Chess Coach Spotlight: Ed Brown

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Last month l had the opportunity to observe a Beginner II zoom chess class taught by Coach Ed. I was a little worried that the coaches would not be comfortable having a stranger suddenly pop into their online classes. But I needn’t have worried. Coach Ed was very welcoming and introduced me to the kids in a low-key way. He even had me give the students “a little chess history” about myself. This class is usually made up of about 8 kids and the coach. I could sense right away from Coach Ed’s friendly and smiling demeanor that he enjoys teaching, and the kids were respectful and engaged. This particular day he covered “the mysterious en passant rule”. With his clear and engaging examples,  the students seemed to grasp how this special rule with a French name works. I got a kick out of Ed’s comment that “they have now learned the most complicated move in chess”, followed up with a suggestion that they all  “reach around and pat yourselves on the back!” It was clear to me just from my first two zoom class observations that the coaches really know how to use drama and humor to keep the class engaged.

The first half hour of the class was spent on the new concepts, which also included passed pawns and why they are so important. Again, Coach Ed gave clear and easily understood descriptions: the goal of a passed pawn; how to push a pawn to the back rank to “queen”; and also how the opponent should try to blockade the pawn’s path. As in my previous zoom observation with Coach Matt, I took away great teaching ideas to use in my own private lessons with my neighbor’s two young kids. I especially like the way Coach Ed summed up the new material. In this case, “A passed pawn is a great way to win a chess game! It doesn’t always have to be a huge checkmate. You can just protect your passed pawn — like it was your favorite toy or possession  — and win!”

The second half of the class was a Lichess tournament, playing quick games, 5 to 7 minutes each. When two players finish a game, the system automatically pairs them up with other available players. Each child got to play 4 or more games. We could all see the standings on the screen at the end, and an electronic trophy and confetti are awarded to the winner. The students really enjoy these short games, and it a great way to practice real chess. 

A few days ago I had a phone interview with Coach Ed, to glean a little background information for this story. The youngest of three brothers, his oldest brother who was about 20 at the time taught him to play chess when Ed was about 9. He said that he really only learned how to move the pieces at that point. Ed was born in Arkansas and lived there until he was 4; then the family moved to Woodinville WA for about 5 years, before moving back to Arkansas where he lived until he finished high school. He went to a liberal arts college near Chicago (Lake Forest), where he studied creative writing. He currently writes articles for “Treehouse” (a youth advocacy non-profit) and newsletters for other non-profits.

Ed played football in junior high school, but he got more enjoyment out of poetry; chess; and strategy games such as Risk and Poker. In high school he played chess with friends and online. About 4 or 5 years ago, he decided to become serious about chess. At the time he was working as a youth advocate for kids in foster care. One boy in his case load was detained in juvenile hall. Ed played chess with him there, and after seeing the extremely bleak surroundings in “juvie”, he began volunteering to teach a chess program there — which he still does today. He teaches weekly mini-group lessons, private lessons and puzzles. Ed was a youth advocate for 6 years, as an Education Specialist. His work involved foster care rights; working one on one with foster kids; and representing them at disciplinary and education hearings. 

His graduate degree is in “UX” — User Experience Design. This field combines graphic design and information organization. 

Ed also enjoys Disk Golf — which I had never heard of — and which he confessed he had been practicing outdoors during our phone interview! I love multi-tasking myself, so that was cool by me. He explained to me that Disk Golf is like golf, but with frisbees, which you toss into a target. There are “holes” as in golf and the lowest score wins. 

Having fallen in love with the game of chess, Ed’s goal is to become a National Master. When I asked him about the most interesting person he has met through chess, he answered “Coach Matt!” (I could relate to this. More about Coach Matt in future stories.)

And lastly, when I asked him to tell me about a favorite teaching moment, he said it was the 4th or 5th time he went to the jail to teach chess. When he arrived at the appointed time, the whole room was already playing and talking about chess. He was touched that what he had taught them in the previous weeks was obviously being shared and discussed.

The students at The Seattle Chess School are definitely in good hands with coaches like Ed and Matt.

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