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Isaac Miller: Area school kids learning life lessons playing chess




On a recent Monday afternoon, I am standing in front of a large demonstration board displaying knights, bishops, pawns, and other chess pieces in a famous pattern. A white rook is giving check to a black king. In front of me are about 14 students from Annunciation Catholic School. 


I ask the class, "How does black get out of the check?" About six hands shoot up. The children, straining and contorting their bodies to get their hand as high as it can go; all have an answer. 


I point to 8-year-old Amy Cancellare. "The king can flee," she says. 


"Correct," I say. "And who can remember the three ways to get out of check?" Answers burst out from the children. "Capture." "Block." "Flee." 


I am proud of them. They are quick studies. 


On Mondays and Wednesdays, I teach chess at Annunciation Catholic School. Last December, when I offered to teach a chess class at ACS, Marketing Director Katie Fenstermacher and Principal Joni House were quick to jump at the opportunity. 


Through their efforts and those of parents like Amy's mother, Nichole Cancellare, the children have found a new passion. Their love for chess and knowledge of the game has, in just two months, grown quickly. 


After one Wednesday class, as I was putting up the pieces and the children were getting in line to leave. A child whispered to me, "I love chess." 


On Sundays, thanks to the efforts of English teacher and chess sponsor Scott Curtis, I teach a group of students at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science. 


The small group of high school students spend part of their weekend going over the patterns, openings, and endings. They tell me they play and practice during the week, which might be why they have progressed so far in so short a period. At a recent scholastic state tournament, they took home four of the top five places. Several of them will retain a passion for the game their whole life. 


On Thursdays, I teach an after-school chess class at Columbus High School, with the help of music instructor, Doug Browning. On the first Thursday class, we only had three students. Within a couple weeks, that number has doubled. 


I anticipate the number growing even each week, as the kids in the class share their enthusiasm for the game with their friends. I was amazed at how quickly students grasped concepts such as "smothered mate" and "deflection." They began to change their openings around, no longer moving the rook pawns, but rather attempting to control the center of the board and activate their pieces quickly. Chess is helping them develop problem-solving skills. 


I have been teaching chess for nearly three decades. There is no greater feeling than to see a child grasp a chess concept or solve a problem. Their eyes light up. They become confident. I know first-hand how that confidence will impact other areas of their lives. 


Chess has many benefits for children. When they enter the world of chess, they learn sportsmanship, problem-solving skills, study techniques and tenacity. As they improve, their confidence grows. Also, chess is a way children with a competitive streak can channel their ambition into positive growth. 


I too fell in love with the game when I was a child. It can never be truly mastered and thus has provided me with endless room for improvement as I uncovered layer upon layer of the Royal Game's complexity. I studied every day, finally reaching number 18 in the country for players under 21 years old. 


A few months ago, I partnered with an anonymous benefactor, who like me, would like to see the game more prevalent in area schools. Chess has had a profoundly beneficial impact on my life. We believe it can have that same impact on area schoolchildren. 


D. Isaac Miller has been playing chess since he was 5 and competing in tournaments since he was a teenager. A nationally ranked player, Miller has recently moved to Columbus to join his brother who recently retired from the Air Force. Miller's email address is [email protected]



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