When Kymari Mitchell went to the Washington state chess championship last spring, he finished just under the 3-point threshold necessary to earn a trophy.
Now Kymari, a fifth-grader who attends Pasco’s Marie Curie STEM Elementary School, has his sights set a little higher for this year’s championship tournament April 16 in Tacoma.
“I want to try to get four points to get a bigger trophy,” the 11-year-old said.
About 150 Tri-City youth qualified for this year’s championship for elementary and middle school players. More than 100 students of those hail from eight Pasco schools, including 19 from the new club at Curie, which opened this fall.
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Students gave several reasons for their interest in the ancient game, such as watching a family member play or just “wanting something to do,” as Kymari said.
They have a love for the game so they learn a lot on their own.
Chess coach Edith Lau
Teachers and other educators, though, see chess as a way to nurture the logical and analytical side of students while giving them a way to compete.
“It helps them in the classroom because they have to see everything,” said Edith Lau, one of two chess coaches at Curie.
A number of Tri-City elementary schools have chess clubs that meet after school. Lau and fellow chess coach Abel Lopez were tapped to lead Curie’s club for its first year.
Lau focuses on teaching sportsmanship, such as humility and courtesy. She isn’t the best player, but that hasn’t held the club back, she said.
“They have a love for the game, so they learn a lot on their own,” she said.
Practice this week only included students who were heading to the state championship. Fifth-grader Luis Luciano, 11, said it was an opportunity to practice using a queen and bishop, his favorite combination of pieces, and the gambit, a move that sacrifices a piece for another advantage.
“I was just so happy,” Luis said of qualifying for state, where he thinks he’ll do well.
The number of students who made the cut this year from the Tri-Cities is comparable to recent years, said Dave Merrill, president of nonprofit Washington Elementary Chess Champions. Not all students who qualify for the state championship attend.
It makes you have to think.
Fifth-grader Kymari Mitchell
The group has promoted chess in area schools since 2002, helped bring the state championship tournament to the Tri-Cities three times and is seeking to bring it back again in 2018.
Local interest in the board game has ebbed and flowed during the years. Pasco school chess clubs have recently boomed, but not all schools in Richland have chess clubs anymore, Merrill said. As many as five Kennewick elementary schools have had clubs at one time.
Merrill, a chemist with Areva, said he and others still see a lot of importance in exposing children to the game. It teaches kids how to solve problems, as well as the importance of identifying a goal and developing a plan to achieve it. Those skills are inherent to his job and many others.
“When you get into math and science, you already have that mindset,” Merrill said.
Kymari, Luis and the other students at the Curie practice session weren’t thinking about how chess would help them with a job search after graduation.
They just know they have to protect their king and it’s fun to figure out how.
“It makes you have to think,” Kymari said.