Students gets chess lessons aplenty

Williams Elementary fourth-grader Dejayauna Johnson, 11, challenges Lincoln Middle School eighth-grader Davis Washburn, 14, to a game of chess Friday. Washburn was playing three other students at the same time, and every time he came back to Johnson's board the pieces were in different places so he accused her of cheating. Johnson told him to bring it on, and Washburn replied, "Now I am going to play you for real."

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, May 24, 2013 at 4:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 24, 2013 at 8:28 p.m.

The cries of “Checkmate!” were heard around the room at the 14th annual Chess Challenge hosted by Williams Elementary School on Friday.

Members of the Alachua County Scholastic Chess Association helped the students at Williams learn how to play the game and learn what strategies to use to help them win.

“It’s a mind game and you have to figure out what to do and what strategies to make,” offered Caleb Goston, an 11-year-old Williams fifth-grader who said he has been playing chess for six years, although Friday marked his first time joining Chess Challenge.

Caleb said he is still considers himself to be terrible at chess, but he added, “I’ve learned it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. I know it’s cliche, but that’s how it is.”

Robert Kaplan-Stein, president of the Gainesville Chess Club, said chess teaches logic, pattern recognition, cognitive skills, deductive reasoning and analytical skills.

He said the Chess Challenge gets kids to come together and use their brains, but you have to make it fun.

“The point is to expose the game to as many kids as we can in the school system,” Kaplan-Stein said.

He said for a young person to play chess effectively, he or she needs basic instructions and then lessons. Chess is similar to golf and tennis in that aspect, he said.

John Harris, the Gator Chess Club faculty adviser at the University of Florida who also participated in Chess Challenge, said kids typically have short attention spans, so it is amazing to see them so focused and quiet while they are playing chess.

“You could hear a pin drop,” Harris said.

Delaney Rodkin, a 7-year-old first-grader from Archer Elementary who competed Friday with her brother, 8-year-old Ben, said she loves beating her dad in chess.

Christy Rodkin, Delaney’s mother, said, “It helps with their focus at school, and our whole family plays together.”

Christy Rodkin said she owes her children’s involvement with chess to the Chess Challenge. It was hosted at Archer Elementary School last year, and that is where her children learned to play.

Many of the kids’ favorite part of the Chess Challenge is winning, and organizers of the challenge emphasize there are no losers in this competition.

Kaplan-Stein said all the children who participated received a T-shirt and a tournament-style chess board as the challenge came to a close.

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