by Michael Weitz
I taught chess for a while at a Montessori school in Phoenix. My students were between 6 and 10 years old. Most of them had seen the game but never played while others had a rudimentary idea of how some of the pieces moved. I was nervous because I’d never taught chess before, let alone been the only grown-up in a room full of children. How was I going to hold their attention long enough to explain that a Rook is not a castle, or that a Knight is not a…I can’t bear to say it…a…horsey? Augh!
Deep breath. I had to step back and think about my own chess history. I had played against kids in tournaments and I’d been beaten by kids in tournaments and it was a mistake to underestimate them. This was proven later in the semester when one morning I arrived and began setting up only to discover a cockroach staring at me. It was tucked within the folds of a stack of paper towels the children used on a daily basis and it was as long as my hand. It stared out of the towels like it was tucked comfortably into bed and its long antennae swam lazily back and forth daring me to make a move.
Not cool! My students would freak once the giant creep fest was spotted and they would all run screaming. I had to move it, right? But I didn’t want to move it! So I did what any sane adult would do; I slowly backed away and hoped the cockroach would skitter into a dark hole when I turned on all the lights.
Once my master plan of ignoring the creature was in place I went about setting up my display board, rearranging the desks and so on. By the time my students began to arrive I’d forgotten about the cockroach. I was deep into a lesson about how sacrificing your Queen could be a beautiful and dramatic way to win the game when a little girl of about 7 went to the sink. I braced myself for the imminent panic and thought about how I could stop the mad rush of students toward the door.
“Mr. Michael,” I heard her say. “There’s a bug.”
The rest of the class looked in her direction, acknowledged that one of their own had identified the intruder and then returned their attention to me. No screams, no panic, no freaking out.
Was it the power of chess that kept everyone in check? Perhaps. Chess has so much depth it teaches us lessons to use even when we’re away from the board. Look before you leap, there are consequences to your decisions, work with what you have, and so many more.
And I’m not the only one who thinks so. A New York area organization, Chess in the Schools, is on a mission to improve academic performance and build self-esteem among inner-city public school children. According to their website, Chess helps promote intellectual growth and has been shown to improve academic performance. Also on their website are several quotes from teachers and others praising what chess has done for their students. Here’s an example from a Manhattan elementary school Principal, “Our teachers believe that the game of chess fosters concentration, critical thinking and positive self-esteem.”
Read more about Chess in the Schools here.
I learned to play chess when I was in 3rd grade. I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere in the years of playing chess, it became more than a game for me. I appreciated the art, studied the science and enjoyed the sport. Chess had everything. When I began writing it took a while before the mantra write what you know sunk in. Once I thought about that and what kind of book I wanted to read, it made perfect sense. Chess had everything, so it needed to be part of my stories.
Even Dead Men Play Chess and the award-winning The Grandmaster’s King feature Ray Gordon, a former cop turned chess teacher. The third Ray Gordon mystery, Till Tomorrow, will be available soon!
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A variety of jobs including waiter, gas station attendant, truck driver and a host of others, helped shape his world. After college he landed in the television industry where he wrote and produced a multitude of award-winning commercials, two documentaries about Mt. St. Helens and various other projects.
After a few years in Phoenix, AZ, Michael, his wife, and their dogs are back in the Pacific Northwest. Currently working on the next Ray Gordon mystery, Michael may also be found reading, playing chess or shooting pool. As an avid photographer, he enjoys traveling anywhere picturesque with his wife.
Learn more about Michael Weitz on his website and Goodreads.
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