ImagesJames Bethany

Director of Enrichment
James- 2018

Hello! My name is Coach James, and I’ve been a lead chess instructor for 5+ years with BayAreaChess and, before that, CastlingKids Chess. Not only do I oversee many of our BAC lunchtime and after-school enrichment classes, I currently organize and coach the weekend clubs in Milpitas, Los Gatos, Cupertino, Palo Alto, and more. One of my passions is to give kids the same love for chess and strategy games that I have always had, and have my own personal approach for doing that.

My background is different than most of the other BAC coaches. I am not a regular tournament player, nor was chess a particular highlight of my upbringing or development. I breezed through school fairly quickly and was independent at a rather young age. There have been some setbacks, including dealing with cancer in my early twenties, but have otherwise had a prosperous journey. I have a knack for management and have had a wide variety of jobs unrelated to my passion for games, but they have always been my most prized hobby. Later, I did very well as a board-game designer and sold many of my ideas to some of the top game companies in the world. As a true game enthusiast, particularly abstract strategy games, I naturally (and finally) found my calling in the field of chess. I still tinker with some of my old favorites: I held the North American online title for the boardgame Risk for over two years (was a world champion for a brief stint), am an avid Scrabble tournament player, and even participated in the world semi-final championships for Monopoly.

Since joining this organization, I’ve taught thousands of kids and have always introduced myself as “King of the Rooks,” something both endearing and fun for the kids to recite. I feel strongly that a good coach is able to combine creative and entertaining banter with complex and valuable information so that the kids are excited to learn more.

I love speaking in front of large classes of beginner or intermediate players and dazzling them with the almost-magical potentials of chess. It's important that they realize these skills are achievable, regardless of things like grade or gender, with the mentality that the person able to process and calculate more advantages in a position is more likely to come out ahead. I truly appreciate the opportunity to show them different ways to approach and solve a puzzle, whether it’s the next move on a chessboard or a future decision in life. When fueled by enthusiasm, I can help them go from zero to 1000 (rating) in record time. From there, I can think of no better organization than BAC to nurture their talents and let them grow and excel in tournament play.

Besides chess, I teach a class on Strategy Games where kids can widen their horizons and enjoy a variety of games both new and old. Students learn about the ancient strategy games played by the Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Vikings, Chinese and other cultures. Then we analyze the math, the strategy and the risks that are involved with each game or system. We often play home-brewed games that they have never seen and we regularly design our own games using historical templates! I know I’ve hooked them when they ask me for a pad of graph paper so they can create mazes and rules systems. The club meets on Saturdays and the Strategy Games class was also sold out at our BAC summer camps in 2017.

There are so many benefits to chess and other board games, most of which are already adored by our Bay Area communities. For kids that are driven and gung ho to win, these games are an avenue for healthy competition and academic growth. Chess, and similar games, also assist our ADHD or spectrum kids with focus, patience and sportsmanship. Sometimes, it’s just a fun way to learn how to win and lose with grace and even to make new friends under the umbrella of a new hobby or skill.

Outside of chess, my wife and I foster (and adopt!) teens from different backgrounds. You can be assured that family boardgame nights are built into our lives.  

I look forward to working with your children and helping them obtain a healthy newfound talent for ‘thinking-before-they-move’.


redress  Coach James is RedCross certified in adult, child and baby First Aid, CPR, AED.


virtus Coach James has completed the VIRTUS online training for the Diocese of San Jose.

mandated Coach James has completed California Child Abuse Mandated Reporter Training.