ECF Academy – Study Weekend November 2018

The ECF’s Chess Academy weekend in Coventry on 10th -11th November was the last one of the current year. It was also a momentous occasion, celebrating the graduation of those students who have been with the National Chess Academy for the full three years of study since it began in January 2016. Twenty three such students put on gowns and hats to be presented with their diplomas by Traci Whitfield, the outgoing ECF Director of Junior Chess & Education and the founder of the Academy. To graduate was truly an achievement for them (and their parents), travelling all over England for the weekend training sessions.
 
The formal graduation ceremony on Saturday evening was attended by all the students, parents and coaches. There was an air of excitement in preparation for the event, with parents helping their offspring dress up in their graduation gowns, red hoods and caps. After receiving their diplomas, photos were taken of them all individually and as a group. Remarkably, none of the mortar boards were mislaid during this process, though everyone threw theirs up in the air for the final photo.
 
The ceremony was followed by a buffet dinner and a celebratory party in the hotel. There was even an excellent magic performance by David Miller, who is not only one of the chess parents but also a remarkably accomplished magician. He did tricks with cards, soft drinks and mind reading. His tour de force was his final Knights Tour trick, an ingenious slapstick combination of puzzles involving a chess board and the children shooting Nerf guns at the squares. The audience fell about laughing and you could understand how David had earned his title of Grand Prix Magician in Northampton.  Presents of thanks were awarded to Traci Whitfield and Christelle Hafstad for all their hard and successful work in setting up and supporting the Academy for the past three years. This was then followed by a disco, in which many of the children participated (even the boys!)
 
The study weekend itself followed the established format of ten hours of intensive training in small groups. Topics came from the FIDE syllabus as taught at an advanced level and included tactical mastery and queens and pawn endings. There was also analysis of the best games of Magnus Carlsen, especially appropriate as he embarks on the World Championship in London this month. The coaches for the weekend were – Andrew Martin (Head of the Academy), Glenn Flear, Neil McDonald, Nigel Davies, Dan Fernandez, Vaidyanathan Ravikumar, Richard Pert, Tim Wall and David Zakarian.
 
During the Coventry weekend, parents had the opportunity to attend a session given by John Hicks about helpful advice on grants, bursaries and sponsorship for chess events. He also gave recommendations on planning for children’s chess careers and insights on the work of the different junior chess associations. Then there was a very positive and helpful presentation by Traci Whitfield about the concept of a new Alumni Programme designed to support students after graduation up to when they are 21 years old.
 
The whole occasion was a lovely coming together at the last of the four successful training weekends during 2018. We said goodbye and congratulations to our departing students. We could also reflect on the great range of tournaments that all the Academy’s students have participated in all over England and internationally. When we meet again in the first week of January 2019, we will give a warm welcome to the incoming cohort of new Academy students. They will be attending induction sessions and receiving their welcome packs, special Academy chess boards and pieces.
 
Finally, in saying goodbye to Traci Whitfield, our outgoing Director of Junior Chess, we thank her greatly for her commitment in setting up and running the National Chess Academy. Thank you, Traci!
 
— Mimi Khan & David Gray

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