even know the difference between youth chess and scholastic chess.) This is because you hold this assumption that all youth MUST reach a certain level of over-the-board achievement if given the time and resources. How is it, then, that well-off adult students in New York City are unable to challenge seriously over the board even if they are intelligent? Why is it that there are people at Duke who are relatively weak players even though they are clearly intelligent? Explain to me how Harvard grads hold ratings of 1300 well into their adult years despite having a passion for the game. Your contention that these kids are underachieving because they are bright and yet only hit 1000 shows that you do not understand chess improvement and what is necessary for it to come about. No, not every rocket scientist has the potential to become a GM if he or she wants to. No, not every kid from an affluent community will get to even Class B or A regardless of how much money is spent by his or her parent. I have worked with students and have had some experience great success at the board (one winning 2nd place in U1800 at World Open, another peaking at 2100, amongst other success stories), while others never made it out of novice sections in scholastic tournaments. You don't understand the balance, and this is evident, so do not claim that you do.

Hotep,

Maliq

fisher,

I'm not sure how someone with a 2000 rating can miss these points. You sound uninformed. Maliq has laid out the SuperNationals format... each of those sections in SuperNationals are separate NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS. Plain and simple.

For the record, the EARLIER champion Vaux teams (starting in the 1970s) had much more in the way of resources and had several strong players who were 1800, 1900 and Howard Daniels who was a Master (at 15 years and 4 months). They received assistance from a successful feeder program run by Steve Shutt (who later went to Masterman) and coaching from FM Boris Baczsinskij and other local Masters.

In terms of the website, it has been said before that it is poorly presented, but that doesn't detract from Vaux's 1997 accomplishment. If you look at the book it is clear what is claimed. I have quote the book above.

Again... we are missing the point mentioned earlier. Thomas-EL's initiative is not about creating IMs and GMs, it is about giving hope to youth who have faced tremendous obstacles in life. It is about winning in life more than it is winning at chess.

Chess provides a vehicle for expression of success and the 1997 Vaux kids may have tasted success for the very first time in their entire lives... or had the happiest times of their lives. It's a wonderful story. However, if you've never been around inner-city neighborhoods, you may not be able to appreciate the depth of the story. It seems like your only recourse is to say, "Well they should have done better."

Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to the movie production and hope to play a role in its success.

I would like to share the following clip in which Salome Thomas-EL speaks briefly. It is about the Moten Elementary chess program in DC. Vaughn Bennett helps to run this program. I know of many stories like this.

(Dial-up)
http://www.thechessdrum.net/chessacademy/video/DC_Moten(low).wmv

(Broadband)
http://www.thechessdrum.net/chessacademy/video/DC_Moten(high).wmv

Below is a video about Orrin Hudson, who does something similar. Again... chess is the secondary story here.

(Dialup)
http://www.besomeone.org/video/CampaignVideo_low.wmv

(Broadband)
http://www.besomeone.org/video/CampaignVideo_med.wmv

You can do searches at "The Chess Drum" on Thomas-EL, Vaughn Bennett and Orrin Hudson to see the impact these men are making. These are heart-warming stories.

The Chess Drum, http://www.thechessdrum.net/

Fisher,

I understand your concerns. All I can say about the "National Championship" title is that it's a common practice in scholastics. Some sports are divided only by age. Others, like Gymnastics and Karate, are divided by Skill Class and Age. And you can be the National Champion for Boys 10 year old Beginners in several AAU sports.

THE TIMES TWO WEBSITE

The Website that you found is NOT the official Vaux Website. It's the Website of the Web Development company ("times two") that designed a 1999 Website for Vauxís chess team. (You can see from the content that it was last updated in the Spring of 1999.) We don't have any way of knowing what corrections were made before or after, or, indeed, if the site was ever used. It may just have been a designer's mock-up, used now as a portfolio example.

I once coached a team that won a local weekend event. The school newsletter said that the school had won "the City Championship." That line never came from me or any of my kids. It was just a well-meaning Editor, covering 8 stories, who misunderstood what the trophy in the office meant.

There IS no official school website (more on why that is so below)

http://www.phila.k12.pa.us/offices/psit/schools/rvaux.html

THE SCHOOL ENVIRONMENT

Vaux is not just a city school. It is a school in a very difficult environment. Fewer than 10% of Vaux students meet the state average for proficiency in Math or Reading (although it should be noted that these numbers have gone up from 3% to 8% in the last few years).

http://www.greatschools.net/modperl/achievement/pa/2086

Itís one of the lowest schools in the district, where the average is about 31% meeting proficiency (as compared to Vaux's 8%).

And...12% of its kids don't even get tested, which usually indicates a high turnover rate. It's a Title 1 School, so as many of the best kids as possible will transfer to other, better performing schools.

In fact, Vaux is in the lowest level of all Pennsylvania schools: Corrective Level II. It met 0 out of 6 Academic targets for a public school (although again showing some significant improvement in the last 10 years).

I don't know what your image of a "bright 11 year old" is, but most of the kids coming into the program in 6th grade don't read well. Don't have videogames at home, let alone chess sets. Don't have books. Don't have internet access.

And just as most of the best students will transfer out if they can, it is traditional that, if a local teacher does well, he or she transfers out to a better school. Safer. Easier. More educational opportunities. More money.

THE REAL STORY

Thomas-El's book isn't intended to showcase chess accomplishment. It's about a teacher who was offered the opportunity to transfer but who "chose to stay." It's about WHY he was one of very, very few of the best teachers who chose to stay in arguably the worst school in the state.

He found chess was inexpensive enough, competitive enough, and stimulating enough to work at a school where almost nothing works. And he declined the transfer.

Many other school stories are about students achieving greatness. So it's easy to assume that that's what this story is about, and then to criticise it on the basis of the level that the students reached.

But this story is really about why a teacher chose not to transfer out of one of the most difficult teaching environments in America.

Thomas-El saw chess competency as a means of showing kids in an environment where almost nothing goes right that they could, in fact, work hard at something intellectual and get better at it. Not necessarily great. Better was enough.

And he chose, in his personal example, to show these kids that not everyone in America was busy running as fast as they could AWAY from the problems these kids faced every day. He chose to stay. That's the story.

So this isn't a typical underdog sports story. The movie may turn it into one, I don't know. But the importance of the story is not in what he did, but in where he did it. I donít know if heís a great coach. But that wasnít what he was after. He wanted these kids to understand that school was a place where you learn things. That may seem obvious in most other environments, but it hasnít been a given at Vaux for a long time.

So maybe these kids didnít learn the subtleties of the Sicilian, or how to mate with Bishop and Knight, or the theory of dynamic imbalances. But they learned that they could learn. And he showed that a teacher can help you learn both in and out of the classroom.

And thatís a story worth telling.

--duif

I'll admit that I haven't read all the comments to this post (although I have read most of them), but I noticed that one thing was missing: a 1000 rating among scholastic players is often not comparable to a 1000 rating of an adult. I played in a few scholastic tournaments when I was in high school and achieved a rating of 1346 before trying my hand at some adult tournaments. After a year of adult tournaments with not much increase in skill, I still felt underrated at 1669. (That is, my rating was increasing substantially at practically every tournament I played.)

I tried to get all the people on my high school team up to a level of 1000 without success, despite the fact that I spent countless hours going over games and trying to teach them tactics and endgames. It really isn't easy to do!

-Simon

Ducksredux and all,

Just got an e-mail from Salome Thomas-EL. He has been on a doctoral sabbatical which is why he is not at the school. I'm not sure the source of information saying he is no longer at Reynolds, but as you can see there is a lot of incorrect information floating around.

It is not a good feeling to see your name trashed and misinformation accepted as truth. I won't give you a dissertation on how I feel but need to clear up a few things. It is obvious there are people in the world who don 't like me, my work and the children I love. I am okay with that. I am not okay with people who belittle children for small victories when they begin with next to nothing.

- I stated in Oregon that I was meeting with Will Smith to discuss his interest in my movie. I never said Will would play me because we don't have the script yet. I have sent emails to several web sites asking for a correction. It is unfair to Will to communicate that message.

- I was on a doctoral sabbatical in 2004-2005 but as a tenured principal, I was still the administrator of the school. I was there every Friday! That is why it was not changed on my web site. When I returned from sabbatical my district wanted me to leave the community where I had been a teacher, prinicipal and chess coach for 16 years (although some of you doubt that any of my kids knew anything about chess). They decided I should take over another school. I refused to leave my school earlier this summer and they terminated me (in different language). This is the first public statement I have made about this action.

- I never claimed my students were anything but what they are, champions. We were a group of kids with under 1000 ratings prepared to compete in the open section when other coaches suggested we play in the under 1000 section. They thought we had a good shot at winning like so many other schools. I had never played competitive chess and had no master assisting our instruction. We won the title that year and competed in the open section every year after. Several of our students set records at the US Am. in 1997 but that is not good enough for you! One record had not been broken in 35 years but some of you dismiss it as routine. The Vaux team prior to my arrival won 7 consecutive national open titles. That has not been accomplished since. I think that qualifies Vaux as the greatest chess team of all time just like Russell's Celtics are considered the best (love the Yankess too).

- Any of you could have emailed me if you had a question instead of trashing my name and reputation. I appreciate those who have stood up for the children. I can stand up for myself and will.

- In 1997, a USCF director called the wins by Masterman and Vaux a "rare triple crown". I assume you are a higher authority. I made it a point in the book to be clear that we had not won the open title. I only wish we could have attracted media attention without making a big deal out of winning the under 1000 section. Unfortunately, the media is only interested in African American children who are not the best......when they are athletes.

- In case you really care.........

Otis Bullock, who is in that last chapter that one reader complained about, just graduated from Temple Law School. Most of the children on that "under 1000" team (by the way....the trophy reads national champion), are in college on full four-year scholarships. The one kid, Demetrius, who scored the big upset (1071 points I think), is a senior in college and on the national dean's list. His victory was trivialized by someone on this site.

- The important thing is that these children are getting educated! That is how we break the cycle of poverty. I actually thought that I was bringing some positive attention to the chess community and attracting young people to the game. Now I see I am hated by the very people I am trying to serve. I understand why Disney was reluctant to invest in a movie about chess and the players who love the game. We are never satisfied!!

I must continue to fight for our children so I must go. I apologize if I have offended any of you and won't be surprised if you don 't support the movie or my next book. The title....." The Immortality of Influence"......I have been influenced tremendously by your words here. Sorry for going long anyway.

Good luck to you all,

Salome Thomas-EL

Call it trashed, or call it discussed. When you are a public figure there is a certain loss of privacy. When blogging there is often a lack of insightful commentary. More often there are not fully thought-out off-the-top-of-the-head reactions. Frankly, I think a lot of us here had a great many misconceptions about you and your accomplishments. I think Maliq, duif and Daaim did an excellent job educating us about the magnitude of your effort and achievements. I, for one, have a much greater appreciation now for the job you did. I can't wait for the movie. What part I played in "trashing" your name and reputation I apologize for.

I do not see anything but respect in the whole thread for Mr. Thomas-El's achievement as an educator and his use of chess to motivate his kids on to non-chess achievements.

But it is a bizarre world that makes out 1000 to be a decent level of CHESS achievement.

Scholastic, youth, Harvard grad, rich, poor, 8 or 80; 1000 rating is a weak chess player. Einstein was a useless player, but that does not mean we have to define his level as good enough.

If they won 7 National open titles before - then why is under-1000 considered good? obviously there is no limit to their potential.

And you want a CHESS challenge - post the score of the 1071 point upset game.

"I think that qualifies Vaux as the greatest chess team of all time".

"Now I see I am hated by the very people I am trying to serve". Spare us the tear jerking already! You are not trying to serve me, and I definitely don't hate you! I don't see any evidence here that anyone you are serving hates you either.

I deeply disagree with many of the opinions above, especially Malik's 'my way or the highway' style, but it's a legitimate discussion.

Peace...

You are an interesting one, fisher. The team won seven straight titles, and you say that this is evidence that there is no limit to their potential. Are these the same players? No, they are not; they are an entirely different team, in a different time, with different circumstances. Who said that this accomplishment meant that these were great players? We said that they won a National Championship, which they clearly and indisputably did; do not revise our arguments so as to make them more accessible to your contentions.

As regards my style, I am very much open to different interpretations of the same information; that is why I am in graduate school and no longer coaching scholastic chess teams. However, I do acknowledge that there are some areas in which allowance of such is not possible, and you have ventured into those areas. If someone was to tell me that the world is flat, I would not dismiss this as merely being a worthwhile opinion; I would call it what it is, foolishness. You have committed a similar error, albeit at a significantly lower level, by telling me that a team that won a national championship tournament is not a National Champion. Make sense of this argument.

You are free to have your perceptions of things, but if you are going to step into an open arena and speak out with some authoritative scorn, then at least be an authority on what you are speaking of. It is obvious that you are not familiar with this arena, and so I address you as such -- a person who does not have enough understanding of the arena to know what is good and what is not.

Hotep,

Maliq

Ducks and Fisher,

You are correct. I was not trashed and probably let my emotions get the best of me. My apologies to everyone here. As a public figure I do relinquish some of those benefits I enjoyed in my prior life.

I never stated that 1,000 was a good rating. Most of those students were first year players and they defeated players rated much higher. I think that was the point I did not get across. The 1071 point game was in Chess Life magazine as my students were referred to as "the team to beat." At the same tournament, they defeated a team of four men with a combined age of over 200 years. These were 5th, 6th and 7th grade kids with little or no tournament experience. The old Vaux team was a junior high so the students were older and they came from a feeder program at Douglass where they played for a few years before coming to Vaux. They were nurtured by a great guy in Steve Shutt. Nevertheless, Vaux was a dynamic team in the 70's and 80's, and my students overcame quite a bit to learn a game they were not expected to love. Many of those 1000 rated players went on to become much higher rated players and defeated several experts in match play . One of our kids drew a master who had to recover to force the draw.

Fisher.......

You need to lighten up. It appears as if you can't believe that a poor kid did something you could not (defeat a player rated 1,000 points above). You appear to be someone who would blame the flood and disaster on the victims in New Orleans. There are too many people like that already ruining the world!

Maliq and the others are simply trying to make the world a better place for everyone. What will be your legacy?

This might help those who are confused........

Many smaller colleges play in Division II tournaments instead of Division I where resources and cheating play a larger role. The teams that win the championship are considered the Division II National Champions. They are not disallowed to use the word champion because they are from a different division. Every division has a champion (Division III and even some 2-year college divisions). I am done with this subject because it is bordering on some issues that were established in this country 200 years ago and still exist today. I don't want to go there.

Your analogy is CLOSE to correct. The only difference is there is nothing inherrently weaker about Division II than Division I athletics (or Division III) where I play. The only difference is the size of the schools and often as a result the amount of money they have in their athletics programs. Any player of any strength can play in any of the divisions. Often times the better players choose to play in the divisions where they can get bigger scholarships or more national exposure, but there are players in the NBA who were drafted out of Division II and Division III schools. I promise you there are basketball teams in Division III who could beat Princeton a Division I team 99/100 games, but Princeton is not "playing up" a division or anything of the sort, in fact they are by size of the University only allowed to play in Division I. Also, it is not just an issue of an athletic director deciding his team is going to be Division I. Have a team promoted a division without meeting the size requirement of that division is very rare and only happens when a program has developed a particular dominance in its current division. In chess however a player who is U1000 does not even have the potential to play a player who is 1100 in the U1000 section, but a player rated 900 can still play in the open section.

Jegutman,

You are totally correct. My analogy was not rooted in the ability of Division II or Division III players......or even Division IA in football for that matter. Those players might be good enough to beat any team on any level in America but they only play teams in their division for their championship. If their championship tournament were open to all teams I am sure it would be won most of the time by a team in a division with more money for recruiting and expertise (free cars for players don't hurt either).

I spent a good bit of my career in television working with NBA teams and players. I am aware that players get drafted from smaller divisions but it is rare. It is even more of a surprise when they make the team. Overall, the better players play at the bigger schools. I agree, there are players in Divisions II (where I attended) and III, who could "whup" the behinds of some D-I players but it is not the norm.

I am not making a case for kids to play at the 1000 level forever. I am just posting why I think it is important to provide levels for smaller schools and those without big funding to compete. As they get bettter, they have to move up in competition. The next time anyone visits a scholastic tournament take a look at how many rich suburban and private schools field teams in the U1000 and U750 sections. Many times, those sections are larger than all the others. We are not the only people who want a fair and equitable opportunity for our students who are just learning the game.

Thanks for your response.......

Mr Salome (and Malik) need to lighten up. I considered it a joke that I was challenged on whether I ever beat a player 1000 points higher. I jokingly but correctly responded that if I did (beat a 3000 player) it would be their mistake, not my brilliance.

That does not equate to disparaging a kid who beat a 2000 when he was 1000. A 2000 is going to make it possible to beat him where a 3000 will not. Let's just say that the elo-scale is not linear in the level of play.

Beating a 2000 is good. But when you bring that to a CHESS site many chess players want to see the game. Was the 2000 outplayed, or blundered?

Malik, graduate student or not you are not the authority on everything that moves in the world. You act like a person who does think the world is flat.

National Champion means best in the nation, that is plain and simple. "National Champion For Parents and Friends Unrated" is not National Champion. If such a person applied to Harvard or for a job teaching chess as a National Champion, that would be wrong.

Now Mr Salome talks about "our students who are just learning the game". That says it all. There is nothing wrong with that, except when it is hyped as a big CHESS achievement.

Mr Salome - you let your emotions get the better of you again, but I still like you and what you are doing for the kids:


>.

Now I'm ruining the world and blaming the flood victims, all because of a discussion on what 1000 level chess achievement means.

Peace...

There you go again, redefining what National Champion means. No, I do not speak as one who knows all. I DO speak as one who understands the structure of scholastic chess, because I was a scholastic player and came back to coach it for the last five years. You are as wrong as two left shoes, and there is no room for debate on that point. National Champion means one who won a national championship tournament, plain and simple. Two years ago, an 1800 player tied for first in the High School Nationals held here in Columbus, Ohio. Is he the best player in the country? Certainly, he is not, but he won that tourament, so he gets to be called a National Champion. For that matter, which youngster who wins these tournaments is the best in the country? Lev Milman did not play this past tournament in Nashville, and the clear dominant high schooler in this country, Hikaru Nakamura, was there signing autographs and such but did not move a pawn in the competition. Does that make the person who won the tournament any less of a champion?

Understand this point, fisher: opinion is for that which has not been defined, not that which has clearly been defined. If a tournament is called the national championship, and the governing body of US chess recognizes the winner of each section as National Champion, then you do not even have the option of reasonably saying "This person is not a National Champion." Whether you favor this or not is irrelevant; this person is National Champion, be it for Unrated section, or U750 section, or U1250 section or what-have-you. You see, fisher, it is plain and simple, indeed: National Champion is defined by USCF, not by fisher, and one need not hold authority on what moves the world to understand this. Incidentally, since my name is quite evident on this site many times over, please spell it correctly, unless you consider that Maliq must only be spelled "Malik" because it is your preference.

Hotep,

Maliq

OK Maliq, I will permanently stop spelling it Malik when you refrain from saying "Peace" when you don't mean it.

Seems Mr. Robert Snyder is closer to my view on what constitutes a National Champion than to your view:

http://www.chessforjuniors.com/national_champions.shtml

NATIONAL SCHOLASTIC CHAMPIONSHIP INDIVIDUAL WINNERS TRAINED BY ROBERT M. SNYDER ("Chess For Juniors") - as of 11/07/04 - Total = 36
(Photo taken at the "All America Cup" National Scholastic Championship in Scottsdale, AZ.)
Note: Includes individual titles won only in a championship section. All students on this list were trained by Mr. Snyder prior to winning their title and were under contract as Mr. Snyder's students within a month of winning their title. Please note that several students moved out of state and have continued to win additional titles not shown here (i.e. Kendrix, Nakamura & Cambareri).

RICHARD PHILLIPS(2) - 1986 National Junior High (K-8), 1988 National Junior High (K-9).
ROY RUNAS(2) - 1989 National Elementary (K-6), 1990 National Junior High (K-8).
ASUKA NAKAMURA(3) - 1992 National Kindergarten, 1993 National School Grade 1, 1994 National School Grade 2.
CORY EVANS(2) - 1992 National School Grade Kindergarten, 1994 National School Grade 2.
ANDRANIK MAISSIAN(1) - 1992 National School Grade 8.
RAUL PINOCHET(1) - 1992 National School Grade 10.
STEPHEN KENDRIX(1) - 1993 National School Grade K.
HARUTYAN AKOPYAN(10) - 1992 National School Grade 5, 1993 National Elementary (K-5), 1993 National School Grade 6, 1994 National Elementary (K-6), 1994 National School Grade 7, 1995 National Junior High (K-8), 1995 National All America Cup (K-9), 1996 National Junior High (K-9), 1996 National All America Cup (K-12), 1997 National High School (K-12).
E.J. SCHLOSS(1) - 1995 National Kindergarten.
ALEXANDER HUFF(1) - 1995 National School Grade 9.
JUSTIN SHEEK(2) - 1996 National School Grade 9, 1996 National All America Cup (K-9).
ALEN MELIKADAMYAN(2) - 1996 National School Grade 4, 1998 National All America Cup (K-6).
MINAS NORDANYAN(1) - 1996 National All America Cup (K-6).
MICHAEL CAMBARERI(2) - 1999 National All America Cup (K-3), 1999 National School Grade 3.
STEVEN ZIERK(1) - 2001 National Youth Action Championship (K-3).
SAM GALLER(1) - 2002 National Elementary (K-6).
ANDREW SMITH(1) - 2002 National Game/60 (K-12).
JESSE COHEN(1) - 2002 National Youth Action Championship (K-12).
JOSHUA SURESH(1) - 2004 National Game/60 (K-12).

Peace...

First off, I can introduce my posts as I see fit, because there is ultimately no war-like sentiment behind my words. I can be completely at peace with you and nevertheless tell you that you don't know what the hell you are talking about, as I continue to do. Now, then, Snyder indicates that he lists only National Champions in the open section, which is a clear acknowledgement that they exist in other sections. Aside from this, you seem to be inexplicably asserting that you have some option of acknowledging or dismissing the title of National Champion when it is not open to interpretation or opinion. Regardless of who agrees and disagrees, a National Championship is a National Championship.

In 1993, the Atlanta Braves won 104 games and beat the San Francisco Giants for the National League West title in Major League Baseball. Now, how west is Atlanta, especially considering that the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs were competing in the National League East? Are we at liberty now to say that the Braves were never truly champions of the West division because they are on the east coast? Should it be argued that the National Football League's Dallas Cowboys should not have been awarded the National Football Conference East division title that same year because Dallas is not in the east? The categories are what they are, and the prize for winning them remains what it is regardless of your likes and dislikes. In matters of this nature, to even have an opinion is somewhat asinine, because where is the relevance of opinion in such affairs? Understand that the issue is not whether I agree or disagree that there should be National Championships for people rated U750, but that there is no ground to argue that such a thing does not exist when it just clearly does and is on record with USCF, which lists every scholastic national champion since the annual events began. Don't come to me with "Well, Robert Snyder says this!" or "Coach X says that!" Who cares? Go and tell USCF that these titles do not exist and to therefore stop keeping record of them. When you succeed in such action, then you may return in victory and proclaim their non-existence. Until then, you are whistling in the wind and hoping to change the direction of the current.

Hotep,

Maliq

What's this?

Fisher just disproved his own point with that list. What is the "championship" section? I thought you were arguing that only the TOP section was the crown? Now your are listing champions of Kindergarten sections and the like. This is the very point we are making to you. Snyder's list does more to prove Vaux's point than yours. Did you consider this?

Where are these players now?

Maliq says: "If a tournament is called the national championship, and the governing body of US chess recognizes the winner of each section as National Champion, then you do not even have the option of reasonably saying "This person is not a National Champion." Whether you favor this or not is irrelevant; this person is National Champion, be it for Unrated section, or U750 section, or U1250 section or what-have-you. You see, fisher, it is plain and simple, indeed: National Champion is defined by USCF, not by fisher, and one need not hold authority on what moves the world to understand this."

Hi Maliq, I am curious whether, by analogy, you regonise all world champions from the recent FIDE events as the only legitimate ones?

Horac

Daaim,

Really, pay attention a little more. There is no issue with each AGE group having a championship section, whether Kindergarden or World Youth Champion U-16 Boys. Snyder is NOT listing sections open only to those who are defined as weak in stength, as in 'Under-750'.

Malik,

Sorry, your name spelling has to revert, "Peace" and 'what the hell' can't coexist with your correct spelling.

Peace...

Fisher, I see that you are both disrespectful enough to deliberately misspell my name, as though we were elementary school children, and overtly petty enough that a phrase like "what the hell" gets under your skin. To say that it "can't" exist establishes once again that you consider your biases to be above the clear order of things in this world. You also show your propensity for altering things that you have no control over whenever you see fit, for it is clear that, regardless of how you choose to spell my name, it is spelled "Maliq", and therefore you have made yourself seem quite arrogant and foolish.

Now, to respond to Horac, what FIDE did was to establish a lineage of World Champions which was seperate from the pre-existing lineage. The situation with FIDE and the World Championship is not quite the same as the one with USCF and National Championships, because the World Championship existed before FIDE. Also, no one is claiming that National Championships have anything to do with the best player in the country, for, as example has shown, the best players in the country routinely do not show up to these tournaments, so a better comparison would be between USCF with relationship to the US Championship and FIDE with relationship to the World Championship. Nevertheless, to provide the answer you deserve, I do acknowledge Kasimdzhanov as the FIDE World Champion, albeit that he is a relatively weak champion. No, FIDE's is not the only legitimate title, because FIDE established a second title while the first existed and the reigning champion still was the strongest player in the world. However, it is not really possible to deny FIDE the right to call their champion World Champion, much as I dispise the way in which they have watered down the title, because they are the governing body of world chess and therefore hold this right regardless of my sentiment.

Hotep,

Maliq

fisher... (I almost typed 'fischer')

Having tournaments by strength is more significant than tournaments by age. How many U.S. tournaments are run by age? A few. Who are you to say that age tournaments are more legitmate than strength-class tournaments (largely seen as the norm). Besides all rating systems are based on stength, not age. YOU should pay more attention.

I'd rather be the top in my strength class than the top in my age group. Do we honestly think if a player is a 25-year old IM, that he/she would rather be the strongest 25-year old (which may include only a few strong players) than being the strongest IM (of all ages)? You're delusional if you think an IM would get more pride from an age-based championship than a strength-based championship. We can use any rating to suit the example... same idea applies.

I know of a 14-year old girl who just won 1st overall "C" class prize (all "C" players in the country) at the U.S. Open. Do you think she'd trade that for an age-based prize among 14-year olds?

http://www.thechessdrum.net/newsbriefs/2005/NB_JeWamala2.html

Some of the things you say lead me to believe you are not an 2000-level player. How did you get to be an Expert (that you claim)... by beating people in your age group, or beating people equal to or better than you? I would guess the latter.

Addendum...

The U.S. Open raises a different issue as well. I realize that if all the strongest 14-year olds showed up at the U.S. Open (many were there), it would be a fairly strong tournament, but in the U.S. Open tournament she was competing with the players much, much stronger than she.

Vaux competed against many teams stronger (at least on paper) than they were. They had a relatively low pre-tournament ranking of 230 (890 average rating) I believe. They beat players who where older, stronger, more experienced, from established programs, better equipped.

However, the point still remains that Thomas-EL's STORY is about showing disadvantaged youth to win at life. fisher, I have never met you and don't know your economic status and privilege, but you cannot imagine many of the obstacles that were overcome by Vaux players to even win one game, let alone a national championship. You're probably so far removed from these issues to appreciate the story.

What a petty debate, if there is a National Championship under 750 anld a kid wins, than he/she can be called National Champ under 750. It is like a WO champ U1200 or a US Open D Champ. Maybe the tournament/prize should not exist but if it does, why should we deny its existence? And if some kid views it as a big deal, than why should we deflate it? Its just another class tournament. Why does it offend your sensibilities so much ? Nevermind that some of those kids are 1750 strength.

DP:
Champions National/World by Age is well known and accepted everywhere. For example, its good to be a National Under 12(age) Champion than a National U1200 champion. Calling National Champions by Rating is simply unknown outside the Chess world and even in various parts of the world. FIDE has their World U10/U16/U20 championship. We can call these Champions because they are best in their age groups. This can be applied to Champions U1000/U1200 ratings, but I dont think a U1200 rating Champion will be more proud of his/her title than a U12 National Champion title. Already we know that how many strong players are in these age groups.

So, I think Fisher's concerns are based on the above. Truly he thinks that these school kids have a potential to make it big in life. So I do appreciate Mr. Thomas-El's service in teaching and guiding these kids to overcome many odds in life.

Ryan,

Of course, there are all types of age tournaments around the world, but we are talking about a specific tournament in the U.S. called SuperNationals where each category is a national championship and the winner called "National Champion" because it's based it pit teams of like skill together.

As you may know, age is not linear to skill attainment. Being the strongest 12-year old doesn't tell you anything about the competition. This is where class tournaments differ.

This argument has been exhausted.

On another note... it's interesting what has happened to Robert Snyder, the man who 'fisher' mentioned above. He was arrested for child molestation yesterday. Ironically, he has taught Will Smith!

http://www.chessforjuniors.com/smith_cage.shtml

Hopefully, this will not taint the image of chess and success stories as we have seen with Vaux. We'll have to see how this bears out.

http://www.islandpacket.com/24hour/nation/story/2719418p-11282667c.html

Correction...

He was arrested on SUSPICION of child molestation. Some of the players listed above will certainly be issued subpeonas to testify.

Ryan - thanks for coming in with the comments.

Daaim - A 25 year old IM would doubtless prefer the World Under-26 championship than the championship of IM's (with no GM's allowed).

DP - yeah, some likely are 1750 and picking off prizes at under-750. Like a 30 year old entering under-14.

I'd like to see a list of all USCF scholastic championship winners, all sections, since the beginning of time. Anyone have a link or source?

Mr. Soter - Hi! Peace! Shalom!

By the way - Medina Parrilla wins open sections in age group events. Now thats how things should be.

Peace...

In 2001, when we were in Kansas City, Medina started 6-0 in the K-5 U900 section before losing her last round. Nevertheless, she led her team to a National Championship in the section. Clearly, the title she led her team to during this past school year, in the open section of the Junior High School Nationals, is the more prestigious. Does that mean that we should dismiss the one she helped to win in 2001 as not being a National Championship? Surely, we should not. She worked hard to try to win that section, and she earned that right to be called a champion for being part of a team that won a section. If you want to contend that some National Championships are more prestigious than others, then you get no disagreement from me. If, however, you continue to insist that only one of these is a National Championship despite them both holding such distinction from the USCF, then I will continue to tell you that you are wrong, because you will be.

Hotep,

Maliq

fisher,

I didn't say WORLD under-25. You've (or Ryan has) widened the argument from National Championships to World Championships. I thought we were talking about a domestic competition... the SuperNationals. How did we widen the argument to talking about the world? That's an entirely different element. You guys are stretching the issue when this is not even the point of the debate.

Gentlemen,

If you want to expand to the world, strength-based tournaments still have more prestige which is why there are categories (based on the strength of the field) and not a parameter having little or nothing to do with skill... like age. Age tournaments say nothing about the skill level, but merely tell you how old everybody is. Big deal.

Years and years ago I won the under-21 Illinois Junior Invitational. There were a couple Masters & handful of Experts (including myself) and a smattering of Category I players and then rest rounding the top 20-25. In the two years I competed, I remember playing several players in 1700-1900 range. I would have preferred to win a smaller 2000-2199 tournament than beating up on players my age of widely varied skills. I'm proud of that accomplishment, but beating your peers in strength is more gratifying than beating someone just because they are the same age. Otherwise, how else do we gauge our strength?

Summation:

Those with the rights to award titles do so in a system Fisher does not like, to the degree that he denies the system exist.

Trying to debate this furter with Fisher seems a waste of time...

-Q

When there was a thread about the Women's US Champion being won as part of the US Championships, very few posters seemed to agree with this, but from the line of reasoning and arguments I've heard on this thread so far it would seem okay if there were U900 spots so there could be an U900 championship. So encouraging weak players to think they're the best = good, encouraging women to think they're the best = bad, very good guys, congraduations on hypocricy. I certainly do not think it's bad to have these events, but I don't think we need to treat kids like idiots either. I think kids these days don't learn how to be competative, there's too much concern with their psychology that it's seen as better to just give everybody the blue ribbon. Don't forget that calling the winner of the U1000 section a national champion does in fact take away from the winner of the non-rating restricted championship. This seems a little like winning an "open" U1400 section and calling yourself an U1400 world champion. Clearly anybody could've come and entered U1400 and you won out of all of those players, you must be a world champion at chess at 1300.

Peace...

Sorry, jegutman, your post makes no sense. How does having U900 National Champion take away from the prestige of winning K-5 Open? You fall into line with people who imagine that participation in these sections is some sign of conceding to some lower goal, and there is absolutely no evidence to substantiate this position. Within the organization for which I previously worked, we had many students participate in these sections one year and then participate in a higher section during the next tournament, so it is not as though people are perpetually scoring U750 titles. In fact, I have NEVER heard of a repeat champion for one of these sections, regardless of rating cut-off. This is not a case of "everybody gets the blue ribbon". The kids who go 7-0 don't get the same prize as those who go 1-6, so I am puzzled by this comparison.

It seems that people are deliberately ignoring the difference between scholastic chess and youth chess, which is that scholastic chessplayers do not have to be, and often aren't, serious chessplayers. They don't need to take lessons from IMs and GMs in order to be scholastic players. These players meet every year in competitions which bring such players together from all parts of the country. These are National Championship tournaments for scholastic chess. The winners are champions, and this is as indisputable as the fact that my computer is on right now. This assault on scholastic chess is disturbing and is evidently being led by people who are under some illusion about the relevance of it. Scholastic chess is not a microcosm of the chess world in its entirety, and, in fact, it differs in many ways from the adult chess world. The goals are different, the population served is different, and there is different relevance to what goes on within its confines. All of these arguments against winners of these sections represent not some deep understanding of the reality of chess, but rather some personal bias which should be re-examined rather than forcefully asserted. These are kids, and chess is a game, just like baseball is a game and basketball is a game and soccer is a game. Let the kids be kids and win their restricted leagues or tournaments, and stop pretending that there is reason for a major league player to be offended when twelve-year-olds call themselves Little League World Series Champions or when a nine-year-old is called National Champion for her category even though she is not the best player in the country. There never was any claim to being the best, and it is only your personal bias which won't allow for someone who is not the best to simply be the best of a specific category.

Hotep,

Maliq

Wow!!! I think I'm a year late and a dollar short on this conversation. However, I just came across it and saw my name mentioned; I figure I'll give a comment.

I am Otis Bullock, Esq., one of Thomas-El's former students. I have been a practicng attorney for the past two years now. I have my own law office with two locations, and I am very active in my community.

I could not have achieved any of the accomplishments that I have without mentors like Thomas-El... and his chess program. I think that your criticisms of El are unfair and unwarranted. What El has done for me and hundreds of other students should not be dismissed.

I owe my career to this man. Chess, for me, was the difference between becoming a sucessful lawyer or becoming a frustrated kid getting shot on the corner. And no, I do not play at a grand master level. But why does that matter? The game has had a positive effect on El's kids that cannot be measured by a chess rating. He has kids going to college and graduating when statistics say it cannot happen. That is what is important. Remember that when you criticize this great man.

Otis Bullock, Esq,

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on September 4, 2005 7:26 PM.

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