Wise Up with Chess: Youngsters Take Benefits to Class and Real Life, Too

Article excerpt

Jen Waters is a staff writer for The Washington Times.

Kaleem Washington of Washington, D.C., is making the right moves. As a member of Olympic Chess House in the Northeast section of the city, he practices the popular game Tuesday and Thursday evenings. He also studies chess tactics at least three hours a week.

The intense mental activity not only helps him beat his opponents but also sharpens his skills at school, says the seventh-grader at St. Albans School, the National Cathedral School for Boys. In 2001, he won the Virginia Elementary School Championship and the Maryland Elementary School Championship.

"Chess is a game of the mind," the 13-year-old says. "It's a thinking game. It helps me be focused and calm and see situations all the way through."

Learning chess can be a fun pastime, but many educational professionals believe the activity can also improve a person's critical-thinking abilities, math skills, and language expertise. The competition also can teach life lessons.

Willette Seaward, Kaleem's mother, says she has seen positive changes in her son since he started playing chess. He has competed in more than 55 tournaments since age 8.

"My son needed to focus in class," Seaward says. "I found he didn't have the discipline he needed. Students who participate in chess increase their abilities in reading, math, and science. ... He wouldn't be in one of the best schools now if those things weren't in place."

Kaleem is one of the many students in the Olympic Chess House who compete on a national level for a partial or full scholarship to college, says Vaughn Bennett, executive director of the nonprofit organization. The house is affiliated with the U.S. Chess Federation (www.uschess.org) in New Windsor, New York, which holds competitions that award college scholarships. Students can earn the scholarships even when in elementary school.

The next big event, Supernationals III, will be held in April in Nashville, Tennessee. The 2001 Supernationals II in Kansas City, Missouri, awarded six full scholarships to the University of Texas at Dallas, Bennett says.

"As far as getting a scholarship, this is something just as important as baseball or football, but this helps the social skills," he says. "It's like the other sports, but you can compete for a full scholarship at any grade."

When beginners approach the game, they should start by learning the importance of pawns, says David Mehler, executive director of the U.S. Chess Center in Washington, D.C. (www.chessctr.org). Although pawns may have less value than a queen, the pieces should be intelligently used for the player's advantage. The center is holding summer camps for interested people.

"We teach them that controlling the center of the board is important," Mehler says. "Pieces should be used and not left on their starting squares. And it's important to protect the king."

Chess etiquette, such as remaining silent during game play, is important, Mehler says. …