Club Updates

Newsletter #13

posted Mar 20, 2018, 7:46 PM by James Hodina

Dear Prairie Chess Families,

I hope you had an enjoyable Spring Break.  We were certainly ready to play some chess on Monday!  We had a good lesson on chess openings, had snacks, and played some games.  I also provided some updates on upcoming chess events. In this newsletter:

Monday’s Lesson
Prairie Chess Camp, July 16-20,
Ice Harbor Scholastic Open, May 18-20, Grand Harbor Resort and Waterpark, Dubuque,
2018 Iowa K-12 Scholastic Open Championship & K-8, K-5, and K-3 Section Championships, April 14th, Prairie Point Middle School,

  • Monday’s Lesson, March 19

  • Prairie Chess Camp, July 16-20

  • Ice Harbor Scholastic Open, May 19 & 20

  • K-12 Open Championship and K-8, K-5, & K-3 Sectionals, April 14

Monday’s Lesson

We studied the chess opening today.  This is a very broad and theoretical discussion.  So we talked more about principles (move to the center of the board, don’t move the same piece twice, and castle as soon as you can).  Starting last chess club meeting, I have picked specific openings to learn by example. This week, we had some fun with the “Fried Liver Attack.”  You can search for this on YouTube and Here are a couple links to watch with your child.

Prairie Chess Camp, July 16-20,

Of course, I have to start with the Prairie Chess Camp.  It is our 10th year and so we are pulling out all the stops to make it the best one ever.  It’s parent and kid friendly! The camp event hosted at Prairie Point over five days, July 16-20.  For the parents, we have early drop off available at 7:30 am and late pick-up until 5:00 pm. For the kids, we have chess lessons in the morning, chess tournaments in the afternoon, and recess and food three times throughout the day.

We divide the students into four groups based on age and skill level.  Our instructors are four US Chess Masters, Alex, Erik, Dan, and James. They are assisted by four high school champion chess players (some of them are Masters, too!).  We do three lessons in the morning and then have structured chess events in the afternoon. We have the kids record their games so that the instructors can review them with the students immediately afterword.  Time permitting the kids end the day playing for fun (including bughouse) or doing puzzles.

We have plenty of additional help from high school students and parent volunteers (including me) to serve food, supervise recess, and help with the logistics of drop off and pick-up.  Lunch is brought in from Subway, Taco Bell, Culver’s, Fazoli’s, and Pizza Hut. We have many games for recess including soccer, volleyball, bean bag toss, football, and frisbee.

Registration is limited to 64 players and we are already more than half full.  You may register for the camp online at  The current registrants are also shown. The registration fee is $275, which you may pay by check or with PayPal/credit card at the registration website.  Financial scholarships are available based on need. Please contact me with questions.

Ice Harbor Scholastic Open, May 18-20, Grand Harbor Resort and Waterpark, Dubuque,

This is a huge chess tournament.  So, big its two days (three counting Friday night Blitz).  Our tournament chess players have probably seen the poster with the blue and white flyers.  This event bring together 150 players from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa. There are 7 different sections for beginners to experts.  The hotel has water park for those staying at the hotel, which is nice for the kiddos not playing in the tournament. For details, visit the website at  We offer alternative schedules so that kids can play bughouse or the family to enjoy the water park and Dubuque’s food and museums.  The tournament website has information on the chess group room block, but are only guaranteed through April 17th.

2018 Iowa K-12 Scholastic Open Championship & K-8, K-5, and K-3 Section Championships, April 14th, Prairie Point Middle School,

This is the final “regular season” tournament of the Iowa scholastic chess season.  We are the host at Prairie Point again. This is an individual player tournament with sections based on grade level.  Registration is $15 and is available online at

Newsletter #12

posted Feb 13, 2018, 6:34 PM by James Hodina

Dear Prairie Chess Families,


Our first lesson with the Creek and Point student was on the rules of a popular chess variant “Chess 960” also known as Fischer Random Chess.  Fischer Random Chess, also called Chess960 was invented by former world chess champion Bobby Fischer. It uses the same board and pieces as standard chess, but the starting position of the pieces on the players' home ranks is randomized. The random setup makes it difficult to play memorized openings and the players have to rely on their talent and creativity. Today, a Fischer Random Chess match between the World Chess Champion, Magnus Carlsen, and America’s top player, Hikaru Nakamura, completed.  After go over a couple games from the match, we played a few games together.

Our second lesson with the K-4 students started with logging into our accounts. I was very pleased that everyone could do it on their own!  We then learned how to navigate to our private Prairie Chess Club page on the website.  Last week, I posted a lesson that had a video and a puzzle with the theme of “Principle of Force: Counting Attackers and Defenders.”

With this newsletter, I have posted this week’s ChessKid recommended practice materials: Stop the Attack!


As chess players, we like to attack the opponent’s king.  It’s fun to checkmate! Sometimes, the other player attacks when they are not ready.  This may happen when:

  • They lack enough pieces to attack.

  • They have not castled.

  • The lack control of the center of the board.

As the defender, we need to stop the attack.  When we do this really well, we can become the attacker!  Watch these two videos to learn master thinking to stop the attack.

When you are done, prove yourself with these puzzles



Our next tournament is a Team Tournament, February 24, at Prairie Point. Called the Iowa Match Play Team Championship, this event is structured like a tennis match, where teams of 4 players play head to head.  I need you to sign up with me on this Google Form to play on one of our Prairie Teams:  As teams of 4-players, I will have to assemble and register the team and then ask that you pay me the registration fee ($10).  We will have teams in K-12, K-9, K-6, and a K-6 Reserve.  So, we need a lot of players!

Take care,


Newsletter #11

posted Feb 13, 2018, 6:33 PM by James Hodina

Dear Prairie Chess Families,


We had a great time with our match with Coralville chess clubs from Central Elementary and Northwest Junior High. Both schools won their respective state championships in Ames two weekends ago.  Our students played well and I heard of many accounts of a win for our side. The pizza was a perfect topper to the event.


We tried one more time to log on to our accounts. Each student received a login card. After three weeks, everyone should be set up and able to use this wonderful chess teaching and playing site.  The following link is nice video explaining the entire website.  Welcome To ChessKid Version 3,  I am challenging our students to log on to their account one time this week and then tell me one thing they can share about

For the Creek and Point students, we followed a lesson on the double attack.  This is a link to the lesson: Champion Tactics with GM Wolff - Double Attacks.  A membership is required to complete the lesson.  So, attached is handout with double attack puzzles.


We had 25 players from 8 Prairie schools participate in the Prairie Winter Classic last Saturday. It was a wonderful showing!  High School Senior Trevor Ciha and Andre Vongpanya assisted me as Tournament Directors for the event.  In the K-3 Unrated Section, Caron Sellner (View, 2) placed 2nd, Tristan Frese (View, 1) placed 3rd, and Becket Davis (View, 3) picked up the top score for Grade 3.  In the K-3 Open, Connor Orr (Ridge, 2) was the Top Score for players with a US Chess rating under 400 (U400).  In the K-6 section, Colin Sellner (Creek, 6) won the trophy for top score with a US Chess rating under 300.  In the K-12 U1400 section, Point’s Mason Kimm (7) captured 3rd place overall, and Cam Gilbertson (7) was the top score for Under 1000. PHS AJ Kozich (10) placed 2nd in the K-12 Open.

Our next tournament is a Team Tournament, February 24, at Prairie Point. Called the Iowa Match Play Team Championship, this event is structured like a tennis match, where teams of 4 players play head to head.  The team who scores the most wins (1 pt) and drawns (½ pt)..  We will have multiple teams and everyone who wants to play will have the opportunity to be part of team.  You may sign up by this form: I will keep everyone updated over the next three weeks leading up to the tournament and give you plenty of opportunities to register.  As teams of 4-players, I will have to assemble and register the team and then ask that you pay me the registration fee ($10).

Take care,


Newsletter #10

posted Jan 23, 2018, 6:53 PM by James Hodina

Chess Match with Coralville

First thing is to update you on is that we have match against Coralville Central and Northwest Junior High.  I mentioned this earlier this month, but did not mention it in my last email.  The Coralville schools will travel and arrive around 4:30 pm.  We will play for about an hour, taking us to 5:30 - 5:45 pm.  So we will basically have a long chess club next week.  I am not asking for signups as we do not need permission for riding the bus.  However, if you are coming to chess club Monday, but not going to stick around for the match let me know by replying to this email, that would be helpful.  We will have some pizza at the match.  If you would like to send 1 to 2 dollars with your young pizza eaters that would great.

Monday Lesson

The Point and Creek student lesson was on the tactic “double attack.”  Here is a link to a very good video on the topic Attached is the puzzle handout that we worked on in class.  We will continue to tactics topics in future lessons.  Last week, I shared some online chess tactics websites and apps that students can use to practice at home.  Doing these puzzles, even 2-3 at a time, are the single best way to improve.  For those players, especially those tournament players, please find a few minutes each day to practice with tactics puzzles.

The K-4 Elementary Students logged back into their ChessKid accounts again Monday.  With chess club on Tuesday last week, we still had a very large number get their accounts.  Please encourage your child to login from home and play around on the site.  Next week,we will start getting into the video lessons and puzzles available through the website. I can send you usernames and passwords if they are forgotten.

Prairie Winter Classic Chess Tournament

Finally, just to put everything back into one email, registration for the Prairie Chess Tournament, Saturday, is online at  at  If you have difficulty registering online, just email me and I will help you out.  And the Prairie Chess Camp information and registration is also online at  We already have three Prairie Students registered within the first day!

Newsletter #09

posted Jan 16, 2018, 8:46 PM by James Hodina

Dear Prairie Chess Families,

Lots of excitement today at chess club as we celebrated the success of our Prairie Chess Club at the Iowa Scholastic Team Championships on Saturday.  I do have trophies ordered for all participants and received notification that they have shipped.  So I am hopeful they will be her by club on Monday.

Upcoming Chess Tournaments

We have many more opportunities at upcoming chess tournaments.  Fortunately for us there are several upcoming tournaments in the Cedar Rapids / Iowa City Area.   Details are online at with online registration at

  • January 20, Iowa High School and K-8 Championships (Winner goes to Nationals), Iowa City

  • January 27, Prairie Winter Classic, Prairie Point

  • February 24, Iowa Scholastic Match Play Championship (think “tennis match”), just moved from Iowa City to Prairie Point!

  • March 18, Iowa Class Championships (all ages) Cedar Rapids

  • April 14, Iowa K-12 Open and K-9, K-6, & K-3 Sectionals

Chess Club Lesson

So, today, we logged onto the internet to explore our options for chess learning and playing websites.  This is our main website for our students.  Through a generation donation from the Prairie Chess Foundation, we are able to purchase 1-year memberships for every student.  We took our K-4 students into the Creek computer lab and logged in with our accounts.  I realize being a Tuesday club, not everyone was able to be there today.  Each player has a username and password for their personal account.  We will learn how to use our accounts more in future weeks.  But first things first.  We will have another lab next Monday, but I can send a username and password beforehand….just reply with an email!  Students can play online, watch videos, do puzzles, and play the computer.  This is the parent site to ChessKid.  ChessKid has content that is appropriate to the skill level of all of our chess players.  But the ChessKid delivery can be “cartoonish” at times and is not always as appealing to the older kids.  After all, a learning system is only good if the student uses it.  Unlike, though, we cannot afford to purchase memberships for our students.  You can sign up for a free account, which has limited features.  There are gold, platinum, and diamond memberships for a fee that opens up all the learning tools including lessons, computer workouts, videos, articles, and of course, online play.  Nevertheless, I find it a great resource and have a diamond memberships and are two more websites with some of the features at  The plus side is that there is more stuff with a free account.  So, if you don’t mind bouncing around, these are good sites to have in your chess toolbox.  All of these sites track your progress and adjust the level of difficulty accordingly.  So, sticking with one site does add value in this respect.

YouTube.  There are some great chess lessons on YouTube.  But there is also quite a bit of junk, too.  I have three recommendations for chess channels on YouTube.

  • St. Louis Chess Club:  Hands down, this is an awesome site and can provide all the video content you need.  The St. Louis Chess Club posts Grandmaster lectures routinely.  The STL Chess Center was founded by Rex Sinquefield, a philanthropist. One of the key missions of the Center is to promote and grow scholastic chess programs and it shows in the quality of these videos.  The only drawback for our younger kids is that the videos are about 40 minutes.

  • PowerPlayChess: Narrated by GM Daniel King, his videos are high quality.  He is an energetic speaker that captures your attention.  He often broadcasts on current chess tournaments.  His videos are typically 20 minutes

  • The Chess Website: As indicated, there is a companion website to this YouTube channel.  This channel has lots of good videos on chess openings and current events.  Most videos are about 15 minutes in length.

That’s it for Newsletter #9.  We will see everyone back on MONDAY!

Take care,


Newsletter #08

posted Jan 16, 2018, 8:40 PM by James Hodina   [ updated Jan 16, 2018, 8:44 PM ]

Dear Prairie Chess Families,

Congratulations to all of our Prairie Chess Teams for their success last Saturday at the Iowa Scholastic Chess Championships.  
  • Prairie Crest: 2nd Place K-3
  • Prairie Creek: 4th Place K-6
  • Prairie Point: 2nd Place K-9
  • Prairie High School:1st place K-12
 Gavyn Ainesworth Prairie Creek
Violet CriswellPrairie Crest1
Henry Criswel2Prairie Crest3
Zachary DeimerlyPrairie Crest3
Beckett DavisPrairie View3
Aidan HoovikPrairie View4
Joshua ThomsonPraire Hill4
Cole YoungerPrairie Creek5
Jonathan ReuPrairie Creek5
Eli SawickiPrairie Heights5
Parker WheelerPrairie Creek5
Johanan Lopez-ViletaPrairie Ridge5
Kirk BrownPrairie Creek5
Ian KlemmPrairie Creek6
Benjamin KleimanPrairie Creek6
 Emily Kleiman Prairie Hill 2
Catherine YangPrairie Creek6
Mason KimmPrairie Point7
Audrey SellonPrairie Point7
Eli CopelandPrairie Point8
Andrew KozichPrairie High School10
Trevor CihaPrairie High School12

Here are a few photos I took.  Please share any other pictures you may have.
We will be meeting on Tuesday as there is no school on Monday.

Take care,

Newsletter #07

posted Jan 8, 2018, 5:57 PM by James Hodina   [ updated Jan 8, 2018, 5:58 PM ]

Welcome to 2018. Chess Club starts back up on Monday (1/8). The first of the year is the unofficial kick-off of the Iowa Scholastic Chess Championship Season.  So, there is going to be a lot of activity the next few months.  I want to start off getting you excited about the Iowa Scholastic Team Championships, January 13, in Ames. Too many competing obligations? I can help with rides...just let me know! Feel free to ask me any questions at club or by email.

January 13th, which just a week from Saturday, is the Iowa Scholastic Team Championships.  This tournament will be held in Ames at the Elks Lodge on 522 Douglas Ave. It starts at 10 am and will be done around 4 pm.  There are two sections: K-6 and K-12.  There will be trophies for the top K-3 teams and K-6 teams from the K-6 section and team trophies for the top K-9 and K-12 teams in the K-12 section. The team event is a big deal.  Prairie has placed in the Top 5 for many years.  Our best finish has been a tie for second.  So it is an exciting event and, the more that turn out, the better it goes for the Prairie Chess Team.  The team standings work much like a cross country team event.  Everyone plays a normal 5 round tournament (4 rounds for the K-12 section).  Teammates never play each other.  The top 4 results for each team is then totaled to make up the team score.  The tournament awards a Team Trophy and individual trophies for the top 4 players that combined to make the team total.  However, the Prairie Chess Club will purchase trophies for every player (if the team places) that participates.  You may register with me (just send an email and pay when you can).  If you'd like to register online and pay by credit card, you may do so at  The Prairie Chess Club will purchase your USCF Memberships.  So, don't buy one online.

So, you may think that you are not "one of the four best players in our club" and therefore, it is not worthwhile to participate.  I have many legitimate reasons why this is bad logic.

  • Everyone has a bad day or someone could be sick.  You could be that individual who steps in to help the team fill a gap should that happen. (Next person up! as the sports saying goes.)

  • Its not just about winning games...its about winning more games than the opponents.  If you play and win against a member of another team, then that is one less point for the other team!

  • We support each other, win or lose, our teammates always need someone to lean on or celebrate with.

  • If the team wins, we each win.  Remember, if the team wins, trophies for everyone!

  • Its fun!  Cheering on your teammates, watching the games and the team score is an exciting part of the event.=

I apologize for getting this announcement out as late as I have.  Admittedly, the holidays and other year end responsibilities caught me snoozing.  So, for planning purposes, here are a couple more dates to put on your calendar for January.

  • January 20 (Saturday): The Iowa High School and K-8 Championships in Iowa City.  The winner of each section represents Iowa at the national championships at the end of July.  This year it will be in Madison.  The Iowa State Chess Association provides a $400 stipend.  More information and registration is online at:

  • January 27 (Saturday): Prairie Winter Classic.  Same format as the Prairie Fall Classic.  To be held at Prairie Point.  You may register with me or online at

  • January 29 (Monday): Match with Coralville Central and Northwest Junior High Chess Clubs.  This will be at Prairie and start at 4:30 pm and go for about 1 hour, following regular chess club.  This is for all Prairie chess players K-9!

Coolidge Elementary Chess Club Meet-up

posted Nov 29, 2017, 3:25 PM by James Hodina   [ updated Nov 29, 2017, 4:57 PM ]

Newsletter #06

posted Nov 20, 2017, 8:28 PM by James Hodina

K-4 Chess Match with Cedar Rapids Coolidge Elementary (11/28)

We have a fun opportunity for our K-4 chess players, Tuesday, November 28, to play the ch so far and could really use your participation. The Coolidge Chess Club has 25 players, so we are a bit short at the moment. We will meet at Prairie Creek after class dismissal (just like Mondays) and take a bus to Coolidge Elementary. Parents will need to provide permission to participate by completing the online sign-up sheet.

We will still have a regular chess club on Monday.  If however, two days of chess is one day too much, then please choose to join us in our Tuesday match at Coolidge.


I have handed out most of the t-shirts.  I will continue to bring them to chess club until they are all picked up.  For those that did not get an order, I have a few extras from past years and will happily offer them to those who missed the order this year.

Today’s Lesson

Our lesson for both groups was about pawns.  Pawns move so differently than other pieces:  they can’t move backwards, they capture differently (diagonal) than their regular move (forward), and they can promote to a queen (knight, rook, or bishop) when they reach the other side of the board.  We discussed the strengths and weaknesses of pawns by introducing  the concept of pawn chains, doubled pawns, and backward pawns.  Finally we concluded with some puzzles with the theme of “pawn promotion” (attached).

Prairie Fall Classic Chess Tournament

We had a fabulous turn out at the chess tournament Saturday.  Forty-two Prairie chess players participated among a field of 107 students from Des Moines, Ames, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, and Marion.  We even have two high school seniors obtain their US Chess Tournament Director Certification and helped direct the event.  You can find the US Chess Rating report online (click here) or going to the tournament webpage:  The next Prairie tournament is January 27, 2018.

Newsletter #05

posted Nov 13, 2017, 8:31 PM by James Hodina

In This Newsletter

  • Today’s Lesson

  • Prairie Fall Classic Chess Tournament, 11/18

  • T-Shirt Status

  • K-4 Match with CR Coolidge, 11/28

Today’s Lesson

Today we had lessons on checkmate patterns.  For the Creek and Point players, we examined checkmate patterns with 1) rook and bishop and 2) knight and bishop, and 3) queen and pawn.  Examples are attached.  For our K-4 elementary students, we focused on an important checkmate pattern called the “back rank checkmate.”  The K-4 students worked on some thematic puzzles on this subject, also attached.

We then continued our Prairie Chess Club Tournament with two sections: Grades 5-9 and Grades K-4.  Current results are posted on the chess club webpage (please note that some players have played more games than other players):

Prairie Fall Classic Chess Tournament (11/18)

Thank you to the 24 Prairie Chess Players who have already signed up for the tournament this Saturday. There is still plenty of time to register and play.  When registering, with a few exceptions, I recommend signing up based on your grade.  K-3 players play in the K-3 Open or, if you’re in K-1, the K-3 Unrated may be a good option.  For K-6 players, play in the K-6 U1000, and for the Point and HS students, play in the K-12 U1400.  Also, do not purchase a USCF membership (just type “new” if you do not have a member ID).  The Prairie Foundation will be purchasing them for us.


I will be getting the t-shirts this week.  I will have them available at the chess tournament so that you can change or pull them over.  For those that did not get an order, I have some extras from past years and will happily offer them to those who missed the order this year.

K-4 Chess Match with Cedar Rapids Coolidge Elementary (11/28)

We have a fun opportunity for our K-4 chess players, Tuesday, November 28, to play the chess club at Coolidge Elementary School in Cedar Rapids. We will meet at Prairie Creek after class dismissal (just like Mondays) and take a bus to Coolidge Elementary. Parents will need to provide permission to participate by completing the online sign-up sheet.

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