Chess club inspires its young members

By Curt Yeomans


Alana Wester was deep in thought as she pondered her next chess move.

Robin Gordon, sponsor of a local, youth chess club, had moved her queen to one position away from a checkmate victory. If Wester, 10, didn't make the right decision, and defend her king, she would lose the game.

She put her finger on the top of her king, rocked it back and forth, and then looked at the other chess pieces on the board. What should she do? Move forward, to the side, or go backward?

Then, the clock struck 8 p.m., in the Clayton County Library System's headquarters branch at 865 Battlecreek Road in Jonesboro. The chess club was over for the night, so Wester and Gordon agreed to finish the game a week later.

Wester's king was safe -- for now.

"I'm going to go home and practice a lot, so I can win next time," said Wester, who was playing at the club for the first time on Jan. 22. "I'll try to remember all of the rules, and think fast. I'm probably going to play my brother, so I can win at least once."

The youth chess club was started in 2006 by Jonesboro resident, Mark Allen, a chess afficionado for 45 years. He organized the club so children, ages 8 through 18, could meet after school every Tuesday, from 6-8 p.m., socialize and make new friends in a non-threatening environment.

"Chess is a lot of fun, but it can be even more fun when you have other things to do as well," Allen said. "The older kids will occasionally socialize with each other, after they finish playing."

Allen wanted the children to learn chess in an environment that is not as competitive as adult chess clubs.

"It's the most fair activity I can think of, because all you can do to get better is practice, and then practice some more," said Mark Morrow, 13, of Jonesboro. "I like coming to the club because I'm able to play chess with someone who is close to my [playing] level."

The chess club members have a challenge ladder, which allows them to compete against each other. The ladder works on a system of attendance and skill.

Members start out at the bottom of the ladder when they join. If a member wins challenges, the player will move up the ladder. If a player attends the chess club meetings regularly, points will be earned toward ladder advancement. It the player misses four consecutive meetings of the club, the player is dropped 10 rungs on the ladder.

Even though the average attendance for meetings is 16 to 20 children, all of the 360 children who have participated in the club are listed on the ladder. Most of those children, 250, attended one meeting of the club, thus making it easy for a new member to move up the ladder quickly if that member attends meetings on a regular basis, and practices the game.

Mark Morrow is currently No. 2 on the ladder, with a 62-17 record, because he likes to use the "Four-move Checkmate." The maneuver involves moving the pawn in front of the king, then placing the queen in front of the bishop's pawn. The bishop is then moved to a spot where it threatens the opponent's bishop, and the queen then replaces the opposing pawn.

If the move is done correctly, the opposing king cannot escape. If the offensive player's queen is not protected, though, he or she can loose the game.

"It's a very risky move, but if you're playing someone who is not experienced, you might want to try it on them," Morrow said. "An experienced player would know how to easily beat the maneuver."

Allen, who occasionally plays against the chess club members, said there are two reasons why he enjoys being a sponsor of the group.

"The fun part of playing chess is the thrill of competition," he said. "The best part about running the club is seeing the lights go on in the eyes of the kids as they learn, and begin to understand, how to play the game."