In 1977, inspiration struck. Dr. Robert Ferguson, an avid player and chess philanthropist started Castle Chess Camp in Bradford, Pennsylvania. In 2001, David Woolf, a chess organizer in Georgia, started the second Castle Camp at Emory university in Atlanta, Georgia, using the same proven formula as the original Castle Camp. Beginning in 2008, a group of volunteers established Castle Chess, Inc. with the goal of providing the best week of chess possible to participants. The tireless efforts of the board and specifically Jennifer Christianson cannot be stated enough. (A list of all instructional staff and the board members can be found on our website.)
The authors of this article (Bryan Tillis & Steve Abrahams) have been involved with Castle Chess since 2003. As certified educators and former campers, we have seen every facet of camp. Castle Chess is one of the most educationally beneficial environments for any students interested in chess around the globe.
Daily schedule begins with Castle Challenge, a structured unrated tournament where each day of camp a g/45 game is played and, at the conclusion, both players analyze their game deeply with an instructor from staff.
This is one of the most important facets of camp as the instructors are carefully monitoring the players in their groups, looking to evaluate strong and weak points in play for analysis. Speaking from personal experience, I have received invaluable feedback from instructors from the Castle Challenge tournament over the years.
Lesson from Camp
Upon conclusion of the morning analysis, players meet for their first of three formal lessons from instructors during the day. Here is an excerpt of an example lesson seen in camp (note that groups of students are 12 in number, and the camp is broken up into 8 groups delineated by rating typically with a variance of 75-150 USCF difference between the top and bottom player in the group).
Here is a warm-up problem from GM Panchanathan:
White to play, can he stop black from Queening the Pawn?
Recreation & Fun
All work and no play makes chess players dull. Each day the students have a menu of activities to choose from here is Instructor vs. Camper Soccer:
Schedule of evening activities:
Sunday & Wednesday: Instructor simultaneous exhibitions
Monday: Blitz Tournament
Tuesday: Variant tournament night (King of the Hill, Fischer Random)
Castle Grand Prix Tournament
Each year, Castle Chess Camp concludes with a rated G/120 tournament. This tournament offers a high prize fund and a plethora of strong players. More often than not, the instructors from the previous week choose to play in the event and challenge the top campers (2150+) and local masters.
In previous years tournament participants and top finishers include:
GM Serper, GM Becerra, GM Akobian, GM Ramirez, GM De Firmian, GM Fedorowicz, GM Panchanathan, GM Zapata, GM Krush, GM Paragua, GM Naroditsky, GM Shulman, GM Palatnik, GM Benjamin, and GM Shimanov.
This doesn’t include the innumerable number of IMs, FM, & NMs who have participated in the event.
Here is Grandmaster Panchanathan’s first round victory against National Master Dipro Chakraborty.
This year’s tournament and this article is dedicated to the memory of GM Art Bisguier, who passed away April 5, 2017.
GM Bisguier taught at Castle from 2001-2004.
Life Master Bryan Tillis & FIDE Trainer Steve Abrahams are the Co-Owners and Directors of Champions Chess in West Palm Beach, FL. They have recently written the book, Become A Chess Champion, with a forward by GM Daniel Naroditsky.
Become A Chess Champion is available at US Chess Sales.
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