The story of Chess House

A few weeks ago I contacted Chess House to talk about resources to teach children how to play chess.  Little did I know that the voice on the other end would be a championship chess player who loves to share his game with others.  I am excited to introduce you to Raphael Neff who is here to share his story of chess and why this is one game that our children need to learn and master.

The Story of Chess House

Meet Raphael

In the late 80’s my dad taught my three brothers and I how to play – although my mom has rightful claim as first in our family to learn and play as a young girl in an actual competition in Toronto, Ontario.

It started with a local competition for school age kids in our home town Lynden, WA. There was fierce competition there, and it challenged us to reach for the next levels at this game.  My dad found a retired Dutchman to teach and grow our chess skills. He’s 90 this year and still enjoys chess once in a while.

Lynden’s local scholastic event had a first prize of $1200, a substantial amount for us young teenagers in the early 90’s. Winning that a few times as teenagers my brother’s and dad had an entrepreneurial bent. We started selling some chess equipment at events in the area and became known for not just being competitive on the chess scene, but for peddling chess equipment for fun. This turned into something big later.

What started as a fun game for the family, turned into annual summer vacations throughout the entire country travelling to US Open championships and experiencing the competitive and sometimes quirky world of chess.

Chess teaches you a lot about yourself. Especially competitive chess.  Being a perfectionist, I always wanted to find the very best move, and often ran dangerously low on the game’s allotted time.  I also have nerves and have a hard time hiding it.  I am also fiercely competitive and tenacious, and won more lost games than most.  Because i wasn’t the best student of the game, I would almost win events. It was mostly 2nd or 3rd place finishes.

The most fun experiences where those close battles against players rated much higher than me, when time is running out and the action gets fast.   Some events have games that are 5 minutes per side (blitz chess!) and other events have long games that lasted for 6 hours or more.

Favorite Memory

My favorite memory was a blitz tie break win in the Under-21 Washington State Championship. Having so many close finishes it was great to finally take the title.

Surprisingly I still remember some names of my opponents from 15-20 years ago, because the experience at the time was so powerful.

My brother Elliott who’s a couple years older than me was notoriously a student of the game. When he was about 13 years old, I remember him with a stack of 10 or more books, and spending 3-4 hours a day.  As a result, he did very well, and won nearly every scholastic tournament he entered, through high school. Out of several hundred games, he only lost a few.  He was the guy that people were out to beat.

We competed regularly on a national level, and Elliott frequently played some of the country’s best players.  We hung out with the then youthful GM Hikaru Nakamura, USA’s currently top rated player and GM Gata Kamsky, the current US champion. At the time, we knew they were great players, but it’s amazing to see their success today.

Chess House

Back to the early 90’s, Chess House, a small Kansas based mail order business was run by a friendly gentleman, Don Oswald, retired pastor and teacher who enjoyed chess and had a small storefront as well. Chess House became available and us Neff brothers acquired the small business experiment of marketing chess supplies.

Eventually online sales with Chess House started growing seriously in 2003 and has continued to grow and serve a wonderful family of customers, now in over 130 countries.

In 2003 Elliott left to start Chess4Life and focus on developing a training system to reach kids in schools and through after school programs. His Chess School DVDs are a wonderful program for home learning, distilled from the best teaching techniques learned in thousands of hours of classroom experience. Chess4Life’s mission is to teach life skills through chess, and the programs now reach thousands of kids in the Northwest US.

Chess is enjoyed by many people worldwide in a huge variety of ways. We love it’s rich history and the unique ways to lifestyle the game.

We started out in chess as a family and this gave a unique perspective on how chess is a valuable game for families to enjoy together, to communicate, and enjoy memories together.

I think Chess House is a great name for the company, representing the home. As a young husband and father, I like to think a few moves ahead  in planning for our family’s future.  My almost three year old son is just starting to learn the game now! What an exciting time.

What Can Chess Teach You

Plan time together with outdoor activities, board games, and things that qualify as quality time.  Unless we purposely work to limit the time spent on electronic devices and media, this will subtley steal time away from each other.

We learned by experience that chess is not only fun, but develops character and mental acuity.

  • Patience to remain attentive, sit, and concentrate for hours.
  • Achievement in playing by the rules and endeavoring to succeed at a specific goal.
  • Awareness of the environment, threats, and opportunities.
  • Thoughtful decision making after awareness and careful assessment.
  • Foresight to see consequences of actions. There are no “takebacks” in life.
  • Timeliness to act immediately or take extra time as the situations changed.
  • Creativity and visualization during a game to think through possibilities.
  • Memory and recall to replay from memory and review for improvements.
  • Pattern recognition in associating and applying intuitive memorized sequences at the right time.
  • Perseverance to not give up when we bad moves were made and the situation is unfavorable.
  • Sportsmanship from the handshake, to winning fairly and losing graciously.

Chess is fun, and a great excuse to meet wonderful people.

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