OAK RIDGE - Have you ever played chess? It is easy to learn but difficult to master. That hasn't stopped some students as young as second grade from checking out the game.
"It's fun. Chess is fun. And the kids love to come in and play each other," said Teri Wiest, coach of the chess team at St. Mary's School in Oak Ridge.
The kids play each other for practice on Wednesday afternoons.
"The kids learn how to win. They learn how to lose gracefully," Wiest said.
With 64 squares on the board and 32 game pieces, there are practically infinite possibilities of moves a player can make. The goal is to capture your opponent's king. Checkmate.
"It's like a puzzle. You're trying to figure out what move to do next," said fifth grade student Mia DiFranco.
Seventh grader Genevieve Robinson said, "You've got to move all your pieces as one. It's almost like war basically."
Wiest teaches the younger students a four-move checkmate using a queen and bishop combination called Scholar's Mate.
"All of the kids at tournaments will try to do a Scholar's Mate on their opponent. So while it's not good chess to do Scholar's Mate all the kids will do it so my kids not only need to know how to do Scholar's Mate they need to know how to block Scholar's Mate," she explained.
Sixth grade student Luke Cheadle tries to keep his opponents in check.
"If you put them in check every move then they are only worried about getting out of check. They're not thinking about what you just did and how that is going to affect later when you could put them into check mate," he said.
Middle Schoolers practice openings, end games and notation, which is a method for recording and describing the moves in a game of chess. They write down where their piece is and where they move it. Then that's where the coaching comes in.
"After the game is over they can come back to me their coach. We can play the game over together. It's amazing what they see in the plays that they missed, what they should have done, what they could have done to play it differently," she said. "Chess can help all children learn how to think, learn how to plan."
Robinson, one of the seventh grade students, said it's easy to learn how to move the pieces around, but the strategy takes longer to master.
She enjoys playing against older friends and family members. And beating them.
"Especially a seventh grade girl because not many girls play chess so everyone is like oh you got beat by a girl," she said.
DiFranco, one of the fifth grade students, said, "Girls need to start playing chess more often."
She hasn't played as much as she would like to outside of chess club.
"I usually have a lot of homework," she said with a smile.
So far this school year the students have won team and individual trophies.
"The last two that I participated in I got a first and second place," said Cheadle.
The students are looking forward to the tournament this Saturday at Oak Ridge High School. It's an opportunity to qualify for the state tournament In Cookeville next month.
"Yes I am. I am looking forward to beating people and doing my best at it," Robinson said.
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