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Chess in Edumacation

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Maybe some scholastic chess folks can enlighten us as to how many high schools offer chess scholarships. I was under the impression that Hunter and a few other top American private schools did so, or at least recruited chessplayers. This in the The Times today.

A leading independent school is offering a £65,000 [$128,000] chess scholarship as part of a drive to open up access to children of all backgrounds and talents. Whereas most scholarships are are for pupils that show exceptional academic, sporting or musical ability, Millfield school in Somerset is seeking those capable of memorising thousands of opening chess moves and of devising strategies of their own.

Peter Johnson, the headmaster, said that the chess scholarship was worth 50 per cent of fees for five years at the £24,000-a-year boarding school, one of the few in the country to have a full-time chess teacher.

For Millfield, the chess scholarship offers an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to the new Charities Act, which requires independent schools to “earn” their tax breaks by showing that they benefit the wider public. The scholarship this year will go to Rhys Cummings, 13, who started playing chess at the age of 5 to make more friends at school and is now a member of the England chess squad. ...

At Millfield, Rhys will have two one-hour sessions of coaching a week as well as practice time. He was given the scholarship after wowing Millfield's resident Grand Master, Matthew Turner. Mr Turner said: "When assessing candidates for the award, I'm looking for a very logical approach and I want to observe how they solve puzzles."

Cumming doesn't seem to be in the prodigy category, with a 3/9 sub-2000 showing at the last Hastings Masters. But I'm sure chess ability is only one part of the scholarship. (Being able to cough up the other 50% of tuition is no small thing either. Ouch.) A few American universities have chess scholarships, something that would be great to see expanded across the country.

By the way, a cute story about an upset in the New York chess scene. The so-called "kings of New York" were brought low by a Brooklyn junior high (!) team coached by none other than Liz Vicary. Go team!


At least two clarifications to the above post. Hard to see Hunter offering "scholarships," for chess or anything else, since it charges no tuition. (Whether Hunter is "public" or "private" is a matter of semantics. It's run not within the New York City public school system, but by City University -- which is also a "public" school system.)

Second, what's interesting about the upset of the Murrow HS team is not that the school that beat them is from Brooklyn -- Murrow itself is also in Brooklyn, of course -- but that the upstart winner is a JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL team, with 11-year olds on it. (Then again, Murrow apparently benched all its strong players for this match, according to the linked article from the New York Sun. So no, it wasn't a case of IMs Lenderman and Bercys losing to 11-year olds.)

I should have said recruiting, which is more along the lines of what I meant regarding Hunter. Although I think I was under the impression they charged some tuition.

Why did Lenderman and Bercys not play for the Murrow team?

As a Hunter alum (pre-k through grade 12), I can assure you there is not, and has never been any tuition. It's a non-Board-of-Ed PUBLIC school.

"Recruiting" is also a stretch. The Elementary School is the engine of the Hunter chess machine and with few exceptions all the players are home grown from a young age. Most of the strong HCHS players come from HCES.


Since the Brooklyn championship occurs late in the year, well after the city, state and national championships, the coach, Eliot Weiss, didn't require his top four boards (Sal, Lenderman, Shawn Martinez and Nile Smith) to attend.
That said, 318 is a fantastic story in itself, and, as a school that won two national championships this spring, it deserves the publicity (in fact, there is a chapter about 318 in my book). It has also long served as a "feeder" for talent to Murrow--both Shawn and Nile, for instance, are graduates of 318 and students of Elizabeth Vicary, who deserves a great deal of credit for Murrow's success.

Speaking of the Kings of New York, I'm upset by adults who should know better giving all this attention to Shawn Martinez. This kid is throwing away his chance at getting an education, and the adults around him are validating his choice by shining the spotlight on him.

Martinez is a low Expert at 16 - he's never going to make a living at the game. When he grows out of his teens and stops getting attention for the book, he will bitterly regret the choices he's making today.

Two responses to Ashish's comment:

1. Shawn's situation is extremely complicated. It's not something a stranger should pass judgment on. He's an amazing person-- independant, brilliant, personable, resourceful-- who doesn't happen to like school. Eliot Weiss, his coach at Murrow, is a great guy who is doing everything he can to help Shawn. And as teachers, what are we going to say to a kid like this: "You aren't on the honor roll, so I'm not teaching you?" Maybe school just isn't for Shawn; it isn't for everyone. That doesn't mean he should be denied a positive experience like chess.

2. More importantly, Shawn is a minor: a 16 year old kid. It's both unethical and mean to attack him on a blog. He's not posting here; he's not a celebrity; he's not looking for attention. His life should not be up for public consumption/attack.

Elizabeth Vicary

In re: chess and scholastic ability. Newsweek has just published its list of the 1200 best high schools in the country. Interestingly enough, they isolate from their normal list a group of schools that are so competitive as to be in an elite class by themselves. Some of the names here are immediately familiar. They include Bronx High School of Science, Hunter College High School and Stuyvesant, all of whom has frequently fielded chess teams in the Nationals. Their list includes:

Bronx High School of Science—New York: Ethnically and economically diverse; specializing in science and math.

Gretchen Whitney—Cerritos, CA: Award-winning school with special emphasis on college admissions.

High Technology—Lincroft, NJ: Takes top students from over 55 NJ districts.

Hunter College—New York: Highly competitive, affiliated with the City University of New York system.

Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy—Aurora: State-run, 10th to 12th-grade school that counts the founders of Netscape, PayPal and YouTube among its alumni.

Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts—Natchitoches: Two-year competitive school, adding a sophomore class in August.

North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics—Durham: In July will become a full constituent of the UNC system.

Stuyvesant, New York: One of the most competitive public high schools in New York City; average student SAT score is above 1400.

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology—Alexandria, VA. Fairfax County businesses and schools work together on curriculum.

Of course, this list is by no means exhaustive. It's just representative.

I guess that if you are reading this blog, you enjoy or have enjoyed chess, and have a feeling that it improved your mental faculties - memory, analysis, vision, planning for example.
What is harder to calculate is the cost of focussing on chess, and the opportunity-cost of not doing something else, like playing football with colleagues in a team.
I am concerned whenever I see parents imposing their ambitions on their children: 'Chess Moms' who see the world through a Chess Lens are in this category. Millfield School seems to be supporting excellence in its usual way, which is perhaps different.
I guess I was lucky: my parents encouraged my enthusiasms which fortunately never became obsessions. I was never force-fed schoolwork, music, chess or anything. I do feel sorry for children who did not choose their parents as well.

I noted that the only post (at present) to the online story of I.S. 318's victory over Murrow was from Murrow's coach Eliot Weiss. While offering some praise to I.S. 318 triumph, Weiss seems most anxious to be sure that everyone knows that this wasn't his best players in this contest. Man, back off the petty excuses. If you can't stand to lose with the team available to you at the time, then don't field a team.

Chess I think gets the attention of nerds (sci-fi people) but I think chess's best asset is that at the intermediate and high school level there are no intramural sports or sports clubs but there is a chess club that can count as an extracurricular activity which colleges like applicants to have on their application. I mean I don't believe the amount of chess scholarships will rival sports scholarships so I don't think chess scholarships will attract people to chess. Once a school's chess program gets big then it'll be easy for it to recruit new members within the school. I think a selling point ought to be that you can put it on your college resume (for better or worse chess still has the reputation as a game that a smart, college-material person plays) and chess clubs should emphasize this.

Here is a brief internet story about the National High School championship back in 1971. It was written by Steve Imitt of the New York Star, who compiled a history of this tournament from its inception in 1969 to the present day.

Some of the names mentioned here will immediately be familiar to anyone who hangs out on this website.

New York City 1971: 537 students from 26 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico competed in the 3rd annual National HS Championship, held once again at the McAlpin Hotel in New York: 334 in the Championship Section and 203 in the Novice. Noteworthy this year were appearances for the first time of schools from Kentucky, Nevada, Oregon and South Carolina.

The 1969 and 1970 National HS Championships had both featured a remarkable run for the top spot by an "unknown" local player far from the top of the wallchart. This year that tradition was upheld by Peter Radomskyj, a senior from Irvington, NJ rated 1892. After defeating top-seeded Ross Stoutenborough (2213) he was 6-0. Just as in the past two years, the end of the Cinderella story came in Round 7, this time when Radomskyj was outplayed by the other 6-0 in the tournament-- fifth-ranked Larry Christiansen, a ninth-grader from Gage Junior High in Riverside, CA. Now a point ahead of the field, Larry drew with 3rd-ranked Robert Gruchacz (2122), the New Jersey Open Champion, to clinch the championship with 7.5 points.

Four players scored 7-1, finishing 2nd-5th: Howard Gee, Bronx Science HS, Bronx, NY; Danny Kopec, Jamaica HS, Queens, NY; Jon Jacobs, Stuyvesant HS, New York, NY and Robert Gruchacz, St. Peter's Prep, Jersey City, NJ.

Evanston, IL Township High School was already measuring the team trophy for the trip back home, leading the field with 20.5 points to 19 for New York City's Stuyvesant HS and St. Peter's Prep of Jersey City, NJ. Disaster struck unexpectedly for Evanston in the last round, however, when all the lower boards lost, and Stuyvesant HS put on the steam to score 3.5 points, clinching the team championship with 22.5 points, a half point ahead of Evanston and St. Peter's (the same margin of victory seen in the first National High School).

Tournament Directors: Bill Goichberg, Larry, King, Eugene Meyer, Bob Moran, Mayer Riff.

Gary: Do you know if anyone has compiled stories or anecdotes on the NY high school chess scene during the years 1968-72? I played at the McAlpin in those days against some pretty interesting characters.

Angelo, I haven't published much from my high school (and junior high) days.... but I could tell you enough stories to fill a large book - an encyclopedia maybe. With apologies to Bisguier(?), you could reasonably call it "The Bobby Fischer I Almost Met, and Other Stories." That's because Fischer made an unannounced appearance on the podium during the final round of the same tournament described in the post above yours (1971 National High School Championship).

The Fischer incident has been described in other Dirt threads, by people other than me; one frequent poster here recounted being in a group of kids who got an impromptu group lesson from Fischer between rounds of that event. I only learned of Fischer's presence from my late mother, who told me she'd been among a clutch of fans who followed Bobby into an elevator immediately after he'd fled the playing hall upon being noticed. Apparently he'd been standing just inches from me, watching Christiansen-Gruchacz, on the adjacent board.

I was never sure my mother's story was accurate until a couple years ago when I noticed other people's accounts of a similar incident popping up here on Dirt. I do recall hearing and briefly seeing a commotion in the back of the hall at one point during my final-round game against Californian David Sewell. But I didn't dare lift my eyes from my board, for the reason implied by Immitt's story above: I needed a win, both for my team and myself.

In re: chess and education. Some of the leading players in that tournament (the 1971 National High School Championship) went on to have successful careers as university professors. Danny Kopec, who finished with 7-1, is now a professor of computer science at Brooklyn College. He has published many fine research papers, and is a leading thinker in artificial intelligence. The link to his website is:


The lead player from Evanston was Harold Boas. He isn’t mentioned in the earlier posts, but finished with 6.5-1.5. He has become a distinguished mathematician, and is currently a professor at Texas A&M University. This is the link to his website:


There is also a Wikipedia article about his accomplishments in mathematics:


Hey, Jon or Angelo, let's hear some of your wild stories about the wild and wooly world of scholastic chess back in the 1970s. I knew several chess players in High School, and they were almost as wild as they were weird. I bet it was fun in those days!

I am doing some research on my uncle George Strelinger. He competed and took 5th place in the Novice at the 1971 NHSC Chess Champoinship held at the McAlpine. Do you know of any photos/articles about that day?
Thank you so much!

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on May 21, 2007 10:47 PM.

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