Rook-ie students aren’t just pawns in chess club

Date Published: 
December 27, 2013

More than a dozen students surround a table, discussing the best tactics for a strategic coup. With the simple turn of a wrist, advisor Hal Wallach shows them how to capture an opponent on the battlefield.

“And then that rook is toast,” he says, and they giggle.

Coastal Point • Laura Walter: Lighthouse Christian School students plan their moves with care during a chess club event.Coastal Point • Laura Walter: Lighthouse Christian School students plan their moves with care during a chess club event.Lighthouse Christian School students are learning to maneuver knights around castles, hide their kings and use queens to make a clean sweep of their opponents. This is the afterschool chess club.

Students from all grades, first to eighth, can participate.

“Every move should have a purpose. We frown on people who just push wood,” Wallach said. “This is a game of strategy and tactics … managing stress under fire.”

“I really enjoy it, because you get your mind thinking,” said third-grader Tristen Singh.

These skills even translate to other parts of life.

“Chess is one of my favorite games,” said fifth-grader Ryan Masters. “It helps me concentrate on different things. You have to concentrate to decide what move to make.”

Each of the 20 children had a special reason for getting involved in the club. Some followed older siblings into the club. Others wanted to try something completely different from their other siblings.

“You can spend time with your dad and mom,” said first-grader Jaxon Polly.

“I was interested in learning a new game, so I could go in the tournament and stuff,” said fourth-grader Ayden Ferris. “It’s a peaceful game. Until someone says, ‘Checkmate.’”

“Every week, we learn a different strategy to winning,” said Masters.

Even advisor Bob Kichline caught the chess bug from his family.

“My son is playing, and I started hanging around,” he said. “It’s been fun.”

“I just wanted to because I never played chess,” said Sophia Ferris.

All Lighthouse students learn chess at an early age. Director Terri Menoche believes students should be exposed to the game, so kids from first to fifth grade have half-hour chess classes, in addition to other special classes.

“Sometimes I see them playing on TV, and I think, ‘I’m getting the hang of that!’” said third-grader Jayden Binni.

The older grades are preparing for chess tournaments, practicing against local schools and competing in Maryland tournaments.

The younger lot are teaching each other.

Two boys practice at the center table. One moves his castle sideways, and the other answers by adjusting his pawns.

“Is that the best you have? … I know what you’re gonna do!”

Despite swiping his opponent’s queen and other pieces, he gives advice and explains the chessboard possibilities.

“I’m not going to give up,” his schoolmate says.

“The more you learn, the more you can teach each other,” Singh said.

“A lot of the impetus has come from the students themselves. We try very hard to help them learn new techniques,” said Wallach.

One of his recent goals was teaching “the clincher,” or using an advantage to find the winning moves.

The Lighthouse Christian chess club will return to Owings Mills, Md., this spring for their major annual competition, in which the middle-school and elementary-school teams have previously won second and third places.