Good moves: a skilled chess player’s mission is to pass it on
Jamarius Daniels was staring intently at the chessboard in front of him. The seventh grade student rested his elbow on the table, his hand still in the air as he pondered the battle plans and the risks. After a moment of silence, he began to snap his fingers.
âI have a plan,â he whispered. Snap, snap, snap.
“What is that?” his opponent asked hopefully, leaning forward.
“I’m not telling you,” Jamarius replied with a smirk.
The two kids who attend Columbus Middle School could go out and do something else at 4:30 p.m. on a sunny Tuesday afternoon. But they chose to spend it in the school library, learning an ancient game that has remained largely unchanged for over 1,000 years.
“Because it is a work of reflection,” said Jamarius, 12.
“I like the challenge,” said player Keely Washington, 13.
“Because I want to beat people up and take revenge – and because they have snacks!” Six-year-old Jordan McShane joked with a lively smile.
In fact, since February, kids have explored the world of pawns, knights, bishops, towers, queens and kings because chess mentor Isaac Miller cares enough about being there for them. His mission is to make as many people as possible discover the royal game which has fascinated him since childhood.
Miller started learning the basics at the age of 5.
âMy dad taught me how the pieces move and gave me books,â he said of his early exposure to chess while growing up in Mobile, Alabama. At 13, he played his first ranked match. It changed his point of view.
âMy competitiveness took over,â Miller said. âI started to study hard, train and work my way up the ranks. I was studying about 20 hours a week. When I was 20, I was No.18 in the country for under 21s.
Even today, although he could only participate in a few sanctioned tournaments a year – he attended several a month – Miller is ranked by the American Chess Federation among the top 400 players in the country, out of several thousand. He is Mississippi’s highest rated player and has won the titles of Original Lifetime Master, National Master and Lifetime Master.
Gambling has opened doors for him throughout his life. He believes that every young person deserves this opportunity.
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Miller moved from Virginia Beach, Va., To Columbus a year ago after his brother Nathan, a retired Air Force colonel, moved there. It was also at this point that Miller moved away from an 18-year career in the practice of law to become passionate about teaching chess.
âWhen I looked around I saw that there weren’t a lot of failures here, at least to my knowledge,â Miller said. He quickly contacted all the schools in Lowndes County to suggest chess. Over the past four months, he began working once or twice a week with interested students attending the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, which had an established program in place, the Annunciation Catholic School, Columbus Middle School and Columbus High School. He hopes others will join the initiative soon.
At Columbus High, Miller found another chess enthusiast in chess director Doug Browning. Browning wanted to see a chess group organized at school for a few years. In his spare time or the occasional few minutes, he sometimes taught curious teenagers the basics of chess. One was Tyreon Bankhead senior.
âAt first he lost and lost, but I could tell he was going home and looking for strategies; so it wasn’t that easy to beat him, âBrowning said. âA few days ago, he beat me twice in a row. I was really happy to see him, because I didn’t take him easily with him.
Bankhead is active in the chess group that Miller and Browning work with after school. The same goes for Grade 10 student David Sloan.
âWhen I first started playing chess I was a little skeptical at first because I thought it would be pretty boring,â said the 16-year-old. âBut after I learned the rules, I started to understand. I understood a little!
Now Sloan, Bankhead, and other teens come together on Thursdays to learn about openings, patterns, and famous chess and mats. They go online between weekly meetings to study and train.
âIt’s pretty hard to find players in Columbus, but there is a wide variety of things you can learn – it’s always a question of strategy,â Sloan said.
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Learning to think strategically is a parent benefit that Nichole Cancellare enjoys. Her children, Amy in second grade and James in fourth grade, attend the chess group at Annunciation Catholic School twice a week and also receive private instruction.
âIt teaches them patience and autonomy too. It is not a team sport; if you make a mistake, it’s all up to you, âshe said. âYou have to have situational awareness and focus. “
Browning remarked, âWhen you sit down with your opponent, it’s your mind against theirs. You cannot say that you lost the match because of a referee’s error.
Chess can channel a child’s competitiveness, Miller said. âThey don’t always have a way of expressing this. Chess provides them with a healthy environment and teaches them good sportsmanship. ”
Cognitive skills such as concentration, pattern recognition, problem solving, and decision making may also improve.
Columbus Middle School’s seventh year assistant principal and 21st century program director Tanesha Jennings supports the recent chess movement.
âI think it’s beneficial for students, helps with critical thinking and just helps expose them to different things,â she told The Dispatch. âWhen Mr. Miller moved here and contacted the schools, he contacted us at the right time. “
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âWhat is a fork? Miller asked the college group on Tuesday. Utensils aside, the “fork” he wanted players to understand is a tactic whereby a single chess piece makes two or more simultaneous attacks on other pieces.
âThere are a few forks here,â he continued, gesturing to a demonstration chessboard on the wall. “I want to see if you can spot them.”
As he continued, the children seemed to start to understand, at least once again realizing that there were endless layers to the game they were studying. Some already had some chess experience before Miller moved to Columbus, but they are now digging deep into complex maneuvers on the way to the ultimate goal – checkmate. Those who study between group classes progress more quickly. Skills can be honed online, where Miller often takes on challengers from around the world.
âI make contacts all over the world; I can play someone in Sweden, in Russiaâ¦ âhe declared. The games should not be long. Ball failures last three minutes or less. Blitz failures can only last for a minute. It’s the excitement, the anxiety, the failure and the triumph, all in the space of 60 seconds.
Three skills top Miller’s list of important assets to becoming a chess master: memory ability, work ethic, and desire to win. It is impossible to know today which chess proteges in Columbus would develop them all, or retain a passion for the game throughout their lives. But for Miller, there is no greater feeling than seeing a child grasp a chess concept or solve a problem. It illuminates the eyes. It plants trust. This game rich in intricacies can never be truly mastered, offering those who play it limitless opportunities for challenge and improvement.
Miller knows that failure can change a child’s life; it changed his.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyle Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.