Best at chess competing at PBS

Posted at 7:12 PM, Mar 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-11 08:02:54-05

CINCINNATI -- Hundreds of kids will face off against each other this weekend at Paul Brown Stadium, but no helmets are required. Instead, the kindergarten through 12th-grade students will want to don their thinking caps, as they compete in the 15th annual Queen City Classic Chess tournament.

The tournament brings between 600 and 700 youths to the Tri-State each year, at times drawing kids from up to 10 states. While students have traveled from as far away as Arizona, most hail from Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and other Midwestern states.

“Having the tournament once a year gives them an opportunity to meet kids from all over the country,” said Maggie Fennell, executive director for Cris Collinsworth ProScan Fund.

Cris Collinsworth Fund is a nonprofit organization that supports women’s health and child development through its Pink Ribbon and Queen City Classic Chess programs, respectively.

From Northern Kentucky, Dayton Independent Schools will be particularly well represented at the tournament, with 55 student participants from Lincoln Elementary School.

“Each year our numbers have grown,” said Ed Long, chess captain for Lincoln Elementary. “This is our largest group this year.”

This is the fifth year the school has participated in the event.

The weekend will include a full day of tournament matches Saturday between students of similar grade and skill levels, but the event will kick off Friday evening with an opening reception. During the reception, Ugandan chess star Phiona Mutesi -- who inspired the book and upcoming Disney film “Queen of Katwe" -- and her coach, Robert Katende will be recognized with a Shining Knight Award.

Friday night also will be an opportunity for kids to compete in simultaneous matches against some of the world’s top chess players.

Maurice Ashley -- the first black international grandmaster -- will play against 25 Lincoln Elementary students at once in a simultaneous match, which could last an hour and a half or more.

At individual chess boards, each student will play a single move against Ashley and vice versa. After Ashley and his opponent make their moves, he goes on to the next student. Each opponent must wait until he returns to their board to make their next move.

“If a student were to beat Maurice, it’d be huge,” Long said. “I doubt anyone will.”

International grandmasters Gregory Kaidanov and Irina Krush also will be playing simultaneous matches, as will various masters.

“It gives students a chance to play some top-level players,” Long said.

While the youths may not stand much chance of beating Ashley, Lincoln Elementary students may be bringing home some medals or trophies from Saturday’s tournament matches.

“We have a really, really good chance, I think, to win at the third-grade level,” Long said.

Whether chess players win or not, though, they gain something from playing.

“If you lose, you learn from it,” Long said.

The good sportsmanship the game teaches and the opportunities for meeting new people are just some of the reasons Long is so passionate about chess. It also helps develop concentration and teaches players to be patient and think ahead. Multiple studies conducted between 1976 and 1997 even indicate a correlation between playing chess and scoring higher on math, science and reading tests.

The correlation has been evident since Dayton Independent Schools piloted the Cris Collinsworth ProScan Fund Queen City Classic Chess in Schools program five years ago.

“I’m not saying that all can be attributed to chess … however, after a year of chess the kids’ scores did go up,” Long said.

The program started at Lincoln Elementary as an after-school program for second-graders and was so successful it went from being an extracurricular club to a weekly class for all second- through sixth-graders.

The Queen City Chess in Schools program didn’t just expand at Lincoln. Since the program formally launched in 2013, it has grown to include 25 Tri-State schools. Cris Collinsworth ProScan Fund representatives hope to continue the trend.

“We’re really trying to expand this program,” Fennell said.