Starting a School Chess Club - part 5

Children learning chess in a classroom

Running a school chess club can be very rewarding and schools are usually supportive of such a venture. I started a school chess club back in 2017 when my boys were aged 7 and 5. I contacted the head teacher and offered to run a lunchtime chess club. The school was extremely supportive and I ran the club for 3 years for children aged 5 - 11 until my boys moved to a different school. I learned many things from this experience and wanted to share tips for teachers, parents or coaches who might be interested to set up a club at their school.


This is a 5 part series that will cover the following topics:

  1. Room and Equipment
  2. Instruction vs play
  3. Getting everyone involved
  4. Keeping it fun
  5. Running tournaments and ladders


5. Running tournaments and ladders

Children love competition and seeing how well they can do compared to their peers. Here are a few tried and tested approaches to running successful tournaments in a school chess club:

  • Run the tournament using a Swiss system which is a non-eliminating tournament comprising of a fixed number of rounds (ie. 5 - 7 rounds) where the winner is the highest scorer after the final round. This system also ensures that children are paired against other children on a similar score to themselves each round which should result in more equal matches. This is the same system being used to run both adult and junior chess tournaments.
SWIPS is an online swiss tournament manager that has a free basic tier that supports up to 20 participants and up to 5 rounds. It handles all of the standard tie break rules and makes it very easy to run a tournament and be able to print off the round pairings and overall standings / cross-table.
  • Use a scoring system where you still score points even for a loss. For example 3 points for a win, 2 points for a draw and 1 point for a loss. This means no one has to suffer the embarrassment of finishing on zero points.
  • Be flexible as there will always be weeks where some children are missing for various reasons. Only default a player if they miss their round pairing for 2 weeks in a row. The next round can only take place once all games for a round have been played.
  • The prize can be something simple and not expensive, badges/pins, stickers or a small trophy etc. Giving out certificates for everyone that played can be a great way to encourage and motivate the children.

In the UK there is the Delancey UK Chess Challenge which is an annual tournament where any school can participate. For a modest fee they will provide everything you need to run the tournament at your school including posters to advertise it and prizes / certificates for all participants. It's a great gateway tournament for children to progress from school chess to playing in junior tournaments. Those who reach a certain score in their school tournament can then go on to later regional stages such as the Megafinal and Gigafinals before the final national Terafinal stage.


Aside from a tournament which needs to be planned and run you can also keep a regular chess ladder in operation throughout the school year. Any child on the ladder can challenge someone higher up to a game and if they win they move up to that place on the ladder and the person they beat drops down a spot. If the challenger loses the game there is no change in position. If the game is a draw then the challenger moves up to one spot below the person they challenged. This can be very fun and children love challenging others to a game to see if they can get higher on the ladder. Again small prizes can be given at end of term or year for those who did in the ladder.