Islanders no longer have to head down to Washington Square or Union Square Park to wait for a willing partner to play chess with. Walk into the local Roosevelt Island branch of the New York Public Library (NYPL) on a weekday afternoon or a Saturday and see chess being played by local youth. While chess is undeniably “a thinking person's game” it has become more mainstream and and chess programs are seeing heavy enrollment numbers throughout the City, maybe because of the scene on the giant chessboard in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, or the box office hit, Searching for Bobby Fisher, recently screened at the library, about a seven-year old chess prodigy.
Josephine Lu won second place in the beginner's division
Roosevelt Island's branch of the NYPL has joined forces with the RIOC Youth Program and the United States Chess Federation to bring competitive chess playing to local youth. Last month those taking advantage of the chess sessions at the library got to participate in a tournament at the Sportspark, with several categories of competitors, including beginners, advanced beginners, intermediate level and US Chess Federation Rated Players. There were three prizes awarded in each category.
NYPL branch director Carlos Chavez, has become a certified chess instructor, so local youth are now able to to be federally rated players, thus staying competitive with the nation's best players. “I decided to become a certified technical director in order to start having rated tournaments at the youth center. Members of the US Chess Federation will be able to compete. This will provide them with a chess environment to gain more experience.”
The educational benefits of the game of chess are well documented. Honing analytical skills and supporting memory retention, as well as teaching patience and persistence, are among some of the games' attributes. One great thing about chess is that it is inexpensive to play – it doesn't require fancy equipment or expensive court time. It is truly egalitarian in that sense – a level playing field for the meeting and competing of minds, unfiltered by socioeconomic status. Chess has also become more gender neutral, and many more girls are coming out to play chess than ever before.
Andy Chan won first place in the intermediate division
A total of 34 kids participated in last month’s tournament, heralded by local families as a fun, organized event. There was a real buzz about this, and kids are already looking forward to the next one. Islanders can expect future tournaments, “We are working on partnering with the Youth Center for future rated tournaments that are open to the public,” says Chavez with a gleam in his eye. He says, “The Roosevelt Island Library and Youth Center are planning to have quarterly rated tournaments in the near future. Chess is offered at the youth center every Monday from 4-5:30 pm for registered participants who regularly attend the center. Parents interested in signing up their children can contact the director, Erica Spencer-EL.”
The partnership with RIOC has enabled Chavez to reach more chess players regularly, and has provided a larger venue for the tournaments. “What we have been able to do through partnerships is create a learning environment for chess players to gain more experience and compete on a fair level when they participate in local and national tournaments. Currently, at the library we have chess tutorials every Saturday. Registration opens the last Monday of the month at noon for the following month.”
Video of the tournament that took place on February 22, edited by NYPL volunteer photographer Mo Sun
But that’s not all; NYPL has also partnered with the Youth Center on a youth book club, available for all Youth Center participants. The first book on the reading club list is The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier. Sessions are held at the Youth Center, currently located in the Sportspark at 250 Main Street every Wednesday from 4 - 5:30 PM.
Advanced Beginners second place Aayan Ahmad and first place Wasil Ahmad, on left and Intermediate second place winner Amit Yosef, right
Parents don’t have to purchase the books; instead participants are loaned the book to read on their own. Discussions and group readings are led by newcomer to the Island NYPL staff, Sasha Jones, and Youth Center leaders, Samrah Shoiab and Rebecca Simeon. “Crafts and other activities focused around each book title will be conducted throughout the program. Book Clubs are a great way for kids, young and old, to get excited about reading books they love alongside their peers and discovering an interest in different genres of books,” says Spencer-El.
The book club endeavors to engage children with reading for enjoyment outside of school. They had their first meeting last Wednesday and registration is open to all participants of the RI Youth Center. The goal is also to create reading continuity for students during the long summer break from school.
Gen Kawanishi, third place intermediate level, poses with Shotaro Akagawa first place US Chess Federation Rated Player