Tuesday, May 15, 2012

PS 503 ChessMates' victory is featured in the New York Times!

A busload of young chess wizards from a Brooklyn school left for Nashville last Wednesday, and returned to their school Monday afternoon with a three-tiered, first-place trophy from the United States Chess Federation’s National Elementary Championship. “We won! I feel so excited that we won first place, especially because we beat a middle school,” said Helen Xue, 11, a fifth grader on the team. “When I found out that we won, I jumped up and down, and then later we had a celebration. We had a nice dinner and we ate lots of ice cream.” Fourteen students from Public School 503: The School of Discovery in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, a Title I school, won first place Sunday in the “K-6 Under 1,000” category, which falls within the intermediate level of the tournament. They are the second New York City public school team — also from Brooklyn — to win a national championship this season by beating older students. In April the chess team at Intermediate School 318 Eugenio Maria de Hostos in Williamsburg topped its already-impressive record by winning the National High School Championships. The P.S. 503 students, who are in the second through fifth grades, started competing only a year ago. Matthew Silverman, 29, a fourth-grade teacher at the school and a founder of ChessMates, the school’s team, said he was still in shock that his students could pull off a first-place victory with so little experience. “We started from nothing,” Mr. Silverman said. “The kids really took control of it. They go home and they want to study tactics. This is their passion. “This is the first year of competing, and they worked so hard,” he said. Mr. Silverman, who started the club with his fellow teachers Carlos Graupera and Rachel Hsieh, traveled with the students more than 16 hours to compete in the national tournament, where they beat out 49 other schools in their section. The team’s initial goal was to raise $5,000 so that they could travel with eight students. “But we ended up raising $12,000 with the help of our school, local businesses, parents and Chess in the Schools,” Mr. Graupera said. The extra money allowed 20 students in all to go, some of whom also competed in the “K-5 Under 900” category, also on the intermediate level. “Most of our students are lower working class. They’re not coming from an affluent background. Our school is primarily an immigrant population, and the students are a mix of Asian, Hispanic and Arabic children,” he said. “The kids are incredibly enthusiastic. They’re eager to learn, and they love supporting each other.” The chess club started out as a lunchtime gathering in mid-2010 with eight members, and quickly grew into a team of 45. When its founders saw how enthusiastic the students were about the game, they started entering the team in tournaments organized by Chess in the Schools. “They sent us a very experienced coach to work with the kids,” Mr. Graupera said. “Once they saw how serious the kids were about the game, they and our principal encouraged us to enter into the nationals.” Once the team qualified for the tournament, the practice sessions picked up. “I played for an hour almost every day,” Helen said. “We really wanted to win.” Last Friday, before the tournament started that morning, the students woke at 7 o’clock and met in a hotel conference room to warm up their brains and discuss strategy for the seven grueling games they would play throughout the weekend. “Our longest game lasted over three hours on Sunday,” Mr. Silverman said. “We told them, ‘The more patient you are, the better you’re going to be.’” The advice paid off. The students won the “K-6 Under 1,000” section with 22 points, beating the Rockway Middle School from Miami by only half a point. “Playing chess has an allure for children. They’re enticed by the way the game looks and the mystery of how the pieces move,” Mr. Graupera said. “The game is about critical thinking, problem solving and time management. This is the most competitive experience a child can have. They also learn to celebrate the victories that their teammates have.” Anthony Pirro, 34, the school’s assistant principal, who also traveled with the team, now has a serious decision to make: where to display the trophy. He also has to help prepare for a congratulatory visit by Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday. “They’ve been racking up trophies as they go along,” he said proudly. “I’m kind of in shock. There were screams, cheers, high fives all around. We were jumping up and down for joy. I don’t think they fully understand yet what they’ve accomplished.”

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The PS 503 ChessMates are the new K-6 Under 1000 National Champions!!!

During the 7th and final round we overtook Florida's Rockway Middle School to become the new National K-6 Under 1000 Champions.

Round 6!!

Going into the 6th round, the Chessmates are only a half of a point behind the first place team.  No matter what happens at the end of the day we are so proud of our players who have demonstrated great sportmanship and have remained extremely focused on bringing their best game.  Our player's games have been very challenging and long.  Many games lasted until the end of the time control...approx. 4 hours.  

After packing up our rooms, eating breakfast, and brushing our teeth, we are off to our team room to prepare for our last two rounds.  Wish us luck!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Pictures of the place

It's been quite the adventure as we continue to stay focus on playing chess. Here are pictures from the first couple days. The place we are staying in is beautiful and huge. There are multiple conventions going on.

After a successful first round, we are relaxing with sushi and chinese food. Round 2 at 7pm.

We want to play!!!

Round 1 frenzy as everyone tries to find their boards. The announer is trying different tactics to get parents and coaches to leave, including getting the kids to chant, "We want to play!" Adding to the announcer's frustration, the kids did not join in.

One more international master game before we start

Warming up for Round 1.

Last Pieces of Advice

Mr. Silverman & Mr. Graupera giving some last pieces of advice. Round one starts at 1pm

Waiting for the opening ceremony!!

In the midst of waiting, we're double & triple checking that our names and school are correctly accounted for.  E

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Round 1! ~Blitz

It's started!!  Zong Shan ready to play blitz!

Blitz Tournament

Too early for chess boards yet but this is where the students will be playing. An endless sea.

Nancy and Wang at Gaylord Opryland

"Is this the hotel?"

We crossed into Tennessee at around 4:30am. The driver drove into a visitors center to switch. Instantly, all the students woke up and asked, "is this the hotel?"

They were all somewhat relieved to find out that it wasn't. Wonder what their reactions will be when they see the hotel ...

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Chessmates are off to Nationals!

It's hard to believe that Nationals are finally here. We all have put in so much effort this year to prepare for this trip. Thank you to all of our supporters! We definitely could not have made it this far without you. While Mr. Silverman, Mr. Graupera and I have all been looking forward to this trip. What we are most excited by is being able to give our students an experience that they will remember years to come. 
We cannot describe how excited our students have been getting in the last couple weeks as the date came closer and closer. 

By this time, tomorrow we'll be well on our way to Nashville. Keep checking our blog for updates over the weekend. We hope to be able to keep everyone as up-to-date as possible as to how our students are doing!