VERO BEACH — It’s 3:15 on a Monday afternoon at Beachland Elementary School and some 55 third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders are making their way to the library to further hone their chess skills.
“If I checkmate my opponent’s King, I win the game,” said 4th grader Royneshia Sullivan as she sat across the table from 3rd grader Dominique Taylor, her opponent for today’s practice. This is Sullivan’s second year of playing and Taylor’s first year since the chess club was founded three years ago.
“Chess helps me think about different strategies and I just have fun playing,” said Sullivan.
“I like to play because it helps me concentrate and my grandpa plays so he got me interested too,” said Taylor.
“These girls are having fun and greatly improving their skills,” said Humberto Cruz, a United States Chess Federation correspondence chess master and certified tournament director.
He is also the chess club’s resident expert volunteer, and a chess columnist for sister publication Vero Beach 32963.
“Our mission for the Beachland Chess Club is to promote the learning and enjoyment of chess, both for its own sake and to help foster self-discipline, good citizenship and analytical and critical thinking skills among the students,” said Cruz.
Once students learn the basic rules of chess they have the opportunity to play in informal club tournaments as well as officially sanctioned scholastic tournaments if they so choose.
“We are currently playing a long distance match with Laurel Ridge Elementary School in Fairfax, Virginia,” said Cruz. “My son-in-law runs the chess club there and my grandson also plays. By majority vote, students at both schools decide on each move at their weekly club meetings and notify the other team by email.”
Cruz and the other volunteer parents and faculty want to emphasize good habits, sportsmanship and self-discipline.
“These are all good life skills to learn that will help the students move successfully through all kinds of situations. We tell them that chess is not all about winning. We teach them that respect and courtesies for the rules, to parents, teachers, and opponents is also important.”
After Cruz teaches for 10 or 15 minutes, the students vote on their next move against their opponents in Virginia and break off to play until 4:30 p.m. The library quiets down as the students settle into their games, recording each move on an official scoring sheet.
“We would like to begin to play other schools locally,” said Cruz. ” Highlands Elementary School has a chess club and has expressed interest in playing against us so we will try and make that happen.”
In the meantime, the chess club at Beachland will continue to learn, practice and strategize.