I wanted to share with you all my thoughts on chess as a hobby, or even playing competitively - as I have done both. This is also for parents that are wondering whether chess might be a good outlet for your children. Here's my background/experience and thoughts.
As for expertise on this subject: I'm certainly no expert, but I played competitively until 8th grade, consistently ranked in the top 30 players in the United States for my age (peaking at #18), and won a couple state championships. I write this many years later, looking back and sharing my experience.
I started playing chess around the age of 5, when my dad and brother introduced me to the game. I quickly became hooked, and before long I was playing in scholastic tournaments on weekends. Within a couple years, it became a bit more than a hobby, and I started taking lessons from a chess master (someone who is rated above 2200 in the ELO rating system).
Chess can quickly be picked up, and if you want your kid to start playing, today can be the day. Pick up a board, learn the rules, and start playing with them. There are also a plethora of online resources and places to play. I spent countless hours (many hours a day actually) playing on ICC. Chess.com is another big one. Much of my childhood was spent on ICC, training and fooling around.
Now, a bit on lessons. Chess lessons do not come cheap, and I can say with certainty that it cost my parents quite a small fortune to put me through many years of lessons. The going rate for chess lessons can easily be at least 50 dollars an hour, and I think I was taking weekly lessons for a little under a hundred dollars for two hours. That was just for lessons from a master. Later on, I took a few lessons from a grandmaster, and it was entirely on the phone/computer, and it was ~$100 an hour. It's not cheap - but if you want your child to be competitive, it's almost a must.
Also to the parents: taking your children to tournaments is going to take a lot of your time. My dad drove me around to tournaments at least once or twice a month, and it took up his entire weekend, as he sat around as I played all weekend. It was definitely a sacrifice, and it's something you have to think about before committing to raising up a chess player.
My experience of tournaments growing up: it was a blast. I remember going to sleep on Friday nights giddy and excited, and waking up before the sun was up, excited to go play. And the tournaments themselves, they were usually held at a school, or hotel. As I usually played in the same areas locally, I got to know and become friends with many of the kids. I played in some tournaments against Daniel Naroditsky, even tying for first in a tournament with him. I also remember the fun times between games at the tournaments, running around and doing shenanigans with the other kids.
For some of the more serious tournaments, and the open (adult) tournaments, many of the games lasted up to 5 hours, though rarely for me. I remember chess really testing my patience, as I became easily distracted and hardly used up any of my allotted time to think. My coach had to set limits for me, not allowing me to finish my games before I used a certain amount of time. It's an interesting thing at chess tournaments, you can get up at any time and walk around, watching the games of others. I spent a lot of my time wandering around the rooms, watching others play, and spending little time at my own game.
What benefits does chess offer to your kid?
1. Patience - Chess taught me more about patience than anything else growing up. It taught me to sit still and focus on one thing at a time.
**2. Focus ** - Along with patience, it taught me how to focus, as I mentioned above. It takes a lot of focus and persistence to study a chess position, and extrapolate different scenarios and possibilities, all in your mind.
**3. Creativity ** - Chess is all about creativity. It makes you think outside the box. It expands your mind to possibilities you might never have thought possible. Each game you play is going to be different from any you have played before, and almost certainly different than any game ever played before. It takes a lot of creativity once you get past the first few moves.
4. It's a Blast - It's super fun to play, there's a lot of variations if you get bored with the standard rules. Tournaments and meeting other kids was extremely fun, and it's actually a great way for kids to develop social skills, contrary to the stigma that chess is just for nerds that can't function socially.
5. College - I put chess as the main extracurricular on my college applications, and I think it carried a lot of weight. Chess looks good on a college application, simply put.
1. Expensive - Everything about taking chess seriously is expensive. Lessons, traveling to tournaments, the tournament entry fees, etc. It will definitely add up. However, simply as a hobby, chess is quite cheap and includes most of the benefits above.
2. Time Consuming - Both for the parents and for the child. Chess took up a lot of my time growing up, and I focused a lot of my free time on improving. Weekends were spent going to tournaments, and weekdays spent taking lessons and improving through practice. Through it all however, I was able to maintain many other hobbies, such as soccer and tennis. However, in the end, I quite partially because chess took up too much of my bandwidth to do the other things I wanted to do, and I wasn't willing to put in the work any more.
These are just a few of my thoughts and experiences of playing chess growing up. It's certainly not for everyone, but if you're thinking of picking up chess, it's easy and fun. You can start now, by signing up for an account on any of the many websites online (for a free website, I recommend the website chess.com linked above).
As a parent, if you're willing to spend the time and money, I would highly recommend considering chess for your kid. The lessons I learned from chess, even though I quit quite early, have been invaluable. The patience and persistence I gained have stuck with me to this day, and have carried me through college and beyond.
Thanks so much for reading and I hope you found it insightful. Please leave a comment with your thoughts, or any questions!