Chess remains strong in new generations

By Carlienne A. Frisch


Mention the game of chess and people may not envision young players competing in the century-old game. But it is happening more than one might think.

Students like Natalie and Lucas from St. Paul Lutheran School in Fairmont are two examples of chess enthusiasts who compete against other students in matches throughout the area.


Although the excitement and tension at student competitions may not rise to the level of that at an international chess match with national pride on the line, student chess players are serious about the game and about representing their school at tournaments. Natalie and Lucas are both part of the tradition of young people playing chess, a tradition that has a long history.


Natalie and Lucas, along with other young chess players, are encouraged by events sponsored by associations such as the Youth Enrichment League, which holds rated tournaments during the school year. Another organization, the School Chess Association, holds summer chess camps, as well as tournaments during the school year.


Both Natalie and Lucas learned the game at an early age. Natalie, who now is an eighth grader, has played chess since she learned the game in kindergarten. She joined the school chess club in first grade and took part in her first chess tournament in third grade. She also began to be coached by Carla Fast, a teacher who met with chess club students weekly.


Natalie is one of many young chess enthusiasts who compete at tournaments through the area. Contributed photo

“I’ve taken part in four chess tournaments, with four games in each tournament,” said Natalie. “I began competing in first grade in a tournament in Mankato, then later, two in Lakefield and one in Northrop.”


At home, Natalie plays against my brother, Jacob, a high school junior.


“My mother bought us a book that helped us learn. Jacob usually wins, but he gives me tips about the game. He’s very good at planning ahead, but I’m not so good at it,” she said. “Also, Mrs. Fast provided an onscreen chess board with a special program, an electronic chessboard for playing against a robot,” Natalie said. “I might have won once, or gotten a draw one time.”


Fast, who teaches English classes at St. Paul’s, began the school chess club in 2014.


“I announced that the students did not need to know how to play chess, but some of the kids already knew the game,” she said. “We began meeting once a week for 45 minutes after school. We went over the moves and matched older children, who knew chess, with younger children, who were learning. I just told them how fun it was, and they enjoyed learning it, while the older children enjoyed teaching. Two years ago, before COVID, we had 53 students in the chess club.”


Fast, who learned the game from a neighbor child at about age eight, said, “I’m totally defensive in playing. My mind doesn’t go three steps ahead.” Having recovered from a case of COVID, Fast is dealing with “long haul” post-COVID issues, so she turned the club over to the Rev. Matt Lorseld.


“I don’t have the stamina,” she said. “Otherwise, I would still be the advisor.”


In addition to learning from the robotic competition that Fast provided, Natalie enjoys learning from playing against others. She enters chess competitions because, she said, “It’s cool to be with players from other schools. Sometimes their teachers have taught them other tricks, and I learn them by playing against those schools. I suppose we also teach them tricks. It goes both ways. It’s really cool to play against different age groups.”


Like Natalie, 9-year-old Lucas became a chess enthusiast at a young age.


“I was five when I was taught by Mrs. Fast, other teachers and a parent volunteer,” he said. I took lessons after school and signed up for the chess club. I play in the club once a month. Just knowing how to play is cool. When I played in a tournament against Lakefield, each of us won some games. Once I got second place in a tournament and got a medal. I put it on the wall in my room.”


Lucas plans to continue playing in chess competitions for many years.


At home, Lucas plays chess with his grandfather and his father. When Lucas wins, his grandfather tells him, “I’ll beat you next time,” but that doesn’t often happen, Lucas said. It’s noteworthy that Lucas taught his father, Trenton, the rules and moves of chess—when Lucas was the ripe, old age of five. His father, who expected to win because of his son’s age, commented, “I thought chess was quite difficult, but he beat me. Playing against Lucas, it’s all strategy. You have to see three moves ahead, but those moves always change, depending on your opponent. A new player should learn the rules completely or have a set of rules right by your side, so you know what you can and cannot do. I’ve had to take Lucas’ word for it, and I’ve begun to learn strategy. Chess is a good game to play across generations.”


Fast, who views chess from the teacher’s perspective, said, “Judging from what we’ve seen, younger and older children learn from playing chess. It’s good for their critical thinking development.”


Anyone hoping to improve his or her chess game might heed Lucas’ advice: “Just play it.”

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