Chess Coach Spotlight: Matt Fleury

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I recently observed my first Zoom Beginning II chess class, presided over by Coach Matt of The Seattle Chess School. There were about 8 students in the class, and Coach Matt made me feel quite welcome as he introduced me to the kids. I am teaching my two neighbor children to play chess, so I was also eager to see how someone else works with the same elementary school age group. 

Matt has a very open, engaging and often humorous way in his teaching style, and he really kept the kids engaged. He divided the class into two parts: the actual lesson with new material (about 20 minutes); and a short tournament of a chess variant called “anti-chess”. This variant was new to me, and the kids absolutely love it. The variant is the opposite of “real” or classic chess: with the goal being to give away all your pieces first! (Including the King!) Each tournament game lasted about 10 minutes, and the Lichess program pairs up each student with another who has also finished their previous game. Each student was able to play four or more games in the hour-long tournament. The winner of the tournament received an electronic trophy and a bunch of electronic confetti! I found myself wishing that my son’s former private chess coach had included some of these chess variants – which are very appealing to kids, but also excellent teaching tools. Anti-chess requires skill in “not capturing”; setting things up to BE captured; and a lot of chess tactics. 

I had a chance to get some background information about Coach Matt. He was born and raised in Mountlake Terrace, Washington (also known as “Playful City, USA”….according to Coach Matt). His mother taught him to play chess at age five; she explained the rules and then cheated to win, as Coach Matt tells it. Oh – and she never played chess with him again!  At Mountlake Terrace High School, Matt played on the chess team, and was its Captain for three years. The team went to Nationals one year, and finished in the top three United States high school teams three times!

Coach Matt is a Master level player – meaning he has a USCF (United States Chess Federation) rating between 2200 and 2399. When I asked him if he had watched The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix series) last winter, he replied “No!! Have not watched TV since 1993!! How else could the Master title in chess be achieved??” For those of us who are unable or unwilling to forego TV altogether, I highly recommended this eight part series – amazingly, the most watched Netflix series ever.  When he is not teaching or playing or studying chess, Matt’s side hobby is amassing libraries of books and music. 

I wrapped up my interview with Coach Matt by asking him to relate a “favorite teaching experience”. I got such a huge kick out of his reply that I am going to tell it in his own words: 

“Once, in 2006, I had two students, Leanne and Grace, who were playing in the Scholastic Nationals, and were playing in the Bughouse tournament. As preparation for this event, the 3 of us did an hour and a half long lesson on bughouse strategies. When the lesson part was over, we decided to play bughouse games to practice, with me being my own partner against the two girls. Leanne’s father, Howard, had been watching the entire lesson, and the girls suggested that he play as my partner, figuring that neither of them could beat me, but that they could pick on Howard! This was agreed upon and we started to play; we ended up playing 8 games. Of the 8 games, Howard and I won all 8. But the cool part was, Howard was the Checkmater in all 8 games!! I merely had to survive my board, whilst he was the one that won the games. Afterwards, both girls complained because they did not anticipate that Howard would be so good at bughouse. Howard replied: ‘Well, I just listened to Matt during the lesson, and did what he suggested during the games!’ If only ALL of my students did that, I might be a famous coach!”

During this time of Covid and many unfortunate — but necessary — restrictions on in-person chess opportunities, I would highly recommend the Zoom lessons (group and individual) taught by Coach Matt and the several other excellent teachers at The Seattle Chess School. 

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