In the New York Post today there was a headline that read “Charter school upsets juggernaut Stuyvesant HS on way to chess crown”
It began in dramatic fashion.
The US hockey team beating the mighty Soviets at the 1980 Olympics, Mike Tyson being knocked out by Buster Douglas 10 years later — and now this.
A Success Academy girls chess team upset perennial juggernaut Stuyvesant HS at a Chicago tournament over the weekend to claim its first national championship.
In winning the girls crown, the crew from the charter network’s Manhattan high school notched its first ever victory over what is roundly considered the city’s top academic institution.
As an avid chess player myself and also as a teacher at Stuyvesant High School and also knowing that one of our sophomore girls is the 38th highest rated female chess player in the country, I thought that this would be quite accomplishment if there wasn’t more to the story than the article suggests.
But as with everything about Success Academy, important details are always conveniently left out to support the mythology of Success Academy.
First, a little about chess ratings and tournaments since not everyone is familiar with this. Chess players have ‘ratings’ anything from 0 to about 3000 which is how good you are based on who you’ve beaten and who has beaten you. A beginner would have about a 500 rating. An advanced beginner would be about a 1000. An intermediate player would have somewhere between 1000 and 1200 while a more advanced intermediate player would be between about 1200 and 1400. After that it gets pretty difficult to increase your rating but a 1600 player is very good and an 1800 is nearly an ‘expert.’ Officially 2000 is an expert and 2200 is a ‘master’ and you have to have about 2500 to be a grandmaster.
Stuyvesant High School sent two girls to the 18 and under division with ratings 1962 and 2146 (the 2146 player, again, is the 38th best female player of any age in the country). Success Academy sent four girls to the 18 and under division with ratings of 1051, 1052, 1112, and 1168. I’m not trying to put anyone down here, but it would be very incredible if a player who is between 1000 and 1200 ever beat a player who was between 1900 and 2200 in a tournament. So hearing that the Success Academy team upset the Stuyvesant team was intriguing to me and knowing all I do about how Success Academy likes to take liberties with the truth, I thought I would do some fact-checking by visiting the official tournament website.
This tournament was not “the nationals” as is implied by The Post when they say “its first national championship.” The K-12 high school nationals will happen April 27th to 29th in Columbus, Ohio.
The way a chess tournament works is that there are about 30 players and a computer pairs up people to play in the first round. If you win the game you get a ‘point’ and if you draw you get a half of a point. In the second round the computer pairs up, as best as it can, people who have the same number of points. This continues for six rounds.
There were only two times that a Success Academy player played against a Stuyvesant player and in both cases the Stuyvesant player won.
One Stuyvesant player had 4.5 points at the end and the other has 3 points. For Success Academy, three players had 3 points and one had 2.5 points. The highest rated player that any Success Academy player beat was rated 1222. So how, then, did Success Academy win the team competition? Simple. Stuyvesant’s ‘team’ was just two players. The way they calculate the team score is by adding up the points of the top three players on that team. So Stuyvesant, with just two players, got a team score of 7.5 while Success Academy with three of their top four players, got a team score of 9. Basically, if you don’t field a full three person team, the players are really just there for the individual parts and not for the team competition. With two players, you can’t really win the team part by the way it is scored. Looking at the roster it seems that Success Academy is the only school that had at least three players to contribute to the team score. They won because they were the only school in the competition with a full team. This, not surprisingly, isn’t mentioned in the article.
Though I know some people will accuse me of being negative, I do want it to be known that I have nothing against the girls who participated in the Success Academy team. I think it is great that Success Academy has an active chess program. It’s a great game and great for the mind and for concentration and it is fun to go to tournaments and to bring home trophies. And being rated around 1100 is a very good start for a teenager so I’m not trying to demean these girl’s skill levels.
But when the Success Academy PR team thinks it is necessary to call The New York Post and to give an incomplete account of how they took down the two member ‘juggernaut’ Stuyvesant squad, something they will surely use in their fund raising campaigns in the future, I do think it is worthwhile to give a more complete account.
The Success Academy girls were playing for enjoyment and for the fun and challenge of competition — not to be pawns in Eva’s game of public relations.