The Choice Of Champions
exhilarating for any eight, nine or ten year-old kid to beat an
international chess Grand Master. And then, to have it announced
in front of nearly a thousand wildly cheering people, and get
a prize, too, must be quite a unique experience.
Dozens of children had a chance to live out this dream at the
2001 US National Chessathon. So what if those Grand Masters played
simultaneously against a dozen other kids—a win is a win is a
This annual event, held at the commuter parking lot on the Yonkers
Waterfront this year, drew over 800 school-age children, eager
to face off against some of the most famous personalities in the
sport, including Woman’s World Champion Susan Polgar and Grand
Masters Ilya Gurevich, John Fedorowicz and Maurice Ashley. Organized
by the US Chess Federation (USCF), the City of Yonkers and the
Westchester-based, non-profit foundation, Chess for Kids, the
waterfront was transformed into a giant chessboard, each square
composed of four tables, each table with an inner-city child eager
to take on opponents in a match up of brains and skills.
number of respected nationwide studies have shown that chess has
a profoundly positive effect on attitudes and educational achievement,”
said USCF Executive Director and CEO George L. de Feis. “In fact,
we see the game as an important educational tool. It’s a fierce
battle, yet it teaches you to be responsible for your own moves.
And you learn to both win and lose with sportsmanship and class.
In addition, studies have shown that playing chess has a direct
positive effect on actual learning and discipline.”
a doubt, chess aids children in adopting the higher thinking processes,
such as logic, strategy, problem solving and planning several
steps ahead,” added Victor Frias, Founder and Executive Director
of Chess for Kids. “At the same time, it also promotes civility
and a peaceful resolution of conflict.” With these goals in mind,
Frias, in conjunction with the Police Athletic League and the
City of Yonkers, established Chess for Kids five years ago in
used to be in charge of chess for the Mexican Ministry of Sports,”
said Frias, gazing at the waterfront tableau peppered with hundreds
of excited kids. “But this is more important. This is better.”
Indeed, the Chessathon served to celebrate the success and growth
of scholastic chess in America. But, more importantly, the Grand
Masters and other celebrity speakers urged the kids to stay in
school and to reject gangs, drugs and other negative temptations.
The theme of the afternoon was “Push Pawns Not Drugs.”
fifteen year old, Tavon, used to be bored in school and get into
all kinds of trouble afterwards,” one of the proud participating
mothers, Leona Nelson, said. “Now he’s going to this chess program,
he’s managing himself much better, makes better choices, and even
his grades are up. I’m telling you, it’s been nothing less than
a miracle. I’m very, very grateful to this game.” #
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