What is your refund policy?

For classes and tournaments, we have a no refund policy. We suggest that new players/students pay for one class or one group class before committing to a semester membership.

We do try our best to be flexible with makeups and we have been known to give credits for special circumstances.

What time control is the tournament? Tell me more about clocks!

Short Answer: 

Our time control is G/30;d5 for most sections. For our top section it is G/35;d5. You don't need to bring a clock, and there is nothing to worry about, but kids and parents worry about clocks. 
More details: 
This means game in 30 minutes, with a 5 second delay per move. A g/30;d5 game should last about an hour if it goes the longest. A 3 round tournament with "long games" should finish in 3 hours or less. Sometimes, but rarely, longer. Beginners and intermediate players usually finish in 1.5 hours or less. Usually once a week, there is one "section" where 3 games are played in under 1 hour. The kids are playing too fast, but kids will be kids. 

Draft for a very small target audience. In the future I will edit this more, and place some of the useful information in more organized spaces. I've just been having a lot of "TD Talk" and this gives me a chance to share some ideas immediately with those who are interested. 

When I write the following, I think that mainly tournament directors, and maybe a few parents, might benefit from reading this. It's a way to share some of my experience and opinions. It's mainly common sense, that some players and directors learn from experience.  The following writing conists of: quick thoughts, fun facts (in reality, so boring that it is almost silly to share them), and just food for thought. Please think of it as casual, and please don't be offended by any of it!  

Most important clock tip: Use your hand to press the clock after you moved. Don't forget to press it, and you'll be fine. 
Clock Rule: Use the same hand that you moved the piece with, to move the clock. We emphasize hand, because many players use a piece to press the clock, or a pencil, or permanent marker. Unfortunately, this habit results in broken clocks, broken pieces, and clocks with markings. 

The "same hand" rule makes it so that people don't accidentally press the clock BEFORE they finish their move (this would be unfair). The emphasis on hand is underrated. If everyone uses their hand to press the clock, then people can purchase nice wooden chess sets and not worry about their opponent breaking them (this happens). 

When you capture pieces, put the pieces on the side of the board. Just remember, the SIDE of the board. Left or right. Very simple! This will avoid accidents during time pressure. Learn this habit while you are young. Encourage others to do this. People shouldn't stack or toy with pieces during the game. It breaks pieces, it is distracting. I've seen a lot of adult and children complain about this. It doesn't bother me, personally, as a player. As a tournament director, it is my duty to tell players not to break pieces and to not distract others, and very often it's some tapping/smashing of pieces. It is a very boring thing to tell people, and it doesn't exactly make chess look very "cool." I'm a big believer in treating every chess piece with respect. I ask some kids to treat their pieces and chess equipment with the same respect that they treat their phone (and often it's just because I don't want them to offend other players).  

Chess clocks make it so a game ends. Experienced players can spend hours on a single chess move. Most kids don't really have to worry about this. For most kids, clocks are just a formality. I sometimes joke that if you put a potato next to the board, and ask the players to tap the potato after moving, it would produce the same result as using an actual chess clock. Basically, most people play faster than necessary, and they don't run out of time. If you put a stopwatch or chess clock next to any activity, a person naturally wants to act differently. Experienced people understand time management, and when to worry, and when not to worry, and the smartest kids can't be expected to know this. This is more of an age thing. They can learn about it through chess. The main thing is to remind kids that clock is not really a big deal, and don't move fast just because you see a clock. 

If a player runs out of time, they lose the game (there are some situations where it's a draw, and when this happens, the tournament director will tell you, and if you are curious, research "insufficient mating material"). Out of 500 Panda Chess Academy tournaments, I've only seen a few people lose on time, and it was usually in a situation where they were losing "on the board." Basically, what I'm saying, is that the few times that when the clock seemed to matter, it really didn't matter.

There are cases where kids just forget to press the button, and they lose on time. I personally think that it is nice to remind your opponent if they forget to hit the clock, but it's not required. Some people feel that it is very rude not to remind them. Others will say that it is foolish to remind their opponent to press the clock. The rules pretty much let you do what you want to on this. The unwritten rule is that it's not the nicest way to win a game, and winning a game this way might give you a bad reputation. The thing is, the people who forget to press the clock are very young. It's a problem that just goes away at the higher level. When in doubt, be nice. The most important thing to learn from this topic is that with some rules, you have the option to be nice. With most rules, you have no option to be nice to your opponent by doing something nice that may result in you losing. If your opponent makes an illegal move, you have to say something. If your opponent touches a piece, he has to move it, etc. Most rules have to be enforced. I recently learned that in golf, this idea is called "protecting the field" or "protecting the tournament." The pressing the clock thing.. it's a rare thing in tournament chess, where you have the option to be courteous. If you want to be really technical, you can argue that telling your opponent to press the clock is distracting? I've never seen anyone get in trouble or even warned, for pointing at the clock after their opponent forgets to touch it. 

I hear a lot of "I hate clock" comments. I think it's caused by a loss to an intimidating player. The experienced player put a clock on the game, the newcomer lost. The kid blames and hates the clock. 

Two very important things not to hate: Clocks, and touch move. If you hate them, then you basically hate tournament chess. I don't like hearing kids saying how they hate this or that. With chess, it's just a very common, bad habit, to hate certain rules, certain openings that are good, and then they just have a harder time learning, or they will get frustrated with chess quicker! Don't hate vegetables also. I hear "I hate clocks" and "I hate touch move" so often, that it's worth addressing in a paragraph or more.  

For most sections it is g/30;d5. For the top section it is g/35;d5. In about 1% of Panda Chess Academy tournaments (sample size of about 500) we had to make the top section play g/30;d5 in the final round, as the tournament was going too long. No matter what, a tournament can always go long. It is like baseball in that way. This happens even if the players and organizers did everything perfectly. Sometimes games just go long, and with 5 second delays, they can, technically, never end. 

I dislike starting late, and I like to end the tournament as soon as the game is over. I pass out one trophy to the 1st place winner of each section as fast as possible, take a photograph for their parents (available on our website for free), and say good day to them. 

I, personally, skip the opening speeches, and I skip the closing award ceremonies, and I usually don't have to shorten time controls. I've received a lot of compliments for using the "get-in/get-out" format, and the people who wish I followed tradition more haven't said anything to me. 

Having said that, I have to admit that it is partially an excuse to avoid giving a speech. I do think it's nice to avoid down-time. I do think, that in the future, that I might change the format for special tournaments. As a coach, and player, I do kind of enjoy the opening and closing speeches, assuming that it works with my schedule. I wish people would listen or pretend to listen during opening ceremonies and closing ceremonies. 

Illegal moves: If your opponent makes an illegal move, you can add 2 minutes to your clock. Call a tournament director. This is optional. If someone repeatedly does something illegal, or just breaks sportsmanship rule, tournament directors can subtract 1 minute from a clock. Subtracting time is something that hasn't happened once, yet, at a Panda Chess Academy tournament. Adding 2 minutes because of illegal moves has happened maybe 20 times out of 500 tournaments.

Also, don't worry about owning/bringing clocks to Panda Chess Academy tournaments, or other tournaments. Tournament directors usually have clocks to add to games that go too long.

If you just request a clock, a tournament director usually won't loan you one, unless they have one they can loan to everyone. It's the same asking a tournament director to give you a cupcake. Unless he doesn't have one to share with everyone, he can't just share one with you since you are nice. Tournament directors have to systematically add them to the games that are delaying the tournament.  
The only way to be guaranteed of getting a fair amount of time is to bring your own clock. If you have your own clock, you can use it for every game. 

Boring Clock tip: Don't rapidly press the buttons. It's very tempting, and makes cool sounds, I know. It breaks clocks and drains the battery. Think of it like a smart phone: If you leave your smart phone on and keep touching it every few seconds, the battery goes dead quickly. If you leave it alone, or use it normally the battery lasts maybe a day. If you use your chess clock naturally, the battery lasts years. If you rapidly press it, the battery dies quickly. It's really annoying to buy batteries for a chess clock! They often use like D or C batteries, and sometimes you have to unscrew the clock to access the battery area. Clocks are designed to last for years with "normal use." Normal use is very good!

Also, pressing the buttons fast will eventually press in you, or some imitator, to press both sides at the same time, breaking the lever. It's like a see-saw. If two giants sat on a see-saw at the same time, it might break the see-saw. 

When should you buy a clock? 

New players don't need to buy clocks. I recommend that you don't get a clock right away. Basically, a player who asks for a chess set for their 8th birthday should consider requesting a chess clock for their 9th or 10th birthday. I'm not trying to give my opinion about values on spending money, but it has to do more with the player's educational experience.  

If a player hates waiting for their opponent to move, or feels that their opponent "thinks forever," then just deal with it and see how it works out. It sounds mean, but some kids should just get used to waiting for their opponent to move. Also, the clock really doesn't speed anything up. It does make it feel more fair, and it honestly, is more fair for advanced players.  

Sometimes opponents are over-thinking and accidentally abusing the fact that there is no clock, but very often it's just normal thinking. I've heard of some kids who are coached to take advantage of having no-clock. I don't agree with that, and if you think that's a problem, get a clock and bring it to every tournament and use it all of the time. 

Professional players usually bring a chess clock to tournaments. 

If you don't have your own clock, and your opponent "thinks forever," then the tournament director will have to add a clock to your game. And the clock might be set for like 7 minutes each, and this might not feel fair because your opponent used more time. The United States Chess Federation rule book calls this "splitting the elapsed time." If this is causing a problem that makes you lose, get it a clock. Again, this is an advanced player problem, and easily solved by getting a clock. 

Like baseball, chess tournaments can go very long sometimes. If the last round starts too late, we ask all sections to play g/30;d5. At the time of writing this, we have hosted about 500 tournaments, and in in less than 5 of them, we asked the players in the last round to set their clock to g/30;d5. I hear complaints about tournaments that are poorly organized because they finished late. I got a complaint because one of my tournaments finished late, and I'm sure the other late finishes weren't well received by some parents, and they just didn't tell me anything. There is a solution: Request a bye for the last round. 

Professional players who have a tournament that ends on a Sunday, always schedule their flight for Monday. Even if the Sunday game begins at 9am. It's common to schedule a "bye" for the last round, which is basically the formal way of leaving a tournament early. You can schedule before the tournament or during it. You just can't cancel it. 

The clock is set for 30 minutes each side, and there is a 5 second delay, meaning that a player who moves in under 5 seconds loses no time. This delay is designed mainly for the endgame, to avoid "time scrambles." People often think the delay is so you can notate... that's not what it was intended for. Basically in the older days, a lot of arguments happen because players lose on time in completely winning endgames. And then pieces get knocked over during the time scramble, spectators get accused of being a distraction, and it's just a very difficult situation for the players and organizers. It is very difficult to make fair rulings in these situations. 

When will the tournament be rated?

I try to have things rated the same day, but sometimes it takes a few days. 

From the USCF Website:

"Depending on when and how the TD submits the rating report, it can take as little as an hour to rate an event or several weeks. As of September 2012, about 95% of the events we rate are now being submitted online, most of those are being submitted within 2 days of when the event ends and are rated within a few hours of when they are submitted online."


Clearing Out, Watching Games

Parents should not watch tournament games that are in progress. Many tournaments enforce this rule to avoid distraction. 

Players may never comment on another game in progress. A player who comments on a game in progress is in clear violation of USCF rules.  

Parents must clear out of the tournament room at 6:25pm on Friday and 4:25pm Saturday, so we can start the rounds on time. 


We place clocks on games that go too long. Bringing a clock guarantees that the player can use it for every game. We explain to new players how clocks work before placing them on the game, but any player is welcome and encouraged to ask how they work during the tournament, and parents are encouraged to email us ahead of time if they have questions about clocks. I have received lots of questions from parents, during tournaments, asking me to explain clocks. It is a bit technical and hard to explain. 

Overall, clocks aren’t really a big deal, but here is some explanation.

Just remember:

1. Press the button after you move. 

2. If you lose on time, you lose the game.

3. Out of 300 tournaments with 40-60 players, I am guessing that I’ve seen about 10 people lose on time. Most of these players were losing "on the board” already. Maybe twice I’ve seen beginners forget to press the clock button, but I encourage young players to remind their opponents to press the clock (this is in the spirit of good sportsmanship but it is technically optional). 

The main point: Clocks really aren’t a big deal. 

Advanced Tip: You are supposed to press the button with the same hand you used to move the piece. If you move the Rook with your right hand, use your right hand to press the button. This is often known as the “same hand” rule. This rule prevents players from accidentally pressing the clock button before they move, when in fact, they are supposed to press the clock button after they move. It really doesn’t matter much in tournament games, but it’s officially the USCF and International (FIDE) rule and it matters more for the top players. 

Very Advanced: When capturing, or castling, you can press the clock with either hand. This is getting really nit-picky I know… but I know of two adults arguing about this a few years ago.

Avoid accidentally cheating: Spectators: When watching another game, never whisper commentary about the clock, never remind players to press the clock, and never mention to the players that someone lost on time. When watching a game, you might secretly be excited by the fact that someone is about to lose on time… but by bringing any attention to the clock, it will effect the game. A spectator that effects the outcome of a game is technically cheating (but we know it usually happens by accident). 

Players who make this mistake usually have good intentions, but it leads to what appears to be an overreaction from tournament staff, players, sometimes parents, and the USCF. It gets them kicked out of tournaments, and maybe in trouble with the USCF. Sometimes the player that “benefited” from this advice can get in trouble, even if they didn’t ask for it. USCF resolves these disputes on a case by case basis, but it is not fun! Overall, it’s very important that a spectator never “helps” players or interacts with the players. 

Can you pair my child against...?

We very often receive questions requesting special pairings or placement of players in certain sections. 

It is against USCF rules for us to pair players according to parent or player request. 

We understand that parents are only asking with the best of intentions, but we just have to do pairings consistently, and according to USCF rules. The process is automatically done with the SwissSys or WinTD software.

We do set the computer to “avoid" sibling pairings, when possible, but this only happens in early rounds. 

All special rules regarding pairings (like how we avoid sibling pairings) must be announced ahead of time, according to USCF rules. 

Code of Conduct: Noise levels.

Players and parents must be very quiet Friday 6:00pm-9:30pm and Saturday 4:00pm-7:30pm. 

Any noise that is deemed to be distracting to players and tournament staff will result in the player being suspended, forfeited, or expelled from Panda Chess Academy events. If the player, the player’s parent, the player’s guest, or the player's guardian breaks this rule, the result will be in the player not being allowed to play at Panda Chess Academy. For the Spring 2014 semester, and for remaining semesters, we will offer a prorated refund (the cost of the remaining tournaments after the violation). 

Our goal is to provide a safe and friendly environment for our players (who are as young as 5 years old) as well as our more experienced players. 

This rule is effective as of February 7, 2014. 

Why forms? Everyone uses email.

Several parents suggested that I get more help (with administrative work). So I’m trying to create better systems where I can get help.

For example, with tournaments, I can have people help me prepare for tournaments by reviewing the online entries.

This can only be done with forms… it’s harder to do with emails.

If I have someone helping me with forms, it is very important that parents use the forms. For example: if you withdraw from a tournament without using the form.. the message might get lost. I might have someone else helping me with pre-entries.

Overall, the forms are a very important part of how Panda Chess Academy operates. 

The tough part about this job is I have to sometimes treat it like a business. So it seems weird.. since I will know the family well but I will have to ask they do what any “customer” does (such as fill out the form). Sometimes I ask parents to do this, yet I’ve been teaching their kids for 7 years. But it really helps me stay organized. It also gives me a centralized way for me to find all of the contact information.

Sportsmanship, Rules, and Parents

I appreciate the parents who come here. They are very nice to me, and every week I feel bad that I can't make the time to stop and talk to them because organizing tournaments requires a lot of attention. 

It is ok if parents make mistakes when entering tournaments. It happens all of the time, and there are no hard feelings. Parents are nice about it and they apologize. I try to offer a flexible option for the kid to make up for their missed tournament by attending a future tournament.

It is encouraging how parents are so nice. If chess parents weren't this kind, there wouldn't be as many chess professionals and chess volunteers.

I wish ALL parents would try their best to follow the rules. If there are 80 parents per week breaking the rules, then there is simply no hope for scholastic chess. If there is one parent breaking a rule, even just occasionally, it makes things worse for the other 79 families, but also it really just causes a lot of stress for the tournament staff. And then the staff has to spend more hours trying to figure out how to avoid these situations in the future. 

Recently, I was told that there might be an error in my tournament entry form system by a parent who appeared to have entered their child after the 10pm deadline. A parent told me that the player was definitely entered correctly, much earlier than the Thursday 10pm deadline. My logs showed that the entry came in after 10pm.

This is the first time someone suggested that the time-stamping on my online entry form logs might be incorrect. 

I guess I'm very gullible, but I believed the explanation that the player was entered correctly. I believed that there might be a problem with my online entry form time-stamping. Looking back, I feel so stupid for believing this. 

I accepted that this is MY mistake and I think I apologized for it. It really didn't occur that there could be an explanation other than my form being broken. I put the late entrants in.. and I had to modify pairings and make uneven sections. 

Later I learned that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the form. I followed through and contacted Formstack (the company I hire to operate my entry forms) and they assured me that there was no error, and the time stamps are always accurate. In this case particularly, the form time was 100% correct and I was told by Formstack staff that this specific entry really came in at the after 10pm time . 

Basically, without going on with the negativity, I just have to say that I feel saddened by this. It was a horrible way to end the semester. I will be devoting some time over break figuring out what to do when parents break the rules or show bad sportsmanship. I have to figure out what is the best way to revoke their membership. It's a problem that I won't enjoy solving. 

6 hours ago I just naturally had the attitude:  "Why would someone make this up?" I feel depressed that now I have to consider that these types of things will happen at scholastic chess tournaments. 

This experience was distracting and effected the quality of the tournament (I started 15 minutes late and I feel great joy when we start right on time).  This just caused me personal stress and a lot of extra work as well. I spent hours figuring out how a perfectly functional form is broken.. and I spent at least 15 minutes during the busiest time of the tournament, re-doing everything because I believed something that wasn't true.

But overall, I just learned an important lesson. And now comes the challenging part: I will probably start revoking and suspending memberships when parents break rules. And I will spend time over winter break figuring out the best way to do this. 


If I enter a tournament after the deadline… part 2

I made a similar post about entering after the deadline.

This is an important rule for parents to understand so I try very hard to discuss this regularly. 

This is one of the toughest things the tournament staff has to deal with you. We work with very nice members and their families, but occasionally their parents enter them after the Thursday 10pm deadline. And then we can't put them in the tournament, because of our deadline rule.

We really can't make an exception to this rule because it is so unfair to the players who got "turned away" in the past. I must try my absolute best to be a fair tournament organizer. And part of that is consistently enforcing the rules. 

Sometimes I get a situation like this: A parent enters at 10:01pm. That is a minute late. But then two more enter around 10:30pm. And then two more enter Friday morning. So it's not fair for me to let the person in who entered only 1 minute late. 

Before I started using the online form with entry deadline format, things were very hard to organize. It was very difficult to prepare large weekly tournaments when I wasn't exactly sure who is coming. So many last minute changes had to be made that we sometimes started late. 

The current format lead to great improvement where, except in the fact that I feel very bad and stressed delivering the bad news. I don't like to disappoint these nice chess families, but I have to be fair. 

And on a positive note, I'm usually happy to let the families make up the tournament in the future.



Spring 2014 Information

Registration is now open for our Spring 2014 tournaments. 

What is your policy about food and drinks?

We ask that kids do not bring food to the tournaments. Water is ok. We can consider special arrangements if you ask us in advance, but we wish to keep food outside of Panda Chess Academy for many reasons (food allergies, crumbs on the chess pieces, etc). 

What is TourneyBot and why do you use this?

To encourage players to be entered on time or early. 

At some point, the Panda Chess Academy Friday night tournaments became popular and we had to adapt. 

In the past, parents would send me an email to let me know that their kid is coming. It was a simple system.

Then I had a problem where parents would forget to enter the kids, show up, and tell me that they emailed me, or they weren't sure .. it would just cause delays. I like to have everything prepared ahead of time, and adding kids last minute basically erases most of what the preparation accomplished.

So we switched from "just send an email" to a simple website form. This way it is much easier to keep track of who entered properly and who didn't.  

Then we had a lot of people enter after the deadline and request that we still pair the kid. At first we tried to be flexible and we would add people in after the deadline. If it was possible, we would try to work with the family. But eventually too many people entered after the deadline… and we couldn't just add them all in. If we added a player one minute after the deadline… it doesn't seem fair to not enter the person who was an hour late.. or 12 hours late. 

So we really made this deadline absolute. And it was very sad to tell kids they can't come because they weren't entered in time. But overall, I feel that parents must know that we are being fair to everyone and that we don't bend this rule.

And that's where TourneyBot comes in. By sharing first names and login times, parents can have confidence knowing that we enforce the rules fairly and consistently. If someone entered after the Thursday 10pm deadline, and that person was paired in the tournament next day, then parents will know that something unfair happened. 

 But honestly, I just hate having to say no to parents, and it doesn't get any easier. By using tools like TourneyBot, it makes things easier for me and the staff. 

What are chess clocks and do I need them? Should young or new players worry about them?

A good chess player can spend hours thinking about one move. That's why they invented the chess clock. To limit the amount of time a player can think so the chess tournament can stay on schedule.

Most kids play too fast, and that's why most kids don't need a chess clock.

Most tournament directors have a few extra chess clocks, and will place a chess clock on a game that is taking too long.

The player who is using the clock for the first time really has to remember one thing: to remember to press the clock after the move is completed.

The "Same Hand" Rule: If a player moves a piece with the left hand, he must hit the clock with the left hand. If a player makes a move with the right hand, the player must hit the clock with the right hand. It just has to be the same hand, per move. And if a player violates this rule by accident, it's not a big deal. The player might receive a friendly warning or the experienced player might just not say anything.

Notation Penalties: A player who does not notate is breaking USCF rules. Tournament directors may subtract 5 minutes from a player that does not notate. This is common practice in scholastic tournaments. This rule is usually used with beginners.

This Same Hand rule serves a very good purpose - to make sure that a player doesn't accidentally press the clock BEFORE the move is made. That would be unfair. Imagine a player who has one hand over a clock button and the opposite hand holding a piece and making the move. This player will often  accidentally press the clock too early. The opponent will have to "worry" about what came first, the move or the clock press. By using the Same Hand rule, no one accidentally hits the clock first.

Also here's another tip: Use your HAND to press the clock. Sometimes you will players hit the clock button with a chess piece. Using a piece to press the clock button damages wooden pieces and damages clocks. The USCF used specific wording in their rulebook saying that a player must press the clock using a hand. The clock company Chronos designed a clock that will only react to the human touch, and not the touch of the pencil. Basically too many people break pieces and clocks by hitting them with chess pieces.

The most important thing for kids to remember is: stay calm when the clock is placed on your game. The tournament director is probably giving you PLENTY of time.

This is just an estimate, but at the time of writing this article, I have seen maybe 100,000 rated games played with clocks, and I've seen maybe less than 20 people lose on time.

Time Delay: Modern digital chess clocks have a 5 second time delay. The United States Chess Federation encourages all players to use this feature. It basically means that if you make your move in under 5 seconds, you lose no time. Because of this time delay, it is very hard to lose on time.


What is the time control?

Right now the time control is g/30 with a 5 second delay.

Previously we used g/25 with a 5 second delay control.

Over Summer 2013 we used g/40 a 5 second delay in our Friday tournaments. In the Summer we use slow time controls. During the school year it is important that we end the tournaments early (before 10pm).

Live at the Panda Chess Academy.

What time should I arrive for a tournament?

Most players arrive right before round 1 starts. So Friday players usually arrive right before 6:30pm and Saturday players arrive right before 4:30pm. 

New players are recommended to come 15 minutes early. We recommend that parents try to ask as many questions as possible via email if this is the child's first tournament. 

Our doors officially open Friday at 6:00pm and Saturday at 4:00pm. We ask that players don't arrive before those hours so staff can focus on preparing the tournament. 

What should parents do during the tournament? Can parents help?

We ask that parents and family members wait in the hallway so we can space things out for our players, but also to avoid any type of distraction or conflicts. Parents are welcome to come in to quickly visit but for the most part we ask them to stay in the hallways. We regularly have a staff to escort the players to their parents in the hallway. 

We do appreciate parents reminding each other to keep the hallway quiet for our neighbors. 

Some parents are experienced players and tournament directors and they wish to offer their services. We try to avoid having parents tournament direct if their child is playing in the tournament, however for larger events we may ask a parent to help out with a section that their child is not playing in. 

We have wifi available for the parents convenience. For members: We recommend that you enter the upcoming tournament (a week ahead of time) while you are here, and if you have to change plans, you can withdraw later. 

Spring 2013 Tournament Details

Important Update: There are no Friday memberships available because there is no more space. 

We have Saturday memberships available at a prorated amount. Please email info@chesspanda.com if you have questions about Saturday memberships.


Early Registration for Spring 2013 is open.

Please register as soon as possible because membership is available on a first come first serve basis and space has filled up in the past. This early registration is available to our regular players before registration is open to new players.

Membership Price: $120 per individual or $195 for two siblings.
The cost for Spring membership is different from the Fall because there are 17 weeks instead of 14. The price per tournament is about the same (a few cents different).

The membership includes entry to up to 17 tournaments, limited to the "day of the week" you sign up for. This means that a Friday membership allows entry to up to 17 Friday tournaments and the same goes with Saturday membership.

We do not offer refunds or credit for missed events. By policy, we do not offer make-ups for missed events, but sometimes we allow "switching" from one event to another: For example a Friday member may play in a Saturday event only if space is available and if you give us advanced notice.

Membership Options: Friday 6:30pm or Saturday 4:30pm event.

Entry fee for non-members is $15 per event. Membership offers the best value for those who play regularly.

Friday 6:30pm Tournament Dates: January 11, January 18, January 25, February 1, February 15, February 22, March 1, March 8, March 22, March 29, April 5, April 12, April 19, April 26, May 3, May 10, and May 17.

Saturday 4:30pm Tournament Dates: January 12, January 19, January 26, February 2, February 16, February 23, March 2, March 9, March 23, March 30, April 6, April 13, April 20, April 27, May 4, May 11, and May 18.

Please note that there are no tournaments on the weekends of February 8-10 and March 15-17.

How to Register:
1) Visit www.chesspanda.com/regform.html and fill out the form.
2) Mail a check made payable to Jeffrey Ashton to 3139 W. Holcombe #362 Houston, TX 77025. You may also drop off the check or pay with credit card at one of our 2012 tournaments. If you wish to pay with credit card, we ask for you to do so any time after 6:45pm on Fridays, or after 4:45pm on Saturdays (because things can be busy as we start the first round).

Cancellation with refund is available until January 1, 2013.

Please email info@chesspanda.com if you have any questions.

Location: 9900 Westpark #254 Houston, TX 77063.

Gate Code: #003 

Please email any questions. At the time of the tournament, you can reach us at: 281-940-8199


How can a young player get involved in his or her first tournament?

 We have tournaments every Saturday at 4:30pm that are very good for beginners or those with only a little tournament experience. 

1) Use the Registration Form. This is the form we need so we have all required info such as contact, medical information, etc. 

2) Use the Online Entry Form. This is a very short form that tells us to pair your child for the upcoming tournament. We can usually look up current United States Chess Federation members via first and last name, but you can also list the child's USCF number in the comments area. This is helpful if the player has a common name. You will receive an automatic email confirmation. If this is your first tournament we will try to get in touch with you via email again just to help with any questions. 

3) Show up to your first tournament around 4:15pm. Bring the $15 entry fee. Cash and exact change is preferable. If you enjoy the tournament and wish to pay the semester membership price instead, we can apply the $15 entry fee towards the membership price and we can prorate the fee if you join mid-semester. We can collect the membership fee after the tournament. 

We rate the tournaments through the USCF. Visit the Tournament Results link at the bottom of www.chesspanda.com for info about looking up information and results for the player. 

How do you do tiebreaks when there are 4 players in a section.

Originally posted January 1, 2013.


Parents often ask how tie-breaks work, and the explanation is very technical. As a player, I never spent too much time reading about how the process works. I just trusted that the tournament directors (actually their tournament directing software) does things fairly.

The United States Chess Federation Rulebook (5th edition) dedicates a large and detailed chapter explaining tie-breaks (and it is a very boring read). It is even harder to explain it to others, because it is very technical, and requires examples with numbers in it. 

What are tiebreaks? They are an automated process that determines who wins a trophy when more than one person has the same score. 

Tiebreaks are usually done automatically using the Swiss Sys Chess or WINTD Tournament software. Tournament directors have the discretion to use tiebreaks that are supported by the United States Chess Federation. Furthermore, we announce them ahead of time to avoid confusion.

There are NO perfect tiebreaks (the rulebook even says that). The only thing a tournament organizer can do is use tiebreaks consistently (and even then, changes sometimes have to be made depending on the size of the tournament and structure).

Here is a little guide to help understand the tiebreaks we've used at Panda Chess Academy for the first 275 tournaments (at the time of writing this). These examples all show 3 round tournaments.  

3 points: This is a perfect score. This guarantees first place. No questions asked. 

2.5 out of 3: This is often the highest score. Sometimes it ties for 1st place. 

If two players end up with 2.5 because they drew each other in the last round, they are required to do a play-off game to see who receives the trophy.  This is to discourage players from "agreeing to a draw" without playing a hard fought 3rd round game. The downside of having a play-off game is that it makes the tournament run longer. Also the play-off game is usually a faster time control. At Panda Chess Academy we have the players who took a last round draw first switch colors, then play a 5 minute plus 5 second delay playoff game. This is only to determine who wins the 1st place trophy. 

We use this tie-break system here only because we noticed that many players were agreeing to "quick"  draws in round 3 with the logic that both would win 1st place trophies. An example of a quick draw is where both players play a few moves, then agree to a draw very early in the opening or middle game. 

Agreeing to draws is very bad for kids, but it is sometimes done in a way that is illegal. If someone says: "If we take a draw, we both get a trophy" that is actually considered cheating. But overall, we use this play-off tie-break just to help kids avoid taking short draws and learning bad habits.

If two players end up with 2.5, but they did not draw each other in the last round (like they had a draw in the first round but beat other players and both arrived at 2.5 points in round 3) then they will both receive 1st place trophies. The logic is that both players, when they drew in round 1, had no idea that it would get them 1st place with 2.5 by the end of round 3. 

2 points: If two players tie for first place with 2 out of 3, the trophy goes to the winner between the two that tie. If Bob has 2 points and Joe has 2 points, and Bob beat Joe, then Bob wins the trophy.  The logic is: "When the two players that tied played each other, the player that won the game deserves to be the champion." 

2 points is sometimes the highest score also.  

3 way tie with 2 points: If 3 players have 2 points, we have a 3-way tie. Whoever wins round 1 and 2 is the champion and receives the trophy. There are not many good options for 3-way ties in a 4 person tournament.

When there are 4 people in a section, and 3 of them tie for first place, every tie-break option is imperfect. The method we use, of awarding the "early round winners" is known as the "Cumulative" method according to the USCF rulebook. 

4 way ties for 1st place (!?): This has only happened once out of about 270 tournament, but if there s a 4-way tie then no one receives a trophy. This can happen if everyone draws every round. As a "rookie" tournament director, it never occurred to me that this is a possibility. Now I know! 


Losing on tiebreaks is never fun. When I was a young player, I've had tiebreaks go in my favor and against me many times. One time, tiebreaks made me the state champions and I got to travel to a big tournament in Hawaii because of it. And I felt that the person I beat on tiebreaks was a much better player than me… and I didn't feel good winning this way. But the system was announced ahead of time, and my opponent, Andrei Zaremba, who is a good friend of mine now, was very gracious about it. I never asked why I won on tiebreaks.. I just know that the computer said I won. 

Overall, the only thing a tournament organizer can do is keep the system consistent, and share the rules with the participants ahead of time. 

Sometimes parents seem to question the tiebreak system or they seem suspicious that we are just making it up. Perhaps they assume that we are giving it to the kid who has the nicest smile, or the youngest kid because we want to encourage them. No, we have no problem saying "sorry, you did not win the trophy." It is always awkward when parents ask us to explain to them why their kid did not win a trophy, but we try our best to communicate this extremely technical topic. Tiebreaks are a consistent method that directors use. It's just incredibly boring and complicated to explain it. And again, different tournaments with different structures have to use different tie-breaks. 

I do not think it is necessary for people to understand the tiebreaks to be a successful chess player. When I won on tiebreaks and lost on them, I never really thought: "I wonder if they did them correctly." I've always understood that it's complicated, automated, and if I really want to ask questions, the tournament directors will be there to provide boring answers.

If you are a parent who has questions about tiebreaks, please ask a tournament director privately. It's a bit awkward explaining to the parent, with kids present, why their kid did not win tiebreaks. I've had to do this a few times.. and it just feels bad having this type of "open discussion" involving very technical rules, just to explain to a young child why he didn't receive the trophy. 

Also I can guarantee that if I ever make a mistake in tiebreaks (it's basically impossible to make this type of mistake) I will make sure the proper recipient receives the trophy plus an apology. 




What are your hours of operation?

On Fridays we open the doors for players at 5:45pm.

On Saturdays our doors open at 3:45pm. 

Almost all of our players show up only a couple minutes before round time (6:30pm on Friday and 4:30pm on Saturday). First time players show up a bit earlier if they have questions.

Please note that we have a staff that usually includes 1 tournament director and 1 or 2 assistants. We are usually extremely busy until after the first round starts. So if you have any questions for staff, please hold them until about 6:40pm on Friday and 4:40pm. One of our biggest goals is to start precisely on time to give the kids a consistent experience. 

If you are running late to a tournament, please give us a call, send a quick email or text message, just so we know that your child is actually coming. 

It helps us out greatly if you email your questions ahead of time. We just can't talk at great length during the tournament, because our primary focus is to monitor the games of the players. 

The best phone number to call is (281) 940-8199. 

The best email address to contact is info@chessspanda.com



More on the Thursday 10pm deadline.

This is just MORE on entering on time by the deadline. 

This is from an email I sent to the mailing list on January 22, 2013. 

Why should a player notate?

To prove when cheating or illegal moves occur.

 To avoid "misunderstandings" that feel like cheating where an opponent "conveniently" benefits from the misunderstanding (basically cheating but not as clear).

If a result is marked incorrectly, and then submitted to the United States Chess Federation, it is easy to overturn the result if the player has a notation sheet of the game. There were 3 incorrect results posted in January 2013!

Notation is most important for improving. It makes you play better while you are notating. Of course there is a learning curve. First it is distracting because it is a new thing. With practice it becomes automatic like signing your own name. Notating being "distracting" is not a very good excuse for anyone unless that player has problems with writing in general.

Notating gives players a nice routine during the game and helps the player stay calm and focused.

After the game is over the player can review the game and find "leaks" in his game while learning new ideas.

Sent from my iPhone.

Can my child miss part of the tournament?

Yes. At any USCF tournament you can request a "bye" for any round. Usually players do this for scheduling reasons like if a player has a piano recital at 7pm and the tournament begins at 4:30pm, they can schedule it so they don't have to play the last round. Just make sure to let the tournament director know before the tournament starts. Also once you request the bye and the tournament has started you can't change your mind.

When are Panda Chess Academy tournaments rated? Are ratings important? Why are kids underrated?

I usually submit the tournaments to the USCF for rating immediately after the tournament is finished, and the ratings are almost always published in under 24 hours.

Sometimes there are delays. They are usually caused when there is a tournament with several people joining the USCF (and this usually happens at the beginning of semesters only).

This also happens when players forget to renew their membership but I try hard to prevent these players from playing.

If the tournament is rated a few days late, it is no big deal at all (except in the one case I list below). USCF always rates the tournament once to provide a "Weekly Updated Rating" and then at the end of the month they rerate all of the tournaments just to make sure there are no errors and that everything is rated in order. 

If you ever think there is an incorrect result published, notify the tournament director or organizer. They will then forward the required information to the USCF. They USCF makes corrections very quickly. 

The USCF does an excellent job of rating tournaments and adjusting them properly. So even if there is a mistake made, they will add the points later. 

Ratings are rarely important. They are only important for kids who are the top players in the country for their age group and they are trying to qualify for a special event and there is a deadline involved.

Also note that kids are usually very underrated. One reason this happens is because so many young players join the USCF. For example, a Kindergartner joins the USCF and gets a rating of 100. He stays around 100 for 20 tournaments. Then when he is in 1st grade, he is MUCH better at chess because he is so much more mature. And his rating is still 100. This is just an example of how kids can be very underrated and you should not treat ratings too seriously.

The USCF has a FAQ section about ratings: http://www.uschess.org/msa/FAQ.php 

How do I look up ratings, tournament results, and USCF membership information?

For information about how to look up a player's rating or USCF information, we have a Tournament Results link at the bottom of the www.chesspanda.com website that explains how to look up ratings and USCF information.

USCF members should be aware of their expiration date and not wait until the last minute to renew. You can check the expiration dates at http://www.uschess.org/msa.

If you wish to renew your USCF membership, please do so at Jim Liptrap's website. Use this link: http://chess.jliptrap.us/enter.htm and use the membership only options. 

If you wish to refer a friend to any USCF tournament, it is very helpful if you ask them to purchase their USCF membership ahead of time using Jim Liptrap's website. Jim Liptrap gets a group discount rate of $11 per year instead of having to pay the usual $17 (but also he gets things processed very efficiently). 

If I enter after the tournament after the deadline, can I still play?

No. The entry deadlines are very important so we can make sure to have space for all of the players. Sometimes our tournaments fill. Also we try to do all preparation days in advance before the tournament. This involves moving chairs, sending emails to parents who are interested in visiting once, and doing pairings. After the Thursday 10pm deadline, we then start to work on the pairings. The only changes we will make to the pairings are for when children have to withdraw from an event.

We try NOT to be lenient with this policy so we can be fair to all members. 

Deadlines: To enter a Friday tournament, do so using the online entry form before Thursday 10pm. For Saturday tournaments the deadline is Friday 10pm. 

What is the USCF and why do I need a membership?

All Panda Chess Academy tournaments are official United States Chess Federation events. Players who participate in them require a United States Chess Federation (USCF) membership. A USCF membership is required to enter almost every chess tournament in the United States. For more information visit: http://www.uschess.org

Do you offer group classes or private lessons?

I (Jeffrey Ashton) offer private lessons but my schedule has been busy lately. I am happy to refer parents to good coaches.

We have two group classes on Sundays.
4:30pm Advanced
5:30pm Intermediate

I usually recommend private lessons for beginners to make sure they know all of the rules.

I also highly recommend www.chessmagnetschool.com for beginners-advanced players. When signing up, use the classroom code: only68 if you wish for me to see how your child is doing. The 30-day free trial is enough for most players. The classroom code helps me as a coach. This way I may be able to offer some feedback in the future when the parents have chess questions. Please note that I am in no way affiliated with chessmagnet.com and I simply recommend them because I like their product.

Where are you located and how can we contact you?

We are located at 9900 Westpark #254 Houston, TX 77063. We are on the second floor in the back of the building.
The Gate Code is #003. 
Phone: (281) 940-8199*
Email: info@chesspanda.com

Email is the best way to get ahold of us! 

How do we know if a tournament is canceled due to weather or other unforeseen reasons?

We send out all major announcements via email. We also update the http://www.chesspanda.com website with important news. If there is severe weather, please make sure to check your email or visit our website before you make the drive to our tournament. 

How can my child become a USCF member or renew the membership?

If you would like to purchase a discounted United States Chess Federation membership, visit Jim Liptrap's website. Click on the options for "membership only". 


Do you usually have space in tournaments available for non-members?

Our Friday tournaments sometimes come close to filling. Our Saturday tournaments usually have space. Tournaments are more likely to be full at the beginning of the semester.

First Post

This site will be used to help people find information about Panda Chess Academy. We will try to continue to grow this site with useful questions and answers. If you have any questions, please send them to info@chesspanda.com.

When do tournaments resume for Spring 2013?

We resume January 11, 2013. All of the details can be found here.