More than 300 students participated in the Annual Chess Challenge in the Bronx on Dec. 17. Youngsters grades 3-8 competed in the tournament at Bronx County Building’s Veteran’s Hall, at 851 Grand Concourse.
Violeta Chavez attended the tournament to support her seven-year-old daughter. This is the second year in a row her child’s school, located in Mott Haven, has won first place. What’s the secret? “I don’t know for sure, but it has to be related to their good strategies,” said Chavez.
The annual event was hosted by the Bronx Borough President’s office in partnership with AT&T and Chess in the Schools. Bronx Borough President Ruben Díaz Jr. described the youth players as “mental gymnasts” exercising their minds through the board game.
“The brain is a muscle and just like we get arm muscles lifting weights and doing pushups, we have to exercise the mind and chess does that,” said Diaz, who played chess with Bronx students and AT&T President-Northern Region Marissa Shorenstein before presenting students with trophies.
Since 1986 Chess in Schools has been sending educators to work with students throughout the city. Chess instructor and competitive chess player Lorenzo Rivera was at the tournament with students from the Bronx Schools where he teaches: Accion Academy, JHS 123, MS 390, PS 226 and One World Middle School. “I believe that chess really helps kids with patience and understanding consequences. The chess club kids have better grades, and it helps them grow socially,” commented Rivera.
Eighth grade student Briana exhibited strong focus as she played her opponent, and said she visualized the board in her mind to strategize upcoming moves.
“I’m seeing what has to be protected and what doesn’t,” said Briana. “I focus on the pieces, the king and the queen, let’s say are your mom or your dad and the others are your siblings, you’re trying to protect all of your pieces.”
Julio Marté, a math educator at PS 390, has been using chess not only to help students develop and discipline their minds, but also as a way to keep them engaged on weekends. Since 2001 Marté has taught chess and taken students to tournaments on Saturdays. When Chess in Schools starting working with his school in 2011, they began hosting five tournaments annually, some bringing in as many as 2,500 people from the community, including students, teachers and family.
“If you do not respect your opponent at the chessboard you cannot play,” said Marté. “The first thing they have to do is shake their opponent’s hand, introduce themselves to each other, then sit down to play.”
Edwin, a sixth grader who learned to play chess when he was seven years old thanks to his cousin, says he learned to value a fair game over defeating an opponent. He also learned to see playing chess as a peaceful experience: “Chess is a pretty nice game. It makes you think that you are in another world, with peace, quietness; just thinking.”
According to Nishad Quadri, Edwin’s Math teacher at The Bronx Urban Community STEAM Magnet School in Soundview, students practice chess once a week for three months in math class. Additionally, a chess club that meets once weekly prepares them for competition in tournaments.
The school’s principal sees chess as a way to help students develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, explained Quadri. She noted that chess offers an alternative to video games and helps them think creatively through math word problem.
The organization hosts 25 admission-free tournaments in the city every year, said Debbie Eastburn, President and CEO of Chess in the Schools.
“Some students get sparked at their first tournament and continue competing,” said Eastburn.