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Teaching Life Skills Through Chess

IMG_20171117_093909075Michelle W. Canarick P ’23, ’24

While parents met with teachers on Friday, November 17th, nearly forty RSS students in Pre-K through 4th Grade met in the gymnasium of the 84th Street building to participate in a different type of tournament than is usually held in a gym. Rather than compete on the basketball court with muscles and speed, these kids competed at tables with thoughts and strategy. Broken into beginner, intermediate and advanced levels, students moved their way through four rounds of chess games.  

These chess masters not only demonstrated knowledge of strategy, but they also showed a mature ability to respect others, follow guidelines and, most importantly, behave with sportsmanship. When all was said and done and winners were announced, there was clapping and cheering by all, from those in last place to those who finished first.

As a parent of two beginners, I didn’t know very much about the RSS Chess Program, other than that my children have been enjoying their first semester of the after school class and both were eager to participate in the tournament. To learn more, I spoke to Erica Gerson, mother to three children on the RSS Chess Team.  

RSS has a long history of chess, but in the recent past, the program had dwindled until FIDE Master Dmitri Shevelev began teaching the after school class. FM Dmitri organized an off-site tournament for RSS players two years ago and was thrilled when the school offered him an opportunity to bring the competition to RSS itself last spring. The inaugural tournament went so well that Head of School Danny Karpf agreed to have the school host a fall and spring event on parent conference days.  

Students and parents seem to agree that Dmitri is the reason the chess program has been reinvigorated. He is a very strong player as a FIDE Master, but what parents love most is his special ability to balance being a demanding and strict coach with also being responsive to the emotional needs of our students. Many parents at the tournament said they loved when he told the kids that it is okay if you cry and that he, too, has had times when he cried at a tournament. Dmitri is very nurturing with the children and takes the time to understand each child and how his or her personality and temperament can best be harnessed for a positive experience.

The goals of the tournament on Friday were to introduce players and parents to the experience of tournament play in a friendly, supportive environment, to create excitement among the students so that they’re inspired to continue their chess studies, and to build community and camaraderie through the shared experience of being part of the RSS Chess Team. And given the smiles at the end of the day, it was clear that these goals were accomplished!

For me, one of the most notable moments of the day came when I was on the bus bringing my children and two of their friends home to my house for a playdate. Despite having fun, my daughter was feeling down about her placement in the tournament. Her friend pointed out that last year, she also felt down about where she placed, but this year she earned the second place trophy in the intermediate level. Knowing that her friend improved with determination and practice made my daughter feel better about herself and gave her something to look forward to. That example of the growth mindset is right in line with the RSS values.

The future of RSS chess is bright with all three after school classes, totaling 60 spots, being sold out this fall and many students taking private and small group lessons as well.  Be sure to book chess early, but don’t dismay if your child doesn’t get a slot.  Dmitri will make every effort to accommodate you in a small group outside of the program if needed.  If your child is a chess player and attends RSS, they are welcome to be a part of the team, regardless of whether or not they participate in the chess after school program. 

And for those who like to plan ahead, the second annual all school championship will be held on spring parent conference day, Friday, March 23rd.

In the words of FM Dmitri, “Chess is a game of skill. The art of chess is amazing and beautiful. Learning to recognize patterns and understand chess enriches your life in general. We believe that chess is a miniature model of our world, and all skills and strategies we learn in this game of Kings and Queens, we can re-apply in our daily world.”


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