Tag Archives: chess tournament

My Chess Project Is Finally Over…

My Chess Project Is Finally Over…

This semester has flown by, and so has this learning project! As part of ECMP 355, a class about using technology in the classroom, I was required to use online sources to learn a skill of my choice and to blog about it weekly to share my progress.

I chose to learn how to play chess because it was a skill I had very limited experience with and I thought it would be nice to have something completely different to work on that still counted as homework. I also felt chess was a solid choice because it is one of my fiancé’s passions, so I knew he would be able to direct me to useful online sources and support me in the process.

So I bet you’re wondering how my epic chess quest turned out.  Was it a nice break from homework? Not at all. Was my fiancé helpful and supportive? Absolutely. Does that mean I enjoyed the process? Not a chance. This project really challenged me, and although I definitely feel I’ve grown in my chess abilities, I can’t say I enjoyed the whole process.

Now my negativity has you hooked!  Check out this recap of my learning project posts to find out more about the ups and downs of my journey:

Learning Project Recap

So I’m learning to chess…

  • Introduction, inspiration, and rationale for my learning project

The Opening (of my epic chess quest)

Valiant Knight Crushed in Grueling Battle (My First Chess Tournament)

Dropped Pieces + Shattered Dreams = Fresh Determination

  • Describing challenges:  finding motivation to play chess games when busy/tired, dropping pieces in my games
  • Video where I analyze one of my online games
  • New action plan:  play and analyze 4 games/week, continue doing tactics puzzles every day, watching instructional videos and live streams more often
  • Tools to share learning:  Screencastify

Chess Cognition (AKA Thought Process Boot Camp)

  • Description and key learnings from Chess Cognition video series by John Bartholomew
  • What I liked and didn’t like about this video series
  • Identifying specific chess skills to work on

Chess Games: The Ultimate Relationship Test

  • Picture and cheesy fast-motion video of me playing chess against my fiancé, Kelly, to show my progress
  • Video of our joint game analysis (with highlights provided) to show my progress and teach others about chess skills
  • Tools used to share learning:  Samsung video editor app (recommended by Curtis), phone tripod (borrowed from Curtis)

Curtis Reply on LP

S’more Chess Updates (not the graham cracker kind)

Tried-and-True Resources to Help You Learn Chess

  • Annotated collection of resources I have used to improve my chess game
  • Tool used to share learning:  Padlet

One Assessment of My Learning

It’s kind of tricky to show my level of mastery now vs. when I started this project. My Chess.com started me with a provisional rating of 1200, so I had to keep losing games until my rating became more accurate. My rating is now 980, and I’m still not sure how accurate that is.

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One aspect I saw definite progress in was my tactics! My goal was to reach a rating of 700 on my tactics, and I achieved that on April 4th! Here is a chart that shows my tactics ratings over the past three months:

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Reflections on the Process of Learning Online

What does learning online make possible?

  1. The ability to express frustrated and/or angry reactions without fear of being judged.

This was a huge difference I found between playing chess online and playing chess in person at the chess tournament. When playing online, I could moan, groan, pout, or yell at my computer screen without worrying about what my opponent would think of these (over)reactions. When I played in the chess tournament, I had to keep my emotions in check and be polite and courteous at all times.


My face after every chess game…

Photo Credit: Scott SM via Compfight cc

  2.  The ability to play a chess game with little to no social interaction with your opponent.

This might sound like a negative thing, but I appreciated having no social interaction with my online opponents. At the tournament, I was annoyed at receiving a comment about my appearance, distracted by my opponents’ facial expressions during the game, and embarrassed to be seen losing to an 8-year-old. When I played online, I didn’t have to worry about any of those kinds of things.

   3. The ability to receive feedback and encouragement from others on your learning.

I received encouragement from classmates and people outside the class on my learning project:

Zach on Chess Cognition

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I also received feedback on the ways I chose to share my learning project:

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 12.51.35 AMScreen Shot 2016-04-14 at 12.51.41 AMT on Smore

   4.  The ability to learn from and feel connected to experts who are far away from you.

Had I not used YouTube as one of the main sources for my learning, I would not have been able to learn from International Master Daniel Rensch or International Master John Bartholomew, who are both professional players and coaches. I also found that after I watched several of their videos, I started to feel like I knew them personally.

What might the process of learning online make impossible?

  1. Private one-on-one learning sessions with another person.

Choosing to learn a skill online usually means that you learn from a variety of sources, which might reduce the possibilities for intimate learning sessions and one-on-one relationship-building with a teacher. For example, if I had learned piano from online sources rather than through private lessons growing up, I wouldn’t have developed such a close relationship with my auntie/piano teacher.

   2. Using all the free time you have to focus on learning the skill.

The process of sharing about your learning can be time consuming. Throughout this project, I sometimes felt like I was spending just as much time writing blog posts about learning to play chess as I was actually learning to play chess.

I can’t think of anything else that learning online makes impossible. Feel free to drop me a comment if you have any ideas!

Final Thoughts

My biggest challenge throughout this learning project was getting frustrated when I lost games. I took my losses really personally, especially at the beginning of my project. As I began to learn more about chess, I discovered how technical it is and found that even really talented players can learn sometime from each game they play. After my losses, I had to constantly remind myself to say “I made this mistake” instead of “I suck at chess,” which was something I really struggled with.

I think the negative self-talk I fell into often happens to students in the classroom when they make mistakes. When I have my own classroom, I really want to emphasize that it’s okay to make mistakes and that mistakes are a necessary part of the learning process. This is definitely easier to say than to put into practice, but I think I could share the story of this learning project with my students to show them how negative self-talk detracts from learning and how adults also struggle with it.

I definitely see the benefits of learning a skill online and sharing that process with the world. Through this project, I was able to: learn from and critically evaluate a variety of online resources; share my progress openly through my blog and Twitter using the hashtag #learningproject; receive encouragement and feedback from my PLN; and explore new tech tools to document my learning. Although attempting to learn chess was challenging, I’m glad I took it on and I think I learned a lot more than chess skills from this project.

Valiant Knight Crushed in Grueling Battle (My First Chess Tournament)

We arrive early. I breathe a sigh of relief as I escape the frigid winter air, the warmth of the university washing over me. We make small talk with some of the tournament organizers – Kelly’s friends from chess club – and begin to help with set up. I move from table to table, placing pieces on their appropriate squares. Rooks, then knights, then bishops, I tell myself, moving from the outer edges inward. Queen on her square, I think as I place the white queen on the white square. A little voice in my head tells me I’m probably not ready for a chess tournament if it requires such intense focus for me to put the pieces in their correct starting positions. I ignore her; it’s too late to change my mind now.

“How did you get your girlfriend to come?” Tom asks Kelly incredulously. “I can never get mine to come, and she actually plays chess!”

“Really?” I ask nervously. “How good is she – I mean, what’s her rating?”

“About 1300,” he replies nonchalantly.

Great. I privately wonder what I’ve gotten myself into, as my rating is approximately 800. Still, there’s no turning back now. I’m not sure what else to do to help with set up, so I find a spot just to the left of the registration table and try to stay out of the way.

More people are starting to arrive: moms with young sons, uncertain about the age restrictions of the tournament; some guys from Saskatoon who look like they’re in their twenties; and a few older gentlemen. It strikes me that I’m the only female registered so far. A well-dressed man with a white beard approaches the registration table.

“Do good-looking people get a discount at this tournament?” he asks, eyes twinkling. He looks up from the table. “You’d qualify!” he tells me teasingly. I laugh but feel a prickle of annoyance at his apparent entitlement to comment on a complete stranger’s appearance. I brush it off.

Soon, one of the organizers announces that they are almost ready to begin the tournament. He explains some of the details:

“This is a Swiss style tournament, which means that our computer program will pair you based on how well (or how poorly) you perform. There will be five games played, each game beginning on the hour. We’ll break for pizza lunch at noon as well as for a 15-minute break before the final game. A few reminders: If you touch one of your own pieces you must move that piece; if you touch an opponent’s piece and you can capture it you must do so; castling is the king’s move so please move your king first, followed by your rook; and finally, talking during games will not be permitted,” he states clearly. He starts to call out the pairings.

I am thankful that Kelly has already explained most of these nitpicky rules to me before now; otherwise, I would be extremely overwhelmed. I am quickly learning that playing chess in person is much different than playing chess online. Suddenly, the sound of my fiancé’s name jerks me out of my swirling thoughts.

“Kelly is white against Collin* on board two; Jared* is white against Steven* on board five…” the organizer calls out.

“Of course,” I whisper to Kelly with a smile. Collin has won the last three tournaments the Chess Club has held. He rolls his eyes, but I can see that his jaw is set, determined. He’ll put up a good fight.

“Mark is white against Raquel on board nine…”

I take a deep breath, grab my water bottle, and sit down at the table where board nine sits. Even though Mark is a really strong player, I am glad I am paired with him. He’s the president of chess club and is very encouraging to new players. He won’t judge me for my inevitable blunders.

The game begins. He plays e5. I match it with e4. Remember to hit the clock, I tell myself. My hands shake. Knight to c6; knight to f3. Hit the clock. I wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans. It is quiet, save the sounds of pieces moving and taps on the clock. Goals of the opening… develop, develop, develop, control the centre, castle early, pay attention to threats, I chant in my head. Hit the clock. I remind myself that there is lots of time, but I still feel pressured to make my moves quickly. Deep breaths, I tell myself, hyper aware of how fast my heart is beating.

Ah, I just dropped my knight! How did I do that? Crap. I need to pay more attention to threats. Oh well. Keep making moves… I have no idea what I’m doing.

Mark’s expression is puzzled, which makes me very self-conscious about the move I just played. He takes my bishop, and I accidentally utter a mixture of a nervous laugh, a groan, and a sigh. Ugh! The game is almost over. Should I just resign? I wonder. I’m down so much material. We play a few more moves, and then he takes my queen. I extend my hand to shake.

“I think I’m done,” I whisper. “Good game.”

“Good game,” he whispers back with a sympathetic smile.

He tells me I actually played the opening really well, until I dropped my knight. He’s very kind. I check my phone – it reads 10:20 AM. Forty minutes until the next game starts. I leave the room to take a walk; I need a break from the intense stares, the tapping of clocks, and the tension that hangs in the air.

I take a deep breath. Only four more games to go…


I hope that little narrative gave you a small glimpse into my experience at the Queen City Chess Club’s tournament on January 16th. The chess world is very new to me, and stepping into it was nerve-wracking and interesting and frustrating and challenging and exciting and exhausting. Overall, I’m glad I participated and I definitely learned from it; however, I wish I had been able to gain a bit more experience playing chess before jumping into a tournament with such skilled players.

If you are wondering how the rest of the tournament went, I lost my next two games – one of which was against an 8-year-old. Laugh at me if you must, but that 8-year-old had game! …Plus I’m super new to this. So yes, an 8-year-old beat me and as many times as Kelly has told me that chess is independent from age, it still felt embarrassing. It was my toughest loss to muster, as it was the first game I actually expected to win. After that, I won my fourth game (against a different 8-year-old) and lost my final game. By the end of the tournament, I was mentally exhausted. I guess I need to keep working on my chess stamina!

Have you ever tried something new and completely embarrassed yourself trying it? Please comment below if you can share a story that will help boost my crushed self-esteem after the events of the tournament!


*Names have been changed.