So far I have observed Coach Michael teaching Beginners in person at Jing Mei Elementary School in Bellevue. I was quite amazed to see his calm and unflappable demeanor, considering that he was teaching alone in a room full of about 15 or 20 high energy children between the ages of 6 and 8. The hour-long after school chess club that day was a lesson about how the chess Knight moves. Coach Michael is very calm, quiet and effective with the students, and they seem to respect him and were quite engaged with the lesson about the Knight, which “hippity hops all over the chess board”.
I had a few questions for Coach Michael later, in order to learn some background information about him. He told me that he doesn’t actually remember learning to play chess, but he said that his two best friends and he played a fair amount of it in late elementary and middle school. They were all trying to figure out the game without any instruction, and he was pretty sure they played poorly and “blunderful”!
Coach Michael grew up in a small town called Jonesville in rural Michigan. He and his brother turned a 4H sheep project into a small business that (years later) had their dad cutting back his dental practice hours when they went off to college. (Dad inherited the side sheep business!)
Coach Michael wasn’t in the chess club at any level of school. He fell into this work when his son joined a chess club at his Seattle elementary school, TOPS. The parent leaders graduated after his son’s first year, so Michael rather reluctantly took over running the club… but he enthusiastically began teaching the beginners. That was 19 years ago.
In his “life outside of chess”, Coach Michael is a board game designer. He has 35 published games including three “Game of the Year” award winners at the New York Toy Fair. One game which he designed is the well-known game Cranium.
Approximately when the Covid pandemic began, Coach Michael said he gave himself permission to make art. He has done a little bit of painting or sculpting or collaging pretty much every day for the last couple of years.
Coach Michael watched The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix series) and liked it a lot. He enjoyed hearing the “insider chess take” on how they handled the game scenes. (Garry Kasparov and Bruce Pandolfini advised the series director.) Amazingly, this series was the most-watched Netflix series ever! It also sparked a huge renewal of interest in chess across the United States, and even in Russia, according to my own internet research.
When I asked him “Who is the most interesting person you have met through chess?” he said “I guess that would be Bill Schill.” (Coach Bill is a FIDE Master and coaches intermediate and advanced students at The Seattle Chess School.) At Coach Michael’s “first gig” as Chess Coach at TOPS elementary, Coach Bill was teaching the advanced kids, and they’ve become good friends over the years.
Regarding “a favorite chess teaching experience,” Coach Michael told me that he really enjoys “seeing my beginners get better than me at the game.” This is the mark of a gracious coach. (I was not so gracious when my nine year old son could beat me within a year after I taught him to play chess!)