Kids unlock minds over chessboards School system holds its first chess tournament.


May 16, 1991|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff

In a classroom at Hampden Elementary School in Baltimore, dozens of children sit hunched over chessboards, locked in intellectual battle.

You can almost hear the young minds at work.

A girl in a plaid uniform rests chin on hand as she studies the array of chess pieces on the board before her.

A boy in shorts and T-shirt twists himself into a pretzel, eyes at table level, as he ponders his opponent's position.

In an alcove at the back of the classroom, Robert Erkes, a chess master, gives a rapt group of onlookers the chance to solve chess puzzles.

"White to win in one move," he says, pointing to the pieces arranged carefully on a board in front of him.

With a flick of the wrist, a boy in a white shirt moves a pawn forward, demonstrating the only right solution to this problem.

It was all part of the first systemwide chess tournament sponsored by Baltimore's Gifted and Talented Education program, in cooperation with the Fund for Educational Excellence.

Nearly 60 elementary school students from 20 chess clubs around the city converged on Hamden yesterday for an informal, three-round tournament. Fourteen winners walked away with chess sets as prizes at the end of the tournament.

But all of the third-, fourth- and fifth-grade players got a chance to mix with elementary school chess enthusiasts from around the city, and to polish their own skills.

Those associated with the GATE chess program say it can help build concentration, patience and academic discipline.

"Chess is a sport, is competitive, so you get all the things you get in competition," said Marvin B. Cooper, a Baltimore lawyer, whose work with the chess club at Thomas Johnson Elementary School in South Baltimore helped spark GATE chess clubs around the city.

But the game also offers intellectual benefits, he noted.

"You've got to make plans, out-think your opponent -- deduction, analysis, synthesis," he said.

"This is a logical extension of thinking skills," said Steve Alpern, a specialist who works with the school system's programs for gifted and talented children. "It rewards children who think in a disciplined fashion. It's a supplement to our curriculum."

Alpern is hoping to continue the GATE chess league next year, and perhaps expand into the middle schools.

An interest in chess can pay subtle dividends in the classroom, said Geri Giossi, who teaches gifted and talented students at Thomas Johnson Elementary.

"They become problem-solvers," she said of the chess players. "I see them doing that in their math work, I see them doing that in their social studies work.

"And it's a game, so it's fun," she added. "Any time you can make learning fun, it's a milestone."

Ralph Marchetti, a fifth-grade teacher and chess coordinator at Roland Park Elementary School, cited a number of benefits for children involved with the chess club.

"First of all, it's self-confidence -- it makes them more willing to accept challenges in the classroom," said Marchetti. In addition, "I see a lot of sportsmanship being built."

And the children themselves echo those views.

"You have to watch the whole board to see what the player is going to do next, and then you have to get a move to top that," said Sandi Carter, a fifth-grader at Brehms Lane Elementary School.

As a result, "it helps you to think, it helps you to concentrate on things," she said. That comes in handy when she studies or is taking a test.

Edmund Pringle, a student at Roland Park Elementary, said that chess requires "a lot of skill in thinking. I have to think before I act."

And, though he often wins his chess match-ups, "sometimes I think you learn more when you lose a game than when you win."

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