Introducing children to chess


`I feel like I'm helping to groom the next generation of players in the state,' says a Maryland Chess Association official


Jim Becker didn't have much of an interest in chess until high school.

He went to Bishop McNamara, a college preparatory school in Prince George's County whose class schedule left students with free time.

Another student was an outstanding chess player who had little trouble beating others - and repeatedly let them know it.

Watching this student's antics greatly annoyed Becker, so he decided to do something.

Becker had played chess when younger, but he bought books about the game and studied hard to learn more. When asked how he did, Becker just laughed.

"I got better with the help of the books and playing a lot," said Becker, 49. "I kept working and eventually shut [him] up."

That's when the chess bug bit. Becker began taking the game seriously after high school, and chess became a big part of his life. Becker is now a board member and scholastic coordinator of the Maryland Chess Association, as well as president of the Annapolis Chess Club.

Despite having an "expert" rating, the Harwood resident doesn't play much competitive chess anymore but works hard at helping spread the word about chess.

Becker works part time in marketing and spends plenty of time tutoring students in chess. He sees the game growing in this area and wants children to understand it.

"I would like to get the word out as much as possible," Becker said. "I think there's a lot of schools and a lot of players that play ... and don't know."

That's why Becker takes pride in his new position as the MCA's scholastic coordinator. His job is to help coordinate efforts to set up tournaments. He was elected to the post last spring and has gotten off to a good start: MCA has run three tournaments so far this school year, the most recent one at North East High School in Cecil County.

The competitions are for children from kindergarten through 12th grade. Becker said the post takes up several hours a week, but he enjoys it.

"I look at it this way: I feel like I'm helping to groom the next generation of players in the state," he said. "Some of these kids will probably play for the rest of their lives, and who knows, you might even have a future grandmaster coming out."

Conner Lines, 11, wouldn't mind being one of them, but he just loves the game. The Chesapeake Science Point Charter School sixth-grader began playing chess with his family at age 5. He quickly improved, pleasantly surprising his mother, Vicki Lines.

"Within six months, my son was beating me and laughing while doing it," she said. Lines, of Pasadena, eventually began taking her son to tournaments and saw how much he enjoyed them.

His first competition was at Severn School, and the family has gone to nearly every tournament in the Maryland/Washington/Virginia region in the past 3 1/2 years. Vicki Lines became an MCA board member and helps at tournaments.

Her son quickly picked up a love of tournaments - but not just for winning or losing.

"I think that chess isn't really about winning," Conner said. "It's more about meeting the people and going to different places for the tournaments. I like meeting the people and going to all of the interesting places the tournaments are at."

His mother agreed with Becker that there's a substantial interest in chess among children in the Anne Arundel County area - and among kids everywhere. She said that chess offers a different kind of competition.

"I love the social benefits that are there for the children," she said. "They spend eight hours at these chess tournaments, and sometimes they just learn how to interact with their peers."

Becker took a longer time finding out these things. He didn't start playing seriously until after finishing high school. He joined a chess club in Laurel in early 1974 and played his first tournament shortly after.

Becker slowly began going to more club meetings and tournaments. He played in numerous tournaments over the years, and worked his rating up to just over 2,100, which is considered the mid-level expert range. He's closing in on the master level (2,200), but he isn't sure whether he'll go after that because he has seen others achieve it and then lose interest in the game.

Becker hasn't competed in a tournament since 2002, but chess remains a big part of his life. He meets with the Annapolis Chess Club to play at a local bookstore each week, tutors and handles his job as the MCA's scholastic coordinator. Becker is content with what chess does for him.

"I don't have any doubt that I could make the [master level]," Becker said. "I also had to ask myself the question that if I go after master or senior master, then what do I do with it after I get it? I've never really been able to answer that question."

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