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Midvale Journal

Rook no farther — Midvalley introduces chess program

Nov 11, 2019 03:21PM ● By Julie Slama

Third-graders Sadie Smyth and Ariana Aquinin joined Midvalley’s new chess program to learn how to play. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Midvalley third-grader Ariana Aquinin used to sit, watching others play, without having the opportunity to learn.

“It looks like so much fun,” she said. “I wanted to play, but I didn’t know how.”

Now, thanks to a new chess program being introduced to beginning players at lunch, she will learn what checkmate means and how to castle.

And that’s OK in the words of French chess grand master Savielly Tartakower, who said, “Every chess master was once a beginner.”

Midvalley’s program also has advanced level, so those who already know how to play will have the opportunity to challenge their classmates to a game to improve their skill, said Principal Tamra Baker.

“Chess is a game that involves great strategy and introduces our students to thinking, especially spatial thinking so they’re thinking multiple steps ahead, while learning a new activity and practicing taking turns,” she said. “They’re listening, focusing, getting feedback, being kind and learning.”

Under Midvalley instructional aide Sarah Wardell, third- through fifth-grade students come during their lunch recess to learn the basics or practice playing.

“We had a lot of interest, about 35 students per grade level,” she said. “With the beginning group, we’ve learned what the pieces are called, how they move and how to set up a game. We’re now playing a group game. They’re super excited and helping each other to understand it. We’re just thrilled with the interest.”

While Wardell says she is a “willing learner” and is “staying a step ahead” of the students, she welcomes community members to volunteer and help with the students.

“I’d love to have even playing outside of lunchtime practice or are being coached by family members.” Third-grader Sadie Smyth is one of those.

“I signed up and have never played, but I wanted to try it,” she said. “My dad plays and has been teaching me at home. He asks me, ‘what is your opponent’s plan?’ and ‘does it put my other pieces in jeopardy of being captured?’”

That may be advice in line to what 27-year world chess champion Emmanuel Lasker once said, “When you see a good move, look for a better one.”

Baker, who hopes chess will help students with their logic, said “everything about chess is mathematical,” but she also hopes it will be fun as turn-of-the-century chess teacher Siegbert Tarrasch noted, “Chess, like love, like music, has the power to make men happy.”

She hopes the program will evolve into students playing in tournaments, and hopefully, holding a school tournament in the spring.

“It’s become big here. We hear students talking about chess to each other,” she said.

Wardell agrees: “They are talking in the halls and others are wanting to learn. It’s contagious.”