By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Did you know that one of the best chess players in the world is American? Japanese American Hikaru Nakamura is known as a chess grandmaster at only 27 years of age. Nakamura’s success underscores the success and popularity the game of chess has among Asian Americans.
Born in Japan, Nakamura moved to the United States when he was two years old. He began playing chess before the age of 5 as he was taught by his Sri Lankan stepfather. Nakamura found his gift as at age 10 when he became the youngest player to achieve the title of chess master from the United States Chess Federation. At age 15, he earned the chess “grandmaster” title breaking the record of Bobby Fischer by three months. The record has been subsequently lowered by two others.
He recently won the Gibraltar Chess Festival in Great Britain and earned the grand prize of 20,000 pounds which is approximately $30,000 U.S. Dollars. According to reports, it was one of the strongest fields ever assembled.
The game of chess is learned by many young children that might become the next prodigy. Chess4Life is a local organization that teaches chess to children. The organization is booming with 7 locations in the Seattle/Tacoma/Eastside region. According to Chess4Life spokesperson, Stanley Wong, the school has approximately 500 students. Bellevue has the most students with over 200 children learning the game.
Chess4Life also works with school chess clubs in the Seattle, Bellevue and Lake Washington school districts. “The number one way we grow is by referral,” explained Wong of the school’s expansion. “Parents tell other parents about our programs.”
Some of the benefits of chess as promoted by Chess4Life is that it improves memory, problem-solving skills and an enhanced ability to think ahead. It also helps improve performance with such subjects as math and science. “Chess teaches respect, sportsmanship and perseverance,” Wong added, “These are character traits that help in life.”
The organization was founded in 2007 by National Master Elliot Neff. Neff has taught over 20 years and decided to open the school when his schedule for teaching became too great. Chess4Life attempts to teach life skills through chess which it hopes to help young kids learn chess and have fun.
Wong indicated that a majority of parents are Asian and Indian. He indicated that the former reigning world chess champion was of Indian descent and it is very popular among people from India.
Chess4Life students range from the ages of 5 to 13. “We target the age of 5,” indicated Wong. The age of 5 is the minimum age although some 4-year-olds have been known to be able to attend a class.
As for learning the game, it’s not as hard as it might seem. “Kids’ brains are like sponges,” Wong said. “We try to keep it simple and one step at a time,” Wong explained of how Chess4Life teaches kids the game which can seem intimidating at times. “When kids see a chess board it can be overwhelming.” But Wong stated that most children pick up the rules after just two lessons and then they start to get the hang of it. “The real challenge is understanding tactics and strategies.”
“It comes naturally to sit still and play,” said Wong of the game, “Rarely have we found students that don’t want to play.”
The class size is relatively small to allow for the children to learn the game and have a chance to play. Wong indicated that Chess4Life holds tournaments so that children have a chance to show what they learn. He indicated that attendance at the tournaments are very popular as students have an opportunity to win a trophy.
While most of the kids may never meet the heights of Nakamura, they will learn a game requiring a lot of mental ability which should help them in the future. (end)
For more information on Chess4life, you can visit its web site at http://chess4life.com.
Jason Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.