One of the greatest gifts I have ever received was being taught how to play chess. I was a kid, wandering around a town park, when another kid asked me if I wanted to learn how to play. If he was looking just for a new player to beat up on it didn’t matter, and it didn’t matter how many times I lost. I was still the big winner in this deal.
Years later my skills reached an apotheosis of sorts when during my college days I signed up to be among those in an exhibition match against a champion. He stood surrounded by a crowd of opposing players, and would walk from board to board. My microscopic victory arrived when he stopped, for probably not much longer than a fraction of a second, to consider his next move against me. I figured I’d made him think, which was pretty good, right?
Chess is very difficult. If you don’t play you suspect that to be true, and if you do play you know it. But it’s hard in a way that can be of great benefit. As with playing a musical instrument, you have the impression that what you’re doing is good for the mind.
All of which makes it very easy to support chess clubs anywhere, and in particular the chess club at Edison Middle School in Meriden, which was recently the subject of a Record-Journal feature written by Michael Gagne.
Edison’s John Grimaldi, a physical education teacher, understands the allure, as well as the benefits. “The kids have really been enjoying it,” said Grimaldi, the club adviser.
It’s not all that hard to learn how the pieces move, but that of course is just the beginning. Learning those basics opens up a world. It’s a world in which, among other things, the more you’re willing to be patient and consider alternatives the better off you’re going to be.
“It’s a blast,” said Grimaldi. “It really is … it’s nice, because they’re all off their phones. They’re all engaged. They’re all interacting with each other.”
I hadn’t thought of that. When I learned how to play I wasn’t living in a world of smartphones or videogames or the internet. Chess today offers young people an alternative to a world of distraction that wasn’t around for me.
Is there a benefit to that? It’s hard not to think so, and Grimaldi describes it very well: “Take it one step at a time, because that’s how the game is,” he told Gagne. “You’ve got to look at everything. You’ve got to see all the moves.”
Seeing the benefit was Edison Assistant Principal Janice Piña, who in starting the club was looking for ways to get students engaged. She’s helped give participating students a gift for a lifetime.
About 30 students signed up initially, with the club maintaining 18 members. Players fared well in a competition in Waterbury. Edison Principal Erin Lyons-Barton called the club “one more opportunity to teach them about logic, teamwork, all the math behind it, and strategy. These are just great soft skills for those kids.”
“I like the concept of being able to keep track of multiple things at once,” said 13-year-old Abdiel Velazquez, who has been with the club since it started.
My life was not nearly so crowded when I was learning chess. In a world of increasing distraction the game still helps emphasize the rewards of focus.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at email@example.com.