UChicago Chess Club teaches local kids how to checkmate

Members of the UChicago Chess Club are taking action to help local children learn the art of the game. Since January, they have been spending their Friday afternoons at Andrew Carnegie Elementary School (ACES) at East 61st Street and South Dorchester Avenue , supplementing an already existing chess program by training students for tournaments.

Sharan Subramanian, a freshman in college and a member of the chess club, was the instigator of this program. The college students who run the after-school program at ACES train young students to play competitively. The aim of the program is to provide education beyond the standard chess curriculum initiated by organizations like First Move.

Subramanian’s curriculum largely deals with what are known as chess fundamentals. These are the ideas and concepts that students of the game need to understand before they can compete in tournaments.

“We started from the fundamentals – you know, how the pieces move, what they’re worth…now we’ve moved on to what’s called chess notation, because our goal is to get these kids ready to go. at their first tournament,” he said.

This instruction is delivered to second, third and fourth graders in a way that combines lectures and interactive games. This format encourages children to enjoy chess theory while learning to play the game.

“[The students] will have partners, they will set up their chessboard, but we actually have a large demo chessboard up front. And the demo board is actually how we teach what we want, and we do our best to get them involved…. If we taught them a particular move sequence, we say, “Why don’t you try it yourselves?”, or if we taught them chess notation, we say, “Why don’t you play them while noting….’ Or we’ll teach them some first moves so they start their games the right way.

It all started in the summer of 2014, when Subramanian founded Invest in Chess, a chess advocacy network aimed at popularizing the game among children and teenagers. When he got to college, Subramanian decided he wanted to help a local school and went to the Neighborhood Schools Program (NSP) to ask what he could do. It was the NSP that directed him to ACES.

The critical thinking skills he learned are a driving force behind his desire to impart knowledge of the game to others. He appreciates the role chess has played in his own upbringing and wants to share its benefits with others.

“I really like to pass on the thinking skills that I’ve learned since I learned the game in middle school…that have really helped me in my life,” he said.

The main students involved in this project are first year Subramanian, Darcy Linde, Joe Fennessey and Yuta Kakutani, and fourth year Ryan Murphy.

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