Chess: thinking ahead is a life skill

Chess is more than just a game of strategy; it can be used as a teaching tool.The game of chess is older than anyone can remember, but it is played by few, and even fewer people know its true potential.

To most, it’s just a boring game that sort of looks like a complicated version of checkers. To those who play it, it’s an exciting game of strategy, wits, and perseverance.

To Jerry Nash, United States Chess Federation national education consultant and Tech grad student, chess goes even further.

“One of the things that everybody is screaming about is we have to do a better job of teaching math skills, critical thinking skills and life skills,” Nash said, “and here’s a game which accomplishes those goals and is not that expensive.”

Nash has worked with schools and programs all over the nation and in other parts of the world. He is currently working with Lisa Zagumny, curriculum and instruction associate professor, and Paul Semmes, the College of Arts and Sciences dean, on applying for an Improving Teacher Quality Grant.

The goal is to teach instructors how to play chess who will then in turn use it as a teaching tool.

“Part of this is designed to gather research that hopefully will lead to further research,” Nash said. “The goal is to do longitudinal study to demonstrate the impact of chess in an academic setting on critical thinking, math and life skills.”

Unfortunately, spreading this practice in schools is not easy. According to Nash, there are thousands of teachers who already use this strategy, but it is difficult for them to keep arguing that the chess program be continued or expanded when the larger education community does not yet see it as a valid tool.

“The university is often perceived as the pinnacle of the educational community,” Nash said. “When a university does research, it demonstrates that there is a relationship between chess and educational practices. Then the education community tends to listen. That’s what we’re working toward.

“To my knowledge,” Nash continued, “there is no longitudinal study of two to five years and beyond anywhere in the world.”

A problem getting funding for research arises when funding agencies won’t provide funding unless the university shows that there is already research, thereby demonstrating that more research is needed. It’s like trying to find a job with no experience.

Outside of schools, Nash is also working with families across the United States. Currently he is working with leaders in the chess community to create a Chess Merit Badge for the Boy Scouts of America to hopefully be approved in December.

“One thing we find in chess and education is that it tends to increase parental involvement,” Nash said. “Parental involvement is one of the factors that impacts dropout rates in high school.”

Tech has its own chess organization advised by Semmes, has hosted The Tennessee State Scholastic Individual Chess Tournament for 13 years, and will host the next tournament Feb. 19. Tech will also host the Team Tournament March 26.

“These are scholastic tournaments,” Semmes said. “They’re only open to kids in K-12. In many ways, this is an outreach activity.”

Tennessee is broken up into four regions, each with its own regional qualifying tournament. Cookeville falls into region two, with its tournament at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The top eight from each section (high school, middle school, elementary school and primary school) from each region are invited to the state championship tournament.

Tech offers scholarships to the winners of the high school section of the state championship. The winners from both the individual and team tournaments can each receive a four-year University Service Scholarship of $4,000 per year for first place winners and $2,500 per year for second place winners.

Both tournaments will be in the RUC Multipurpose Room. Overflow and what is called skittles, friendly non-tournament competitions, will be held in the Tech Pride Room.

“I think it’s very good for the university to host an event like this,” Semmes said. “All these kids and parents come from all over the state get to come and spend a day at the University. If you are interested in chess, you can come see.”

For more information about Tech’s chess organization or tournaments, e-mail Semmes at PSemmes@tntech.edu. For more information about chess as a teaching tool, e-mail Nash at jerrynash@chess2learn.com.