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Chess Club Encourages Westside Students to Think Ahead and Strategize

students playing chess

February 27, 2024 – It’s a king vs. king chess match, and Amy Martinez is in an impossible situation. Literally impossible because when a chess match comes down to just the players’ kings, neither can win, and the match results in a draw.

Martinez, a seventh grade student at Wedgewood Middle School, recently competed in her first chess tournament; the draw was one of students playing chess her matches that day. She said that the rule of draw matches was one of the many things she learned. 

“I didn’t realize until the game was over, but in that game, we had a set of pieces that we could not use to check each other,” she explained. “My opponent offered me a draw several times, [and I declined.] Eventually, it was just kings left, and a king can’t check another king.”

Martinez started playing chess when she heard about the Wedgewood Chess Club from her friend. Every Thursday during their lunch, students gather in the library to practice their gameplay, and this year, Martinez and her fellow club members are learning from a master. 

Tom Britt is a United States Chess Federation National Master. He has an impressive collection of chess accolades, having won multiple state championships in his career. Now, he’s lending his skills to middle school students at Wedgewood and Starling PreK-8, hoping they will become interested in chess just as he did in middle school.

“I started playing at their age,” Britt said. “My brother taught me in sixth grade. [By teaching them,] I’m paying it forward.”

There are millions of possible ways a chess game can unfold, and the massive number of possibilities can be confusing to a first-time player. Britt was excited to see that for many students new to the game, instead of being deterred by the complexities, they wanted to understand.

“We try to show the students little ideas to start like two bishops against a bishop and knight. We break it down into more manageable pieces and show them how to work that,” Britt explained. “Eventually, we show them the big picture.”

That big picture primarily consists of strategy. The first part of teaching chess is telling students what each piece does. Bishops move diagonally; rooks move up and down and side to side. These moves are essential information that everyone who wants to play chess must know. But to become great, players must be strategic, and that’s exactly what Britt intends to teach the students. 

“Often, the youngest players will just grab a piece and move it. I’ll coach them to look at two different possible moves and decide which one is better,” Britt said. “I always teach them to figure out what their opponent is up to and make sure they aren’t leaving any of their pieces hanging.”

Martinez had the chance to analyze her opponents’ strategies at the tournament, and she found it tricky to know what move they would make. One of her big takeaways from playing against other people is to expect the unexpected. 

“There were definitely some moves that I didn’t see coming, and those are probably the moves that messed me up,” she said. “[It taught me that] I can think of the perfect strategy, but I’ll never know what the other person is going to do. Every game is different.”

Martinez was part of a winning team at the tournament. She and several other Wedgewood students won their division, an accomplishment that excited Gifted Specialist Laura Henry. Henry works to coordinate the chess team at Wedgewood, and she said the students are using their success to prepare for future matches.

“One of my favorite things to see is that after they finished the tournament, they wanted to review their games with someone else,” Henry said. “They’re all about the learning aspect.”

Now that she’s finished her first tournament, Martinez is looking forward to the next. She’s very impressed with the people in the chess community, both in their gameplay and positive attitudes. 

“The chess community is wonderful,” she said. “I haven’t had any bad experiences with anyone I’ve played with here at Wedgewood or outside of school. Everyone has been very kind.”

Power of One

Priority 1 - Whole Child FocusedPriority 2 - Equitable Opportunities for AllPriority 3 - Strong Learning Communities in Every RegionPriority 4 - Authentic EngagementPortrait Attribute 1 - AdaptabilityPortrait Attribute 2 - CommunicationPortrait Attribute 3 - CreativityPortrait Attribute 4 - Critical ThinkingPortrait Attribute 5 - Global EmpathyPortrait Attribute 6 - Technology