NEW YORK—Chess-in-the-Schools held its largest annual chess tournament with about 800 children and teens participating. The competitors, from second grade through high school sat in long rows of tables in the gymnasium of Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem on Monday.

“Chess-in-the-Schools helps these kids use chess as a tool to get into college,” said Shaun M. Smith, manager of the nonprofit organization’s Tournament Program.

Chess is part of the curriculum in many of the city’s schools and is increasingly being used as an educational tool. The Chess-in-the-Schools website says chess teaches students to “be analytic thinkers, be motivated learners, be critical problem solvers, think before they move, take pride in their accomplishments, and be graceful winners AND losers.”

Smith had a few more benefits to add to the list. He is the only adult in the program. As children come into Chess-in-the-Schools, they develop under the tutelage of older students. As the children get older, they in turn, mentor the students below them. The young chess masters learn to handle responsibilities and work together.

“I find the game to be entertaining,” said Steven Hamburgo, a junior at High School of American Studies in the Bronx. He first learned chess from his older brother, but has far surpassed his brother’s skill after five years in Chess-in-the-Schools.

“It teaches you to think critically and take your time,” said Hamburgo.
While on tournament, students see different parts of the country, and sometimes simply other boroughs they’ve never been to.

“Kids come from Brooklyn to Chinatown, or from Chinatown to Harlem, and they think it’s a whole other world,” laughed Smith. He pointed out that chess is a universal language, uniting children of all cultures and socio-economic strata.