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CMSD students sharpen chess moves





Students took to the gym floor in bunches Wednesday afternoon at CMSD’s East Professional Center, but the moves they displayed were purely mental.

It was the first of four chess competitions that Progress with Chess will conduct this school year for CMSD students in the sixth through 12th grades. The tournament drew 85 players from 16 schools.

Progress (it’s the verb, so accent the second syllable) With Chess also works with about 500 of the District’s third- through eighth-graders each year. Schools offer instruction in the game to take advantage of its intellectual benefits.

“Chess develops higher learning and thinking skills – concentration, memorization, recognition,” said President Michael Joelson, a national chess master who has been playing since 1979. “It helps them learn how to make decisions based on complicated factors. That’s what a lot of life is about.”

CMSD statistics support Joelson’s case. A study conducted this year showed that students who participated in the chess instruction scored slightly higher on a standardized math test than peers who didn’t.

The kids who square off in the District tournaments are serious players, though some are more serious than others.

Matches are timed, maxing out at an hour each. Players advance to face opponents with like records, but, win, lose or draw, everyone is guaranteed three games.

Deshawn, a sixth-grader at the Newton D. Baker School of Arts, enjoys chess and describes his level of play as “decent.” But he got in the game to follow the crowd.

“All my friends wanted me to play,” he said. “So I said OK.”

Owen, also a sixth-grader at the Newton D. Baker School, thrives on the competition and the chance to develop strategic thinking he can apply in life. But he also soaks up the “all around hospitality” he finds in the chess community.

“I was a shy kid before chess; now I talk to everybody,” said Owen, who began playing about six or seven months ago. “I recommend chess to everybody. No matter where you stand in the rankings, it’s fun.”

Students who compete in the CMSD tournaments receive those rankings from the U.S. Chess Federation. Those rankings matter when they enter outside competitions.

Some of the players who partcipated in the tournament at East Professional Center are on the team at Joseph M. Gallagher School, which has become a chess powerhouse. Gallagher's team is a perennial CMSD champ and in April won a state title.  

Progress With Chess pays entry fees for CMSD students who make that leap. A Greater Cleveland Scholastic Chess League tournament that Progress With Chess conducted Oct. 26 at Solon Middle School attracted 240 players, 47 of them from the District.

Progress With Chess, which has been teaching the game to CMSD students for 18 years, receives grant funding for its work with the District. Funders include RPM Inc. and the Cleveland, George Gund, Third Federal and Swagelok foundations.