A Parent's Perspective
By Mark Schein   
May 10, 2008
Chess dads come in many forms, according to Mark Schein.
Photo Betsy Dynako

Mark Schein, father of Aaron Schein, a high-seed in the Elementary Nationals, gives a parent's perspective from Pittsburgh. Throughout the weekend, check results and pairings here. The Blitz and Bughouse competitions are already complete: Aleksandr Ostrovskiy won the K-6 Blitz, Bryce McClanahan won the K-3 Blitz and Jaffe and Rosenthal took the bughouse. Scroll down to see Dynako's photos of the winners. You can also watch live games on monroi.com.

Years ago, before I had children, I came home from a business dinner and announced to my wife that I had sat next to a complete jerk at dinner.  “You wouldn’t have believed this guy”, I said, “He drags his child all over the country to chess tournaments!” Little did I know what was in store for me?

This year’s trip to Pittsburgh represents the 12th national tournament Aaron and I have attended.  The two yearly nationals loom on our calendar both as a tense, long weekend and as an opportunity to see friends from around the country, play meaningful matches and escape from school and work.  I’m going to give you a little primer on what these weekends hold in store, and what to look for.

Once we land in the host city, our existence falls into a familiar routine which is as big a part of the weekend as the chess itself.  I have come to the conclusion that when your child eats, when he blows off steam and when he rests is as important a part of his success as how he plays the openings.  It’s really like bringing a racehorse to the Derby, the parent is more the handler than anything else.  When Chess Life Online has kids write these blogs from tournaments, the kids send “shout outs” to their friends.  So as a forty-something parent, I’m going to try it, based on my experiences at these tournaments.  I’d like to start out by sending a shout-out to the father who completely forgot to feed his child dinner on the big pressure Saturday night in Nashville. Not forgot to feed him before the round, I mean forgot all about food until the next day.  I’d like to send a shout-out to the dad who promised his kids a swim, so he had them in the pool in Orlando at midnight.  Please, he begged, “don’t tell my wife.” By the way, I’ve learned that chess moms are a lot like chess dads, they just usually remember meals.  How about one last shout-out to the parent who promised her young chess player a major reward (electronic or other) if they bring home a victory in the next round.  That’s right; most of us are selling our souls, getting superstitious and subsisting on fast foods, all in the hopes of getting to 5, 6 or 7 points on the weekend.  And by the way, we’re pretending we’re just here because chess is an academic endeavor.

Parents are by and large broken down into four groups.  We have the over-the-top ambitious chess parent who doesn’t try to hide it.  That parent is usually too tense to socialize during rounds and is too busy handling the child to socialize between rounds.  There is the over-the-top ambitious chess parent who does try to hide it.  We, I mean they, realize it is not attractive or productive to be a pushy parent and we, I mean they, are usually found during rounds, in the tournament hall commiserating with other similar parents about what we are doing to ourselves, our kids or our marriages with this competitive chess addiction. 

Some parents fall into the “we hide our competitive nature so well, you don’t even know we care” group.  These parents are often seen reading or doing work in or near the tournament hall.  They frequently sneak a peek to see if their child is approaching. (By the way, parents in the first two groups have learned that it’s futile to bring reading material to a chess tournament)  Lastly, there are the parents that are genuinely here because their child likes chess and they sincerely don’t mind if their child wins or loses.  Those parents are usually seen laughing and chatting with other like-minded parents during rounds.  Often, their children have to fight to interrupt the conversation to inform them of how they did in that round.

By Friday, there is a sense of excitement.  Anything is possible.  The children genuinely love the game and the challenge.  The parents, I believe, genuinely have a sense of foreboding, for in the words of a famous Grand Master, “in chess, someone is planning to do something very evil to you.”  My son, Aaron, had a full Thursday with Bughouse and Blitz and a lesson with his coach Miron Sher, and hopefully good food and a good night’s sleep to prepare for the big event.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Bug and Blitz Photos by Betsy Dynako

Bryce McClanahan
K-3 Blitz Champion,

K-6 Blitz Champion, Aleksandr Ostrovskiy

Bughouse Champs Jaffe and Rosenthal