Queen Eva’s Gambit

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.

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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.




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20 Responses to Queen Eva’s Gambit

  1. dianeravitch says:

    I am confused. Did the SA team win “the national championship”? Was that a lie?

    On Apr 24, 2018, at 9:55 PM, Gary Rubinstein’s Blog wrote:

    garyrubinstein posted: “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 ou”

  2. Jack Shalom says:

    Jaw-dropping deliberate twisting of the truth.

  3. Stephen Ronan says:

    Yours generally seems a fair recounting of what happened, Gary, other than the plausible, but not proven, assumption that Success Academy P.R. was somehow responsible for distorting reality.

    If the reporter was simply informed that the Success team finished first in that contest and then looked here http://rknights.org/registration/tournaments/all-girls-nationals/standings/ at the Under-18 team results of that Kasparov Chess Foundation National Championship I could imagine him coming up with the story he wrote without any need for external prompting to especially focus on any of the runners up, and he might not have even noticed that one of those had less than a full complement of team members.

    FWIW, it seems to me that it was the Under-12 age group where Success Academy shined the brightest… not only a team member finishing first out of 100+ participants and one S.A. middle school finishing tied for first, but additionally other S.A. middle school teams finishing 4th and 6th. Not to mention Success Academy Bed-Stuy capturing second place in the Under 16s.

    In any event thanks for bringing attention to the brilliant success of both S.A. and Stuyvesant participants.

    • parent010203 says:

      Stephen Ronan says: “Not to mention Success Academy Bed-Stuy capturing second place in the Under 16s.”

      The winning team in the Under 16s was IS 319 in Brooklyn. They also placed right behind that SA middle school “tied for first” in the Under 12s and ahead of the all the other SA middle school teams you give a shout out to. But then again, without a paid publicist, who cares how bright a public school “shines”, right?

      I would thank you for bringing attention to the brilliant success of NYC public school IS 319 and their participants, but since it seemed to be invisible to you, I will thank you for providing the link so that I could find for myself the brilliant success of IS 319 in addition to SA and Stuy.

      It’s a shame reporters are too lazy to look very closely when they have handy press releases available, don’t you think? Sometimes people only see what they want to see.

  4. Pingback: Gary Rubinstein on Queen Eva’s Spin Machine | Diane Ravitch's blog

  5. Michael Fiorillo says:

    There’ s lies, damned lies and Eva Moskowitz.

  6. Stephen Ronan says:

    parent010203: “The winning team in the Under 16s was IS 319 in Brooklyn. They also placed right behind that SA middle school ‘tied for first’ in the Under 12s and ahead of the all the other SA middle school teams you give a shout out to. But then again, without a paid publicist, who cares how bright a public school ‘shines’, right?”

    Presumably you’re referring to IS 318 in respect to winning Under 16? And to PS 139 finishing both behind and ahead of various S.A. schools in respect to Under 12?

    IS 318’s bright lights have not been hidden beneath a bushel basket.

    NY Times in 2012: “On Sunday, in Minneapolis, they became the first middle school team to win the United States Chess Federation’s national high school championship. The team, mostly eighth graders, beat out top high schools like Stuyvesant in Manhattan and Thomas Jefferson in Alexandria, Va.”
    “Most of I.S. 318’s 1,650 students are from the Williamsburg area, said John Galvin, an assistant principal. But some come for the chess, including the three top players” (2012)

    • parent010203 says:


      I believe your reply to me is supposed to be an acknowledgement that you left out a public school’s remarkable achievement in chess and I will take it as such. Thank you.

      I believe the difference in tone between the NY Times article about IS 318 and the NY Post “news” crowing about Success Academy’s defeating Stuy speaks for itself.

      In the NY Times article about a remarkably accomplished chess program running with very little money, there were no self-serving comments by the IS 318 chess teacher or principal to belittle another school and promote their own profile.

      In the NY Post article we read:

      — “Success Academy . . . has a record of developing top players from groups that tend to be underrepresented in chess, including girls, Hispanics, and African-Americans,” the network said.”
      — “We work hard to close the gender gap in chess. All Success Academy scholars take chess in grades K-2, and girls often become some of our strongest players.
      — ”This is a dream come true for Nura,” Ketty Baalla said, noting she likely would not have thought to introduce the game to her daughter. “She has discovered her passion, thanks to Success Academy.”
      — “Nura, who is Hispanic, might never have played competitive chess if she hadn’t been encouraged by her Success Academy coach to join a team in third grade,” the school said in a statement.

      It’s all about Success Academy!

      Meanwhile, in the NY Times article, no one at IS 318 is using the school’s prowess at chess to congratulate themselves.
      — “She said the school viewed chess not as a competitive pressure-cooker but as a way to learn how one’s mind works. “You do a lot of thinking about how you think, especially about how you make decisions,” she said. “You’ll hear a kid say, ‘I made this mistake because I was very emotional.’ ”

      — ‘Ms. Spiegel, who is an expert, a level below James’s ranking of master, could not see what he saw on the board, and could not tell if he was helping or sabotaging. She threw up her hands and said, “I’m not sure if James is giving bad advice on purpose, or not.”

      What a difference.

      • Stephen Ronan says:

        “What a difference.”
        In admissions procedures? Mmm, yes, I see what you mean.
        In respect to the other school, PS 139, one wonders as to the long-term impacts of the changes specified here: https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2014/02/07/uproar-continues-over-ending-gifted-classes-at-ditmas-parks-p-s-139-though-program-an-outlier/

      • parent010203 says:

        Stephen Ronan,

        What does PS 139 have to do with the success of the primarily low-income students at IS 318? I’m talking about IS 318 defeating Success Academy in the U16 category and you not even noticing.

        Is that because the success of the chess program IS 318 doesn’t fit into the propaganda that Eva Moskowitz wants to push which is that low-income non-white students at her schools owe their success in chess tournaments to the largesse of the great Eva Moskowitz? And their press releases and the news stories based on them are always about how grateful a family is for Eva’s selfless dedication to helping their child. Because if you can’t imply that without Eva Moskowitz that child would be in some failing public school and never succeed, then what is the point of a Success Academy press release? Isn’t that right?

        I’m sorry that you don’t like it that I disagree that the students at Success Academy could not have succeeded in chess without Eva Moskowitz. Because all those children who succeed in chess in public schools all over the city are always invisible to you.

        Just like IS 318 was invisible to you when you crowed about how terrific Success Academy did in the U16s. Children who do not help promote the “Success Academy is the only reason these students succeed” propaganda do not exist to you. The students at IS 318 are as invisible to you as the many students drummed out of the Success Academy over the years. They do not exist in your universe because they do not help promote Eva Moskowitz.

  7. Reblogged this on Lloyd Lofthouse and commented:
    The bucket of lies stops with Evil Eva Moskowitz because she is the CEO and it was her teacher-and-child abusing corporate charter school in NY City that lied about winning a national chess tournament that wasn’t a national chess tournament and was not a victory against one of the top chess playing public schools in New York City and the country.

  8. Stephen Ronan says:

    parent010203: “I’m talking about IS 318”

    You were originally talking about the successes of both IS 318 and PS 139, seemingly believing they were the same school.

    You’re clear now that they’re entirely separate schools? You’ve lost all interest in PS 139? Only want to discuss IS 318?

    IS 318 is the school that has an impressive history of attracting and selecting for admission some of the most promising young chess players throughout the city and providing them a venue for considerable additional progress? It has, historically, attracted far more applicants that it had places for and, aside from chess prowess, has used reviews of grades and test scores, attendance and punctuality, report cards and teacher recommendations to winnow more than 1000 applicants down to 500 accepted. Is that correct and up to date?

    And at the school: “Students who engage gregarious behavior in the cafeteria/gymnasium/auditorium (large group activities) will be removed from the location and will serve detention”.

    I got all that straight? And your point was?

    BTW, if you haven’t seen it yet, you’ll enjoy this: https://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/28/one-move-ahead-of-opponents-and-two-ahead-of-trouble/

    • parent010203 says:

      Thank you for pointing out that I was confusing PS 139 with IS 318. IS 318 was the school that won the U16 championship, but you didn’t even notice.

      If you don’t see the difference in tone between boasting that a team defeated Stuy and talking about how the IS 319 middle school sees chess, then there really is nothing to discuss. We shall have to agree to disagree.

      But I’m glad you are finally acknowledging that what Success Academy has done with chess is what many public schools have done. And even more could do it if they had the kind of billionaire underwriting for extras that Success Academy has.

      I read the NY Times piece about IS 318, and I thought “how terrific it is that this middle school has a dedicated and talented chess teacher and how wonderful it is that students are thriving in the program.”

      I read the NY Post article, and it was all about winning and bragging that the charter school “beat” Stuy. And how all credit for the victory was due to Success Academy.

      Can you find me some citations where a public school with great test scores or lots of National Merit Finalists or great results in a chess tournament notes every success as a victory over charter schools with worse results?

      You don’t need to lift up students by bringing other students down. You don’t need to present what students in your school have achieved as something that is entirely the result of the school itself and doesn’t that show how superior this school is to those inferior public schools.

      It is a shame for ALL NYC public students that neither you nor Eva Moskowitz seem to understand that.

      • Stephen Ronan says:

        I would suggest that if you wish to read and understand what Success Academy itself states about its students’ chess successes, and wish to communicate accurately about that, this might be a good place to start rather than relying on the NY Post as your trusted intermediary: https://www.successacademies.org/tag/chess/

      • parent010203 says:

        Stephen Ronan,
        I would suggest that if you would like to see how Success Academy portrays itself in the press releases it gives to the press, you only have to look at the “remarkable similarity” in two articles written for two different news organizations by two different reporters one month apart.

        From the NY Post:
        “‘This is a dream come true for Nura,” Ketty Baalla said, noting she likely would not have thought to introduce the game to her daughter. “She has discovered her passion, thanks to Success Academy.”
        Network officials said Baalla began showing promise early.
        “Nura, who is Hispanic, might never have played competitive chess if she hadn’t been encouraged by her Success Academy coach to join a team in third grade,” the school said in a statement.”

        And from the Bronx Chronicle a month earlier:
        “Like so many of Success Academy’s chess players, Baalla probably wouldn’t have played competitive chess if she hadn’t been recruited to the team in third grade. Her mother Ketty Baalla, a single mom, says that even if it had occurred to her to give Nura chess lessons, she probably wouldn’t have been able to afford them. “Nura discovered her passion thanks to this program,” says Ms. Baalla.”

        And I found both those articles featured prominently on the very front page of the Success Academy homepage!

        I’ll let you go on insisting that two reporters just happened to write – with truly remarkable similarity — the same sentence about how all credit must be given to Success Academy for coming up with thus unique and never before seen idea — to offer chess in school. Why, when I read that I KNOW that such a unique and remarkable charter network is absolutely justified in evicted a school of severely disabled children to accommodate a rich charter network.

        It’s sad that you don’t understand the difference between taking all credit for any success and denigrating the people you believe are you “enemy” (public schools) and quietly being proud of the accomplishments of the students in your school.

        I suggest it is the difference between how Obama talked about his Presidency and how Trump does. Like Trump, Eva Moskowitz is all about undermining “enemies” — those terrible public schools that just don’t compare to her far superior charters. And every accomplishment must be couched in those terms because in Eva Moskowitz’ world, there is no “win” unless you can make some public schools suffer.

        The fact that you are fine with this speaks for itself.

      • Stephen Ronan says:

        “‘Nura discovered her passion thanks to this program,’ says Ms. Baalla.”
        Perhaps you could collect hundreds or thousands of similar quotes from Success Academy parents, and publish them one after another all together in a book as an exposé?

        The fact that you are complacent about IS 318 youngsters being confined in detention, presumably required there to reiterate the Queens Indian Defense until nightfall, for playing dodgeball or volleyball at all gregariously in the gymnasium speaks volumes.

        Have a good day, nevertheless.

      • Stephen Ronan says:

        Gosh, Isaac, I should introduce you to parent010203 and NYC Public School Parent some time. The three of you would have lots to commiserate about.

  9. Donny Brusca says:


    Thank you for this interesting article. Yes, the source of the misinformation may have been a deceptive charter CEO or organization, or it may have been merely a product of shoddy journalism.

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