Mailing Address for American Chess Events LLC:
1000 N Beeline Hwy #210
Payson, Arizona 85541
The mission of American Chess Events, LLC is to create the most positive and productive environment possible for America’s youth chess players to succeed both in chess and in life. As every “ACE Chess” employee would tell you, our organization believes in the theory that “the home builds the market”, and never the other way around. It is with that point of view in mind that we must first tell you of the foundations of this organization, and with it, the roots of our story. Everything that is American Chess Events: from the high standards and excellent format of our Master Trek tournaments; to the intimate details of every private lesson our instructors give; to the efficiency and positive atmosphere of our group classes called “Strategy Sessions”. All of these things are derived from our origins: The Shelby School Chess Team.
Our story begins in small town America. A little place 17 miles northeast of Payson, Arizona called Tonto Village, was the home for a private school founded by Steven and Trina Kamp: The Shelby School. It was in the spring of 1995 that Steven Kamp suffered a mild stroke, and by doctor’s orders, he was bed ridden for the entire summer. To help pass the time, he often summoned his grandchildren for some fun games of chess. Two of his grandsons, brothers Dallas and Danny Rensch, took a special interest in the game. The rest of the summer passed with Dallas and Danny showing up on a daily basis for practice games, review of the classical matches of 1972 between Fischer and Spassky, and the hopes that they might get a few bucks from Grandpa for the local candy store on their way home.
In the fall, Steven regained his health, and school started for the boys. At this time, Steven realized that playing practice games everyday was going to become increasingly more difficult. Besides that, the boys’ understanding of the game was rapidly surpassing his own. Furthermore, with the TV premier of a movie called “Searching for Bobby Fischer”, Dallas and Danny’s interest in chess was as high as it had ever been. Steven decided that the boys were ready to experience a “real” chess tournament (instead of the pretend “Blitz” games they were now playing after watching the young Josh Waitzkin from the movie). After all, a chess tournament would be a fun, once in a lifetime adventure that his grandsons would never forget… Well, a once in a lifetime experience it was not, as the boys performed so well that Steven could not in good conscious make this their last chess tournament. Over the next few months Steven took Dallas and Danny (now with the addition of their younger cousin, Harper Kamp) to several tournaments around the state. Although there were some ups and downs, come January and the start of the new school semester, the boys had already surpassed (in USCF rating) several of the players whom beat them in their first chess tournament.
Although these experiences were new to him, and his knowledge of the “chess world” was fresh, Steven could tell that something about this game had captivated the local community. Many of the children in Tonto Village had started playing chess on a daily basis; Rumors about Dallas, Danny and Harper getting to “go to McDonald’s and Burger King on those chess trips” started to fly; And constant replays of the “Bobby Fischer” movie on HBO all helped contribute to Steven’s idea of implementing a chess curriculum into the Shelby School’s schedule. With the help of his son, Lane Kamp (Harper’s dad), his son in law and father of Dallas and Danny, Steve Rensch, and the Shelby School’s resident PHD, Dr. Gary Moore (father of future team member Mark Moore), Steven laid the ground work for a chess program that was sure to help the kids develop their chess abilities. How much they would progress, no one could have predicted.
Not even three month’s later; almost every player on the team of 1st through 5th graders had a USCF rating of over 1000. The awards started stacking up. Every scholastic chess tournament the Shelby School competed in, it won (usually in both Team and Individual categories). While Steven Kamp and Gary Moore kept the school curriculum at a constantly challenging level for the children, Lane Kamp and Steve Rensch would spend nearly every weekend traveling around the state (and in what seemed like no time at all, the country) for open “Adult” tournaments. This recipe of avoiding scholastics, challenging the kids by rating rather than age, and preparing constantly with an eye on States and Nationals would pay off immediately. This well-planned approach created a 1st place finish in their first ever State Championship (K-5 division); a 4th place finish at their first ever National Championship (K-5 division); and, in less than 2 years of the team’s creation, a National Championship Title in the K-6 division at the USCF’s first ever Super-Nationals in 1997 in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The numerous awards and accolades accumulated during that fifteen month span, not all of which can realistically be listed here, turned the boys into local celebrities: appearances at the Payson Rodeo; invitations to local rotary club meetings to speak about chess; and countless newspaper articles were just the beginning. Payson (or really the town of less than 1,000 people, Tonto Village) had become the chess capital of Arizona. The boys’ unrelenting ability to “stick with the program” while competing in so many tournaments helped them to dominate the Arizona chess scene. The strong support of the community behind the Shelby School kept the team more focused than ever, and in another year, when the State and National Championships rolled around again, 6 of the Shelby School Chess Team’s 12 members were rated in the top 20 for their age in the country.
The tone had been set for a record setting year, and when the 1998 Arizona State Championship was won with record setting numbers, all of Arizona watched in anticipation as to what the Shelby School’s K-3 and K-6 teams would be capable of at Elementary Nationals in Peoria, Illinois. It could be said that the Shelby School’s first National Championship in Knoxville was won with “the heart of an underdog”, but when the Shelby School dominated the Elementary National Championships in 1998: winning first place in the K-3 division; first place in the K-6 division by a record 2.5 points; and first place individual honors captured by Danny Rensch, there was absolutely no doubt left about what the Shelby School had become: A Scholastic Chess Dynasty.
The feats mentioned above had rarely ever been done before, and certainly not by any school in its third year of existence. The Shelby School was not done yet though. Only two of their members, by age, should have competed in the Junior High Nationals that year; however, because the event was in Phoenix, it was certainly worth the time to bring the younger players along to support their brethren and gain some experience. It was planned to take the best of the K-3 and K-6 teams, along with the two 7th graders, to the K-9 National Championship Tournament.
Competing in the K-9 division left Shelby as an absolute long shot, and any pre-tournament thoughts of winning were more “fantasy notions” than actual expectations. As predicted, heading into the last round, the Shelby School was 3 points behind perennial power house, Hunter College of New York. However, when a terrible round of ½ a point for Hunter College, and a perfect round of 4-0 for the Shelby School followed, the Shelby School had accomplished the unthinkable (and to this day, unrepeatable): A triple crown of three National Championships in one year for a single school. Of all those surprised by this, perhaps most of all was the Shelby School. To test their luck, Shelby took that team of 3rd-7th graders to Los Angeles to compete in the K-12 High School National Championship the following weekend. They finished a mediocre 8th place.
A letter from the President of the United States followed those accomplishments. An acknowledgment from GM Yasser Seirawan in “Inside Chess” magazine stated that “the Shelby School’s feats can’t be compared to anything ever before accomplished in American Chess, and they should only be viewed as something that rivals the Soviet Union’s infamous chess schools of the past.” The level of excellence that was achieved in such a short time by this little school had rocked the chess world permanently.
How had this happened? Where did they come from? These were the questions so many competitors were forced to ask themselves during this time. “What did the Shelby School do that was different?” was the only real question needing answers: Everyday after school was filled with two hours of chess class; these chess classes themselves were designed to be more difficult than anything the kids would ever face during tournament play; chess slumber parties 3-4 times a week; chess tournaments on every weekend. Steven and the other coaches understood the value of “Team Chemistry”, so when fights of “negative competition and jealousy” occurred, they were never ignored or swept under the rug. Instead they were talked about openly and always with healing in mind. Companionship took on new meaning amongst these boys. For this team, support, admiration, discipline and criticism for each other was never a choice, but rather a responsibility they all embraced. The level of work and dedication required to win a State or National Championship had forever been changed by the Shelby School’s performance. The bar had been raised across the entire chess nation. This was a once in a lifetime occurrence: an exceptionally gifted generation of children, led by the incredible vision and support of their parents, had come together around a mission, a purpose, and a goal and they achieved it.
During the summer of 1998, in an effort to keep his team’s edge, Steven brought in Igor Ivanov to be the school’s resident Grand Master and Instructor. In a pure chess sense, Igor’s understanding of the game helped further Shelby’s players in their quest for chess excellence. It was at this time, however, that the natural growth of each child as a human being led them to be interested in other things. Although chess still took precedence for many, sports and other activities became much higher on many of the boys’ priority lists. Not surprisingly, the work ethic and discipline each boy had acquired during their time on the chess team helped them tremendously in whatever other endeavors they chose. Even with the absence of some of the older and original players, the Shelby School continued its reign over the Arizona chess scene for some time. However, in 1999, when they went off to compete in the K-6 Nationals in Phoenix and the K-9 Nationals in Columbus, Ohio, it was not the same. As individual talents, several of the nation’s best players still belonged to the Shelby School, but as a team, something was missing: the Shelby School finished 2nd in both divisions: Behind Dalton Elementary of New York in the K-6 and behind Hunter College of New York in the K-9.
For the first time in its short history, the Shelby School was not a National Champion. Undoubtedly, this was no reason for any thoughts of quitting (in fact, it is a testament to what the team had achieved when 2nd in the Nation caused utter disappointment). Truthfully, it is hard to say exactly why the next few months happened the way they did. Perhaps it was burn out; perhaps it was indeed too much pressure; or maybe it was the simple rationale of each individual person evolving. Whatever the reason, just as the Shelby School Chess Team was at its peak, in the summer of 1999, more than half the team decided that they had had enough chess. The list of players who quit included several who were still rated in the top 20 in the nation for their age.
Of the 12 members who were once on the team, only four serious chess players now remained: Daniel Rensch, Fitch Rensch, Pieta Garrett, and Mark Moore. Under the tutelage of Igor, and the everlasting guidance of Steven Kamp and Steve Rensch, the boys who remained continued to improve. Danny would go on to win 1st place individually at the 2000 K-9 Junior High National Championship; however, there were not enough members to take home a top prize in the Team category. Still though, several State Championships were won. There was even a string of five years in a row that a Shelby School player would win the K-6 Individual State Championship Title. A run that climaxed with the youngest remaining team member, Fitch Rensch, taking first place honors by a full point. It seemed that every year either Danny or Pieta would win the High School State Title, thus earning the right to play in the Denker Tournament of High School Champions; however, it would take 3 more years before the Shelby School would win its next National Championship. In 2003 the High School extension of the Shelby School, the Fitch Academy, led by senior Mark Moore, won first place in the K-12 Championship section. Danny would take first place individually the following year, which was his senior year in High School. This would be the last of the Shelby School’s National Championship titles.
In less than 10 years, the Shelby School had laid claim to over 25 State Championship titles and an even more impressive 9 National Championships. Duly noted to those who remember, is that this is a list which doesn’t include 7 All-American Cup National Championships. (The All-American Cup being a tournament that still exists today, but at its peak, was essentially a “West Coast” National Championship, with a consistent draw on the best players in the country west of Texas.)
Time had passed, and so did that “golden generation’s” moment in the limelight as players in the American Scholastic Chess Scene. It was right around this time, however, that the man still at the heart of it all, Steven Kamp, saw the opportunity to allow the remaining stars of his chess team to pass on their own knowledge and life lessons in a different type of service: as teachers. The experience of the last few years on the team still bonded the remaining team members, and when they came together with the purpose of helping others learn the game, each boy had his own gifts and perspective to pass on. As the 2nd highest rated 16 year old in the country at the time, and a surprisingly natural teacher, Danny Rensch predictably took the lead in helping his grandfather build what has become “ACE Chess”. Along with his brother, Fitch, and friends, Pieta Garrett and Mark Moore, Danny began teaching chess at some of the local schools, working with students privately, organizing group lessons and training seminars for Arizona’s top youth players (classes that eventually became known as “Strategy Sessions”), and competing regularly in what became American Chess Events’ staple event: Master Trek tournaments.
- In the Master Treks, you will find a tournament format and environment unlike any other in Arizona. Although they are still considered to be scholastic tournaments, the Master Trek sections and pairings are done on a “rating and performance basis”, rather than by age. The Master Trek tournaments are designed with the goal of emulating the strict tournament regimen that the Shelby School Chess Team went through when preparing for State and National Championships. Since the addition of the Grand Prix Cup, which has created a “League” feel to each series of tournaments, every Master Trek game is even more trying and competitive than before. Each Master Trek Grand Prix Cup tournament features live, free instruction by an experienced Chess Master.
- Our quarterly “Pre-Trek” Scholastics are held with the same format and structure in mind as every Master Trek. The “pair by rating and not age” system is still in place, but unlike the Master Treks, team awards are given as an extra incentive to the younger players. The team prizes also serve as a reminder of the awards presented at State and National Events.
- Every “ACE Chess” Strategy Session, Invitational Chess Camp, and Preparation Seminar is held with the distinct purpose of providing great chess instruction at the beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels. Our program teaches an understanding of fundamental rules, tactics, and strategies for the beginning player, and, for the more advanced player, it provides a homogenous, integrated approach to the game. Again, the excellent study habits and training methods instilled during our own days at the Shelby School are integrated into the teaching style of every American Chess Events’ Instructor.
At the conclusion of our story, we reflect one last time on the experiences of the past. Although chess may have become the profession and life purpose of only a few of the original members of the historic Shelby School Chess team, chess remains a part of the lives of every single one of the team’s original members. In fact, when so many successful people point back to that time in their life as one of their most important stepping stones, it becomes impossible to deny the social, competitive, and educational virtues in the game of chess.
When Steven Kamp retired in December of 2007, Daniel Rensch and his wife, Shauna, took over the operations of American Chess Events, LLC completely. As Daniel continues to progress toward his own highest goal of Grand Master, he and his family continue to keep the quality and integrity of the “ACE Chess” product on the top of their priority list. We hope that any thoughts and/or expressions regarding what you do and don’t like about our business will always be communicated. This has been the story that I am honored to tell, and I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for listening.
Danny Rensch, President
American Chess Events, LLC