Chess players extend skills to local kids

Few are able to help the community while playing their favorite game, yet the Yale Chess Club does just that.

Each week several club members visit the Lincoln Bassett, Vincent Mauro and Wexler-Grant elementary schools for an hour to teach students the ins and outs of chess. By sharing their knowledge of the game, chess club members hope to contribute to the intellectual development of New Haven elementary school students.

“It helps kids develop not only their math and analytical skills, but also their reading and writing skills,” Yale Chess Club President Scott Caplan ’06 said. “It helps them think more clearly, which helps with reading comprehension.”

Hollie Knox, building leader and after-school coordinator at Lincoln Bassett, said she is glad Yale students provide this unique educational opportunity for the school. By playing chess, she said, students learn to concentrate, to remain disciplined and to think in an intelligent and strategic manner.

Yet Knox, who helped bring the program to Lincoln Basset, said the most extraordinary feature of the lessons is the extent to which students look forward to them.

“They are always eager to do it — they keep asking me if it is time for chess,” she said.

But the children are not the only ones who appreciate the experience. Caplan said club members also enjoy their time with the children and find their work very rewarding.

“It’s fun to watch the kids learn how to play chess,” he said. “If you put enough time into it, you see them do things that you don’t expect.”

David Nitkin ’07, a chess club member who teaches students at Lincoln Bassett, said his participation in the program opened his eyes to the diversity of the wider New Haven community.

“The community is more than Yale University,” he said. “It’s nice to see new places and meet new people I wouldn’t otherwise meet.”

Caplan said students often get the chance to showcase their ability in small tournaments, such as the one that took place during last Sunday’s Communiversity Day. The next tournament is scheduled to take place April 30. Organized in conjunction with the New Haven police department and sponsored by Dwight Hall, the tournament will be held at Wilbur Cross Elementary School.

Chris Tam ’06, who coordinated the tournament last semester, said sharing his passion with the community has been very gratifying.

“It is a lot of fun for us to see them enjoy a game that we like while helping the community,” he said.

Caplan said that teaching chess can sometimes be difficult at the beginning, as the majority of students starts from scratch.

“At the beginning they all think it’s just checkers; they don’t even realize the pieces are different,” Caplan said.

But Nitkin said that no special qualifications are required to help these kids learn, apart from a desire to help the community.

“You don’t need any experience,” he said. “No matter what, you’re better than a 9-year-old.”

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