Chess State is a documentary project about the best high school chess tournament in the world. The Illinois High School Association’s State Chess Tournament had 138 teams participate in 2014. This makes Illinois stand far and away from all other states in the U.S. when it comes to high school chess.
While 138 teams would be astronomical for state tournaments that operate 4- or 5-person team matches, Illinois conducts an 8 vs. 8 format! And it’s the only state to do so (generally any team match with 6 or more players can be found, not in high school, but in a city’s industrial league).
Like I said, the states that do perform team championships (most simply conduct an individual tournament and then add up team member’s points to comprise a team score), don’t even come close. From what I’ve researched, the second biggest state tournament is lucky to get 20 teams participate.
Fixed-board team chess simply means your players are put in a line-up based on strength. With an 8-board format, the best player is at board 1, second best at board 2 and so on.
So Illinois has the best high school chess scene because it has the biggest tournament? Well, in a way, very much so. You see, if you’re on a team, rather than playing as an individual, you’re motivated to invest in the performance of your teammates so your team can win. Therefore, a player is much more likely to help improve his or her teammate’s skill level by giving them instruction and coaching on the game. The likeliness of this happening is increased even further with a deeper roster. And in this case, 8 players can more likely motivate the 6th best player on a team to help coach the 7th and 8th best.
When a player teaches his teammates, he or she feels good about it, it improves their character and self-esteem, and ultimately makes them better people. This is operating on high school chess players, a group within a school often stereotyped as being more shy and less outgoing than, say, athletes or those on the drama or debate team.
Chess State is about how the IHSA state tournament began, the unexpected drama that can occur within a match, and the players and coaches who make up these wonderful specimens of organized activity.