Ali’s blog

Mostly quant stuff with occasional digressions

Chess education in Idaho

Posted by alifinmath on March 30, 2008

Stumbled across this article in the NYT:

On Thursday, state officials will announce in Boise that the program will be extended in the fall to all second and third graders — making Idaho the first state to offer a statewide chess curriculum.

Idaho is using a curriculum called First Move, which was developed by America’s Foundation for Chess, a nonprofit, Seattle-based organization that promotes teaching chess in school. First Move is now taught to 25,000 students in 18 states, according to Wendi Fischer, the vice president of the foundation.

I’m a firm believer in chess being part of a school curriculum. The game is more accessible than an academic subject like mathematics, which not only requires years of effort before revealing its  aesthetic dimension but which can often degenerate into dull meaningless routine. And chess not only teaches individual responsibility for one’s decisions but rewards unwavering concentration with wins.

There used to be a foundation — the HB Foundation — here in the Twin Cities that used to help schools with chess sets and used to provide young chessplayers with college scholarships. Unfortunately the foundation organised a tournament in Minneapolis three years ago — with the aim of earning some income — that went awry in terms of player participation, and being unable to shoulder the losses folded soon afterwards.

In Estonia and Latvia I recall seeing parents taking their children to the chess club after school, where they’d be exposed to a couple of hours of instruction and play almost every day. With such a large pool of players and with such systematic instruction it’s inevitable that they’ll have a large pool of masters and grandmasters. Here on the other hand, if a youngster learns how the horsey moves (just kidding: the knight), his proud parents call him a chess prodigy. Even if an American youngster does become a strong master, making a living from the game is exceedingly difficult and fraught with uncertainty.

In the old communist days, a Soviet GM would earn about three times what an engineer or physician did (plus opportunities for foreign travel). But today things are just as tough there. I recall meeting and playing the Latvian master Vitolins, who used to help out at the Riga Chess Club, in 1995. But a couple of years later, the Latvian government cut his job and the modest stipend it paid him. He committed suicide shortly afterwards. I visited Riga again in 2004 — the chess club is gone.

There was a chess club in the Twin Cities — the Castle Chess Club — for about thirty years. They were first situated on top of a pizza joint at the intersection of University and Snelling. They moved later to Northeast Minneapolis. But they shut their doors over a year back. It now exists only in name: some players meet on designated days at the Bridge Centre.

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One Response to “Chess education in Idaho”

  1. Anonym said

    I agree that chess should be part of grade school curriculum, for the reasons you eloquently stated.

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