Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - May 20, 2011

Checkmate

Chess Club offers strategies, problem solving and competition

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Chess may be the "Game of Kings" but some young non-royals are giving it a go in Pleasanton.

"You can be like a king and protect your little kingdom," said Adam Lavine, a parent volunteer who heads up the Chess Club at Hart Middle School. "You're commanding a little army and are like the general of a small force."

The object of chess is to strategize how to checkmate -- capture completely -- the opponent's king. Each side has 16 pieces -- eight pawns, two knights, two bishops, two rooks, one queen and one king -- and each kind moves differently.

"I love the fact that the queen is protecting the king," Lavine said.

"It's a good metaphor for life," he added. "You get 'people' from different skill sets to work together and cooperate, help each other, and make the whole team stronger."

The Thomas Hart Chess Club and Carden West School sponsored the first Tri-Valley Chess Tournament on Sunday, for students in grades 1-8. The tournament, held at Carden West, was Swiss style, meaning players were progressively matched with others closer to their skill levels so, win or lose, everyone continued to play.

"The tournament was a great success, with 44 entrants," said Lavine. "We had a nice mix, some girls. Two sisters had to play each other in the final round."

The Chess Club at Hart began as an activity in the afterschool Gifted and Talented Education Program about six years ago, said teacher and GATE liaison Marla Simon.

"This year, however, it's grown a lot," she said. GATE activities are open to all students, she explained, and Hart has many high-achieving students who enjoy learning and playing chess.

"They like the competition," Simon said. "When they finish a game they'll watch other people and get a lot of good information from working with one another."

"A lot of the kids are also interested in math," noted Simon. "I asked them, 'What do you guys like about it?' and they answered: problem solving, competition and strategies."

"It's a way to socialize and to do something fun at the same time," she added. "They're really excited to come. It's mostly males, about three females -- there's a lot of male energy."

Lavine hooks up a computer to project plays at the beginning of each club meeting, for about 20 minutes; the rest of the time is free play.

"The great thing about chess today is there is a historical record of the great games available for everybody," Lavine said. "We can walk through these amazing games that have taken place over the years."

"There are all sorts of tactics," he explained. "Every week I'll pick a classic game and walk the kids through it, to see step by step what's happening."

Chess at Carden West School is offered as an afterschool enrichment program on Mondays from preschool through middle school, led by the Berkeley Chess Club.

"There are a number of online chess games that the students are quite familiar with where they can test their skills," said parent volunteer Stephanie Shah. "They are also encouraged to play with siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, friends, grandparents to enhance their skills."

The Hart Chess Club has acquired some chess clocks, which were used for the tournament. The players had 25 minutes to play, then were given 10 minutes each for a total of 45 minutes.

The tournament cost $7 in advance or $10 at the door, and players were divided into Junior (grades 1-5) and Middle (grades 6-8). They followed basic tournament rules, including touch move and chess clocks, but it was not a rated or USCF-sponsored event.

"The parents were not allowed in during the tournament," Lavine said. "I had the referee come in, he teaches at Carden West, and a parent volunteer and it was great."

He plans to hold a second annual event next year and is debating whether to keep the Swiss style or use the knockout format. He will use some of this year's proceeds to buy more chess clocks.

"We have some very, very good players. The kids really enjoy the game and playing each other," Lavine said. "This generation, it's not so much who wins and loses but they enjoy playing with each other."

Tournament winners

Junior Division

First: Arun Khemani, Hearst Elementary

Second: David Zhang, Vintage Hill Elementary

Third: Mike Nguyen, Carden West School

Senior Division

First: Jack Zhu, Thomas Hart Middle School

Second: Naved Krishnamurthy, Valley Montessori School

Third (three-way tie): Brian Chan, Thomas Hart Middle School

Alex Lim, Thomas Hart Middle School

Kevin Zhu, Harvest Park

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