The chess club celebrates the art, sport of the game

Journal Staff Tanya Manus

Neighborhood kids and teens who gather to play chess on Monday afternoons know they’re having fun. They’re learning a hobby they can play for a lifetime, and they’re learning vital real-world skills they’ll use away from their chessboards.

The Rapid City Area Scholastic Chess Club celebrates its first anniversary this month. The nonprofit club is open to children and teens in kindergarten through 12th grade in Rapid City and the surrounding area. The club meets from 4 to 6 p.m. Mondays in science rooms 120 and 121 at West Middle School, and meetings are free.

Beginners are welcome, as are students who wish to participate in chess tournaments. The club hopes to promote a better knowledge and understanding of chess as an art and an intellectual sport.

Every week a number of veteran adult chess players volunteer to coach young players at chess club meetings. Coaches include Nate Walstrom, who helped start the club and is its president. Volunteer coaches teach chess tactics, defensive moves and strategies.

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One of the coaches is Mark Falk, who has played chess for much of his life. He is a regular at chess club meetings and enjoys teaching beginning players and coaching champions such as Brogan McGrath.

In October, 16-year-old Brogan won the 2022 Junior State Chess Championship title. He and other players competed in five rounds of chess, each lasting two to three hours.

Becoming a champion chess player takes dedication, practice and hard work, Falk said. Brogan has been playing chess since he was 10 years old.

Brogan’s mother, Jan McGrath, said Brogan learned to play chess by reading the book “Chess from First Moves to Checkmate” by Daniel King. Brogan then taught his younger brother, John, to play. In addition to Brogan’s recent victory at the South Dakota competition, he won the South Dakota School Chess Tournament in April and represented South Dakota this year in the GM Arnold Denker National Tournament of High School State. Champions in Rancho Mirage, California.

“He’s very caring and he works very hard at the game. I think he spends time trying to learn from his mistakes. He spends time studying the game. That’s really the most remarkable thing. Most successful players work hard and their hard work pays off,” Falk said. “I think it’s rare to have a really strong player who hasn’t spent time working on it.”

“Brogan has the potential to be a very, very strong player in the future,” he said. “We have good players who are not beginners (in a chess club) and everyone who plays with these children has learned by playing with them.”

Falk is a retired attorney who has practiced civil and criminal law and taught business law and political philosophy. He finds satisfaction in teaching a new generation of chess players.

“I decided that working with children would be a lot of fun. I really like working with young people. I help them with their games and answer questions and give them competition – or they give me competition,” Falk said.

Younger players, who are in kindergarten and first grade, often don’t know the names of chess pieces or the basics of the game when their parents take them to the chess club.

“Meeting these kids who are so interested and excited about playing chess is what I love,” Falk said.

Chess instills life lessons as children learn to play.

“It helps build focus and I think it helps them to think beyond instant gratification. They start to think about the repercussions of things they do and things they encounter, and what that may mean. It gets them anticipating,” Falk said.

“It’s a fun game, so it’s entertaining. They derive satisfaction from competing with other players. If they lose, they almost always learn,” he said. “The biggest problem is following the rules. … It’s a friendly game, not a hostile relationship.”

Now 70, Falk said he learned the game growing up and became a more serious player when he was in college. He joined the Minnesota and USA Chess Associations, then joined the South Dakota Chess Association and competed in tournaments.

“When I was a teenager, I got a job. My boss liked to play tournament chess and he made me play chess every night. I don’t know now if I’ve ever won a match against him,” Falk said with a laugh. “It was the first time I spent a lot of time playing.”

“You learn more by losing than by winning,” he said. “For 99.9% of players, there is always the possibility of trying to improve and improve.”

Falk remembers coming into open world chess competition in the 1980s where “I got real rewarded by really strong players. It can be humiliating.

“It’s harder to stand out in chess than in some things. In chess you can get really good, but there’s almost always someone who’s a bit better who can challenge you,” he said.

The Rapid City Area Scholastic Chess Club is hosting a United States Chess Federation Unrated Chess Tournament for Veterans Day. The tournament will take place from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on November 12 at the Bible Fellowship Church in Rapid City. Falk will be the tournament director.

Club members are also looking forward to the 2023 South Dakota School Chess Tournament, which will be held in Rapid City for children and teens in kindergarten through 12th grade. For more information on the Rapid City Area Scholastic Chess Club, visit rcscholasticchess.weebly.com.

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