Coaching and parental support can help produce a winning primary chess team. John Davies reports. A weekend at Camber Sands in June; a Saturday in Birmingham later the same month, followed by a trip to Nottingham - to say nothing of the shorter journeys for more local championships. It's been a busy few months for the chess players of Temple Sutton primary school.
But it does have some of the best young players in the country. When a school team won the English Primary Schools Chess Association (EPSCA) under-nines team trophy in Birmingham on June 29, chess coach Peter Walker says it was another satisfying day for the school "stuck in the middle of a council estate" in Southend-on-Sea.
The secret of Temple Sutton's success is perhaps a combination of three things: tradition, coaching and parental support. The tradition comes from headteacher Frank Gulley, who has "been running chess clubs all my teaching life".
Temple Sutton has a daily lunchtime club run by the children - from nursery age to 11-year-olds. He says the better ones bring on the less able.
But the school wouldn't have done so well without Peter Walker, father of eight-year-old team captain Heather. (One of his other children, 11-year-old Graham, plays for England.) Having recently taken redundancy from a Customs and Excise job, he now makes a living as a chess coach - although as a governor of Temple Sutton he doesn't charge the school his commercial rates.
Parental support is also important to Torquay's Cockington Primary (its under-nines came third). "We have an allowance from our parent-teacher association of about Pounds 350 a year," explains Cockington teacher Nancy Mortimer-Pike.
"This helps towards running costs and some travel to competitions - from October to June it's nearly every weekend. We're used to staying in youth hostels. When you're in Devon you're a long way from anywhere else."
The EPSCA finalists qualified at two semi-final weekends earlier in June, held at Pontin's Holiday Centres in Camber Sands and Prestatyn. Each centre had to accommodate some 300 players and about twice as many "supporters" - a triumph of organisation by EPSCA's Tony Corfe, a former deputy head who now runs tournaments and supplies chess equipment.
The EPSCA team competition has not been the only national contest for young chess players this year. Last autumn, computer chip manufacturer Intel launched a UK schools chess programme. Schools were invited to apply for a "starter kit" that included a teacher's manual, chess sets and large scale magnetic demonstration board - an offer that was over-subscribed - and to take part in an Intel Chess Challenge for individual players.
Starting with in-school competitions, it progressed to regional "mega finals" and then to a national "giga-final" in Nottingham in early July, where some 300 primary and secondary-age children met in chess combat. As well as producing 14 national champions - girls competed separately from boys in seven age categories, from under-sevens to under-18s - the school with the best two players won a computer. The winner was a private school, Newcastle-upon-Tyne Royal Grammar, which also won the under-11 EPSCA title.
Although undoubtedly a success with 660 schools taking part, the Intel challenge will be a one-off. But Mike Basman, the British grand master who has organised the Nottingham event, is hoping to continue with new sponsorship and, given enough money to pay for a nationwide mailing in the autumn, reckons he could double the number of entrants.
Estimates of the numbers of chess-playing schools vary wildly from under 10 per cent to around half. Of these, only a small proportion perhaps will enter anything but local competitions. As for coaching, Colin Oliver, London Primary Schools Chess Association secretary, says more school teams have coaches who are not regular teachers. "There's more involvement of coaches and local chess clubs," he says. "People in clubs are very keen to encourage juniors."
Certainly most of the EPSCA finalists in Birmingham had coaches: RGS Newcastle played under the watchful eye of Paul Bielby, a retired comprehensive teacher who is the senior coach of the Northumbria Junior Chess Association.
Coaches aside, don't be deterred by the cost, says Frank Gulley. Some of his school's boards and chess sets were made by parents, and apart from the cost of entering tournaments and travelling to them - the school gets Pounds 200 a year from its local NatWest branch and "seeks sponsorship wherever we can" for travel - the biggest expense has been chess clocks which cost about Pounds 30 each. Ten chess sets and boards would cost a little over Pounds 100.
Most of the Temple Sutton children also had computers at home, which they use to practise and keep records of past games. But they don't use them in school. Among the most popular programs are databases called Chess Base and Chess Assistant, but not everyone is convinced that playing against a computer is a good idea, as it seems to encourage children to play too quickly without thinking through all the possible alternative moves.
BOOKS, MATERIALS AND CONTACTS TO GET YOU STARTED
How to Win at Chess by Daniel King (Cadogan Pounds 9.99) Manual for Chess Teachers by Mike Basman (Basman Pounds 5.95) Beginner to Winner by Mike Basman (Basman Pounds 6.95) The Chess Teacher by Alan Phillips (Cadogan Pounds 10.99) Batsford Chess Course and Batsford Second Chess Course by Mike Basman (Batsford Pounds 9.99)
Chess for Children by Martin Richardson (Cadogan Pounds 10.99) Chess for Tomorrow's Champions by John Walker (Cadogan Pounds 10.99) Simple Checkmates by Tony Gillam will be reprinted in December (Batsford Pounds 7.99)
Software programs Chess Base (Pounds 200) and Chess Assistant (Pounds 240) which store games by top players or pupils are useful databases for teaching.
Genius 4, floppy for PC 386 upwards, Pounds 90; Fritz 4, CD-Rom for Multimedia PC, Pounds 90 and Rebel 7, floppy for PC 386 upwards Pounds 80, are games for playing.
A standard plastic chess set with 3.75 inch king costs about Pounds 9, plus board Pounds 3 to Pounds 7. A demonstration board (92 x 92cm) with pieces: roll-up version costs Pounds 100, metal version Pounds 90 Chess clocks from Pounds 20-Pounds 80 All the above are available by mail order from Tony Corfe, 51 Borough Way, Potters Bar, Hertfordshire EN6 3HA. Tel: 01707 659080. Prices include VAT, but not delivery. Corfe is also the contact for information on the EPSCA tournament.
* Mike Basman books are also available from Basman, 7 Billockby Close, Chessington, Surrey KT9 2ED. Tel: 0181 397 1826.
* Entries for The Times British Schools Chess Championship (principally for secondary schools) are due by the beginning of August. Details from Chief Conductor, The Times British Schools Chess Championships, 4 Alders Road, Hale Lane, Edgware, Middlesex HA8 9QG.
* British Chess Federation: 9a Grand Parade, St Leonard's-on-Sea, East Sussex TN38 0DD. Tel: 01424 442500.