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2004 Dr. Leo Stefurak.

DR. LEO January 2004


Please describe the current dimensions of the scholastic chess world and the status of extracurricular chess in Northwest primary and secondary education.


Chess has a culture, a history, and a written language. Like music and mathematics, chess has its prodigies and a permanent, positive and contributing place in popular society and civilization. Chess has informed social and political leaders since its inception; from Charlemagne to Saladin to Napoleon to Benjamin Franklin, chess has played a significant role in the bringing together of peoples and ideas. Chess has long stood as the sine qua non of intellectual endeavor and accomplishment in western civilization.

Today, chess education has become the single most important academic enrichment movement in the new millennium. Chess is a stealth educational activity that teaches logic, critical thinking and creative problem solving by means of a child-friendly and hands-on cooperative dialog between two players. Children learn positive habits of mind without even realizing they are being taught. Chess is everywhere in schools and society: chess is played in the classroom, in after-school clubs, in shopping malls, on the internet, at museums and fairs, in city parks, between company chess teams, on the ferry, in the car, and with computer opponents, locally, nationally and internationally. Chess is regularly seen and referenced in magazines, commercials and popular films (Dr. Leo particularly enjoyed the scene from last summer's Charlie's Angels movie where a girl chess player defeated a seasoned Grandmaster!).

Preschoolers play chess many scholastic clubs now support a special group for these young players; kindergarteners play chess Washington State was home to the National Kindergarten Champion in 2002; elementary school students play chess Washington and Oregon delivered the greatest number of elementary school participants ever to the Portland National Elementary Championships in 2002; middle school students play chess the Northwest is home to 3rd, 4th, 7th and 8th grade 2003 National Champions; and high schoolers play chess high schools compete in leagues of their own all over the Northwest. Contact the Washington State High School Chess Association for more information.

Boys play chess and girls play chess: elementary school chess clubs have as many or more girls playing chess as boys. Girls regularly defeat boys in scholastic events and the favor is happily returned! The Northwest is home to some of the strongest women and girl chess players in America including Woman's Grandmaster Elena Donaldson. Northwest schools regularly field teams with participating boys and girls which finish in the top ten in national competition.

Chess expands the communication spectrum between human beings. Chess as a sport, a science and an art, allows humans to interact in a positive, life affirming and self-enriching way. To play chess is to learn. Chess is part of ongoing adult education so important in these knowledge based and interesting times: chess is one vital expression of a life of the mind and lifelong learning. Chess is pro-education, pro-family and pro-social.

Chess is an important community and communication fabric woven within the tapestry of global civilization. Chess is many things to millions of people. Dr. Leo believes, however, that chess has a particularly valuable mission to play in childhood development and education. Chess is a window through which only the sunshine and rainbows of the adult world are allowed to illuminate the minds and emotions of children. Open the window! And let the sunshine of chess warm your heart and delight your mind: chess is everywhere!

Chess is a reduced and simplified model of life in our physical universe. Starting from the basic elements of time, space, material, structure and life, chess allows complex strategical entanglements to be generated that mimic the cultural and political involvements present in human societies. Chess has the virtue of being able to demonstrate, on a small scale, the essence of truth, beauty and justice that we come to know in practice, on a large scale, as citizens, consumers, and family members.

Chess is for everyone children and adults alike! Chess is even for computers: the top chess playing computers have repeatedly drawn matches with top human players in recent years.

These are expansive and rewarding times for scholastic chess in the Northwest. Enrollment in elementary and middle school programs is increasing at most existing scholastic chess clubs and more new chess clubs are now being established in public and private schools than ever before.

Chess links the being of learning with the doing of successful and enjoyable activity. Students, through chess, can immediately link new knowledge and skills with fun activities and the useful implementation of their new abilities. Chess tournaments are gatherings of students who share a common interest actively engaged in pursuing their sport. Chess tournaments are akin to track meets where student athletes (here mental athletes) compete in sequential games throughout the day to determine a set of champions.

Scholastic chess tournaments in the Northwest are typically organized by a group of parents (at a given host school) and are played at a host school which has a well functioning chess club. Most scholastic chess tournaments are played during the scholastic chess season lasting from November through April.

Parents support extracurricular chess with their efforts and leadership as a supplement to their child's classroom education. Chess play and practice act as positive, challenging, and character-building activities. Parents see the need for their children to develop healthy habits of mind and value the critical thinking and creative problem solving skills inherent in studying and playing chess. Parent interest leads to new chess programs; parental commitment fills the ranks of chess club leaders; and parental involvement motivates moms and dads to spend their Saturdays at chess tournaments in support of their children.

The Seattle-based Chess Mates Foundation hosts the Fall Chess Kickoff tournament the Saturday before Thanksgiving. In the spring, Chess Mates hosts the Chess Fest tournament near the end of the scholastic season. These two Chess Mates' events, now the opening and closing bookends of the competitive scholastic chess year, allowed hundreds of public and private school students to match wits and practice their expression of thought and imagination.

In January 2004, Chess Mates Foundation and the Seattle Art Museum will present a month-long "Chess in Art and Art in Chess" exhibition of student art on chess themes in downtown Seattle. The Grand Opening of this special chess exhibition, featuring simultaneous play by Grandmaster Elena Donaldson, was held on January 8th. The 2004 Washington State Elementary School Chess Championship, to be held in April at Bellevue Community College, is expected to host more than 1,000 pre-qualified students more than the National Elementary School Championship did just a decade ago!

The Northwest is home to many Grandmasters, International Masters, and National Masters of chess. Businesses support chess, schools support chess, foundations support chess, and political leaders support chess.

Chess organizers and organizations in the Northwest have been awarded with the Golden Apple Award, The Katherine M. Bullitt Award, The Superintendent's Award, The Golden Acorn Award, The Koltanowsky Award, and other academic, civic, and corporate honors. A chess master was just elected to the King County Council in 2003 and many locally elected school board members started their academic involvement through school chess clubs. Chess has become part of the fabric of our Northwest culture.

Scholastic chess, along with recognition of the educational mission of chess, is permeating the highest echelons of organized chess in America. The new President of the United States Chess Federation (USCF) is Beatriz Marinello, a long time chess teacher and scholastic coach. The President of the Washington Chess Federation (WCF) is supportive of scholastic chess and now sits on the Board of Directors of the Chess Mates Foundation.

The OCF and WCF host large student-friendly chess tournaments every year: The Oregon Open at Labor Day, the Washington Open during the Memorial Day holiday and the Washington Class Championships on the weekend after Thanksgiving (calendar and contact information are available at The Seattle Chess Club hosts regular adult and scholastic tournaments along with youth nights and educational events (contact for more information).

Chess is helping to educate the next generation of engineers, scientists, professionals and civic leaders. Chess education is making a difference in student's lives, and more US colleges are offering chess scholarships to recruit students. The University of Texas, the University of Maryland, the University of New Mexico, Morehead State, and Jackson State are among many schools now offering chess scholarships, seeking to attract demonstrably bright students through chess (contact the US Chess Federation at for more information on chess scholarships).

The 21st century is now identified as the information century. Chess provides students practice in separating and processing information, misinformation and disinformation. The global competitive arena in 21st century industry and commerce will be about information share, intellectual property, and knowledge economics. Dr. Leo believes that playing chess has the potential to prepare students for successful professional lives while also feeding and expanding their cultural minds and artistic souls.

Chess is a world an ocean: "Chess is an ocean in which a gnat may drink or an elephant bathe." (Popular Indian Proverb). This new world awaits you have fun and play chess along with the thousands of Northwest students and parents enjoying this ancient 'Game of Kings.'

Dr. Leo wishes you a Happy New Year of Chess! Have fun! Play chess!