Fifteen hundred years after the game is believed to have first been played, nearly 70 kids from the Lake Elsinore Unified School District competed in the All-District Chess Tournament Friday night at William Collier Elementary School in Wildomar.
The students, grades Kindergarten through 12, were competing for prizes, including ribbons, Rubik’s cubes and a surfboard.
The competition was friendly, but not everyone was in it just for fun.
Eighth-grader Chris Alexman, who won the tournament last year, was on-hand to defend his title. He was wiping out his competitors midway through Friday’s tournament.
Why is he so good?
“Well, I studied chess under a grandmaster,” explained Chris, who said he only learned the game about two years ago and now competes in statewide tournaments.
“Chess has many strategies – there’s more than just one,” he continued.
Such logic and analysis is what tournament organizer and William Collier Elementary School third-grade teacher Jim Gibbs might like to hear.
The game of chess, Gibbs explained, offers a great deal of academic benefit for his students and is a valuable learning tool that he uses in the classroom. He said it teaches kids how to reason, analyze a situation, and come up with a solution -- especially when it comes to tests.
It teaches them to answer the question, “What I am going to do?” Gibbs said.
Students with behavior problems also benefit from the game becomes it helps them concentrate, said Gibbs, who also heads up a chess club in the district.
Parent Kathryn Elliott volunteered her time during Friday night’s tourney. Her three kids – two sons, fourth and second grades, and a daughter in Kindergarten -- were competing. Last fall, Elliott started a chess club at the charter Sycamore Academy of Science and Cultural Arts in Wildomar where her kids go to school.
An engineer by day, Elliott said chess definitely offers learning benefits.
“The critical thinking (required in chess) is used in so many other areas (of life),” she said.
Elliott, who describes herself as “old fashioned” because she insists her kids play outdoors instead of staring at a video screen, said the Sycamore chess club meets after school every Friday and has grown to 40 kids.
“It’s so neat when you have a roomful of kids playing chess,” she said. “When they ask, ‘Are we still meeting Friday?’ -- that’s the best.”