Charleston scholastic chess clubs teaching kids new ways to win
by Brooks Brunson
Feb 1 2015 12:01 am
Mount Pleasant — In the age of Instagram and “World of Warcraft,” it may come as a surprise that more and more local children are choosing their opening gambit in the ancient game of queens and pawns, bishops and rooks.
Lowcountry school chess clubs are quickly filling to capacity, and on Feb. 28 the S.C. State Scholastic Chess Championship will be held at Pinckney Elementary. It will be the first time the tournament will be held in the Lowcountry, and more than 100 Charleston County students are expected to stare down opponents across chessboards.
Young players say they’re not learning the centuries-old game to pad their college resumes or to humor their parents. Austin Setser, who is an eighth-grader at Thomas C. Cario Middle School, brought home a flier about Pinckney’s chess club when he was in the third grade and asked his mother if he could join. Initially, he wasn’t an all-star tactician.
“It wasn’t until the fourth tournament that I won a game,” he said. “I stuck with it though because it’s fun.”
Bohan Wang, also an eighth-grader at Cario, makes good grades and is heavily involved in playing tuba in the school’s band. He says he likes chess because “it’s unpredictable. You can never get bored with it.”
Teaching kids to think
Coaches see chess as a tool for teaching skills that students might not learn in the classroom. Through practice and competitions, kids learn about face-to-face confrontation, critical thinking, connecting with peers and other skills that go beyond the board.
“Chess is giving these kids the tools they need to solve the real issues in our society,” said Derek Duncan, a 28-year-old who coaches competitive chess clubs at eight Charleston schools, including Buist Academy, James Simon Elementary, Porter Gaud and Sanders-Clyde Elementary. “It’s the best thing I’ve seen for these kids’ brains.”
“School can often focus on memorization. Chess teaches you to think creatively,” he said. “It forces these kids to find the solution on their own.”Stephen Welt, another coach who works with six Charleston schools agrees.