By ROB W. ANDERSON
Chess is often referred to as the game of kings.
It’s believed to have originated in what is now northern India or Afghanistan in the time before 600 AD, according to a University of Wisconsin Whitewater article. Though unofficial, the first international chess tournament was held in London, England, in 1851 and was won by the unofficial world’s best chess player in Germany’s Adolf Anderssen. Czechoslovakian Wilhelm Steinitz became the planet’s first official chess champion in a London tournament held in 1866, and held the title until 1894.
Woodall Science teacher Geary Crofford began learning about and playing chess while attending Northeastern State University and was able to continue his interest in the game at his first teaching job at Coronado High School in El Paso, Texas, in 1988, where they had a chess team and club. He began a team at Marietta when he came back to Oklahoma to teach and then helped to spark interest in an existing team at Sequoyah Schools. Students at Woodall School are now learning about and enjoying the game that doesn’t require an expensive game console much less a television and a source electricity as Crofford launched a chess team for the rural school.
“It’s something that I felt strongly about as an educator. There’s a lot of research that shows that chess is an important adjunct to your regular curriculum,” he said. “It promotes thinking skills, self confidence in the student, critical thinking and problem solving – there’s just a lot of research that shows what it can do for a student.”
Crofford’s students participated in their first ever chess tournament in Tulsa recently and two of the school’s teams placed in the Oklahoma Scholastic Chess Organization State Tournament. Group 3, which is a team made up of students in grades 6-12, placed third out of 10 teams, and Group 1 - the team comprised of students in K-4th grade - placed fourth out of 11 teams. Woodall sent 11 students to the competition who were rookies to the game, but left with competitive experience and player ratings.
“None of them had ever been in a tournament. They had all played chess before, but had never been in a tournament,” he said. “All of the teams we went up against in Tulsa this past week were from the Tulsa area – well, most of them were from the Tulsa and Oklahoma City area.”
Seventh-grader Leslie Philpott is a member of Group 3 and noted the need for patience when playing chess.
“It was fun,” he said. “I got paired up with a girl, and she sat there for five minutes and then moved her pawn. Then in another 10 minutes she moved her knight. It got me off my guard real fast.”
Philpott said he learned sportsmanship skills that could apply to video game competitions, like shaking your opponent’s hand after each game.
“And don’t laugh in their face,” he said.
Fourth-grader Ty Brant is a member of the Group 1 team that finished fourth in the competition and noted what he finds most challenging about playing chess.
“Trying not to get into checkmate,” he said. “It’s easy to get into checkmate. [This happens] if you haven’t moved your king.”
Brant’s younger brother and second-grader, Nate, agreed with his teammates that learning the moves and playing chess is fun and agreed that being patient is important.
“Because you have to think where to move,” he said.
Seventh-grader Barron Hicks wasn’t at the tournament, but said he first started learning about the game playing against his sister.
“I like chess because it’s a strategy-based game. I just enjoy the competition,” he said. “I think I kind of beat one of our better players, Tyler Jackson, [last Wednesday], but it was little tough.”
He agreed that pondering each move before putting it into action is a vital skill to learn. Jackson, who was unavailable for comment, is a member of Group 3 and received an individual medal in the Tulsa competition.
“If you move too early and they still have time to think, they’ll take advantage of you like that,” said Hicks.
Dalton Holloway, a seventh-grader who was part of Group 3, said he began playing chess with his Dad.
“He wanted me to learn what strategy to use,” he said.
Seventh-grader Tavian Howard wasn’t at the competition, and said that he now includes chess as an option to playing video games, which often are an individual experience.
“It’s take time to learn about it. Learning where to move the pieces and where they go. Learning strategy,” he said. “[Chess can also help you] meet new people.”
Crofford said the Woodall team will look to participate another tournament as soon as possible.
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