Chess teaches logic, strategy and it’s fun for all ages

He may only be eight, but when it comes to the game of chess, Alex Butler knows what he’s talking about.

After all, he’s been playing since he was in late kindergarten. He’s currently in the third grade.

“I’ve already gone to the provincials and nationals in first grade, and the districts in first grade,” he says. “In second grade I lost to someone called Ethan in my school. He’s my friend.”

That year he came in second at the provincials. This year, he plans to practice more and go to nationals again.

Alex says he got into chess after hearing about the tournaments.

“I thought why don’t I see if I can play and figure out the game because it might be something to do,” he says.

“I like how the pieces move. I think the best part about it is all these amazing strategies you can think of and make up.”

He plays on the computer as well and is constantly trying to improve his skills.

Alex originally learned chess from his father, Chris Butler, who began playing at around the same age.

“I played in university, just for fun,” says Butler. “It gave me something to do between classes.”

He admits that he has a math brain, which seems to come in handy with this game.

“Kids who play chess tend to develop logic and math at an accelerated level. There is a lot of strategy and logic to it,” says Butler.

When he was growing up in Ontario, chess was part of the school curriculum. He believes it was in New Brunswick at one time as well, in both the English and French schools. That has since changed.

“I played my dad and my dad got me started. Then it was part of the curriculum so I played at school with friends,” says Butler. “I joined a chess club and me and one of my friends were the only two kids that went to the chess club.”

Like his son, he played in tournaments growing up.

“It’s a game that’s complex and it’s not a game of luck. It’s all strategizing, and there can be a decent amount of memory work to it, but it doesn’t have to be,” he says. “It’s a good mental workout.”

Butler and his wife, Jen Andrews, are hoping to get kids interested in chess through the Fredericton Chess Club.

“The club we run has been around for years. It spawned out of the French schools,” he says.

But when it was no longer part of the curriculum, club attendance got smaller and smaller.

The year he taught his son to play, Alex was taking the game quite seriously, so Butler took him to the chess club. When the person who was running it left, he and his wife took it on.

“We realized that we were going to be involved with it, whether we liked it or not, for awhile,” says Andrews. “We also had the sense that it was something that we could do for the local community, something that (Alex) would enjoy as well.”

The kids who come to the club regularly have a great time, says Butler.

“We’ve been trying to get the word out, to expand the number of kids who are coming.”

Volunteers come out regularly to play chess with the kids, to teach them the game and help them hone their skills.

“They’re good adult chess players that come and basically coach the kids,” says Andrews. “The kids get into it and then realize they can compete against each other.”

All skill levels are welcome, from beginner to advanced. Though this club is open to all school-aged kids, in general the players are in kindergarten through Grade 5.

“We’d love to have a broad age range, but the older kids might be discouraged unless we had them turning out in greater numbers,” says Butler.

Alex says he has tried to teach his mother but she doesn’t play. He refuses to give up on her, though.

For now, Andrews is happy to be the one talking to other parents when they drop off their kids at the chess club.

“We have prizes for all of the kids, so they have fun,” she says. “And a lot of parents see it as a chance for their kids to practice their French or English. It’s completely bilingual.”

Plus it helps kids with things like concentration, she says, as it gets them using their brain differently and solving problems.

While this isn’t easy to learn, Butler says it doesn’t take long for a new player to learn to move the pieces and get a good sense of the game.

“It’s not necessarily something that the age makes the difference either,” he says. “There are kids out there who are my son’s age who are far better than adults who have been playing for years.”

The Fredericton Chess Club meets every second Friday from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Centre communautaire Sainte-Anne. It is $2 to play. Their next meeting is Nov. 19. To learn more, email cbutler@nbnet.nb.ca.