HALIFAX – Chess challenges and captivates young minds in HRM To call it a classic game is an understatement. The game of chess has existed for centuries and in an age when parents struggle to pull youngsters away from video games and tablets, the old-school battle field board game is making a surging comeback.
Dozens of school-aged kids gather at the Alderney Gate Library in Dartmouth on Saturday afternoons to play against each other, learn new strategies, and make friends. It’s a drop-in program run in part by the Nova Scotia Scholastic Chess Association.
Blaine Gallant has been involved with the NSSCA for years and has also been integral in developing a new pilot project for HRM schools called “Chess Club in a Box”.
“Any school in Metro could be part of it,” he says. “What we provided to the schools were five quality chess sets, a manual – sort of an idiots guide to chess, because one of things we wanted people to know is you didn’t have to be an expert in chess to run a chess club. If we give you the tools and you’re organized, you can be very successful.”
The program has been incredibly successful since its inception, running in more than 20 schools, at least a few of which have indicated they need more chess boards because so many students want to play.
There has been a chess club at Oxford School in Halifax for the past five years. Frank King is a parent volunteer who helps prepare the students for tournaments. “I think they like the strategy of it. They just like to play the game. Obviously they like to win and they like to learn something new. For the younger kids, it’s a battle between two armies,” he says.
King says one of the most rewarding moments over the years is when the youngest chess players in the club, some as old as six or seven years, find out that for their final test they get to play a grade eight student.
It’s clear, however, that age means very little when it comes to success in chess. Callum Brown, 8, placed fifth in the 2012 Canadian National Chess Championships. “I really think it helps me in math and it seems really fun to me,” he says. “And if you get really good you’ll be like so good at it that it’ll be so exciting and I think chess is an exciting game.”
Callum explains how it’s technically possible to win a chess match in just two moves, admitting the fewest he’s ever used to score a check mate is four. He’s also not so far off in his belief the game helps him in school, Gallant says there’s plenty to show that’s true. “There’s lots of research that shows that playing chess increases scores across the board, certainly math and science,” he says.
While many of the kids in the club are there just for the thrill of playing, some will go on to represent the city or even the province at upcoming tournaments.
The main chess event for Nova Scotia happens on April 7th. If you are interested in more information about how to start a chess club, the program at the library, or the Chess Club in a Box initiative, visit the NSCCA website.