All around the world, children of every age group and all ability levels compete in chess tournaments on a daily basis. While some very ambitious or talented young players may play alongside adults, most of these children take part in scholastic chess tournaments - events designed specifically for children to compete amongst one another.
While some of these tournaments can be quite serious - there are national scholastic championships in most countries, and even some international competitions exclusively for young players - there's plenty of room for casual players as well. In fact, most scholastic tournaments are designed to be welcoming and friendly, especially for new or younger players.
Scholastic Tournament Basics
If you've never been to a scholastic chess tournament before, the whole organization of the event can be a little bit confusing. While a small tournament might just have one section, larger tournaments will be broken up into several sections designed for players of various ages and ability levels. There are several ways sections might be divided, including:
By Grades: Many tournaments divide players based on the grades they are in. For instance, you might see an elementary school tournament that features both a K-3 and a K-6 section. Those designations tell you what grade levels are eligible to play in each section. In many cases, all sections of a tournament might start at kindergarten and include varying amounts of higher grades; this is designed to make it clear that younger children who are advanced or looking for a challenge are welcome to "play up" in a higher section if they wish to do so.
By Ratings: Most larger tournaments include both "open" or "championship" sections that welcome all players from the allowed grade levels, as well as "reserve" sections that are only open to players below a certain rating. This gives players who would not have a realistic chance of competing for the top spots in the main tournament a chance to win trophies against more evenly-matched competition.
By Experience: Some tournaments offer "novice" or unrated sections that are specifically designed for players who have just started trying out tournament chess. These sections usually don't require a membership in a national federation to play in, and the rules enforcement is designed to teach rather than to apply penalties for mistakes. These sections are a great way for young players who want to try out a chess tournament but are scared of the more competitive sections to dip their toes into the water.
Scholastic Tournament Prizes
After all of the rounds have been played (at local tournaments, this will probably only take a few hours), it's time to give out the prizes. Players are awarded trophies and other prizes based on their place in the standings. Players are ranked by the number of points they've received during the tournament, earning one point for a win and a half-point for a draw. If players are tied, then these ties can be broken for the purposes of awarding trophies using one of any number of methods, all of which seek to give credit for playing tougher opponents (either based on ratings, performance ratings, or opponents' scores during tournaments, among other methods). Trophies are sometimes also awarded to the top players under a certain ratings level in a given section.
Even if you or your child hasn't won a trophy, you might want to stick around. Often - especially for younger children - organizers have something to give to every child who participated. This can come in the form of a medal, toy, or other small participation reward.
If you came as part of a school team, you might also want to stick around to see if your team won any awards. In scholastic tournaments, team rankings are determined by adding up the top four scores from each team in order to get a team score. The top teams are given trophies that they can take back to their schools - a welcome surprise for any school principal!
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