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Parent Perspective: Checkmated by a Third Grader: The Life of a Success Academy Chess Dad

It’s safe to say my family loves the game of chess. Whether my son Aston is challenging an adult chess player at Washington Square Park, or my daughter is asking me to review her opening moves after a tournament game, chess is often the focus of our free time. My kids are learning so much through SA’s chess program — and so am I!

I first learned how to play chess as a child growing up in Jamaica. A teacher brought a chessboard to my grandmother’s home and taught me how to move the pieces. But until Aston and Brielle enrolled at Success Academy Hell’s Kitchen, I didn’t know much about the tactics, strategy, patience, and effort that goes into any successful chess game. Many Success Academy scholars have the chance to learn chess between kindergarten and second grade, and then can go on to join clubs and compete in local, state, and national tournaments.

It’s been so much fun to learn chess alongside my kids. Together as a family, we read chess books, spend time in local chess hubs like the Marshall Club and the Chess Forum — and practice our skills through fun puzzles and games. Aston and I love playing against one another — when he beat me for the first time last year, it was a bittersweet moment — I was sad to lose, but so happy to see how far he’d come! Now, I look forward to the day my younger daughter Brielle will beat me.

Aston and I love playing against one another — when he beat me for the first time last year, it was a bittersweet moment — I was sad to lose, but so happy to see how far he’d come!

The chess team at SA Hell’s Kitchen (along with 136 scholars from other Success Academy schools!) recently returned from Nashville, Tennessee, which hosted the 2017 U.S. Chess Federation SuperNationals Competition. Aston and Brielle competed against some of the top players in the country and each won four out of the seven games they played. But more importantly, they learned so much from the experience. After every round of the tournament, Aston and Brielle discussed the game with their coach Mr. Lazorchak, reviewing each move to learn where they could improve. Aston lost his second round at SuperNationals due to a move infraction — he went to move a chess piece slightly and failed to call, “adjust” beforehand. He had to move that piece, and it cost him the game. He learned firsthand that continuous focus is critical. Chess is an intense intellectual battle, and kids take losses personally. When my kids lose, I always encourage them to think about the next game and how they can prepare to do better next time. Success Academy’s great coaches do the same. Many of our chess teachers, including Mr. Lazorchak, are seasoned chess competitors themselves — though some even came from the legal or financial world to bring their passion for chess to scholars like Brielle and Aston.

This school year, I got the chance to do some competing — and losing — of my own. Last fall, Aston told me, “Dad, you need to enter a chess tournament!” In December, he decided to compete in the Manhattan Open, a chess tournament available to anyone, irrespective of age or level. So I enrolled Aston — and myself — in the competition. He didn’t know I was competing until we arrived and checked the competitor list. When he saw my name next to his own, his eyes widened — he was so thrilled!

If you’re going to head to a chess tournament as a beginner adult, you need to be prepared to check your ego at the door. Because I was a beginner at competitive chess, I played against people who held a similar ranking — which meant most of the people I was playing against were considerably shorter than I was — some were only in third grade! And I lost every single game. But by the last round, I had found my rhythm — the game lasted longer than I’d expected and I felt my confidence growing. Afterwards, the child I was playing said, “Hey, you’re pretty good!” I left the tournament with renewed respect for the difficulty of playing competitive chess. Each move takes an incredible amount of patience and effort.

Every day, I see the impact that playing chess has on my children. They’re enthusiastic puzzle-solvers and the skills they’re learning carry over to their schoolwork. Aston tends to be more diligent and careful when he plays chess than he is with his homework. When he rushes through his math work, I encourage him to slow down and remind him to carefully consider each step of the problem. Chess teaches and rewards patience, so we try and bring these lessons into their homework, too.

I love the impact SA’s chess program has had on our kids and on us as a family — and I love sharing this passion with other families.

I love the impact SA’s chess program has had on our kids and on us as a family — and I love sharing this passion with other families. Thanks to many mobile apps — and chess boards set up at many NYC parks — you can play chess outside, on the subway, or during a rainy day at home. I’ve gathered some of the resources my family and I call on to hone our chess skills, below. I hope they’ll help you, too.

Chess around the city:

  • Chess Forum (219 Thompson St.): Children always play free at this NYC chess club, where all levels of players enjoy games seven days a week. Last summer, they offered free classes for kids on Saturdays at 2pm.
  • Washington Square Park (Greenwich Village): Our favorite pastime as a family is to visit Washington Square Park and Union Square to take on the chess players there. They typically charge $5 to play kids, who will be in for a challenge!
  • Bryant Park: Bryant park hosts regular tournaments, “beginner chess socials” in the evenings, and free, open play on chess and backgammon boards in the park during the spring and summer.

Online Resources and Apps:

  • A site that offers lots of chess tactics and instruction for players of all levels.
  • ChessKid: Play against kids from around the world, or the computer. Enjoy chess lessons, and study up on tactics on this website.
  • DinoChess: My daughter Brielle loves this app, which features fun puzzles, tips about tactics, and chess lessons for all ages.
  • Play Magnus: Test your skills against World Chess Champion and chess prodigy Magnus Carlsen. Great app for a challenge — the levels correspond to Magnus’ age.
  • Chess Prime 3D: Perfect for ipad chess, play 3D games and swipe to see the board from any angle.
Written by Adrian Roberts May 17, 2017

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