Student chess players face off in showdown

January 23, 2012

By ASHLEY JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

Murmurs of “checkmate” filled the library at Patrick Henry Elementary School recently as Patrick Henry students faced their peers from Albert Harris Elementary in a chess showdown.

The students are part of chess clubs at each school. The club at Patrick Henry Elementary is in its fourth year, although there was no club last year, according to Cyndie Morrison, chess club coach at Patrick Henry.

Albert Harris Elementary’s club is in its first year, said Laura Steere, who coaches that school’s club and is the school nurse.

The 15 fourth- and fifth-graders in Patrick Henry’s club meet once a week. Albert Harris’ club, which is made up of 13 fifth-graders, meets twice a week.

To teach chess, Steere told her students to imagine that the two sides of the board are “two countries at war,” with the pieces on either side members of opposing armies. The goal, she said, is to capture the other side’s king.

Steere wanted the students to look at the big picture instead of their individual moves, she added.

Morrison said chess allows students to “think ahead” and consider the consequences of their decisions — a good lesson in chess as in life, she said.

The students got involved in the clubs for various reasons. Some wanted to enhance their chess skills, while others didn’t know how to play but were eager to learn.

Patrick Henry fourth-grader Ally Cassady joined the chess club so that she could learn to play properly and finally beat her competitors, she said.

Ally said that when she would play chess before, “I was not good at all,” but now, “I know how to play.”

It was hard to learn how to move the chess pieces across the board — Ally said it took her five weeks to understand how to play. But once she figured it out, “I felt smarter” because she had learned such a difficult game, she said.

The hard work seemed to be paying off — Ally won her match at the showdown.

Albert Harris Elementary School fifth-grader David Betanzo already knew how to play chess when he joined his school’s club. He wanted to stay after school to learn a series of special moves called openings, he said. One of the openings includes moving all of the powerful chess pieces — including a bishop, knight, rook and the queen — in the center four squares of the board, he said.

David said he enjoys playing chess because it helps him to think by planning out his moves.

Although David didn’t best his opponent at the showdown — Patrick Henry fifth-grader Sarah Ashburn took their match — he said he hopes they can meet again in a rematch at a future showdown.

Sarah said she was amazed that she won because David is a good chess player, and she didn’t know what his next move was going to be as they faced off.

She said she enjoyed the showdown because “it gives us competition,” and she got to see the other students’ techniques.

The chess club program was brought back this year after Sandra Cox, a retired teacher with the city schools, was asked to rejuvenate afterschool programs that had languished. Cox said she found school employees who were willing to teach chess, gathered up the chess equipment at the central office, and from there, the faculty and students “ran with it.”

One of the benefits of the program, Steere said, is that playing chess can pull students away from television and computers and allow them to sit down, focus, strategize and socialize.

It can teach other lessons as well, she said: even losing a match is a good learning experience.

Patrick Henry Elementary won the showdown’s trophy, which went to the school with the most individual match wins. The trophy will be a “traveling trophy” that will be traded at the next showdown if the opposite club wins.

Each student also received an award for participating.

“One of the really important things they learn is good sportsmanship — to be graceful, win, lose or draw,” Steere said. “It just gives us an incentive to try harder next time. I think they’ve done really, really well,” especially considering most of her students had not played chess before joining the team.


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