Wednesday, April 2, 2003

Chess offers children a challenge, a chance



By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Devin Kidd, 10, of Colerain Township ponders his next move during Chess Club practice at Woodford Paideia School.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
| ZOOM |
Eleven-year-old Lance Martin is consumed by concentration as he plots his next move against the No. 1-rated chess player in the country.

His hand hovers over the king, then he pulls it back. A few seconds pass, and the Woodford Paideia fifth-grader makes his move. Gregory Kaidanov of Lexington, the top chess player, responds swiftly, and it's back to Lance again.

So goes the give and take of chess, which is undergoing a resurgence in the Tristate, partly because of the Queen City Classic Scholastic Chess Tournament. The second annual tournament, with more than 400 K-12 students registered through Tuesday, will be Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium. The tournament is open to all levels of players.

"If every child had the opportunity to learn chess, it would give them great skills for the rest of their lives," said Penny Pomeranz, an Indian Hill woman who is passionate about children learning to play chess.

To promote the tournament, which last year drew 300 players, Pomeranz last week brought Kaidanov to Woodford Paideia in Kennedy Heights. There, he simultaneously played eight members of the school's chess club. All 15 team members plan to compete in Saturday's tournament.

IF YOU GO
• The second annual Queen City Classic Scholastic Chess Tournament, sponsored by Proscan Foundation and the Bengals, begins at 9 a.m. Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium.
• The event is open to K-12 students.
• The entry fee is $20, which includes lunch and a T-shirt. For information, call 965-8343, or go online.
• A simul - an event featuring top players facing many opponents simultaneously - will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. Friday at the stadium. Grandmaster Larry Christiansen, international grandmaster Gregory Kaidanov and local chess masters will each play 20 to 30 boards at a time.
• The simul is free for tournament participants and $10 for non participants.
Kaidanov was 6 when his father taught him to play chess in the former Soviet Union. It's an easy game to learn, he said, and beneficial for kids.

"There are numerous scientific studies that prove chess helps improve reading skills, math scores, discipline and concentration," Kaidanov said. "The game itself is extremely interesting. Most kids get hooked very quickly. It's not only a competitive sport, it builds mental skills as well."

Woodford Paideia's chess club was organized three years ago. Open to students in grades 3 to 6, it meets Thursdays after school for an hour.

Gwen Menifee, principal of the K-6 school of 432 students, plays the game and also sees how it benefits students.

"It's one of the ways we address the needs of our more advanced students," Menifee said. "Chess is a challenge, and it's a strategy-building technique. It helps them with concentration, and helps them to not respond impulsively. It builds critical thinking skills, which is one of the components of the Paideia program."

Andy Davis was 8 when he learned to play from his mom and his neighbors.

The game helps him with math, the 11-year-old fifth-grader said. "In (chess), you have strategies, and you have to have strategies to solve math problems."

The Cincinnati Chess Club has been active for more than 100 years. The game is played casually and competitively in parks. And the city boasts a number of chess masters who have been influential in teaching the game to youth.

"My focus is to really put Cincinnati on the map in the world of chess - and for young and old alike to be passionate about this game," Pomeranz said.

Pomeranz is on a mission to see that more chess clubs are established in K-12 schools. "In five years, I want to know this annual tournament has encouraged chess throughout school systems in Greater Cincinnati."

Her plan may be ahead of schedule. Chess is popping up in schools in every corner of the Tristate, from North College Hill to Milford and Fort Thomas to Lakota.

Leveling the playing field

Elsewhere, Win Smith Jr., a state senator from Connecticut, has drafted a bill to make chess an elective for all Connecticut elementary and high school students. The bill is under consideration in the state's General Assembly.

Tim Redman, professor of literary studies at the University of Texas at Dallas and director of the school's chess program, said he's encouraged by the growth.

"The kids like it," he said. "Teachers know it helps kids in the classroom and it helps with self-esteem. I think teachers are starting to see results.

"Chess levels the playing field. A kid can excel at chess without having a cultured background. It's very fair in that regard."

Besides the academic advantages the game offers, Pomeranz said, chess speaks a universal language, building bridges across cultural differences.

"My husband taught our six kids how to play," she said. "I saw, at the time, my 8-year-old could sit across from somebody from another country who was 60 years old. They don't even speak the same language.

"The beauty of this game is it begins with a handshake and ends with a handshake."

E-mail ckranz@enquirer.com




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