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Sophomore Jessica Chen plays chess with Eliz­abeth Sumner. Madeline Fry | Col­legian

A six-year-old chess player slides out of her chair after fin­ishing a game.

“I’m getting good at this!” she says.

“Yes, you are,” agrees sophomore Jessica Chen, who has just fin­ished explaining how to defend vul­nerable pieces. “You’re excellent. You’ve improved a lot since this morning.”

The pair has played two games on a flat, vinyl chess­board at a square table in the corner of  A.J.’s Café. After her win, six-year-old Eliz­abeth Sumnar jumps up to find her father, Chris, who sits down to play her next. He says he’s learning too.

Sumnar’s skills are impressive for a six-year-old, Chen says, but she admits to having let her win both games.

“You have to be subtle about losing,” Chen says. “You have to play badly without teaching them to play badly.”

At Chess Fest, the first part­nership between the Com­munity Sports Out­reach GOAL Program and the Chess Club, stu­dents taught children the strategies of chess the morning of Sat­urday, Nov. 18, in the Grewcock Student Union.

Rain falls heavily outside while a few college stu­dents sit at square tables explaining chess, turn by turn, to half a dozen children. Some parents, all fathers, watch as their kids play and pick up strategies along with them. One father is Assistant Pro­fessor of Pol­itics Matthew Mendham, who watches his son David compete against another child. He says he brought David for his first chance to practice chess at an event with new oppo­nents.

A few tables down, Assistant Pro­fessor of Phi­losophy Ian Church plays against Don Tocco, a donor and fre­quent speaker at the college.

In all, six tables host chess matches. Senior Sam Cassels, the pres­ident of the Chess Club, said the small number of attendees gave stu­dents the oppor­tunity to provide one-on-one instruction.

When he plays against kids, Cassels shows them moves to avoid and but lets them choose their next steps. He some­times goes easy on them.
“That depends on how much I like the kid,” he jokes.

Actually, he says he eval­uates children’s levels of expertise as they play against each other. If the kids are learning, he’ll encourage them by giving them a win.

Junior Gill West tries a dif­ferent coaching strategy. When he plays against a boy named Parker, who is about Sumnar’s age, their match lasts a full hour. Whenever it’s Parker’s turn, West shows him the three best moves he could make and lets him pick. Their match ends as a draw.

“I realized at the end I was about to win,” West said. So he reined in the strategy, and neither player got a checkmate.

Win or lose, learning chess helps children, according to Chen, because it teaches them ana­lytical thinking.

“Also,” she adds, “it makes you look smart.”

Junior Car­oline Andrews, the leader of the Com­munity Sports Out­reach program, said the purpose of the event was reach out to a new demo­graphic of the com­munity. Not all stu­dents enjoy ath­letic activ­ities, but some do like chess. The Inter­na­tional Olympic Com­mittee even rec­og­nizes chess as a sport.

“This ulti­mately con­tributes to the overall goal of our program, which is to support the extracur­ricular activ­ities put on for kids in our com­munity,” Andrews said. “We want to inspire and lead kids to actively engage their minds and bodies in their free time.”