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  • David Brooks, Ph.D.

POST # 1 - HOW THE FIVE STAGES OF A CHESS GAME DICTATED OUR PATH TO UNIVERSITY ADMISSION

The 21 Chess Strategies That Got My Two Kids Into Georgetown - Post #1 of 21

Playing Chess At Age 3

I love figuring out how things work. During the roughly two decades when I taught high school, I was privileged to get to know so many great students. I watched their hard work and their intelligent minds and was always so curious to learn where these young adults would end up heading to college. Over time, I started detecting patterns, and could often predict which students (out of all the excellent students) might go to a highly-selective college or university.


How did they do it? How did those few students receive offers of admission from several different elite colleges? It was a mystery! And the mystery triggered the part of my brain that likes to deconstruct and reconstruct and analyze and solve – ultimately, the path to college is not unlike a fresh and inviting chess board. An obsession was born, four years before my first child was born, in those long hours of watching scholarship award ceremonies.


Much has changed since I first started trying to figure out the college admission game, but this obsession still rages today. These days, instead of teaching English and History every day, I own and operate The Knight School, a national afterschool chess program that brings chess to over 3500 kids each week. Another change: My oldest child is a Georgetown graduate, my middle child is a Georgetown freshman, and my youngest daughter definitely has her eyes set on admission to a highly-selective university.


Nothing can guarantee admission, of course, but our family has developed some great approaches. In these 21 posts I will spill the beans and detail every single far-fetched technique and strategy and activity that my kids and I have employed in order to get my older kids into their dream schools. All that follows is nothing but the opinion of a career-educator Dad who has helped develop a plan of attack that seems to work. Much about my approach is unique and unprecedented, so read it as a humorous chronicle of either nothing more than two big flukes in a row, or, alternatively, a plan that might actually have merit.

Anticipating the road to university admission

For the parents who are suspecting that the topic of this blog may be elitist and privileged, congratulations: you are spot-on correct. I simply believe that some kids belong at elite universities because what you get there, you get nowhere else. But if you disagree, I get that. This blog is only for that group of parents who agree with me that sometimes a child benefits most from attending a top-30 school, so why not do everything you can along the way to keep that possibility open?


Some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten was from my friend Laura, who always destroys me in poker; she explained to me, “Dave, you have to play the hand you’re dealt. That’s how you win.” In poker, Laura is right, you should always play the cards you are dealt; in chess, however, you are the dealer. College admission is not poker, it is chess: you can build this attack any way you want it.

Chess board mapping the road to university admission

I imagine it is no surprise to anybody that running a fun chess club for kids completely colors my perspective on this subject. In my mind I basically boil the college admissions process down into the five stages of a chess game:


1) In stage one, childhood, the pieces must be set up and developed correctly; all the pieces must be in place at the end of the eighth-grade year. Shake hands and dance.

2) In stage two, high school freshman year, your chess opening must be perfect in the form of what I will term your “Academic Index Score;”

3) Then, if that succeeds, in stage three, the sophomore-year chess midgame, what I will term the “Personal Index Score” must be perfected;

4) And then, if that succeeds, during the junior-year chess endgame your “Irresistible Index Score” must be perfected;

5) Senior year is your final move, submitting multiple flawless applications, a move in which a nuanced triumph is finessed, and finally you shake hands with your dream school, because whether you won or lost, the fight was a good one.


In case you are new to chess, let me share a secret: checkmates are not stumbled onto, they are engineered from the first move, with the player visualizing the checkmate before the game begins, and then working backwards to bring the checkmate into reality. It’s called careful planning, and it is a good thing to practice. So while each of the above five childhood/teen stages are well-conceived in general, what are the specifics? Well, here are the specifics. These specific steps not only constitute all the steps of the masterplan, in order, they also form a table of contents for this 21-post blog, and also an overview so you can see where the blog is heading.

Roadmap for the blog series overall

Blog Introduction

Post 1: How the Five Stages of a Chess Game Dictated Our Path to University Admission


Part 1: Childhood and Setting Up the Chess Pieces Perfectly.

Post 2: Setting Up the Pawns: When not to play - Nine Types of Kids for whom elite schools may not be right: playing the cards you are actually dealt.

Post 3: Setting Up the Rooks: The centrality of TKS fun chess classes and fun chess tournaments for kids and the nine personal superpower characteristics chess imparts.

Post 4: Setting Up the Knights: Value and develop all the varied pieces of a challenging and diverse childhood: the eleven experts who taught me the admissions game.

Post 5: Setting Up the Queen: Work backwards from all goals: my kids’ 44 steps toward Georgetown: A year-by-year timeline.

Post 6: Setting Up the Bishops: Plan backwards, just as in chess, to yield an intellectually curious human: Seven crib-time intellectual strategies. Preschool chess class is definitely one element here.

Post 7: Setting Up the King: chess and the biggest picture: Eight ways honors courses are always, always the way to go for the right kid.

Childhood building blocks - keys to the childhood chess opening

Part 2: Freshman Year and Executing a Formidable Chess Opening.

Post 8: The Opening: Perfecting your Academic Index, and Understanding that Academic Index is absolutely necessary, but not sufficient.

Post 9: The Opening: Perfecting your Academic Index element one: How to get high grades throughout high school and beyond.

Post 10: The Opening: Perfecting your Academic Index element two: How to get a high ACT/SAT score (as long as these tests are in use).

Post 11: The Opening: Perfecting your Academic Index element three: Arrive at freshman year loaded with info: Knowledge imparted by The Day School.


Part 3: Sophomore Year and Developing a Spectacular Chess Midgame.

Post 12: The Midgame: Perfecting your PIS: Personal Index Score.

Post 13: The Midgame: Personal Index Element One: The recommendations.

Post 14: The Midgame: Personal Index Element Number two: The essays.

Post 15: The Midgame: Personal Index Element Number three: The application questions.


Part 4: Junior Year and Completing the Perfect Endgame.

Post 16: The Endgame: Irresistible Index nuances are everything: Perfect your IIS: Irresistible Index Score.

Post 17: The Endgame: Irresistible Index Element one: Yield Protect.

Post 18: The Endgame: Irresistible Index Element two: Understanding the modern computerized college admission algorithm system.

Post 19: The Endgame: Irresistible Index Element three: The whole package must be interwoven and the chess pieces above must be coordinated.


Part 5: Senior Year, Checkmate, and the Final Handshake.

Post 20: Checkmating a Grandmaster: Ten Ways That Elite Admissions Is NOT a Game Only for Rich People.

Post 21: Final King Tip and Handshake: pie chart and final tips.


High School graduation and college acceptance

Future Posts

In the next 20 posts I look forward to laying out an interesting set of options for all my chess parents.


Stay tuned for Post 2: Setting Up the Pawns: When not to play - Nine Types of Kids for whom elite schools may not be right: playing the cards you are actually dealt.