MCC Chess School Final Report

Howard Goldowsky, Chess School Facilitator
November 2002 through October 2003

1.      Overview

All twelve classes of this year's MCC Chess School were focused on the endgame.  The original philosophy behind the choice of this subject was that endgame knowledge is a learnable skill, and it can be built from the ground up, irrespective of a player's rating.  Monthly sessions (or classes) of the Chess School were held with this basic premise in mind.

2.      Observations over the course of the program

2.1.      Attendance ranged from four students (second to last class) and six students (Easter week and the last week of August), to about twenty students on nights when Lou Mercuri was lecturing.  Lou Mercuri's lectures consistently attracted the largest attendance.

2.2.      Each class generally consisted of three parts: group learning, Lou Mercuri lecture (five out of twelve classes) or student mini-lectures led by students, and group games.

2.3.      When there were small groups (3-4 people) for group learning, dynamic discussion occurred.  Larger groups (5-6 people) did not work as well.

2.4.      The quality of this discussion also depended on how well each member of the group prepared.  In general, the students who prepared for each class had a better time and got the most out of the course.  Not everyone prepared for each class.  This brought down the learning potential for those who did prepare.

2.5.      In general, Lou's lectures were always filled with useful information, and he consistently lectured about topics I asked him to.  He sometimes stayed longer than his allotted one hour.

2.6.      Lou's lectures had a negative side.  I tend to feel that these lectures were an isolated event attended by way more people than who attended a non-lecture class, and thus his lectures did not take on a look and feel of a substantive part of a bigger whole.

2.7.      Group games were extremely fun (perhaps the most enjoyable part of the course for most), but they did not consistently prove to be an effective learning tool.  It might be worthwhile to brainstorm how to incorporate group games into the general MCC schedule outside of the Chess School.

2.8.      Many lower rated players (<1200) fit right in and understood the fundamental material as well as the higher rated players.  However, not all lower rated players could do this.  Often, many of the group discussions would turn into a lecture by the person who prepared most or by the highest rated player, lecturing to the people who did not prepare.  The people who did not prepare just sat there expecting to be spoon fed the material.  This is consistent with Lou attracting higher attendance.

2.9.      Financial cost to the MCC: $250 (five Lou Mercuri lectures at $50/each).

3.      Recommendations

The lesson that I'm taking away from this year's class is that over the long term (one year) the average Chess School student did not have the inclination to devote the time necessary for serious preparation (including myself some months).  If the MCC Chess School is to continue next season, my recommendation (initially proposed to me by Harvey Reed) is to keep the same lecture/discussion format but make the number of classes less (i.e., three classes per topic instead of twelve).  This short-term nature of the course will make it easier for students to prepare or to get excited.  As noted above, the students who prepared got the most out of the course and seemed to have the best time.  All in all, the class was a success.  Students enjoyed learning some useful endgame technique, the facilitators learned what worked and didn't work, and the class set the foundation for similar programs in the future.