Championship Chelsea Chess Team Loses Coaching Program

By Mathew Katz on November 27, 2012 7:30am 

CHELSEA — A team of championship chess players who won a national tournament have lost two of their coaches because a popular city chess program has pulled out of their school.

NYChessKids, a chess-training program that works with kids in schools across the city, announced at the beginning of the school year that it would no longer have a presence at Chelsea's NYC Lab School on West 17th Street.

The school's sixth-grade team tied two other schools for first place in the U.S. Chess Federation's National K-6 Championships in May. But now, only one of the three coaches who helped them win the top prize remains following NYChessKids' departure.

"A lot of kids will have less coaching, or will have to study on their own," said a parent, who asked not to be identified. "The program is a bridge to competitions for our kids, they help us do better and help us figure out who they're up against."

With the help of NYChessKids, students Adrian Durkin, Sean Chung, Spencer Ha, Jonathan Chan, Eugene Thomas and Travis Tyson qualified for the 2012 finals in Nashville. On top of the team doing well, each individual student placed among the top 100 competitors.

Saudin Robovic, a Chess Master who owns NYChessKids, said his group was forced to leave the school because only 10 students signed up for the chess team — not enough to cover the costs of the program. As of the start of this school year, still only 10 students from the Lab School were registered for the chess team.

"It was a financial decision," he said. "We simply could not afford to run the class. You'd need to send two teachers to really serve them well."

He added that providing the kind of coaching the championship team needs requires a Master Teacher — whos costs more.

"That class in particular is difficult," he said. "On the one side, you have the kids who won the championship. On the other side, you have complete beginners."

Under last year's program, parents paid roughly $20 a week for instruction from the three coaches.

Carlos Pujol, who separated from the program, is the sole coach remaining to teach the kids. After leading the kids to victory in May, he said he expects no change in the team's performance, despite the cut in coaching staff.

"I'm their coach," he said. "I'm still there."

But parents said the loss of the team's support structure has hurt their kids' resolve to succeed, especially as they enter a more competitive age bracket.

"They're worried, they're stressed out," said the parent who declined to be identitifed.

"We're really going to try, but I don't know anything about chess, and I'm not a coach."

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