Children play life-size chess in the first-ever tournament

SOUTHOLD, NY – A visitor to Southold Elementary School on Thursday came across a rare sight – a large group of children outside, playing quietly and with great concentration, focused not on video games, apps telephones or with electronic devices of any kind – but instead, intensely strategizing as they engaged in spirited games of chess.

The first ever chess tournament was held at Southold Elementary School with guest chess teammates from the Greenport Union Free School District also invited to participate.

(Lisa Finn)

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And in a twist, the kids also played with a full-size outdoor chess set, moving life-size pieces around their outdoor chessboard.

(Lisa Finn)

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According to David Gamberg, Superintendent of Southold and Greenport School Districts, the idea of ​​bringing chess to students came about after the “simple and kind gesture offered to students at Greenport Schools”.

Without any strings attached, Wesley Wang, a 9th grade student at Jericho High School affiliated with CHESSanity, an organization dedicated to promoting the game of chess among school-aged children, contacted Gamberg at Greenport Schools, the superintendent said.

After an exchange of emails, a donation of 24 chess sets and some guides were sent to elementary schools in Greenport and Southold.

Since then, two chess clubs have been formed, one in each school, and over the past few months second and third year students from both districts have been meeting for an hour a week to learn the game and hone their skills.

“The skills and dispositions gained from playing this game are invaluable as children begin to think strategically and carefully,” Gamberg said.

Wang of CHESSanity said the goal was to provide the games to students for free to introduce young minds to chess and to keep the supply steady. The organization donated
chess games at 20 schools in four Long Island school districts so far.

“I hope our little help can have a positive impact on these children, improve their academic performance and boost their self-esteem,” he said.

Wang said since he and his brother, a freshman, were fired from the nonprofit CHESSanity, they have raised more than $35,000 by teaching chess lessons every Friday night during school years and by organizing monthly competitive tournaments.

The funds raised enabled them to donate the free chess sets to districts such as Wyandanch, Roosevelt and Hempstead, benefiting thousands of students.

In 2017, he said, two of the organization’s students won gold and bronze medals at the World Cadet Chess Championship, and seven placed in the top 100 in their groups. respective ages.

Chess has invaluable benefits, said David Riddell, chess club advisor at Southold Elementary School; he is also a third-grade special education teacher. He added that during Thursday’s tournament, children were encouraged to focus solely on the fun of playing, not the competition.

“They are all winners,” he said.

Since its inception, 22 students have joined the Southold Chess Club, Riddell said.

Playing chess, Riddell said, promotes problem-solving skills, as well as social and intellectual development. “There’s a lot of strategy involved,” he said. The club began by focusing on learning the game and how to move the pieces. “We just play a lot of chess,” he said, adding that kids can even play chess online on safe, kid-friendly sites – without chat rooms – if they don’t have a partner. at home.

But now children are beginning to acquire serious chess skills, able to discuss strategies at length.

(Lisa Finn)

For example, 9-year-old third-grader Michelangelo compared chess to sports, where you might be born with athletic ability and improve with practice. Regarding chess, he said, “There’s skill in that.”

His older sister, Michelangelo said, who is in Year 9 at Southold Schools, introduced him to the game. Michelangelo then thoughtfully shared his secret strategy, which is to first move a pawn, then moving pieces, with the eventual goal of taking a competitor’s rook – then the queen, leading to checkmate.

When asked if he preferred to play a video game or chess, Michelangelo answered without hesitation. “Chess!” he said.

Brady Wilkins, chess advisor for Greenport skills and also an art and STEAM teacher, said he and co-advisor Jeanne McInnis see kids improve their next-level thinking skills. Wilkins explained how chess opened the door for creativity to flourish.

He asked the kids, if they were to imbue their pieces with superpowers, “what would their superpower piece do. We’re stirring the pot of creativity,” he said.

The Greenport club, he said, has 10 students involved.

Wilkins said that since the club’s inception, the children have retained their knowledge and skills even after the school holidays. As an educator, he said, he’s thrilled to see kids manipulating their pieces analog rather than digitally, without focusing on phones or computer screens. “It’s tactile,” he said.

(Lisa Finn)

Wilkins has fond memories of playing chess with his stepfather, a Nassau police detective sergeant who was both a hostage negotiator and narcotics officer. “He had a great strategy,” he said. “He completely beat me!”

Wilkins said kids often switch sides with their opponent so they can understand their opponents’ strategies as well.

The children, he said, taught him lessons through their experience of chess. They taught him patience, he says, and won him over with their creativity.

McInnis said she watched the kids grow up. “It’s fun to see them excel at this, to see these kids thrive,” she said.

(Lisa Finn)

Eight-year-old Jacob, a second-grader in Greenport, plays with his grandfather at home – and the life lessons are forever life-changing.

Jacob said he liked chess “unless it’s too easy”. Appreciating a challenge, Jacob said he particularly enjoyed a match with his grandfather that lasted an hour and a half. “I told him he was moving in checkmate but he took the step anyway. He should have backed off!” Jacob said – a boy who chose kindness, to warn his grandfather about the game-ending blow, rather than competition.

Jacob also said he would prefer chess to video games.

Greenport Elementary School Principal Joseph Tsaveras said the learning strategy was key. “It’s all about strategy,” he said.

And, he said, getting kids away from their cellphones and engaging is key; the school has set up a board game hour on Friday afternoons for this very purpose. “The phone is a piece of information. It’s not a thinker,” he said.

He told of an 8-year-old homeless man who recently became a chess champion in New York – an inspirational story for all chess club students, he said.

(Lisa Finn)

In an effort to nurture children’s creativity through outdoor play, the two districts have recently established “play clubs” launched in the afternoons to promote student well-being.

According to Gamberg, “The understanding of the importance of play in human development dates back to the late 1700s, when the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau said, ‘You will never accomplish your purpose of producing sensible adults unless that you do not start by doing fun activities. children.'”

To that end, he said, schools in Southold and Greenport have partnered with dozens of other elementary schools across the United States to promote the game through the Let Grow Play Club. According to its website, the Let Grow Play Club is “a program that gives children the opportunity to organize their own games and have fun, developing their social skills”.

Gamberg has long been a supporter of the game and its invaluable gifts: in 2016 he started a GoFundMe to raise money for a “Magical Playscape” which has since been installed at Southold Elementary School. On Thursday, the large Mother Goose shoe was moved to allow for upgrades to the play space.

“I think Albert Einstein said it best when he said, ‘Play is the highest form of research,'” Gamberg said. “I firmly believe that if we ensure that children have plenty of opportunities to play, we will ensure a better future for everything they do in life.”

Pacing the stage Thursday, with the children lying in the sun, playing chess intently and with purpose, Gamberg smiled. “It’s absolutely wonderful, absolutely thrilling.”

Students from two districts were brought together in their shared love of chess, a game that teaches them lessons, Gamberg said, about embracing “their reflective sides — about playing carefully and thoughtfully.”

(Lisa Finn)

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